Friday, March 6, 2015

Book Thoughts: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A tiding of magpies. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told. I’ve got a few of those.

3.5 stars. Not really spoilerish (but YMMV), but certainly long.

The girl on the train is alcoholic divorcee Rachel Watson. She commutes on the train everyday, except the weekends, to the city. She shares an apartment with an old acquaintance who worries after her due to her drinking problem. During her train trips, Rachel passes a former neighborhood of hers where her old home is visible from tracks. However, memories of her home cause her great pain, so she focuses on a residence a few houses down from her old home where a young couple resides. She spends a great deal of time making up a life for "Jess and Jason," as she calls them, a life that betrays what she once had. They're the perfect couple in her mind until one day she spies Jess kissing another man and later that day "Jess" ends up missing.

This book is written from the point-of-view of three women, Rachael Watson, Anna Watson, Rachel's ex-husband's new wife, and Megan Hipwell, the married young woman that Rachel calls "Jess" who turns up missing. Each woman has their issues that lend the story that unreliable narrator feel that so many books are going for these days. Readers try to sort through what's real and what's imagined as told by an alcoholic who has blackouts, an unapologetic cheater-turned-obsessive mom who has a self-serving canted view of things to suit her, and a woman with so much emotional baggage it boggles the mind how she's stayed sane for so long.

Making Rachel something of the hero of this story was different. She's certainly not an ideal hero, and her heroism is tempered by her own self-serving needs. However, much of the story rests on her, and she's not some mild-to-moderately attractive woman who's just a little down on her luck. No, she's a debilitating alcoholic who often spirals into the abyss and does things she can't remember. Her appearance, her mental health, her personal and professional relationships, her whole life has been affected by her alcoholism. She's flaky and has a penchant for lying without understanding why she does it. (Well, she does know why she does it, but she refuses to face the issue.) Megan's disappearance, however, adds meaning to her life in a strange way.

Megan's side of things serve to show us what type of person she really is, what type of person her husband really is, outside of Rachel's and Anna's (but especially Rachel's) limited view of her. While some of Rachel's fanciful musing on Megan and her husband actually do describe them, you find that Megan is far more troubled than Rachel can begin to understand. Megan's side of things also gives readers doubts and much to consider about the things leading up to her disappearance. It makes you question Rachel's version of the story quite a bit, even the parts the readers think are true.

Anna is one of my complaints. I never felt her parts were that significant. This was disappointing considering she was supposed to cast a different light on Rachel and her behavior while serving to point out some other strange details in the story. It felt so shallow, she felt so shallow, for most of the book, though, and then, when her POV became significant toward the end of the book, I starting feeling like these things should've been weaved into the story more instead of adding all the weight near the end.

The ending, while certainly not surprising, felt a bit rushed. Everything started happening all at one time instead of things carefully unfolding until the reader thinks "Aha!", and a few major coincidences occurred so rapidly in tandem to bring about its dramatic conclusion. There were some weakness as to the motivations and character revelations that left me dissatisfied.

The narration of this book was beautifully done by Clare Corbett (Rachel), Louise Brealey (Megan), and India Fisher (Anna). They prove through their strong narration that this book was made to be read. It feels more like a radio drama production rather meant for that purpose. I'm usually doing something else while I'm listening to audiobooks, but there were so many moments where I just stopped doing whatever it was I was doing completely to just listen to the story. That rarely happens to me.

This book has been compared to Gone Girl for its voice. I'm one of the last people on earth who hasn't read or watched Gone Girl, so I can't make any comparisons to it. However, I can say that this certainly has "Made for Movie" all over it, and it'd likely be a movie that made viewers hold their breaths in anticipation if done right. This is a riveting story that's hard to put down. The only reason I didn't finish it in one sitting is because I started reading it late one evening and had to rest for work the next morning.

Hawkins' writing style is lyrical, haunting even, without making the story drag. I appreciated that she used these three troubled women to tell the story rather than trying to give it to us from some rational mind who would've long stopped this madness long before things got interesting. There were so many moments when I wanted to yell at these characters to get it together. There were moments when I felt like I was sinking under their emotional turmoil. That's important. That means I'm invested in the story. Despite any complaints that I had with the story, it was a fine showing.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Thoughts: Wreckage by Emily Bleeker

WreckageWreckage by Emily Bleeker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

TL;DR Version:

2.5 stars. Ugh.

