Category Archives: reviews

All the Books Show: Episode 112 – Spooky-lite

It’s a spOoOoOoOoOky episode! Because it’s Halloween month! Did you know I like Halloween? I do. You should know this by now.

We talk about this year’s additions to the horror genre, both Young Adult and regular Adult! You want scary teen adventures? How about There’s Someone Inside Your House? You want ghosts and evil spirits? Boom, here’s House of Furies, You want twins in danger and James Patterson’s name on a cover. Good news, we talk Crazy House.

jemc-cover-largeNic talks about three books and they’re possibly too scary. That The Grip of It sounds horrifying. Anything without skin is scary. Anything. Picture a duck. Do you have a clear image of a duck? Now, picture that duck without skin. And, yeah, it still has feathers. That’s terrible.

Even that cover is scary. WHY DOES IT KEEP SAYING, “A NOVEL”?!?

It’s also the one I might pick up if I had to choose. Crazy House too, maybe. I don’t love murder, so I doubt I’ll be reading There’s Someone Inside Your House, no matter how “subversive” it is. Everything’s subversive these days. Not this blog, though. It’s very traditional. Paragraphs and all, you know?

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Stream Recap – Alan Wake

61yl1rjcxsl-_sy679_In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Alan Wake was an interesting game, and one that felt like it was meant for the Playstation 2. Back on that console, a lot of games had one concept, sometimes two, and that was their main selling point. Prince of Persia had great combat and climbing mechanics, but it was sold on the concept of time manipulation. Final Fantasy X was a Final Fantasy game but it made a big deal about its voice acting. And Alan Wake is a third person action game with flashlight-based combat.

The core mechanics and concept would have fit right at home on the PS2 and I think the game might be looked upon more fondly if that was the case. But, the lighting and environmental effects needed the graphics of the Playstation 3 (or, in my case, a PC) to do it right. So, Alan Wake comes across as being part of two different generations. The PS2 qualities feel dated on newer machines, but it needs newer machines to work it’s mechanics.

alan_wake_f_01Playing the game today, I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. I found the simple flashlight-based combat to be a fun variation on shooting a bad guy til he’s dead. I liked throwing flares around like grenades and blasting shadow monsters with shotguns. It wasn’t complicated but it was exciting.

I didn’t come across the public’s negative feelings about Alan Wake until after I played the game, so I was surprised to see how many complaints people had. While it sounds like the majority found the story to be a disappointing failure, I thought it was a silly roller coaster ride, just throwing twists and turns around for the fun of it. None of it made a tons of sense, but, in the moment, it was intriguing. The game never took me out of the story.

alan_wake_2Maybe that’s because it’s told in an episodic format. I’ve read how that bothered people back when it was first released, as a full game with recaps and end-of-episode breaks. Today, the concept of episodic gaming, and owning full seasons of Telltale’s series, is commonplace and didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it helped with streaming the game, because it gave me a great stopping place and, then, a fantastic recap to get me jazzed for another session.

I chose Alan Wake because I wanted to stream a spooky game for October and, while it wasn’t scary, it brought that Halloween vibe. It’s not survival horror, not really, but the setting and style help create an atmosphere that’s creepy without being scary, that’s off without being Silent Hill 2. I jumped but I didn’t hide under my bed. It’s got shadow monsters, Stephen King references and crows that want Alan’s eyeballs for dinner. I wouldn’t play it again, but I would happily buy a sequel.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – Day by Day Armageddon

510vg5q2bdilJ. L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is written as journal entries. The whole book is journal entries. Reading the book is liking reading a journal, because the book is written in journal entries.

I hope I got across that this book is written as journal entries because that’s the one and only interesting thing about zombie-tale Day by Day Armageddon. I’m not being too harsh either, since most of the marketing and blurbs about the book are about how it’s written. But, where as Max Brooks’ modern classic, World War Z, used a unique format to tell enthralling zombie stories, Bourne uses his style to hide a dull, plodding book.

The beginning of the book starts out strong enough, with an account of how the zombie apocalypse comes about and how it escalates. The cause and effect of the early chapters works because there’s momentum in the dominoes of the modern world toppling over. But, even then, cracks begin to show.

