Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tempest Plays Final Fantasy XIII: Senpai Notice Me Pls

The title of this post jokingly came about when I mentioned that Hope's first memoir will be called: "Why Won't Senpai Notice Me?"

I've caught up to Snow again and have successfully had Lightning push this bitter ass kid off on him, but more importantly, she left me there with Snow and the kid when I really wanted to follow her and Fang. Why can't I have nice things? Fang and Snow made a dramatic entrance stage right just as Hope and Lightning are surrounded by Sanctum. I'd be lying like a mofo if I said that I didn't enjoy that cutscene. That was probably my favorite one so far. Yeah, it was over the top, but isn't everything in this game?

I guess leaving Hope is Light's way of getting him to make peace with this situation and find his "hope." This forces him to confront his feelings. But how smart is it to leave this kid, a kid you gave a weapon to, with someone he's very bitter towards right now. And I guess in a way, leaving him with Snow would also make Snow own up to the fact that he can't save everyone. Heroic deeds aren't just measured by how many people you manage to save. There were lots of challenging conversation as Hope tried to get Snow to admit some culpability for his actions without being specific about his interest in Snow's answer because of his mother's death.

Snow put it on pretty thick with the hero business which in turn had me rolling my eyes into infinity, but Hope's line of questioning broke through Snow's hero act. I thought having Hope force Snow to confront the fact that he's hiding behind his hero thing was fine and well done. Snow had even started to piss me off with the offhand attitude he was taking toward people's lives saying things like people were stupid for getting themselves killed, which is a really ignorant thing to say, especially since he doesn't believe that. It was about time for Snow to stop hiding behind all that hero bravado. 

But then Hope ruins any empathy I was starting to feel for him after he tries to kill Snow. His attempt to kill Snow was thwarted by an attack from the Sanctum, which sends him and Snow hurtling over a balcony. During Hope's attempt on his life, Snow finally figured out who Hope was and the promise he made Hope's mom. During their descent he uses his body to protect Hope from the brunt of the fall. Snow awakens first after their fall. Yeah, I don't know how either. Hope is a fragile snowflake, I guess. Snow continues to their destination while carrying an unconscious hope on his back when he can barely move himself.

Cut to Fang and Light. I think I'm going like Fang. I wasn't sure during the cutscenes before getting her, but now she's actively in my team, I think I love her. She's a blast to listen to during battle because she seems to enjoy it more than she should. LOL. I don't know what her relationship to Vanille is quite yet, but I think hearing how she'd destroy the world to protect Vanille is something of a wake-up call to Light, as if this is the attitude she should've had for her sister instead of rejection and disbelief, which it is. Maybe I'm being too hard on Light. She obviously regrets the choices she's made in response to her sister's situation. Usually, I can empathize with people who make similar regrettable choices, but not with this game or these characters. That just goes back to the lack of connection between this game and me.

Hope and Snow make their amends during their walk while Snow carries him. He even gives Hope back the blade and tells him that, if Hope feels that he hasn't made his amends by the end of their journey, he has the right to attempt to take his life. Once Snow crumbles that boy really falls. Light and Snow make their peace at Hope's home. We're introduced to Infinitely Apologetic Snow who now gets on his knees and begs forgiveness. He's Infinitely Heroic Snow's twin brother. They haven't seen each other in a while. Everyone has their moment of reflection and clarity. Now, they're all hugging it out. I guess since everyone is BFFs now they can concentrate on the task ahead. That's just great. Now, can someone please tell me what the hell is going on?

One thing that I think will be intensely interesting is Sazh finding out about Vanille (and Fang) making his son l'Cie. I've seen the flashback showing how it happened, and I'm feeling a little apprehensive for Vanille because you know it's going to come out sooner or later because drama. I think Sazh feels he has to protect her because she's just a kid in his mind, all of them are to him, but he's spent more time with Vanille than the others. And they're obviously building up a father/daughter relationship. I can't even imagine how hurt and betrayed Sazh will be once he finds out.

Another thing I'm curious about is Vanille and Fang being awaken from crystal stasis. They're l'Cie who finished their focus, but now they've been awaken with a new focus that they're not sure of. Fang tells Light that Vanille doesn't have much time left to fulfill her focus before becoming a monster. However, that proves that Snow was right about Serah being able to come out of stasis, but there's still the question of when and why it happens. It also leaves open the possibility that she may never return from stasis.

19 hours and 45 minutes into the game, and I'm finally in this fabled open world. I have arrived.
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Tankborn Reading Progress - February 25th

Book: Tankborn by Karen Sandler
Current Page: 11, 3% done
Last Line(s) Read: "But mixed with her worries were feelings she didn't want or understand. Infinite feelings she ought to have left behind at the river banks."

I've been trying rather unsuccessfully to gain some ground in this book today. I read around slow periods in our office, and while I had many of them, the minute I picked up this book it was as if all the world conspired against me. I would get interruption after interruption until I put the book aside. This happened repeatedly until I just gave up. I managed to finish chapter one at least. Progress! 

So, far I've been introduced to Kayla, one of the protagonists, a girl with super strength, but not being able to compensate for her weaker lower body, she is a little off balance and clumsy at times. She resides on Loka, an Earth-like planet that is the home to many strange creatures, including the genetically engineered non-humans (GENs) like Kayla. It's mentioned that the humans have left Earth behind, but as of right now, I don't know if that means all of them left or some of them left or even if the planet has been destroyed. Perhaps I will learn in time

We're also introduced to a caste system on this world--trueborn, lowborn, and GEN. Trueborn have the most status and wealth. Lowborn don't have status or wealth, but they're not shunned--or at least no in the way the GENs are. GENs are considered, and treated like, animals. After a bit of harassment by some high status humans, a trueborn named Devak comes to her rescue (who is obviously going to be the love interest, too). There was a brief conversation between Kayla and Devak that shows the disparity of their statuses, where he asks why should he fear any GEN, unaware that the GEN may not enjoy the life they're living and would risk hurting him. Also, he's absolutely confused that she wouldn't want him around. He's a trueborn! Why wouldn't she want him around? 

