Tag Archives: games

Stuck in the Game

Author: Christopher Keenestuck in the game

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Noah and his girlfriend Sue find themselves increasingly concerned and frustrated as they seem to be losing their friends to the new VR game Dream Engine. But when the two are involved in a terrible car crash, Dream Engine becomes Noah’s only link to reality and consciousness as the doctors in the real world work to help him heal. Noah finds himself trapped in an astonishingly realistic virtual reality world–complete with monsters that could kill him in-game and send him into a coma in real life.

I very much enjoyed reading Stuck in the Game. It appeals to the gamer in me, but also to my love of sci-fi and fantasy stories. I know the concept of being trapped in a VR game is not exactly original (think Sword Art Online), but I do think that Keene’s use of the idea was both creatively and interestingly executed. Also, the whole idea of using VR in medicine–cyberpunk, original, and thought-provoking from both a scientific and an ethical standpoint! The balance of game mechanics and descriptions against Noah’s very human plight works. I actually really enjoyed both the characters and the plot; both were quite engaging. I do have to note that this book would be . . . not necessarily inaccessible for non-gamers, but more challenging for them to get into perhaps. The writing style flows well and is easy to follow, however; the writing style has almost the feel of a good-quality light novel. I would definitely recommend Stuck in the Game, especially for gamers and those who love science fiction and fantasy adventures.

Note 1: I received a free review copy of Stuck in the Game from Future House Publishing in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

Note 2: You can check out the author’s blog (including more information about this book) at fantasyandanime.wordpress.com.




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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Steam Games

Hey, this is just an FYI for anyone who’s interested. Steam is holding a pretty significant sale on a lot of games through 12/1/15. Personally, I don’t care about the actual games so much, but they’re starting to get a nice selection of visual novels, several of which are included in the sale. 😀

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Dungeons & Dragons

So, my family just started playing D&D together. It’s a first for several of us, and it’s been an intriguing experience so far. I’ve enjoyed the way it pushes the imagination and stretches our story- and character-building skills. Plus, it provides some interesting insights into the people you’re playing with . . . as well as some amusement when they play characters that are distinctly different from their own personalities. Fun! I’m not saying roleplaying games are for everyone, but I do think this is a fun way to actively create a story with other people as you go along. And I’m all about experiencing story in all sorts of forms. It’s been a fun experience so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where our game will go from here.

(I may also be writing this to excuse my lack of a decent book review so far this week . . . I’ve been occupied!)

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Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases

Author: Nisioisinanother note the los angeles bb murder cases

Based on: Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When Kira brought terror to the criminals of the world using a secret Death Note, he found himself confronted by former FBI agent Naomi Misora. But years before the Kira case, Misora was already becoming, in some way, connected to those future events. Because it was years earlier, back in Los Angeles, that she first worked on a case with the great detective L, a case that was unique in many respects. When L first contacted her to be his eyes on the scene (rarely if ever appearing in public himself), there have already been three violent murders, each with some distinctive characteristics: wara ningyo nailed to the walls of the victim’s room, victims with alliterative initials, clues to the next murder left at the scene. Almost as though the whole thing were some horrible game. . . . Even stranger, Naomi somehow finds herself cooperating with a most unusual private detective who goes by the name Ryuzaki, loves sweets to an obscene extent, and who is clearly more clever than he lets on. Very suspicious. . . .

I really love The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. Ever since I first read in Death Note the mention that L and Naomi had worked together on a case before (with no further explanation), I knew that was a story I would love to hear. And Nisioisin was a great choice to write this story; he’s an excellent light novelist, and I think he preserves the essences of the characters from the original manga excellently while crafting a brilliant original story at the same time. I think this light novel will particularly appeal to those who like puzzles and such–because really the whole murder scheme is a big puzzle created to challenge L. Macabre, I know, but interesting all the same. But even if you don’t feel like trying to reason out the puzzles along with our detectives, it’s fascinating enough watching their interactions from a more psychological standpoint. Ryuzaki in particular is an intriguing character: see if you can guess his identity, but be warned, he’s tricksy. I also have to note that the very Japanese writing style (in the voice of Mello, no less), suits the story well, even though it is set in the U.S. My one . . . not exactly complaint, but the one thing I didn’t really love, is the inclusion of shinigami eyes into the mix. I’m still not sure if they were intended to make it seem less violent or more mysterious or just to provide a greater connection to the original manga, but it just seemed unnecessarily complicating to me. On the whole though, Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases is an excellent light novel, particularly for readers who enjoy the Death Note manga/anime or who like detective stories; I would definitely recommend this book.