Bourne reveals his amateurish writing from the beginning. I don’t want to call it lazy, because laziness doesn’t complete a book. But, you can write a novel without having much skill in the art. There’s an overemphasis on descriptions, from locations to activities. As we follow our main character, every step he takes is accounted for, even if he does the same things everyday. Now, that could be interesting, as it could be an examination of how monotony can ruin a person’s psyche, especially in survival situations. That’s what Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is all about and it’s fascinating.

Unfortunately for Day by Day Armageddon, Bourne isn’t up to the task. He rarely brings psychological ramifications to light and, when he does, they’re random and thrown away quickly. Thoughts like “Why am I still trying to live?” and “What’s the point of tomorrow?” are ignored as quickly as they arrive. Either Bourne isn’t interested in that type of story, or he thinks these quick snippets are enough.

Now, not focusing on the psychology of the character would be fine if that’s not the type of story Bourne wants to tell. But, I’m not sure what he is trying to say. Day by Day Armageddon isn’t an action story and it’s hard to feel tension when we know the character had to survive to tell the tale. It’s not a book about relationships falling apart or the evil nature of humanity. None of the characters have enough depth to invest in and there’s no dialog to learn from. There is a group of survivors who show up and cause trouble for the main group, but they’re taken care of without much fanfare.

Without any unique perspective or point of view, Day by Day Armageddon is just a daily account of someone taking the bus to the office. Except, even that type of story could be interesting if it had the right focus. Here, we’re reading about survival without purpose. The book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger or closure, it just ends. There’s no inertia given for the reader to want to continue the series. Bourne shows he has the commitment to write a book and get the technicality of it down, but he doesn’t have the skill to make it something worth reading.

If you’ve read more than the first book, maybe you can tell me if he gets any better as a writer. I doubt it, but I won’t be finding out for myself. Day by Day Armageddon is a book I wouldn’t recommend, even if you were desperate for zombie fiction. Maybe, when this book was written in 2010, we had less options and would read anything we could find. Today, you could spend years reading zombie apocalypses and never need to pick this up.

All the Books Show: Episode 111 – The Sexiest of New Books

This week, it’s all about new books! Well, so is every week. Books release weekly. That’s how books work.

I always feel bad because I never sound super excited for the books I bring to the table, but that’s because I present the young adult releases! I’ve mentioned before that the YA bracket doesn’t always click with me. It’s a very high concept field, which I like, but the execution never sticks the landing.

ya-ms-stork-disppearedBut Disappeared, by Francisco X. Stork, sounds pretty good. It looks like it would be a quick read too, and that helps when I’m reading young adult. I don’t understand why so many of these books are five hundred page tomes. Books like Adrift by Paul Griffin or Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys are much more enjoyable because they move at a reasonable pace, know how to grip the reader and don’t overstay their welcome. Disappeared sounds like it gets it.

And Hunting Prince Dracula doesn’t sound terrible either! Kerri Maniscalco‘s first book, Stalking Jack the Ripper, was one of the more popular books at the library when it was released. But, that darn James Patterson had to put his name on the cover, keeping me from picking it up. I’d love to know if that actually helps with young adult book sales, but, then again, I’m talking about it!

Also, how cool did that Bond-not-Bond sound? I’m gonna have to check out Forever and a Death.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Stream Recap: Dishonored

dishonored-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Dishonored wasn’t even on my radar until the sequel was released. That game got so much press and high review scores, it was hard to ignore. Considering, I’ve yet to find something to scratch that Bioshock itch, I made sure to pick up the first Dishonored when it went on sale.

Now, I chose Dishonored as the game to follow up The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky because, holy cow, that game was a long one. Being a JRPG without any voice acting, there was lots of reading aloud, diving into combat systems and stretches of story where I sat and watched with the controller on the pillow next to me. I needed a game that would provide a little bit more of an adrenaline rush. I wanted ACTION, I wanted ADVENTURE!