I did take a break right here to read some of the reviews about how well the racism is handled in this book since I was starting to see some of that master/peon relationship showing early. There are two types of racism going on here. 

First, there's the fact that humans consider themselves a race and the GENs consider themselves a different race. Whether this is because of the way they've been conditioned, or if they truly believe they’re not human, or some dismal combination of both, only time will tell. While both are humanoid races with most of the same physical attributes, the GENs' DNA have been spliced with various animals, if I'm understanding correctly, to give them skets (skill sets) to aid humans. They're created in a lab and reach gestation in a tank. Once born they're cared for by a GEN whose role is to be a nurturer. Once they hit fifteen, they've given their assignments. Basically, the humans are creating slaves. 

The second form of racism we're dealing with is skin color. I've garnered that a certain shade of brown is more desirable than other shades of brown, which mirrors reality all too well. This is where I worried. This type of racism is all too easy to drop the ball on. Good intentions can come off as the writer being an apologist for the oppressors, even if they are technically people of color (which brings about a whole new set of intra-racial problems), treating the topic in ways that show ignorance or a veiled view on the subject. And I just wanted to enjoy the book without feeling the writer was handling the topic grossly, especially when combined with the slave angle. 

Side note: I should mention that there are also pale skin characters who are considered only demi-born, but still high status. The true trueborn are a" rich medium brown.” Even being pale is leaps and bounds better than Kayla’s skintone. Moving on.

So, I read a few reviews from people who talked about the race issues in the book, and they gave me enough confidence to continue and even a sparked interest in how it will play out. I may still end up hating it, but I am at least willing to give it a try now. 

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get all in my feelings about that. I just wanted to post an update.
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Sunday, February 24, 2013

[Book Review] Black Feathers

Black Feathers (Black Dawn, #1)Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is an advance reader copy that I snagged from Netgalley. I think the book will be released sometime in March/April 2013. From this point on, there will be spoilers.

Gordon Black's birth signals the beginning of the end for the world. As each year passes, the world falls further into economic and environmental upheaval. Tired of the abuses committed against her Mother Earth rebels and begins to purge her lands of the people who harm her, leaving only those who give back as much as they take. In 2014, a few months before his 14th birthday, Gordon begins a journey to find the Crowman who he hopes can set everything right.

Megan Maurice is a young girl who lives quite some time after the collapse of everything. People are living in simpler times, reminiscent of life before technology and materialism had a firm grip on humanity. Megan is on the cusp of womanhood when she's called to become a keeper, someone who keeps the story of the Crowman alive. She is the first and only female keeper, and her teacher, a man known only as Mr. Keeper, says that she will either bring them total salvation or total destruction. He can't be completely sure of her part yet, though he knows everything will change for better or worse because of her.

No adventure is without its foes, and the foes in this story are called The Ward. They’re a group of people who believe that the earth is only there to be exploited by man, despite all the environmental warnings taking place. Their goal is to unite all the nations under one rule. In the chaos and calamity, they introduce strict laws (such as making migrant workers return to their own countries) which are lauded by the people whose fear makes them blind to what The Ward is truly trying to achieve. However, The Ward knows about Gordon, and their main goal is to stop him from meeting the Crowman, an event that will prevent them from reaching their full power.

This book entwined two stories from different points in time, the past and the future, but neither story could be told without the other.

This story was almost like reading a legend, a story passed down from generation to generation by a griot charged to help save humanity. It's a story that gives its readers a cautionary tale replete with warnings of mythical proportions, an apologue to keep close to our hearts. It pulls you in like a familiar. You can easily forget that this isn't some oral tradition that's been written down but the fictional work of a talented writer as you learn about a certain part of the past from Gordon and Megan.

Despite this, I still wanted to know where all the knowledge has gone after the collapse. Megan is aware that the earth is round. However, she'd never seen a car or electrical lights before visiting the time of Gordon's birth. Perhaps, not having the knowledge of technology might slow humanity reliving the days of the Black Dawn, which is blamed on technology and greed, but what about ancient history? I guess knowing our history could lead to people making the same discoveries and following the same doomed path as before.

And maybe they do know a bit about these things, but that's not what is important for this story. Telling the Crowman's story is what's important. And his part in this thing is the only knowledge the readers and the book's characters need. The knowledge to understand how this happened, and the knowledge of how they can prevent this from happening again. I don't know. I guess it just feels as if it's a great disservice that they'll never know who made certain discoveries--such as who discovered the earth was round.

However, you can't miss what you've never had. And I do appreciate when an author's writing makes me think about minutiae such as that. It means I'm involved. It means I care about the story and the people in it. It's not a question that needs to be answered by any means. This is just the history lover in me mourning this loss for them when they're none the wiser.

This book seems to try to capture some of that magic that makes Stephen King's novels compelling. For some reason, while reading this, my mind would drift to the Dark Tower series. That is not meant to be an insult to this book or the author. King manages to take ordinary things and people and weave extraordinary stories from them, making even the most mundane things important. He always manages to write his characters in a way that makes them seem like people you encounter everyday while exploring the good and bad in them, and these are things that I felt D'Lacey was grasping for in his own writing.

However, instead of using gore-ridden visuals to capture the reader’s attention, more of the violence is implied, leaving the reader to use their imagination. Yes, there are some very graphic descriptions in this book, but most of them are not. In fact, this whole novel relies more on dark allusion and prophetic imagery than anything else. Left with your own imagination to fill in the blank, the story can take on new meanings, meanings that may be slightly different from reader to reader.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t without its faults, but most of it was more in the grammatical/editing vein, which is not unusual of ARCs anyway. The ending made my heart drop and almost frantic for more. I’m ready for book two, and book one hasn’t even been released yet. This is a story I will be thinking about for a very long time.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tempest Plays Final Fantasy XIII: Open World? What Open World?

