Thursday, December 27, 2012

[Book Review] Blood and Snow


Blood and Snow
Blood and Snow by RaShelle Workman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



This was my face during this whole thing starting from the very first lines:

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I know many people enjoyed this, but I'm not sure this story is for me. It managed to do every single thing I hate about some YA novels, but the premise was interesting, which is about its only saving grace right now with me. I'm putting the rest of these books (novellas really) on the bottom of my TBR pile where I will wait for the day I feel compelled to continue this story. Hopefully later parts will make me forgive this part because it has potential, but this was not it for me.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

[Book Review] Anna Dressed in Blood


Anna Dressed in Blood
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I’ve been watching horror movies and reading horror books nearly as long as I’ve been reading. Nothing much scares me or surprises me anymore with the genre, but I still enjoy the genre because of the atmosphere the stories present as well as how the stories are told. I think horror novels are some of the more inventive lords of fiction. And while the BIG BAD may not scare me, I always find that there’s a certain amount of trepidation I feel for the characters, for lack of better word, when viewing/reading horror if the story is well crafted—even though I know 90% of the time they’re going to make it out of the story mostly intact. Anna Dressed in Blood was no different. I didn’t find the story scary, but I loved this certain level of eeriness this story possessed.

This book was recommended to me by Amazon because of other recent books I'd read at the time. I usually only give their recommendations a cursory glance at best, but the cover was a real eye treat, the title was interesting, and the fact that the protagonist was a male made we want to give this a try. I’ve had this book for a while, started it, but put it down in favor of something else. A friend and I buddied up and read the book together after finishing another book that I loved.

It’s not often that we get a male protagonist in the young adult genre. Perhaps that's not a fair assessment. Maybe there are a fair amount of male protagonists in the genre, but if there are, they are obviously far outnumbered by their female counterparts and easily missed in the genre because of that. Here we have this teenage boy who has been slaying ghosts for the past three years of his life, moving from one haunted town to the next, secretly preparing for what he thinks will be the biggest fight of his life. Anna was supposed to be the true test of his skill, the slaying that would determine if he was ready for that fight. But even before he meets Anna, he becomes a bit obsessive about her, and after he meets her, he finds out that she's not his usual phantasm.

I liked how Blake crafted the story almost like a modern ghost tale you'd tell your friends around the campfire, and it retained a level of intrigue that kept me turning, things rippled under the surface and were gradually revealed as readers moved deeper into the story.
I really have to applaud her in Cas' character development. She did a wonderful job of capturing that youthful arrogance, pride, fear, and self-doubt. Something I feel so many young adult authors don’t do as well. This may be just a bias as an adult reader, but so many young adult authors exaggerate the things that define teenagers, which ends up annoying me to no end. It doesn’t feel natural. It’s like reading some gross caricature of teenagedom, their virtues and flaws magnified to a ridiculous degree. It’s hard to empathize with some other heroes and heroines for this reason even when I understand their position in the story. I didn’t have that problem with Cas.

Sure, the kids in this story did things that made me roll my eyes, but not in complete exasperation. It was more of an amused eye roll that I might give teenage antics in real life than an "unbelievable" eye roll. Now that's not to say that there weren't some moments when things did get a little too much, even for the fantastic nature of the story, but Blake had far less moments of that than many young adult authors.

I appreciate that Blake presented magic, even black magic, as not being inherently good or evil, but solely a weapon for the good/bad intentions of those who wield it. I get tired of so many books treating magic as a black and white, good and evil thing while ignoring the complexity that magic brings. I really liked that two of the good guys were practitioners of black magic (and Cas' mom practices white magic), one even had a great deal of experience with voodoo, which is often maligned in fiction. So, it's always nice to see an author trying to show the balance that white/black magic brings to the world without assigning good or bad to them.

I had a hard time believing that Cas isn't behind in school even though he's changed 11 schools in three years. I don't care how smart he is because schools follow different curriculums and a whole host of other things that would have an affect on his education, especially with so much his focus going into the ghost hunter thing. I also didn't think the murders that happened after Anna’s “release” were well done. I mean, it was predictable that they’d think it was her. I don’t have any problem with that, but it was a such a weak presentation and hardly seemed worth the effort of trying to cast doubt on Anna for the characters and the readers. There was nothing about those murders that made me even remotely believe that Anna had anything to do with them, especially since Cas says that there are numerous ghosts in any town. Most of them are nonviolent, but it’s conceivable that there would still be a few who were not.