Okay, technically, I wanted to play a Tomb Raider game but I didn’t own the next title in my run. So, Dishonored it was! Did the game provide the kick that I was looking for? The ADVENTURE?

boyle_2First, I’ll admit, I didn’t realize how much of a stealth game it was going to be and that set off some warning signs. I’m no good at stealth games. I lose patience with Hitman, fail at Splinter Cell and often fell off the sides of walls during Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. But, Dishonored handled stealth in a way that matched my type of play style. Heck, the game  even referred to it as the High Chaos it was. Yes, you can play the game as a ghost and never be seen, and never use your blade in combat. Or, you can play like me and kill anyone blocking your path, turning them into dust and feeding them to rats.

Now, doing such a chaotic run made for some disappointed looks and judgemental remarks from NPCS. But, the way I saw it, I was role playing the character Corvo was, not who people wanted him to be. I was an assassin who was framed for the murder of his queen and lover, who’s goal was rescuing and protecting the heir to the throne (not to mention, my daughter, probably). I wasn’t looking to play nice. Nice went out the window when I went to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. So, when people shook their heads in shame because I eliminated a threat with my knives and not my words, I just smiled and pitied them for not understanding how the world really works.

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I liked that Dishonored is a stealth game that knows that some people don’t like or are no good at stealth. I could choose to go through each level however I pleased, and it was entertaining in way that the Hitman games have never been for me. And, like Bioshock, I could dig into the world as much I wanted, choosing to read the lore through books or just picking up tidbits as I went about my merry way.

It didn’t necessarily satisfy the craving for action I had, but it was a rather brisk romp through a cool looking world as a teleporting back stabber. In reality, I probably only played it so I could get to the much hyped sequel. But, Dishonored 2 still costs pretty penny so it might be a while. I wouldn’t say it was the most absorbing game in the world, and Corvo had to make some pretty dumb decisions for the plot twists to work, but it was a fun game and got me through the rest of September. Now, it’s time for something spooky.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – The Three Body Problem

20518872The Three Body Problem took me forever to finish but I always enjoyed my time reading it. Because it’s hard science fiction, long and translated from Chinese, the book itself is dense. Every page takes time to get through and skimming will only hinder any understanding or enjoyment the book provides.

The first chapter starts in China during the sixties and I realized how little of China’s history I know. We follow cultural revolutions, scientific movements and political restrictions, most of which were new to me. I think I might have to pick up a history book next. The rest of the story is told in the modern day, as we follow scientist Wang Miao as he tries to understand visions that keep appearing as a countdown in his photographs.

The Three Body Problem takes its time getting to the main plot of the story. By that, I mean, it takes until the last fourth of the book to reveal what’s really happening. If the back of the cover didn’t tell me what this series was, I would have been fairly surprised by the change in direction.

For a long time, the book seems focused on these visions Wang Miao keeps seeing. Then, it’s more focused on this weird video game that shares its title with the book. The game, which doesn’t seem like something I would ever want to play, deals with players trying to solve an alien planet’s predicament of having three suns. See, you can’t really predict seasons, and most seasons are either freezing or scorching, so civilization can’t really grow. It’s a game that only a few brilliant players invest time into and there might be a bit of The Last Starfighter going on behind the scenes.

And that’s the book. Reading about Wang Miao’s gaming sessions, his visions and the scientific history of 1960s China. The mystery isn’t really handled like a mystery, the plot doesn’t really move along at a quick pace. By the time the reader and the characters know what’s really going on, there’s more behind us than ahead.

But, as I said at the beginning, I always enjoyed myself while reading the book. It’s dense, yes, but it’s never dry. I didn’t understand everything, especially near the end when the books got into particle physics. Michael Crichton always wrote in a way that made me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much helium in a balloon!” Liu Cixin writes in a way that makes me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much…wait, no. How many protons are in that much helium? What’s the quantum integrity of a common balloon? Wait, what exactly is particle physics? I dont…I don’t get it!”

And it’s still enjoyable! I don’t understand it all, but it’s not necessary to have a physicis degree to follow the plot. It’s also interesting to be reading this type of book written from a completely different perspective than I’m used to finding. Views on culture, science and extraterrestrial life never totally line up with what I’m used to, even if it’s just a different way of experience the same facts. It really is fascinating to see how different American science fiction can be from other countries, but also how strong the similarities can end up. Science is science in any language but it’s how we interact with it that create such different cultures. The Three Body Problem, which won Best Novel in the 2015 Hugo Awards, is a heavy read, but a fascinating one.