From Final Fantasy Wikia
I actually have about three blog post worth of thoughts for Final Fantasy XIII. I’ve just been busy, not to mention that I’ve been a bit under the weather. So, I’ll just get on with it and apologize for the rambly way this is written. It’s more of just a mind spill more than anything. 

Did this game really just give control of Snow after the flashback scene where I'm still in the flashback walking along the beach? Am I really walking on this pier just to get a continuation of the cutscene that just played for this flashback? Did someone really think it was a cute idea to break the flashback up with needless exploration? The answer to all this would be yes. Obviously, they knew I was dying to walk around this beach right into 
another cutscene. I mean, I was bursting with excitement to waste my time doing exactly that.

I don't know why I'm still ranting about that. I should be used to this by now, but it just annoys me so much.
 
I've finally made it out of the Whitewood with Hope and Lightning where Lightning has cautioned Hope to set a goal and focus on it in order to help him survive. Of course we have to hear about this goal being Snow. After Lightning says nothing to that, we're then blessed with this rousing speech from Hope about how he knows revenge isn't the answer and that it won't change anything, but but Snow has to pay. Lightning finally dredged up something akin to like for me when she finally told Hope that Snow isn't responsible for his mother's death, that Sanctum is to blame.

It only took her a million hours of listening to that whining to tell him that. But you know how that goes. He's going to have to deal with this on his own, but someone finally pointed out how ridiculous he is. I'm happy for just that alone. I'm even happier than she's confronting her part in the whole mess as well and acknowledges that she didn't listen to Serah when she should have, preferring to run from it and many other obstacles, hiding behind a soldier's bravado and all that. At least the personal stories make more sense than this l'Cie mess, even if I am still here rolling my eyes because of all this crap.

And why didn't Lightning believe Serah? Barring her sister was a compulsive liar and/or a practical joker whose jokes often took the form of meanness (neither of which were vibes I got from Serah in the flashbacks), why would you choose to believe your sister is lying to you about something so obviously dangerous? I mean, I guess, sometimes, that is human nature. It just seems to me that, if the one person who you love and care about told you she was in some deep shit, you'd at least look into it and not immediately try to hide from it. And it wasn't enough to not believe her, but you had to make empty threats, too?

More cutscenes with Fang and Snow where it's confirmed that any cutscene with Fang and Snow is probably going to end with Snow being smacked around by her. I didn’t pay much attention during one of their cutscenes, though, and feel like I might’ve missed something important. OH WELL. And we finally find out how Serah ended up wherever it is she ended up in another cutscene/flashback. And speaking of these flashbacks, I'm not sure that I appreciate how they handle them. I don't know if it's the fact that at first they seemed to be in order going backwards at and now it's just like Squeenix went "Fuck it!" and just started going all over the place with them or what. I wish I could say that they're lining up the cutscenes with what the characters are currently contemplating, but that's not always the case right now. Or maybe I’m still not paying enough attention.

I'm finally following Vanille and Sazh again where I'm sitting here wondering why do they want me to control the weather. No, I understand that changing the weather from sunny to rainy and vice versa will change the enemies I encounter, but why is this a thing? Why do they think I would want to do something like that when I'm going to have fight something one way or another regardless of these weather spheres? I guess if I wanted to grind the would be a good way to do it, but I'm not that pressed right now. It just doesn't even matter. And not only that, but this just feels like something I'm never going to see again outside of this area. I could be wrong, but even if I am, it's still a pretty useless idea. It serves no purpose other than adding a shiny landmark for me to run by.

I've learned a bit about Sazh's son, a small child, who is l'Cie as well. Out of all the personal issues going on, I think Sazh's is shaping up to be the most interesting for me. His is the only story that seems to be done in a way that mirrors real emotion. Not to say that the others' stories don't, but Sazh's feelings aren't exaggerated like the others. And maybe this is because he's much older than the rest of the group and isn't given to youthful rashness. We still don't know much about Sazh, but he seems to be a great tactician with a level head. Even though he's made no claim of ever being a soldier, I wonder if he's been involved in some type of military type work long ago. I may be off the base. This could just be wisdom acquired through age he's exhibiting. He mentions that he was married at one point, but that his wife is "gone."

Vanille's role as a saboteur is amazing, though. I just needed to say that her debuffs have made all the difference in the world in this duo team. She's probably the character I know the least about right now. I know some mystery lurks there with her. Even though she's always bubbly and energetic, she has moments where her happy mask fades, revealing something bothersome there. I hope we learn more soon about Vanille's past to see what happened to her. So much time seems to be spent focusing on Hope and Lightning's issues that other characters seem to suffer for it. Their duo segments of the game seem to take up much more time and has ten thousand more cutscenes than everyone else.

I will end this post with one very important question. Am I fighting sentient tomatoes right now?
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Friday, February 22, 2013

[Book Review] The 13th Tribe


The 13th Tribe
The 13th Tribe by Robert Liparulo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I reserved this book from our library’s ebook selections, I had no idea it was Christian fiction because the description didn’t mention it, not that it matters. I will read anything if it sounds interesting enough to me, which this did. This story is built on the premise that some of the Israelites who were cursed to wander the desert (The Exodus) became immortal. Over the years, a certain faction has done increasingly terroristic things to prove their love to God, choosing to focus on God’s wrath rather than God’s love. They cite instances in the bible where violence has been used at God’s command and believe that their salvation will come through bloodshed. They make plans to destroy a “sinner’s” city, believing the destruction will grant them God’s mercy and acceptance into His kingdom.

The main protagonist is a one-armed security specialist named Jagger. All genres have their “typical” character type, and Christian fiction in the thriller/intrigue/mystery vein is no different. From what I have read, the typical protagonist is someone who is struggling with their faith. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, but they don’t seem to really like God all that much after some life altering event--usually an untimely death of someone who’s close to them. Jagger is no different.