Long Version:

Wreckage revolves around two survivors of a plane crash, Lillian and Dave, who'd spent two years trapped on a deserted island together. Both are married, and Lillian has two boys. Lillian's mother-in-law, Margaret, wins a trip for two to Fiji thanks to a contest ran by a yogurt company. After a week of VIP treatment, the company sends out a private jet to take the two women to the company's private island. The airplane is manned by a pilot and a stewardess, Kent and Theresa respectively. The company also sends Dave, a representative of the company.

When the plane loses an engine and gets caught in a storm (I know, I know), it goes down. Theresa and Margaret are the only ones fortunate enough to bail out of this story early, leaving Lillian, Dave, and Kent to fend for themselves. However, this story doesn't follow them from that point. This book begins some time after they've been rescued. Lillian has agreed to do one exclusive interview so that she can tell her "necessary lies" and be done with the whole thing, only she requires Dave to get in on this fiasco for whatever reason (and I never figure out why he had to factor in). The book shifts between the interviews and scenes on the island.

This book started out promising, even as I joked, "Is this going to be like that Guy Ritchie and Madonna movie?" Looking at some of the other reviews for this book that thought terrible things like cannibalism would come into play while reading this, I wished I'd been more creative with my question. I will admit that I initially picked it up because I was hoping that I was going to get something like The Woman Who Wasn't There (a documentary about a woman who faked being a 911 survivor for many years). The more I got into the story, the more dissatisfied I became with it.

My main problem with this book is the whole idea it's based on. Why did Lillian and David feel the need to make up such a complex story? You were stranded on an island. You didn't think you were coming home. No one thought you were alive. While hurtful, no one can blame you for whatever happened there in such a stressful situation. I get there are things that happened on that island that would hurt their partners. Just tell the truth so people can heal and move on.

I'm not so much annoyed that they chose to lie, but what they chose to lie about and the types of lies they chose to tell. Some of these lies, like Kent's death (and Kent only served to be the mustache twirling villain who knew exactly how to survive on a deserted island making him feel necessary to the two), weren't even worth the effort to lie about. If you feel you have to lie, why would you unnecessarily complicate your story with excess lies? Not only that, one of the lies you told was perhaps the easiest to debunk because of the wonders of modern medicine, and it was debunked because of the wonders of modern medicine.

The dialogue was so trite. It just didn't feel like things that people would say to each other. I could see this dialogue being in one of those old 80s young adult books I used to read, just real shallow, banal quality for the most part. I found myself unintentionally frowning up at most of it. Some of these other points of contention, I'm not even going to comment on because I'll never stop talking about it, such as Paul. Insert ominous music here.

Two-thirds of the way into this book, it just fell apart completely as the romance plot completely took over. Two attractive, married people (though they don't think of themselves as attractive, but the writing proves that this just isn't so) on a beach alone together after the villain's demise... what else is there to do? Apparently, have the book lose its shit altogether from that moment to the ending.

The ending wrapped everything up so neatly. They all lived happily ever after. The truth came out to the ones that mattered despite all the lies, and everyone is okay and they're all one big happy family. Literally. I don't have anything against HEA endings, but this just didn't fit the context of the story. However, considering how the book just fell apart and the general shaky premise, maybe it did fit the book.

After I finished reading it, I was so disappointed. It wasn't a badly written book, which is why I can't rate it lower than 2 stars. The story is actually intriguing in parts, and the concept of the story itself isn't bad just not executed well. I also think that she mostly got it right with media feeling entitled to every piece of a story, as if their opinions are the ones that really matter. (I still found the woman doing the interview to be a bit of a caricature of the ambitious reporter herself.) I think I'm more perplexed at how such a promising start could go so absolutely wrong.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Serial Thoughts: What the Hell Happened to Hae Min Lee?