I was also mildly disappointed in how predictable the deaths of Will, Chase, and Mike were. You could tell they were expendable characters to be used as cannon fodder to spare the other main characters. Mike's murderous indifference to Cas' life, drunk or not, seemed a bit forced and out of place for me. It seemed like she was trying to dredge up early sympathy for Anna by making her something of a hero for Cas, which was unnecessary as we learn more and more about through the story and eventually completely through her memories. And that, to me, was more than ample for readers to feel sympathy for Anna, especially when you consider that most violent ghosts are usually innocent victims who died angry. Anna was no exception.

Now, Blake played with theme of Anna being Cas' savior instead of the other way around again later in the story, but that was exactly the moment when Cas needed her. I liked how Anna wasn't a reduced to a quivering girl ghost who needed the slayer to rescue her after she relived the horror of her death. Instead, she was able to reconcile who she was with the monster that'd been placed inside her, making her more than formidable and in complete control of both aspects of herself. Now, some people may say that Anna being the supernatural protector is predictable, and that's a fair judgment. But I liked that the main female protags in the story are not diminished by their male counterparts. Anna doesn't protect more than she complements Cas. She doesn't stop him from being who he is, but she's more than aware when he needs her help. And I loved how strong she was, both mentally and physically, strong enough to not hesitate to make a pivotal decision in the big fight and strong enough to drag the BIG BAD down to hell or whatever, sacrificing herself in the process.

Carmel was another character I appreciated. Yes, she is the perfect All-American girl, but she's not stuck on herself. I know we often get popular girls in stories with a golden heart as much as we get the bitchy popular girl, but Carmel is more than aware that her status gets her everywhere. She doesn't dispute the arguments presented about that and isn't beyond using her popular girl status to her advantage. And she's also not the sweet girl who stands by helplessly. She has a protective streak a mile wide for her friends. She seems to lose most of her calm and cool demeanor when faced with situations she perceives as threatening to her friends more than herself. I absolutely adored the description Cas gave of her running in with an Amazon scream to help him and Anna at the end. Very reckless on her part, but she'd been presented as the type of person to do that, even when the odds were against her, throughout much of the story. And I love that despite the fact she was the popular girl she was seen as a warrior rather than a nuisance in her own right.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was such a fast paced great read that I was zooming through, eager to see what happens next, and I will definitely be reading the next part in this series ASAP.



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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[Book Review] The Last Werewolf


The Last Werewolf
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



More like 2.5 stars, and mainly because I thought the book was well written. But it was a real struggle to get through for me. I had pretty much had to force myself to finish this because I hate quitting books, especially when they're not technically terrible. The language and style was exceptional, but I found myself spending so much of the book saying, "Can we get to the point?" which is so rare for because I tend to love rambling and wordiness in books. I was just tired of the protag by the 8th chapter, and after that, the story would get good, but then pull back. I don't know what this book was trying to do to me.



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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

[Game Review] Max Payne 3


"The way I see it, there are two types of people. Those who spend their lives trying to build a future. And those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past." - Max Payne

Let me start this post off on the right foot and say that I love Max Payne, and there will be mild spoilers in these thoughts for all three games.

I have loved Max since the first game—a decade ago. No matter what games I moved on to, how much I enjoyed them, Max Payne has always had, and always will have, a top spot in my heart. The original game was, for me, a haunting, desperate tale of one man’s descent into darkness. His story is full of typical tropes for sure, but tropes are fine when done well.

In the first game, you start the story with Max who’s living an ordinary, mundane life as a cop and family man. After he loses everything, Max begins to basically live his life balls to the walls. And even though you want things to get better for Max because he’s such a tragically good guy, the grimness of the situation is it doesn’t. This follows him into the second game and culminates in the third game where we find him guarding people he doesn’t care for, living in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, and basically trying to do everything humanly possible to end his life short of swallowing his own gun.