His faith in God has been shaken after the death of his friend (and partner) and his friend’s whole family. They were involved in an accident with a drunk driver that not only claimed the lives of his friends, but his arm as well. So, throughout the course of this book, Jagger has to examine his faith. Most of the time, by the end of a book, the protagonist has fully reconciled with God, but Jagger is a little different into that respect. Much of his trust in God is back, but he realizes that relationships, even one with God, take time to repair. But he’s made the first step in reconciling his faith.

The story itself was pretty fast paced. Things happened much quicker than I anticipated. From the moment the immortals invaded the safe haven located near Mt. Sinai, the characters were in constant motion, having very little time to do much else. This made the story seem to flow quickly, making it very involved and easy to get caught up in. I neglected my usual bed time to finish this book. And when I did finish, it was 1:30 in the morning.

I wasn't surprised when Owen turned out to be an immortal, too, but I was fairly surprised when Jagger turned out to be one as well. I'm not sure that I could really swallow that Jagger was so committed to leading a normal life that he basically created a new back story and committed to it until he forgot his old life as an immortal. You've been alive for 3500 years want me to believe that a few years of pretending to be someone else. I don't know if I can, but the idea behind that is fascinating even if I didn't think it was terribly believable, especially when the book tried to say that Jagger only aged because he did such a good job of creating false memories.

Being that this is Christian lit, there is a fair amount of talk about salvation and debate about God as a loving/hating figure, which may turn people off. And of course, all of the characters by default are Christians. I didn’t feel like this was too preachy, though, but others might feel it was. YMMV. I thought the scenes between Beth and Ben as they tried to prove God's true nature well done, but someone else may find the same thing tedious and unnecessary.

Overall, I thought it was a very interesting story. There were a few editing mistakes, but mostly the writing was very good. I'll definitely be on the lookout for the next book.
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Monday, February 18, 2013

[Book Review] The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion (Chalion, #1)The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, I should say that if you enjoy a fantasy story full of action, then, this may not be the story for you. There's more talk of battle and war than actual battle. This book relies more on political intrigue, dark family histories, and betrayals. And these are things I enjoyed about the story, especially toward the end of this book.

Something spoilerish this way comes.

I think I appreciated the characters before I really started getting into the story itself. I didn't think story was bad, but it seemed to move along slowly at first. I blame those feelings on my recent GRRM bender where there is something always happening page after page. You can’t start his books without someone dying or someone planning to kill someone. However, I really loved the characters Bujold gave us in this story. Many of them captured my attention the moment they were introduced.

From the beginning, Cazaril proved his strength was in his wits, even before he became somewhat physically frail (in some ways) due to his time in captivity. He has many physical ailments from his abuse, such as his crooked hands, but his true strength had sharpened to be a fine edged sword. Even though we do get to see Caz fight a few times, he’d rather mince words, and he’s very good at it. He doesn’t see any cowardice in using words to start and end a battle. He can formulate plans on the spot and passes on valuable advice to others, often questioning their thought process so they could back up the claims they made.

Iselle and Beatriz, I loved those two separately, together, and as a cunning trio with Caz. Iselle is young, but shrewd. Same goes for her friend and lady, Beatriz. Though, Betriz is a little bit older than Iselle. Both flourish under Caz’s tutelage who manages to help them temper their rashness and learn to observe a situation, to see the small nuances that hide under “courtly behavior, ” and to use these things to their advantage. There was a bit of romance in the story, but it wasn’t a big theme of the story. It was simple, understated, and very sweet in my opinion. I was glad that Iselle wasn’t the object of Caz’s quiet affection, but Beatriz--an affection that she obviously was returning, but he was oblivious, thinking himself too old, too poor, too broken, for someone like her. I thought the simplicity in that was very well done.

I cared about some of the characters who weren't main characters, but provide something to the story that makes it rich. Ista (Iselle and Teidez's mother) is the first one. We're given a brief history of her and of things that happened in her life before the story. Caz remembers her from a time when he served as a page for her father and mother and recalls her being beautiful and taken with the romanticisms of the court. So, he's a bit surprised to see what she's become. Crazy is what they call her, and Caz is willing to believe that until he talks to her and realizes that she is very, very sane. And then her story at the end... I already wanted to know more about her and what happened. I think one of these books is about her, if I’m not mistaken, and I’m dying to know more about her.

Royesse (or am I supposed to call her Royina) Sara was another that piqued my interest. You know something is wrong there with her, and she seems frail, disconnected, broken. She doesn't show much interest in anything, but does betray some fondness for music and is said to employ the best musicians. After Dondo's death when Iselle confides in Caz that Dondo mentioned that he and his brother did horrible things with the royina with Orico's permission (telling her this in an attempt to scare Iselle into not protesting their impending marriage), Sara dresses dazzlingly in quiet defiance of mourning the man she hated with the rest of the kingdom. And she even finds her courage to tell Iselle of the family curse, which Caz had been avoiding.

Umegat was another. I don’t know think he’s as secondary as Sara or Ista since he plays a much bigger part in the story, but I liked that he was from a land that often warred with the people of Chalion, a land who worshipped the gods “strangely.” For some reason, his people made me think of the dothraki because they were described as fierce warriors. Caz had been enslaved by Umegat’s people, and while he has a healthy level of distrust for them, Umegat became one of Caz’s trusted confidants and sounding board. And Umegat was a victim of how fickle the gods could be, or was he? I felt what happened to him a bit unfair when he’d been nothing but faithful. However, maybe I’ll see him again in later books and the opinion will change if there's some lesson to be taken from this.