I'm a couch lawyer. That's who I call anyone like me who has a keen interest in true crime stories and crime drama shows. We're the ones who always have some theory on hand about any given case. From the safety of my couch, I can state my opinions on cases, suspects, and scenarios without any real consequences. I can be detective, judge, and jury. I can chat with other couch lawyers and exchange ideas freely. With that in mind understand that anything I say in this post should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm no lawyer. I just play one from the plushiness of my couch.

When I first got into Serial, a podcast from one of the names behind This American Life (which I've never listened to), I thought I was getting into a fictitious murder mystery story. I'd been looking around to get some suggestions for podcasts I should try, and Serial seemed to come up fairly often. I'm not sure how I managed to miss the part about this being an investigative piece on a true crime story, though. Over the span of twelve episodes, Sarah Koenig investigates a curious murder case that takes place in Baltimore, Maryland. This is long and spoiler-filled.

Leading into this podcast, there was a brief discussion about people's memories and how events are remembered. If something monumental happened to a person, memories tend to be sharper. If it was just an average day, things were murkier, more general. Kids seemed to have a foggier memory if nothing of note happened. Girls seem to recall things more vividly than boys. This is important because much of this case was based on what did or didn't happen one January day in 1999 as told by a bunch of teenagers. Also, revisiting the case meant asking people to recall memories from 15 years earlier, and memories are tempered with time. Can you recall what you were doing in mid-January of 1999? I asked myself this question.

In 1999, the year this murder happened, I was a high school junior. I was on the cusp of seventeen. What do I remember about that time? I remember that my best friend and I weren't speaking to one another because another mutual friend, whose family had moved a couple of hours away, was angry at me because of a boy, naturally. My best friend felt her friendship with our other friend was more important to her than her friendship with me, so I became good friends with my best friend's archenemy in retaliation. We eventually made up. In other words, it was high school, and I was doing high school things.

The only reason I remember this moment is because it was such a big deal in my teenage life. I remember this happening in January because we'd recently come back from Christmas break. I was still adjusting to a new schedule for the new semester, which turned out to be a blessing because I saw less of my best friend. We didn't have any classes together anymore. The introduction of a Spanish class that I took with her archenemy afforded me time to get to know this other girl. While I was dealing with those "world ending" issues, hundreds of miles away, a group of teens were trying to recall what they were doing when their friend disappeared.

Serial investigates the 1999 murder of high school senior, Hae Min Lee. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was eventually tried and convicted. He received a life sentence and has been in prison for the past 15 years. You're probably asking: "If her murderer is in prison, what's the mystery here?" Despite Adnan being convicted of her murder, the evidence and circumstances surrounding Adnan's conviction were a bit sketchy with Adnan's convinction resting mostly on the testimony of a unreliable witness and cell phone records that supported the claims but also had large unexplainable holes. Also, during this time, Adnan had maintained his innocence (and continues to do so), but he's not able to offer a real alibi for himself. He can only say that the story presented by the state's key witness didn't happen.

Sarah Koenig is the acting investigating reporter for this story. It took her a year to completely tell this story as she tried to navigate its complexity. The first step involved her speaking with Adnan's family to get a general idea of the case. From there, she speaks to witnesses, experts, and even Adnan himself to attempt to figure out what happened the day of Hae's disappearance. Let me warn you now. If you think this podcast solved anything, you probably don't watch enough true crime television to know that these things rarely give a conclusive answer. However, this podcast does help to expose some huge holes in the case against Adnan.

The state's case rested on one witness--a guy named Jay. Jay sold weed to Adnan and his friends, and he often smoked with them. Jay testifies that he helped Adnan bury Hae's body after Adnan strangled her (an event he did not witness). Jay presents a problem as his story frequently changes about the events of the day. At one point, he makes up a whole excursion where he and Adnan make a stop at another park and waxed poetic about Hae's death while smoking. Never mind that this just could not happen on such a tight timeline. The state had a timeline of events according to them and trips to smoke weed and be poetic did not fit the narrative. Jay eventually removes that excursion from the story and some of the other added details from his various versions of the day. However, some of the important parts of Jay's story never change.