We were teased with Max Payne 3 for years. I think, for us hardcore fans of the series, that we’d pretty much hardened our hearts to the rumors because it was such a letdown to hear that it was in production. Sure, we wanted the third game to see how Max’s tale would end, but if there was one thing we’d taken from our antihero, it was to never bet too much on hope. And then, finally, there was something to substantiate the rumor. Now, I’m a Rockstar fan, but most of my respect comes from how they handle their offerings. I think that they’re consistent if nothing else—something I wished another unnamed company I love would take a couple of hints from. Rockstar wouldn’t release this game until they felt it was ready for the public, even if that meant pushing it back. It was worth the wait.


Gameplay was a ton of fun. I spent most of my time bullet dodging. Bullet time never gets old in that series, and it’s executed so well. A few people I know said they played for that aspect of the game alone. I’m glad they included a cover method in this game since covering was a bit part of the first two games, but there was no real “method” for it. You just found something and hid behind it the best you could. But in this third installment, they really worked it, even taking into account the “type” of cover you’re using such as making bullets chip off parts of your cover, pass through it, or even destroy it if it’s something that’s a little flimsy like some type of wooden structure. I couldn’t help but LOL at a bullet-ridden Max who insisted painkillers and booze would see him through this. Like Max you have a bullet hole going clean through you, I don’t think booze is going to get it.

The controls were mostly great. In the beginning, it felt like I had to remember so much stuff, but after playing through, it was pretty easy to remember. Sometimes, I had to fight the gun scroll wheel, but I made it through. I had a few instances where I’d get stuck in cover for few seconds before Max would move. Didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was fairly annoying, especially in the middle of an intense gun fight where I was already on the edge of my seat.

Storywise, I felt like Rockstar did a wonderful job of ironing out a lot of the corniness that the first two games had. Max has always narrated his story, but in the first two games, some of the things he said were just a bit too schlocky for my tastes and/or left me rolling my eyes. That never deterred me from enjoying the games, but it was a thing. I’m sure others probably enjoyed that cheesy noir feel that Max sometimes gave players, but I’m glad to see they found better ways for Max to express himself in this game. And I absolutely loved the visual punctuation on some of the spoken lines in the game. I thought that was a nice touch and worked well.

I was a little apprehensive when I heard that most of this game would take place in Brazil. The dirtiness of Max’s surroundings in the first two games mirrored the moral decay at the heart of his story, so I worried at first how beautiful, vibrant Brazil would work with this game. I was afraid it wouldn’t translate well, but my fears were unfounded. Brazil provided a perfect backdrop for the third game, putting Max in an environment where the vibrancy tried to mask the ugliness under the machinations of many of the characters. Max was out of his element, and he knew it. Many of his inner monologues did a great job of pointing that out without being too droning. The juxtaposition of this lively environment really meshed in profound ways with Max’s determination to continue down his troubled path to rock bottom.
We watch Max abuse his signature painkillers while downing a copious amount of booze to soothe his pains—both physical and mental, holing himself up in ratholes that reflected his dire mood. Max admits that he could’ve handled many of the situations he’s faced with better, but his disposition made him careless, thoughtless, rash. He tries to remind players that he no longer is a good person and deserves whatever sordid death comes to him while ignoring the qualities that make him a good guy at heart. He never stopped being a cop or feeling that his duty is to serve and protect. He complains about the shallow people he protects, and while he tries to say his behavior to protect them is just suicidal stupidity on his part, on some level I think that Max still feels his role is to protect others from the “bad guys.”

But at the same time, Max isn’t a cop anymore. His cop instincts are now tempered with many gray areas that allow him to be more “understanding” in some ways, even where normal people would think such understanding isn’t warranted, such as how he allows Serrano to exact revenge for what the doctor put him and his people through. Max had every right to blow Serrano’s face off when they met again, but at that point, Max sees a broken man, maybe even a reflection of himself. “He looked pathetic, a man defeated. I walked away and left him to his own personal nightmare.” But Max did encounter Serrano one more time before walking out of that hotel forever when confronting the doctor harvesting organs, leaving Serrano to mete out justice, even saying that he was rooting for Serrano in some odd way when he says, “My old pal, Serrano. We'd both been unwitting clowns in this sorry circus. Part of me hoped that he'd made it out that hotel alive.”