I thought the dy Jironal brothers were fitting antagonists, but I felt the pretense of how they betrayed Cazaril prior to the events in this book a little shallow. I appreciate and understand that even the slightest thing would set off an ambitious person like Dondo, but it never really scratched below the surface for me. I didn't encounter Dondo enough to truly loathe him as I should. Most of his misdeeds with the exception of his failed attempt at bribing Cazaril and his thwarted rape attempt (of Betriz) and public shaming stemming from that incident were all secondhand or hinted at through murderous stares. I thought Dondo was a disgusting man, but Dondo more than his brother felt like plot fodder just to keep the story going. There was no real depth of character there for me other than the fact they were not good people and someone had to take the villain’s fall.

The story started getting really interested to me once Caz left Valenda for Chalion. Outside the safety of Valenda, that’s where the real intrigue began. Bujold crafted a very engaging tale that wasn’t heavy handed on the fantasy, which is something I prefer in fantasy books I read. I really love how she explored “sainthood” in this story, making it both an honor and a curse, which is often what it seemed like for people who claimed to hear the gods/God in history. The saints truly are the vessels of the gods, and while their strength of character certainly make them good candidates, it's their willingness to submit in total supplication to the gods' wills, even at the risk of their own livelihood, that cause them to be god-touched. They will allow the gods to work through them in whatever ways the gods deemed worthy. It was like a little exploration of what a life like that might be like.

Also, I did feel that parts of the story, important parts of the story in my opinion, were glossed over or important events were tied up too neatly and without much fuss or consequence. I have nothing against Danni, the young boy that Cazaril helped during his captivity, being the Ibran heir that Iselle so desperately needs to help her thwart dy Jironal’s plans for her, but it was just so obviously convenient rather than subtly convenient. Even if Iselle hadn't hit it off with the royse, how likely was it that the boy who Caz had helped in captivity, a boy he protected from being raped, a boy who (he later found out) he died for and was granted mercy by the goddess who restored his life for that act, would deny Caz? Even if he hadn't accepted the marriage, he would've pledged his support since it would've been to his advantage.

And there were many instances like that in the story. But at the same time, it did cause me to ask myself how much of this course was laid out for Cazaril and the Chalion family by the gods and how much was happenstance. That was actually a question that asked in the story as well since free will is supposed to play a large part in things. Umegat made the best case for that when he surmised that maybe many men are set loosely on the same path, but their choices and circumstances ultimately led them away from their destination, that maybe Caz (and himself) were the only ones who made the right set of choices to fulfill the god's will for their particular goals. Umegat seemed to believe that if they failed at the tasks the gods gave them, there would be others the gods would employ to see it through.

Despite the little things, I enjoyed this story more I thought I would when I first started reading it. I was so happy to see a male protagonist who wasn't brandishing his sword everywhere and bedding all the women. I'd definitely recommend this for people who want more intrigue than outright violence in their fantasy story.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tempest Plays Final Fantasy XIII: Your Choices Matter, Shepard... I mean... Hope

Source: Final Fantasy Wikia
Finally made it to chapter five and the second disc, and I'm still not in the open world part of the game yet. I’m starting to believe that claims that there is an open world are unsubstantiated. I'll probably have better luck bumping into the loch ness monster at the grocery store. I'm going to die wherever the hell this place is. The game has me logged at about 10 hours, but some of those hours were probably spent paused and checking out Tumblr. I can only surmise that I'm getting close, or they want me to believe that I'm getting close, since Lightning and Hope are traveling through some forest-like area called the Gapra Whitewood where I've had to listen to Hope talk about getting stronger every three seconds. He has a vendetta to make good on, and he’s not going to let me forget that... as much as I wish he would.

I'm ready for someone to sit down and explain how choices work to Hope. What happened to his mother is terribly sad, but she made the decision to follow Snow--just as he made the decision to chase Snow and seal his fate in the process. I want to feel empathy for Hope, but he's making it near impossible to do so. He wouldn't be the first character who misdirected their anger, but it's done in such a way to make him particularly annoying for me. I’ve volunteered Commander Shepard for the job of explaining how choices work. She knows all about choices and how they matter. 

Lightning is starting to show some emotions in earnest now with Hope. She went from berating him for being soft to, “Call me Light.” She’s still mostly keeping up that “I ain’t need you” act, but at least I’m starting to get some other facets of her. It seems that she’s starting to become more contemplative of the days leading up to becoming a Fal’Cie and acknowledging her role in all this drama and how little she listened. I’m hoping part of that recollection leads to making her peace with Snow so she can help Hope get through his BS with Snow, too. I don't want to spend the next half of this game listening to how much Snow fails. You hate it. I get it. Let's move along. Speaking of Snow, he finally was shown again in a cutscene getting smacked around a little bit by Fang. Hopefully, she’ll smack some damn sense into his fool head.

I still have no idea what this story is really about. While I do appreciate where I think Square Enix is trying to go with the eidolons and l’Cie, the story still feels poorly actualized and disjointed. There’s a bit of sensory overload as I continue to try to keep up with sudden cutscenes (though less frequent now, but still jarring at best since it was hard to keep up with the beginning of the story and I feel lost) tooled around combat. I keep saying that I’m going to sit down and read the datalog so I can fill in the blanks that I’m having right now. However, I keep getting sidetracked. I haven’t even touched the game, as of this writing, in a few days in favor of completing Mass Effect on Xbox (almost done!). I have a long weekend coming up, so playing this should happen even if only briefly.

I am a little disheartened that I haven’t taken the time out to read the datalogs. I love codexes in games and peruse them quite extensively, but the game has to have piqued my interest in the story and/or characters enough for me to want this knowledge. It’s never a waste of time when I read the codexes even if that’s the only thing I do in a game for a few play sessions. This game has failed to make me care enough about the characters and their world to do that. There are characters I like such as Sazh and Vanille, but there’s still no connect for this game and me. Typically, I love exploring game worlds, but now, I just want to get to an actual open area.