Adnan's cell phone records were a bit strange as well. While they seemed to support the timeline somewhat, there's also moments where this question is posed: If they're supposed to be at point (A) at a certain time, then how in the world was his cell phone hitting a tower at point (B), which is quite a distance away from (A)? Adnan insists that he allowed Jay to use his car to pick up a gift for his girlfriend who happened to a good friend of Adnan's. He also left his phone with Jay so that he could call him to come pick him up after track practice that afternoon. Jay says that Adnan left the car with him, so he'd have a reason to ask Hae for a ride. He says that Adnan later calls him from the Best Buy parking lot, and that's where Adnan shows him Hae's dead body in the trunk of her car.

Confusing, right? Well, add to that that evidence wasn't explored by Adnan's attorney, some evidence wasn't fully investigated by the police, and Adnan can provide no useful information for his whereabouts, and you have a case burdened with frustrating  conundrum.

To be honest, I don't believe that Adnan doesn't know anything about Hae's murder. Even with some of the evidence being shaky at best, the evidence that does hold up seems to indicate that Adnan has to know something. Did he kill her? Maybe so, maybe no. There's plenty of reasonable doubt there. What parts are true from Jay's story and what parts are fake (other than the obvious lies he told) is anyone's guess. I can't say that I would be entirely comfortable with convicting someone of murder largely based on Jay's testimony.

Before I go any further, I did want to mention how frustrating it was as a black woman to hear the detectives and even Sarah trying to rationalize how Jay could be so scared of the police that he decided it was better to help dispose of the body than turn Adnan in to the authorities (assuming Adnan did it). No matter what lies Jay may or may not have told, one thing held true. I feel like he was being mostly earnest when he tried to explain his distrust/fear of the police, how he'd been harassed in his own neighborhood, in front of his own house even.

I know the detectives are well aware of the sentiment that many minority communities have toward them, even in 1999, and I feel like their derision of the Jay's excuse was probably more of a police tactic. Sarah trying to "make sense" of that really felt like someone saying the experiences of people of color with the police aren't legitimate unless they can reduce it to terms that satisfy them. Never mind that they'll never know what it's like to be a PoC living in this country and that PoC experiences don't have to be rationalized and validated by them to make it true. Minority communities have historically been wary of the police. This isn't something new. While Jay could've been lying through his teeth about his fear of cops, I do feel that he voiced an important aspect of the relationship between PoC and the police.

Why would Jay implicate himself in something that didn't happen? I think that question is what made jurors believe the important parts of the testimony. I think there's some truth in Jay's testimony. I do think that he helped to bury Hae body. I do believe him when he says that he got rid of the tools and clothing from that day. I think I even partially believe that he buried the body with Adnan. However, I can't say who might've killed her. Maybe Jay did it. Maybe Adnan did it. Maybe some third party did it and they tried to dispose of the evidence for whatever reason. Maybe Adnan paid Jay to help him. Maybe Jay made the whole story up and it's an unfortunate coincidence that the cell phone records match the timeline in places, but the timeline could theoretically have also been wrong and only used because it fit what prosecutors say happened. Jay never confirms Hae was actually killed when the prosecutors say she had to be killed (which is actually not concretely when she had to be killed) and then shoehorned the cell records to fit their narrative. I don't know. I just feel like they, even Adnan, know something regardless of who's lying and who's not. The Universe would have to have been saying, "And fuck you in particular, Adnan," for me to believe he knows absolutely nothing.

Then, I had a crazy theory that maybe it did happen mostly like Jay described, but maybe there was a method to his madness with the story changes. Maybe he kept changing his story, hoping they'd realize he was an unreliable witness, then Adnan would walk. There doesn't seem to be much malice between the two men. Adnan mentioned trying to stay emotionally neutral. However, he freaks out when Sarah asks him about stealing from the mosque, but can't be motivated into some kind of response toward the man who helped to get him convicted. Add to the fact that Jay never served time even though he was considered an accessory after the fact for his part in helping to bury Hae. Even if I wasn't banging the phone against the wall, I'd have some choice words for Jay. It just feels suspicious, but this is more of a conspiracy theory explanation at any rate.