All the Books Show: Episode 107 – Summer Reading, Having a Blast

This week’s episode of the show is like the killer app you’ve been missing from your life. It’s like the summer love you didn’t pursue. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. And isn’t it ironic…don’t you think. A little too ironic…and, yeah, I really do think…

9781472911254This summer was not great for my reading. Nothing was a real, great read. I read a bit too many books I had to for work, ventured out once or twice and didn’t find any fertile new ground. When the best book I read was The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, something might be up.

Last summer, I had a lot of great books I was reading. I devoured Masters of Doom and Lord of Light. I read and started some great comic series. I let other things distract me this summer so I’m going to try and do better this autumn. I’m going to focus on topics I’m interested in and read books I want to read. Plus, my Halloween reading is right around the corner…

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Stream Recap – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

5_brothers_a_tale_of_two_sonsIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons during the opening. I looked dated and the opening cinematic didn’t do anything for me emotionally.

Once I was in control of the brothers, moving each along with their individual joysticks, things started to look up. It took me forever to wrap my head around the younger brother being the right sticks. I guess my brain thought the older brother is the main brother and the main brother should be on the right. It was an interesting process to remind myself that the younger brother is the main character and that I associate important characters with my right side. Co-op single player is a strange concept. It’s almost as if the concept of switching between characters in Donkey Kong Country was the precursor to something like Brothers.

brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-freeThe game finally clicked with me just as I was getting to the end of the starting village. It had an autumn vibe about its atmosphere and the town was alive and unconcerned with me. The game started to feel crisp, moody and dangerous. If this town, that these two boys have grown up in, seem indifferent to me, then how is the rest of the world going to treat me?

The graphics really are fantastic. I know the game is old and that the style is much older, but it set a beautiful tone. It had character and mood and, yes, it looked like a game from the first X-Box but it was polished. Honestly, it reminded me, visually, of the first Fable game. I never played much of that series but I’ve always found the borderline cartoon aesthetic to be attractive. Brothers has that going for it and works for every part of the game.

screenshot-brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-bridgeIt makes the game feel like an actual fable, like an older story that’s been told before. The things the brothers fight against and stumble upon are dark and seem like they’re trying to teach us something. Like, don’t save people because they might try to eat you and leave the corpses of giants alone.

The game reminded me of Limbo in all the right ways, though, of course, with color. The puzzles weren’t as crunchy as that game, but they were more satisfying than something like Braid. Braid‘s puzzles were the difficult that made me feel dumb but Limbo and Brothers have puzzles that make me feel smart. And a giant spider indifferent to my youth.

I like playing games like Brothers because it reminds me of the core of gaming. The sense of exploration but danger as well as the idea that you could make a full game based on a single concept. It could be that your whole game is boss fights like in Shadow of the Colossus or that you’re a car that plays soccer in Rocket League. I like playing games that don’t have to have the most complicated system in the world or tell their stories with endless cut-scenes. Brothers was immersive and its challenges were fun and interesting and, in the end, it was satisfying. I didn’t need more after the three hours of game provided. It told the story and showed the game-play it had prepared. It’s a game I plan to buy for all my friends this Christmas and maybe replay someday. It was great, to say the least.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

middle-earth-shadow-of-mordorIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was just what the elven doctor ordered. I’ve been playing games like Far Cry  and Return to Castle Wolfenstein looking for some satisfying action and leaving unhappy. But Shadow of Mordor knew what I needed and delivered in spades.

What I needed was a game that made me feel like I was good at what I did. I needed a game that rubbed my shoulders and said, “You’re doing great, buddy.” I would play Shadow of Mordor and feel bad for the orcs I would happen upon, because I was death and they were not ready to die.