If there was one series that I expected to end on a heartbreaking note, it was this one, and it would’ve been deserved. When Max shaved his head, said he’d become the monster they wanted him to be, and prepared to make his last stand, I just knew Max was going to go out in a blaze of glory. This game has always felt more like a graphic novel, a Punisher-eque, modern noir type story that you followed rather than played. There was never much reason to believe that this story would end on a positive note, and if Max didn’t die, it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. And from the opening scenes of the game, I felt this would be the case. Again, I was wrong.

The ending wasn’t all butterflies and happiness, but it gave closure. It felt like Max had finally found his peace and his next journey would lead to healing rather than more mayhem. It was such a simple, quiet ending that was fitting of the series—assuming this is the last we hear from Max. It doesn’t promise you he’ll be happy, but it seems to leave the possibility that he will (or won’t) open to players’ interpretations.

I don’t have much bad to say about this game. I love the story, I loved the new faces they introduced, and I just loved this game. The things that annoyed me are so minor in comparison to the things that I liked that I don’t even think they’re worth talking about. This game just brought back all my feelings about the game, cementing the things that made me fall in love with Max from the beginning.
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Thursday, December 6, 2012

[Book Review] The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Spoilerish. Hm. Where do I start with this? I really enjoyed this book. I would be lying if I said that part of the reason I picked up this book wasn’t because the writer is a woman of color. It’s so rare to see people of color writing and representing ourselves in high fantasy stories. I’m starting to see more urban fantasy novels featuring, and being written by, PoC, but high fantasy still sometimes seems a little taboo for PoC. And maybe I’m wrong, and I just haven’t been pointed in the direction of the plethora of fantasy novels written by PoC because they’re hidden away in the AA sections and rarely mentioned if ever mentioned.

I found out about this book through Tumblr when people were posting fanart for the series, and the little information that I was able to glean about series piqued my interest. Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop reading. Yeine was a great narrator, not one of those narrators who spends too much time turning over every single detail they’re taking in and making a story feel convoluted with unnecessary information. I also liked that she wasn’t perfect. So many heroes spend a bulk of their story saying why they’re not perfect while being basically perfect with such irrelevant flaws that are really more like strengths. Yeine doesn’t have to remind readers she’s not perfect, you see it in her actions, her choices, and her responses. She's a woman doing the best she can in a precarious situation and it shows.

I also liked this world that Jemisin created that seems to be a blend of so many cultures and religions. I found the history of the gods fascinating. Their perception and understanding of things differ so much from how a human experiences these things, and I think Jemisin captured their dichotomy between them and humans, even between each other, so well. I loved the “oh-so-human-yet-not” angle she played with the gods. They often remarked that humanity’s flaws were their flaws because they created everything.

I couldn’t help loving Sieh, Nahadoth, Zhakka, and even Kurue and Itempas. While I squealed all over Naha, Sieh, and Zhakka, Tempa (Itempas) was so fascinating to me, even though he didn’t make a real appearance until the end of the book. Just the nature of how humans and other gods spoke about him made him feel omnipresent and powerful--and even a bit terrifying. Because while Naha outwardly showed his danger, Tempa came off as cool, calm fury. When we finally “met” him, I wished we’d had more time to get to know him.

What I really liked about Jemisin’s book sort of falls in the same vein as how I feel about G.R.R.M.’s books in his A Song of Fire and Ice series. While these stories are set in fantasy settings where magic is present, there’s something real and visceral in how they portray characters. They manage to capture a lot of human nature in their characters and make it something more than just a fantasy novel. These stories really know how to make you relate to the characters and ruminate on their machinations.

Now, Jemisin works with the high fantasy and magic way more than G.R.R.M does, in my opinion, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that these are people--and gods--making mistakes, acting on emotions, and not just a “magic made ‘im do it!” scenario, which I highly appreciate.

There are characters I would’ve loved to explore in more depth like Scimina, Dekarth, and Relad. I felt like some of the revelations we came to about Dekarth and Viraine happened a little too quickly at the end there like it would’ve been better if more of this unfolded throughout the story instead of everything getting the big reveal near the end of the book, even if you pretty much suspect that’s how it will end. And I really wish we'd learned more about Darr. These are a couple of reasons that I didn’t give this a full 5 stars, but more like 4.5 stars.