Thanks to Sarah's digging and bringing this case to a very public platform. Adnan's case has been taken up by The Innocence Project. During an episode of Serial, she talked to Deirdre Enright and her group of students from the University of Maryland Law School, who work with the project, purely to get a speculative theory on how strong the case against Adnan was. (Not very for his murder conviction, they said.) In the end, the case interested them enough with its inconsistencies that they taken the case on as one of their actual projects. They're having the items from the case DNA tested and following another lead they've found independent of Sarah. It'll take five months before they know the results of the DNA test. This podcast wrapped up in December of 2014, which is also when that bit was revealed, so I'm going to assume we won't hear about the DNA results until April or May, if we hear about them at all depending on what that team discovers.

I can't imagine how harrowing this podcast must've been (and still must be) for Hae's family. Hae's family didn't talk to Sarah, but they are aware of its existence. They seemed pretty convinced the justice system did its job. To have this possibility thrown out there that maybe Adnan didn't do it has to be a burden or maybe no amount of evidence about reasonable doubt could change their mind that he's guilty, but they still have this burden. You have complete strangers dissecting Hae's death all over again and dredging up old hurts in the most impersonal of ways. Sure, many podcast listeners express sympathy, but much of it is directed toward Adnan. The feelings come from what their friends and acquaintances say about the murder, whether Jay is lying, whether Adnan is lying, and not from the fact that Hae was murdered and that is tragic. Sarah didn't do a very good job at making Hae seem like more than a prop in an investigative story about her very own death. Where is the sympathy and reverence for the true victim of this story?

Serial was an addictive listen regardless of some of my issues with it. Sarah came out with an overall feeling that Adnan didn't murder Hae. I can't say that I felt the same. I agree there is enough doubt there, but I do believe he factored into her murder somehow and we may never know how. Even though Sarah had an obvious bias toward believing Adnan, she didn't necessarily make it seem like her listeners had to share this same idea. She presented facts that may point to Adnan being guilty. She pointed out the holes in his story. She allowed her listeners to be on the fence or disagree with her assessment of Adnan's guilt. Serial has been funded for a second season, and I'm curious to see how they'll follow this case.

Update: It looks like the court has reopened his appeal
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Monday, June 9, 2014

<3 Gaming Laptop

I haven't done significantly much in the way in gaming or posting about gaming. I'd planned to knock out quite a few games since January, but time constraints with work and other obligations have kept me from following through on that. Gaming isn't my only pastime activity that has suffered due to real life, and this makes me sad. It's hard being a grown up with actual responsibilities, but I digress. I was supposed to write about my experience with Star Wars: The Old Republic in this post, which I started playing around late February/early March, but this turned more into a post about my recent BIG gaming purchase, which was for a "real" gaming laptop. My current specs are:


Processor: i7-4700MQ (2.4 GHz - 3.4 GHz)
Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 8970M RAM: 32 gb DDR3 1600MHz Dual Channel Memory
Primary Hard Drive: 120GB Crucial M5 Series SSD
Secondary Hard Drive: HGST Travelstar 2.5-Inch 1TB 7200RPM
OS: Windows 8.1 (Boo!)

I'm a gaming laptop person. I have desktops that I have built specifically for heavy gaming, too, but I like the portability of laptop gaming. I can often take my laptop to work and set up my command center and do things during lunch and slow hours. I also take my laptop on trips and use it when I have down time. To be fair, I do use my laptop for business/other purposes as well. It's great to have in my office for work. However, let's not kid ourselves. Its main goal is for gaming. Everyone knows it.

I know that some people have their issues with laptops not being idea for gaming, but it has been the idea solution for me. Also, laptops have come such a long way in terms of gaming, even though gaming laptops have been around forever. I feel like some people hold on to a very Neolithic view of laptops and gaming that need some dispelling. My laptops have held up just as good if not better than most desktops that I've owned, but I will concede they're more a pain to get repaired if something goes wrong with them.