The action in the game is so beautifully fluid that I rarely ever saw pixels splash against each other. Every attack or block I commanded seemed like it was planned by the programmers and myself from the start. I actually found the combat to be better implemented than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which explains why I never got tired of it.

shadow-of-mordor-3The highly praised Nemesis system held up to it’s reputation. However, I couldn’t get myself to exploit it like some people. The idea that I could let myself die and then get stronger orcs to fight, thus granting me better rewards, seemed to go against everything I believed in as a gamer. So, I didn’t have many returning foes. I fought to the death, but not to die. When I did die, I was happy to see the orc get promoted, but I couldn’t willing lose to them. Luckily, more often, the orcs I was fighting would retreat and that’s how my relationship with them grew. I liked seeing an old face who had escaped my wrath more than that of one who had killed me.

The story, however, did not impress me. Talion isn’t much of a charismatic lead. Ratbag, the orc you team up with, was such a fun character that when he was replaced with a boring hunter halfway through the game, I was almost angry. There was melodrama, but never compelling drama. The music sounded like the Lord of the Rings films, but never as memorable. But, that’s fine, because it was the combat and stealth that made the game such a joy to play and I’d rather it that way than reversed.

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I think I lost steam during the second half, when the new map was introduced. By that point, I had already cleared all the artifacts and glyphs and outcast missions from the first map and seeing them all over again, albeit in a new area, left me feeling exhausted. Plus, I was too strong to die often enough for the orcs to leave an impression and that second half felt lonelier. Even with branding, I wasn’t experiencing the personality the game had during the first half. And the less said about the end is still more than was put into the game.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great time that ran out of steam near the end. If I were to ever replay it, I can’t imagine I would chase the collectibles again, nor tackle the second map. But, my first playthrough was a great time and fully recharged me in a way other games haven’t in a while. I was excited to start each session and shoot beehives on unsuspecting orcs. I was excited to free slaves and unlocked new abilities. It’s a great game and I’m glad to have tackled it.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – The Fifth Season

19161852I did not like this book. I know I’m in the minority here. That’s fine. I hope, if you read it, you loved The Fifth Season. But, I did not love the book. I just wanted it to end.

I wanted to like this book, though! I was excited to read it. I finally finished the last book I had to read for work and book clubs and ect, and The Fifth Season was the first “just for me” book I’ve read in a while. Unfortunately, very early on, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. But, since it’s a Hugo winner, I wanted to finish the whole thing and nothing is worse than not wanting to read the next eighty percent of a book.

I didn’t care about the three protagonists or about their connection to each other. I figured out how they were related very early on and I don’t mean that as a brag. I have to believe author N.K. Jemisin meant for the reader to know. I suppose, I most liked the child Damaya but her story ends before the others. Actually, I think the stories are told the way they are because doing so the normal way would have proven to be too dull and unfocused for even those that enjoyed this novel.

I didn’t like the world, either. I found it boring, despite how well it was thought out. Again, I’m in the minority here. Going to Goodreads, there’s nothing but five star reviews of this book, with people singing Jemisin’s praises. People did like the world here. They did like the characters. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, actually. Like, maybe, I don’t know how to read words anymore?

A big issue, for me, was the lack of plot. I never felt like there was momentum to the story or any goal trying to be achieved. Too be fair, I don’t think Jemisin meant for this to be a plot heavy book. I think this book is character study and world tour. But, again, I didn’t care for either. Maybe, if there was a villain for me to invest in or plot to follow, I would have become more interested. It was not be.

While reading The Fifth Season, I kept thinking of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Both Mistborn and The Fifth Season take pride in their world building, elemental magic and no nonsense characters. But, Mistborn had a plot and it’s characters were likable. There was a sense of purpose. The Fifth Season‘s purpose seems to be about being the most poetic fantasy book of it’s time. Unfortunately, I hate poetry.

I must sound like the worst type of reader in the world. But, I can’t lie. This book felt like a waste of my time and I don’t want to read the sequel. I was distressed to learn that I’m going to have to if I want to keep up with Hugo winners. There was a mercy back when Ancillary Justice‘s sequel didn’t win but now my hands are tied. I did like the second Mistborn book more than the first, so maybe there’s hope for me now. But, I won’t hold my breath. Jemisin’s style is too repetitive, too meandering for my taste. I just hope my next “just for me” book is a good time because between this and work, reading is starting to feel like a slog.