I guess I could quit, but I am invested enough to continue, even if I do complain. As I mentioned earlier and in my last blog post about FFXIII, I like where they’re going with the eidolons and I appreciate the Paradigm Shift battle technique. The world is visually nice to look at as well, but continues to remind me how much I wish I could take screenshots to post. Add that to the fact that this certainly isn’t the worst game I’ve played in my lifetime. Besides, I’m too stubborn to quit right now.
Continue Reading…

Deadman Wonderland Reading Progress - February 13th

Series: Deadman Wonderland by Jinsei Kataoka
Current Chapter: All Night All Night (Volume 6, Ch. 27), 52% done*

This manga. I can already tell that this is going to be one of my all time favorite mangas. It may even beat out my current #1 favorite manga, a title held by Bleach. It just seems to be the perfect combination of horror, thriller, mystery, drama, and humor. I've also found myself tearing up quite a few times because it manages to capture intensely emotional moments so well. One minute I'm laughing over something funny, such as Crow's ridiculous awkwardness around the opposite sex, and the next I'm tearing up during the death of a character or angry to the point that the sound of my pounding heart fills my ears.

I'd been reading the English version, licensed by the now defunct Tokyo Pop. There are 5 official English releases of the manga. Imagine how I felt when I found out there were 11 volumes available in Japan , and that there was no new English distributor releasing the manga. I'm using fansub (scanlation) sites to catch up with the rest of this series. When I first started read manga, I often had to read fansubs because not many series were being licensed for English reading fans. Should the rest of these be released in English, I'd be glad to purchase them for my collection.

Ganta has gone through many changes since arriving at Deadman Wonderland and has overcome many challenges, but I was completely blown away by the story about the Scar Chain gang. To me, that arc was flawless, a real masterpiece, and it's a story that will stay with me long after I've finished reading this series. I wasn't too thrilled about the introduction of the "rock super-monk" Genkaku or the Scar Chain gang when I first went into it. I thought things were going to take a schlocky turn. I didn't think I was in for bad writing, but I didn't expect it to be as well executed.

I'm happy to report that I was wrong. As I learned more about Genkaku and the Scar Chain gang leaders, the story just really culminated into a beautiful disaster of a narrative with so many complex issues weaved around each other to tell the story. Once I finished reading it, I needed a moment to process and reread parts that hit me the hardest,  which were basically all of Owl's parts near the end of the story. He was the breakout character for me, and later in that same arc, the brief glimpse of Genkaku's background really added something intricate to him that made me reflect on who he was.

After reading something as hard hitting as that, I'm underwhelmed by this forgeries business, but I did love that the deadmen were provoked by bringing up their worst fears and nightmares. Seeing how even Chaplain was disturbed made me hope that I was about to get something big because, from what I can tell, Chaplin isn't easily shaken. Well, I did get something big, but I was still a bit underwhelmed by it, except for the part where Minatsuki becomes Tumblr. However, don't take that to mean I didn't enjoy it. I did, but I don't see how the last arc is going to be topped anytime soon
.
Ganta is starting to morph even more in the aftermath of the Scar Chain gang, and Shiro is in love. However, Shiro's childlike state doesn't allow her to fully grasp the feelings she's having. The deadmen starting to be shown as more of a ragtag misfit family is awesome, as well. Lord knows they have their issues, but they're bonding and looking out for one another.  Ganta is once again threatening the order of things, though, which leaves his misfit family angry with him. Can't wait to see how that's resolved.

On to the next chapter!

*Note: I'm 52% done as of the chapter that the manga is currently up to which is Ch. 52. The service is ongoing, so you expect this percentage to fluctuate in strange ways.
Continue Reading…

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

#WWReadathon Progress - February 12th

Book: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
Current Page: 115, 23% done
Last Line(s) Read: "In fact both Teidez and Iselle had pushed their entourage to its best speed from the moment they'd ridden out of Valenda and galloped ahead to outdistance Ista's heart-wrenching wails, audible even over the battlements. Iselle had clapped her hands over her ears and steered her horse with her knees till she'd escaped the echo of her mother's extravagant grief."

Admittedly, I'm not as far into this as I'd like to be, only snatching pages to read here and there around some other distractions. Some of those distractions couldn't be helped, but others were entirely avoidable like the day I played Mass Effect all day. That game ruins lives. I reminded myself that this was a no pressure challenge, and there was no way to fail it other than to quit reading, which I'll never do.

This book started out a bit slow for me. I'd had a few of my friends rave about it, and I thought the description for it was interesting. At first, I worried that this was going to turn into a case of me asking myself why everyone loved it so, but it's picked up even though I haven't gotten to the meat of the story. I blame George R. R. Martin for my current mindset where fantasy is concerned because accusing various fantasy books of starting slow has been a thing with me since beginning Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Not every book can begin with a beheading, an assassination attempt, or mad attempts to steal another person's body. I'd do well to remember that.

Cazaril I'm finding to be a refreshing male protagonist. I like that Bujold didn't give us this dashing, angry man whose only goal in life is to take revenge on those who wronged him while leaving a pile of swooning women in his furious wake. No, instead we meet a man who's been broken both spiritually and physically, a man wracked with pains and nightmares and prone to emotional moments no matter how hard he tries to keep it together. He wants to live a quiet life working for the Provincara he'd serve as a young man. He never wants to face the men responsible for what happened and feels it's better they believe him to be dead.

Readers eventually learn that Cazaril is/was something of a lesser noble who was betrayed by someone unexpected. I find it particularly fascinating that he hints at hubris in himself before captivity that didn't allow him to appreciate something as simple as the kindness in laundresses, but after he often finds himself weeping at such kindness, appreciating the unaffected kindness in those around him. He seems so grateful for everything, not just the kindness of strangers, where he would've felt entitled to such things before his captivity.

But while he may not be dashing, he's not quite self-deprecating either. He acknowledges his strengths, even former ones. He has issues to work through, and the brief glimpse of slavery he gives is absolutely heartbreaking. However, rather than hiding his pain behind self-deprecation, Caz has more of an honest assessment of life and how all men are equal when you strip away titles and station, and that, stripped bare, honor and respect isn't attached to titles but to the actions of men. He learns the hard way that everyone bleeds the same, and he takes that lesson to heart.