The first gaming laptop I got was about three years ago wasn't specifically for gaming. It was a laptop that could handle games very, very well. It was an Acer, and it was my baby. This is significant because this also marked my foray into playing PC games seriously. I'd built a PC with my husband that was powerful, but my main goal there was to be able to play my favorite MMO of all time (the now defunct City of Heroes/Villains) with no lag and great graphics.

I'd played other PC games, but I wasn't ever really serious about any of them. I preferred to play games on my consoles because, at that point, I was more comfortable with a controller in my hands than using a keyboard and mouse. I just always felt so awkward playing with a keyboard and mouse. Even playing CoH, I had a weird keyboard setup to make it more comfortable for me.

Then, I got my Acer. The goal was never to be able to play games on it. I actually just needed a new laptop for productivity reasons. I had no idea the power that it possessed could play games at medium to high settings (ultra at times, depending on the game). Around this time, a friend mentioned that I should check out Mass Effect 2. I'd heard about Mass Effect, but hadn't been interested since I thought it was just going to be some space war game that I couldn't get into. Another reason I hadn't tried it is because the first game was only PC or Xbox. I didn't have an Xbox at the time only a Playstation 3, and I do not like to start a game series on the second (or later)

game if I can help it. I have to start from the beginning. So, checking out Mass Effect presented a dilemma. Since I didn't have an Xbox, my next question was: Could my laptop play it?

I installed Mass Effect, not expecting a whole lot to be honest. I knew I had a decent CPU and RAM, but I wasn't so sure about the graphics card. I was really surprised when not only could the laptop handle it, but it could play it at high settings. This started my first step into gaming on a PC almost exclusively. Mass Effect made me a better PC gamer. It was a little bit of a learning curve getting accustomed to default keyboard/mouse setup (nothing too terrible, but still), but now, I have no problems jumping into most PC games without worry. I actually prefer to game on a PC now days.

I upgraded my 15-inch Acer to another Acer computer with a 17-inch screen and more RAM after about a year. I gave my old Acer to a relative whose in college to use for classes and gaming. Even after 3 years, it still handles most games awesomely, which is truly a testament to how reliable a laptop can be for gaming, even heavy gaming. In the Acer I bought after my initial one, I changed out the CPU to a quad core. After having that one for about 18 months, I was finally ready to make the leap to an actual laptop that was for gaming and not just a laptop that could handle gaming. Around mid-February, I finally got a brand new gaming laptop from XoticPC. Initially, I'd wanted the Sager 8295. However, I debated for over a month about whether to spend the money or not before I actually ordered it. After ordering it, I got an email saying that it was out of stock and that they could offer me a build with similar specs (the Sager 8275) but with some cosmetic differences from the 8295.

After debating, I decided not having some of the cosmetic features wasn't a big deal, and I didn't want to wait until mid-March, which was the expected ETA on getting the specific model I wanted back in stock on both XoticPC and the Sager official site. I managed to order the last 8275 before it was out of stock on both as well.

Let me just say that my experience with XoticPC was a great one. There were a few hiccups in my journey to getting this laptop that I felt they handled well including one really infuriating moment with my bank not wanting to allow the purchase. There was a representative communicating with me every step of the way.

In fact, this same representative was one I'd been speaking to a month prior. I'd been bugging him with all my questions, and once I decided to purchase, he became my contact person, as well. I appreciate that there was one person that I could communicate with at all times instead of being bounced around from person to person, and it kept the experience consistent since he was familiar with the situation and could offer answers based on what we'd gone through previously.

I would highly recommend buying from their site, and I'm sure my future purchases will be made from them. I even received my laptop earlier than planned and a $50 refund I wasn't really expecting from a service that I added that they felt they hadn't necessarily provided. So, they get a thumbs up for me for making a process that could've been a pain relatively easy, even with some of the problems I had.

(Note: These models I mentioned have since been updated to newer models on the site, so you won't find these exact models for sale anymore.)

I added my own secondary hard drive which is why I linked it in the specs above. The new laptop isn't as sleek and mean as my old Acers, but I don't mind. What I love is that I can upgrade just about everything

on this machine with relative ease. I don't anticipate having to change the RAM any time soon since what I have is already overkill, but I know I'll want to upgrade the processor in the very near future. I don't plan on getting a new laptop for quite some time thanks to this one.