Helluva story overall. I started the next book almost immediately, though I haven’t gotten in very far. Usually when I realize that the next part of a series won’t necessarily follow the characters that I’ve come to love, I feel a little apprehensive, but Yeine’s story mostly felt complete. (And I’m sure the gang will still factor in.) Did I feel Jemisin could’ve dragged this story on for a couple of books? Maybe, but only if she’d stretched out the story told in this book. But I’m actually excited to read about another character’s adventures in this world.


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Monday, December 3, 2012

[Book Review] Never Give in to Fear

Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up From Rock BottomNever Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up From Rock Bottom by Marti MacGibbon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book completely on whim. It was one of the free Kindle eBooks being offered on Amazon's site recently. Normally, I probably wouldn't have read/bought a book like this unless it came highly recommended from people that have similar reading tastes as I do. However, since it was free, there was no real risk involved, so I figured that I might as well read it.

I'm not very familiar with Marti MacGibbon. I've only read blurbs about her here and there. Usually when I'm not familiar with the person whose autobiography/memoirs I plan to read, I put them off for a slow reading day. However, the promise of this book dealing with addiction, human trafficking, and eventual redemption are part of the reasons that I went ahead and started this rather than shelving it for another time. I'm a sucker for redemption stories.

Marti's humorous telling of her story is filled with dark, wry humor that often comes off a bit self-deprecating, which is a little different. Often, former addicts tend to come off a little preachy. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it can be a bit off-putting when you just want to read a real, raw story, which is what Marti presents in her book. Her struggle with her addiction and wanting to be a good mother to her daughter presented an interesting angle to her story as well.

She says addiction and denial made her believe that she was in control of her life for so long, even when all the signs said she wasn't. Quite simply put, I'm amazed at everything she went through and how she found the strength to carry on even after a near-debilitating addiction and being sold into sex slavery by an acquaintance. She is very fortunate because so many women in her same condition are not here to tell their stories today.

I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. My heart really ached for her as I read this. It was almost like reading a confession from a friend rather than an account of her life. The writing was personable and engaging, even if parts of it were a little repetitive. Much of this book focused on her downward fall rather than her eventual redemption. I wouldn't recommend this if you're a person who is easily triggered since she is very candid about her drug abuse and various dangerous situations she's found herself in.

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This blog is a mishmash of thoughts, pictures, and rantings among other things about games I've played, games I will play, and games I am currently playing. From time to time, I may post book reviews that I've written that are about different games and/or game worlds. Feel free to recommend games or add me on the platforms I've listed. I don't do competitive multiplayer much anymore, but I'm always down for some co-op these days. I'm usually DigitalTempest everywhere unless otherwise specified.

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2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Tiara has read 6 books toward her goal of 52 books.
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Tiara's bookshelf: currently-reading

The Elfstones Of Shannara
tagged: upcoming-reads, currently-reading, 2016-audiobook-challenge, classi...
Gardens of the Moon
tagged: currently-reading, fantasy, z-narrator-ralph-lister, 2016-audiobook...

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Tiara's bookshelf: read

Deceived
really liked it
Review to come.
tagged: 2016-star-wars-reading-challenge and 2016-audiobook-challenge
The Girl from the Well
liked it
More reviews @ The Bibliosanctum TL;DR Review 2.5 to 3 stars. Not badly written… I’m just disappointed by the squandered potential. I’m going to reread Anna Dressed in Blood to make myself feel better about this Longer Review: T...
tagged: 2016-women-of-genre-fiction-reading, horror, and young-adult
Thirteen Reasons Why
I don't think this quite captures the complexity of bullying and suicide, and some of the issues that Hannah started facing toward the end of the novel really seemed to detract even more from the feelings she was going through by having ...
tagged: young-adult, popsugar-2016-reading-challenge, 2016-audiobook-challe...
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
liked it
Spoiler free review to come.
tagged: 2016-star-wars-reading-challenge
The Phantom of the Opera
really liked it
tagged: classic-horror, classics, audiobook, 2016-audiobook-challenge, horr...

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