I'm just beginning the section where he travels to Zangre with Iselle, which is where the men who betrayed him are. When Caz first finds out I was expecting a bit more time focusing on his feelings and thoughts on that before leaving, but the story went almost immediately to the trek there. I'm hoping that Bujold will make up for this in following pages by showing a little more of Caz's reaction to being in the pit with the snakes who betrayed him.
Continue Reading…

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tempest Plays Final Fantasy XIII: Still Stuck in the World's Longest Tutorial

Finished chapter three Tuesday night, and this continues to be the longest tutorial in the history of man. Yes, I realize there's quite some time between the tutorials, but I assume that's because they want you to become familiar with your previous tactics before forcing another one on you. I view that space between learning a new technique as practice time, which isn't really a downfall per se since I have been known to gripe that I don't get enough time to get a feel for a technique introduced in games before I'm having to learn something new. I retain the information given better this way. 

I wouldn't have a problem with the tutorial being rather lengthy, but the problem here is the cutscenes interrupting my groove every three seconds. Granted, I haven't had as many progressing through chapter four as I did before. For a moment there at the start of this chapter, I thought the endless cutscene interruptions were going to be a thing as usual. There was a cutscene at the beginning, and afterwards I took control of Sazh who I walked to a path just to get another cutscene of the path being destroyed before switching to Lightning and Hope. 


I’m still not caring much for my teammates, which is a shame since I can’t truly appreciate the story right now because there are so many interruptions with the cutscenes that I’m still not completely sure what’s going on right now. I'm feeling a bit lost listening to all this l'Cie talk. I plan to spend a little time reading my datalog soon. Something that I confess I haven’t been going, which is highly unusual of me since I can spend hours in these type of games reading the codex. 


The only two teammates who aren’t getting on my nerves 100% of the time are Sahz and Vanille. I still don’t have Fang at this point, but I have met her after Snow’s eidolon battle. I don’t want to base my first impression of her on that initial meeting with Snow because I’m sure there is some ulterior motive there, but it’s not looking too positive for me liking her either right now. That could change once she becomes an actual teammate, though. If I could just care about some of these characters a little more, this would improve my feelings toward the game greatly. 


I’m just about done with this whole “I’m a soldier, peasant, and I have to hide my feelings behind needless snark” act that I’m getting from Lightning. I’m also tired of hearing how much Snow fails at life, love, and everything else, and I just wish he’d tell her off one good time. Snow annoys me equally as much with his whole “big damn hero” complex. I think his intent is very honorable, but his ideas about heroism are a bit unrealistic. That hero song and dance was old before the end of the first chapter. But that falls in line with my feeling that emotions and situations in the Final Fantasy series are over romanticized. And Hope... ugh, what did I do to deserve this? I wish he’d just spit out what he has to say and stop being useless. Granted, I can now use him in a synergist role. So, the whining may not stop right now, but at least he’s contributing something to the team now.


I got to play around with the paradigm shift system a little more, but I’m still largely underwhelmed by the abilities in this game. I guess there’s just not enough variety for me right now. However, I do like the paradigm system. I've been trying different combinations to see what's effective. I like the idea of changing your focus in order to succeed in a fight. I guess I just wish I had more abilities. Even though I know I’m doing a significant deal of damage, all my powers on Lightning feel so “soft,” for lack of better term. I like to be flashy, okay? Don’t judge me. Maybe more powers are something I’ll see more of in the future, though, because as I said I'm still stuck in the world's longest tutorial. 


I’ve picked up my first two eidolons--Shiva for Snow and Odin for Lightning. At first, I was a bit confused about what I needed to do exactly to gain them. It took me about two tries with Snow to figure out exactly what I needed to do to gain Shiva. I kept running game out of time. Lightning's summon Odin, though? That battle was a bit tougher than I imagined. When Lightning acquired her medic role, I scoffed a little, asking myself why would I ever make her a medic. She's a soldier, and I expected to keep her in that role in some capacity... until the battle with Odin where I found it to be very useful. It took me about three tries to get that battle right. Odin didn't outright kill Lightning (he did get Hope once), but I ran out of time trying to fill the gestalt meter. It's a fine balance of attacking and non-attacks that you have to work through. 


Allowing the characters to assume more than one combat role is quite refreshing. Characters aren't limited to one element, and a couple are all around elemental utilitarians. Eidolons seem to take on a much more integral part of the story, which I like. I want to say that Squeenix went a step forward with the summons and paired them with characters whose personalities and instinctive roles align with the eidolon, making the connection between the characters and their eidolons seem more personal. I could be looking into that way harder than most people, but these summons seem to have more of a connection with the characters who wield them like another representation of who they are. 


Little things like that fascinates me and show the potential that this game has. I'm hoping to play more today. I had a Mass Effect withdrawal yesterday and spent nearly the whole day playing my first play through on Xbox (and nearly completing it). I'm trying not to repeat that today.
Continue Reading…

Thursday, February 7, 2013

#WWReadathon Feb 7th - Feb 14th


For the next week, I will be participating in a Wicked Valentine read-a-thon hosted by My Shelf Confessions. I've participated in one of these a while back, but had to stop early due to some unforeseen circumstances, but after resisting joining another one while in the throes of game madness last year, I decided to try again when invited to join.

My reading choice is The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. Here's a brief description taken from Goodreads:

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.
It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death.

You can get updates from me and others by checking out this the #wwreadathon tag on Twitter. And you can find out more about the read-a-thon at My Shelf Confessions.
Continue Reading…

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tempest Plays Final Fantasy XIII: What Is Even Going On?