I'm mostly happy with this purchase. I felt a little awkward spending so much money on myself for one purchase. I blame this on being a mommy and feeling as if I could've did something different with the money like spend it on my family, even though I know I am still going to spend money on my family. I've had to remind myself that this was "me" money and not "family" money that I spent.

There have been a couple of games that have acted a little weird on the system, but I'm sure that is Windows 8's fault. Some games are very laggy with low FPS when I play in full screen, but this problem seems to correct itself in full windowed mode for whatever reason. Also, there was one point where I was stressing out and thought that Skyrim wasn't using my dedicated graphics card (I have an onboard graphics, too, making the system switchable), but it turned out that my game was crashing because of a mod that was conflicting with it.

My old laptop has gone to my husband who is learning the joys of PC gaming now, though I doubt he'll ever be a predominantly PC gamer. He's recently started playing Borderlands 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and SWTOR. All of which he plays with me, but we're getting there.
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mini Double Review: Amanita Design - Botanicula and Machinarium

Continuing on my journey to whittle down my "to-be-played" pile, two Amanita Designs games, Botanicula and Machinarium, unassumingly eased their way on to my play list. Botanicula was part of one of the recent Humble Bundle Indie Sales, the same one that I acquired Thomas Was Alone from, and Machinarium was part of the free games for Playstation+ members. I have to say I'm impressed with the simple way they presented both games. I wasn't sure if I'd really like their games,

Amanita doesn't start their games with lengthy instructions or even a general overlook. Instead, you're immersed in the gameplay, immediately clicking your way around and unlocking the new worlds they have dropped you in. This worked very well in their case--probably more so for Botanicula than Machinarium, but both games were very fun to explore. I enjoyed the unimposing approach they've set before you. You understand what you're supposed to do, even if you don't have instructions set before you, and you're tasked with figuring out how to achieve that goal.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Papo & Yo

My first completed game of 2014! I'm on a mission to clear my PC backlog. I'm not sure how successful I will be since I keep acquiring new games from the Humble Bundle and the Steam sales (though I am pleased to report that I behaved myself during the holiday sale) faster than I can actually play them. I used a website to pick five random numbers based on how many PC games I own, and the five it picked would be my first plays of the year no matter what they were. The five games it spit out were L.A. Noire, Papo & Yo, Risen, I Am Alive, and Tomb Raider (the reboot).

Initially, I started with I Am Alive, and while I was enjoying that game, I allowed Papo &  Yo to tempt me away because I loved the look of the game from screenshots I'd viewed, and I expected it to be something light and fun as opposed to the depressing darkness of I Am Alive. I finished this game in one night, soldiering way past bedtime to finish. This game isn't particularly long. I think it took me roughly three hours to complete. However, I'd started the game late with all intentions of going to sleep after a little play time. Instead, I found myself emotionally invested in this boy's journey. Spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: LIMBO


It's been a while since I updated. Life has had me pretty busy these last two months. I did manage to get in a few shorter indie titles, though. LIMBO will likely be the last game I complete for 2013 unless I play one of the other short indie titles in my library. This was another of my Humble Bundle finds whose style made me curious enough to start this game without really knowing what it was about.

LIMBO is a side-scrolling, puzzle platformer that I mistakenly thought would be simple. I was wrong, very wrong. The game is simplistic in its approach, but it also presents many challenges for the player to figure out how to continue forward in various situations using whatever the environment provides you such as crates, traps, etc. Much like The Binding of Isaac, the simple appearance of this game is deceptive. It's not until you've died your nth death that you realize you're dealing with something more challenging than it let on.
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Friday, November 29, 2013

Grimm Season One: Portland Is the New Hellmouth

I just delved into the (not so) wonderful world of Grimm. My husband and a few of my friends have been dedicated followers of the show for quite some time. I'd seen bits and pieces of it, but I'd never watched an entire episode. I love retellings of stories like fairy tales, and I'm not sure why I didn't give this a chance sooner than this.