I’m not a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series. I’ve only played one actual story based game in the whole series, which is Final Fantasy VII. I love Crystal Defenders and Tactics (mainly Tactics Advance), as well. Before playing this, I wasn’t exactly sure why I never really got into the games. I just never cared for them too much, but now, I think I have a better idea why. XIII was recommended to me because it tried something a little different with the battle system. A fellow gamer who knows my gaming style said that I might like it because it was more ARPG-styled, which is true in some ways. I’ll get more into that later.

This is a very pretty game. I will give it that much. I know many people hail them as pretty games and they're usually visual treats, but this one is a bit more impressive than most for me than normal. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the story at this point, though. I’m just starting chapter three on the game, and it's starting to feel like I'm trapped in one long tutorial at this point. I’ve learned about paradigm shifts, which is starting to add an interesting angle to the game, and I’m finally getting new abilities after spending so much time character jumping and getting them all to that point where they meet up for their big drama-fest. And it is DRAMA in all caps and italicized. That cutscene with Serah turning to crystal and the events surrounding it? I think my face locked into a semi-permanent state of "UGH!" until I turned the game off for the night. I probably went to sleep making that same face.

I'm officially annoyed with half my team. I think Snow is a big ol’ cornball with extra corn. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that anytime he opens his mouth is probably going to result in me rolling my eyes at some point in his dialogue. I’m not even going to comment on the fact that he brings fists to a gunfight. Vanille is inappropriately bouncy right now. I know there’s always one character in Final Fantasy who is the eternal optimist, laughing and bouncing when we’re probably about to be killed. So, I guess I have to forgive and forget. At least, she is beginning to show some other emotions, but mostly, she's just bouncy. Her accent makes it hard for me to not like her.

I think I’m finding myself more annoyed with Lightning and Hope than anyone else at this point.

Lightning is giving me a bit too much Cloud right now, and even though I loved Final Fantasy VII, I can assure you that love had absolutely nothing to do with Cloud. I’m trying not to hold that against her right now. I’m trying not to call her “Cloud, but with a vagina.” I’m trying to be positive and open-minded about this instead of letting those residual ill feelings toward Cloud taint her for me, but it’s not working out so well. Hopefully, she’ll give me a reason to not lump her in that same category as the game continues.

And Sora Hope, how are you going to blame Snow for your current predicament when you're the one who followed him because you have something to say? If I'm going to have to put up with this a whole game, you just need to go home and send a text message, write an email or something just so you can get the hell out of my face. I'm sorry your mother died and I understand you’re angry because you feel like Snow could’ve done something to prevent that, but I'm not here for your drama, especially when you placed yourself in this situation. Either get right or GTFO.

Yes, I know I didn’t mention Sazh. That was intentional. I can’t be mad at anyone who carries a baby bird around, especially a baby bird that rides around in his hair. Besides, he’s the only person of color that I get to hang out with in this game. Solidarity, man, I have it even for fictional characters. I’m going to treat him like a national treasure that needs to be protected. And I haven’t gotten that other chick, yet, so no comment there either.

I just want to hang out with you and talk about stuff.
This is where I figured out my disconnect with Final Fantasy. I am a huge fan of characters and story. I like to be able to relate to the characters and the story. Sometimes, I relate more to the characters than the story and vice versa. However, I’ve never been emotionally invested in any of the games or its characters. The emotions in the games feel too shallow and overly romanticized for my personal tastes, and the games never gave me enough of anything else to compensate for that and make the game still enjoyable for me, even though I didn’t connect to its characters.



For sure, there are other games where I have that same disconnect in the RPG genre (and other genres), but there tends to be something else there that makes me want to stay. There is some other element for me to enjoy enough to see the game through to the end, and I normally don’t find that “something else” in Final Fantasy games. As I said, this is just my personal bias. I’m sure for lovers of the series they see a ton of depth where I just don’t.


Source

I’m starting to warm up to the battle system. I expected it to be a bit more dynamic and action-y in the style of Kingdom Hearts. The did incorporate a similar battle menu, but the battle itself is like the bastard child of turn-based battle and action-based battle. I’m not disappointed by it, but I am a little underwhelmed. It’s gotten more interesting since I’m able to access paradigm shifts and new abilities now, and I stopped right after the paradigm shift tutorial. So, I'm expecting that I will enjoy it much more in the future.

Now, let's talk about what is REALLY making me wish I could stab someone. The cutscenes.

Why are there so many freaking cutscenes?

This is pretty ridiculous to be honest. Wrong question. I don’t actually have a problem that there are so many cutscenes, but I do have a problem with how they’re fit around--or rather, not fit around--the exploration/battle play. What I'm getting completely fed up with as far as the cutscenes go is that sometimes after finishing a cutscene and taking 1.5 steps with a character, another cutscene immediately plays. What is the point in breaking up the cutscene for me to walk 1.5 steps into the next one? I don't understand this.


At the end of chapter one, there is literally a scene right before Vanille and Hope follow Snow where I’m given control of Hope after the cutscene. There was a save point after that scene, so I saved, thinking that I’d probably have at least another fight or two before getting YET ANOTHER cutscene. But nope, the minute I took 3 steps with Hope, I was thrown into another cutscene. After the cutscene, I was asked if I want to save my progress. Chapter two started after that, and I was in control of Vanille after the cutscene that played there.

Why the hell would you even do that? Why wouldn’t you make that just one long cutscene instead of giving me control to walk a character (a character I haven’t controlled since, by the way) into a cutscene? That is literally one of the stupidest things I have ever had to do in a video game. The frequency of the cutscenes cutting into combat or combat cutting into the cutscenes makes it hard for the story to flow. I’m not sure what they were even hoping to accomplish with this, but it is jarring. And I’d probably be able to connect to the story more if it wasn’t so disruptive.

Anyway, I said that I was going to stick with this. I’m an Aries. We invented stubborn, so I’m in for the haul, even if it hurts me.
Continue Reading…

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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...

goodreads.com

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...

goodreads.com

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