The basis of this story is Detective Nick Burkhaldt is a homicide detective and Grimm. Contrary to popular belief, the stories told by the Grimm bothers are not legends. The monsters, called wesen, in the stories have taken on human appearances and live among ordinary humans. Many seem to have reformed their ways, but just as many seem to flirt with lawlessness whether that's giving in to the crueler/mischievous parts of their animal nature or committing more human-like crimes.

The monsters are very good at hiding their true identities from normal humans, but Grimms are able to see them for what they truly are. Grimms are tasked with doling out punishment to wesen who break the law, as well. Most of the magic community is afraid of the Grimms, even the naturally "good" types. There's mutual fascination there between Nick and the wesen community, as well. Just as Nick has never seen them before his Grimm senses manifested, many of them have never seen a Grimm before either.

A skalengeck.
At the beginning of this series, Nick has no idea that he's a Grimm. He had started to see strange things, but doesn't learn the source of it until his aunt reveals they're monster hunters. His aunt meets an early demise, and Nick is left to fend for himself by using the information she left him. He learns more about this new world after gaining a confidant in the form of a blutbad (a wolf), which such a team-up is unheard of. I appreciate that the show doesn't just outright tell us that Grimms are feared, even hated, by much of the wesen community. Instead, we learn this through how they respond to Nick.

However, Nick has no idea how Grimms are supposed to behave. His clean slate is allowing him to shape himself into a Grimm who doesn't automatically assume that a wesen is the bad guy. He's on the side of fairness and justice, and as far as he's concerned, that extends to wesen as well.

The show mixes just the right amount of dark fantasy and cheesiness to melt my heart. There are times when it's a little over-the-top and has me arguing with my television. It's a serious show, but it's not serious. The writers know just how to write this to balance out the serious and non-serious aspects of the story. The monsters are interesting, and I'm always anxious to find out more about the "monster of the day." Many of the monsters have strict regimens they follow to control their animal, such as a blutbad becoming a vegetarian, but they still exhibit some personality quirks that can be attributed to their beast like the need to mark territory or an attraction to certain colors and objects.

The characters... Okay, I like the characters in this series, but they're still a little flat for me. Right now, they're not showing too many dimensions, especially the two prominent female characters. The men are starting to display more facets (although it still feels like superficial facets). For me, Captain Renard has shown the most interesting possibilities as a character goes, but the women still seem to be there to only add conflict and nothing else. They're barely visible or important to the story.

Juliette is treated little better than the blindly devoted, sweet girlfriend who endures her relationship with uncanny understanding. She doesn't argue with Nick or voice her concerns with how he's spending less and less time with her. She's the perfect, benevolent girlfriend. I understand that her role shows how dangerous her life with Nick is, especially since she isn't aware that he's a Grimm, but there has been very little done to make her seem like more than that. She's kind, and that's about all we know about her.

Adalind Schade is another female character that seems more of a cardboard female to serve exactly one purpose in the story. I cut her a little more slack since she is supposed to be this mysterious figure who's motivations the viewers are questioning. It makes it hard for me to like or dislike the character because there's nothing that stands out about her (or Juliette) that makes them memorable as characters. I'm hoping that changes as the series progresses, though. This overall character flatness hasn't deterred me from watching because I think the combo of story and character helps to make up for that weakness.

I'm a little past midway for season one right now, and I'm pretty sure that it's going to make it on my "must watch" list as long as subsequent episodes don't get wonky. I won't start watching the current season airing (which has a new episode tonight... so tempting...), though, until I'm caught up with the first two seasons.
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Game Haul: Steam Halloween Sale

Inspired by the book haul posts done by my co-bloggers on our book review blog Bibliosanctum. Click on the image to be taken to the game's store page for more information, screenshots, and videos.

alive  darksiders dd lucius soul soul 2defiance blood omen 2edna zafehouse
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aries. married. mommy dearest. optimistic cynic. gamer. upfront. voracious reader. geek. teetotaler. friendly. headstrong. opinionated. liberal. sexual. writer. open-minded. loving. sarcastic. fannish. spiritual. not religious. protective. observant. detached. reviewer. erratic. nocturnal. deliciously deviant. a breathing incongruity.

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