On a side note, while I rarely have much to say regarding the actual physical publication of books, this volume is an exception. It’s a work of art, absolutely. The black matte cover with a cool/creepy silver design on it, the partial-height white dust jacket that carries the silver design seamlessly on to it’s high quality paper, the equally impressive quality of the paper the story is printed on, and the classy design of the pages themselves are all extremely impressive to a book geek like myself. Very nice.


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Author: Gary Blackwood

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Turk, or perhaps not. He was once a famous automaton that could play chess–and often defeat even accomplished human players. What you might not know is that he didn’t really run on clockwork at all, but rather as something of a puppet manipulated by a hidden human player. This is the story of one of his human players, a boy by the name of Rufus . . . a boy whose sickly constitution during childhood left him with little to do but exercise his mind, read, and above all, play chess. In spite of his weakness, Rufus is stubborn and absurdly curious, and when he is left alone in the world, his curiosity and his chess skills combine to get him into no end of trouble.

I’ve greatly enjoyed Gary Blackwood’s writing ever since I discovered The Shakespeare Stealer a few years ago. His writing is quite excellent, and the skill with which he executes Curiosity is no exception. The writing style itself is obviously of remarkable quality even before you get truly into the story, and it holds consistently throughout the story. Rufus is an intriguing character–a fascinating blend of intelligence and sheltered upbringing, flavored noticeably by the stubbornness and curiosity that he himself remarks upon. I love that the story is told in first person–Rufus’ voice–as that so often brings a clearer picture of who the main character actually is; it certainly does so here. The historical setting is drawn into the story in a way that clearly evokes the times without being overpowering in detail–I especially appreciated the inclusion of important historical figures, including P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe (although I resent the representation of Poe here a bit). Ultimately, this is a book about the game of chess, and it will likely be appreciated even more by those who enjoy the game already (I myself enjoy the game, although I’m not particularly skilled at it); however, Blackwood has written the story such that even someone completely unfamiliar with chess can appreciate the book. I would recommend Curiosity to essentially anyone middle-school and up, especially to those who enjoy chess or historical fiction.

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Monsters University

Pixar Animation Studios

Written by Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, & Dan Scanlon/Directed by Dan Scanlon/Produced by Kori Rae/Music by Randy Newman

Being an expert scarer providing energy for the community–and looking awfully cool while doing so–has been Mike Wazowski’s dream ever since he was the little kid being wowed by how cool the current scarers were. After years of hard work, the young monster has finally gotten into his dream school, Monsters University. Exuberant and studious, Mike plows through his studies, impressing his teachers with his knowledge and technique. But when it comes down to it, he’s faced with the hard reality that sometimes enthusiasm and hard work just aren’t enough. Another student, James P. Sullivan, seems to be the embodiment of this unfairness as he does well without even trying by relying on natural skill and a reputable family name. But when an unfortunate accident gets both of these two kicked out of the scare program, they are forced to decide: work together, however unpleasant that may be, or fail separately and live miserably for the rest of their lives. . . .

To be honest, Monsters University probably doesn’t need my review at all–it’s popular enough that most everyone has seen it, with good reason. This movie is classic Pixar: a good solid story about teamwork and friendship, nice visuals, a liberal sprinkling of humor, and nothing too controversial to gum up the works. It’s definitely not a serious, thought-provoking story, but it’s not supposed to be. More like, it’s a fun and funny movie that’s appropriate for elementary-school kids, but would also be enjoyable for adults. Probably one of the aspects that stands out most to me is the color; seriously, the entire campus is vivid, and the students are even brighter . . . which could be garish, but is actually rather beautiful. And as is typical with Pixar, the random little observations about people–as magnified through the lens of monsterdom in this case–is both amusing and revealing. I don’t really remember the music much even after having seen this twice, which means it’s probably not outstanding, but it isn’t bad either–it just works with the story enough that the story itself stands out the most. One last note: Monsters University is definitely a prequel to Monsters, Inc., and should be seen after seeing the original . . . if you don’t, you’ll probably be really confused.

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The Cardturner

the cardturnerAuthor: Louis Sachar

My rating: 4 of 5

Alton’s parents have been trying to charm their way into his rich, taciturn great-uncle’s graces for ages, so when Alton gets asked to help “Uncle Lester” (now blind) with his bridge playing, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Took bad that Uncle Lester, better known as Trapp, is not one to be tooled by false charm. As he spends more time with Trapp, Alton grows to truly appreciate both his great-uncle and the game he loves. Who knows, Alton might even figure out how to become a decent bridge player himself–if his parents’ scheming, his best friend’s girl-chasing, and Trapp’s former cardturner’s slightly-crazy attractiveness don’t get in the way.

Normally, I shy away from anything resembling a sport- or game-centric book; I find them appallingly boring. However, anything written by Louis Sachar deserves a try, and I wasn’t disappointed by The Cardturner. The characters come through well, particularly Alton. The first-person tone is excellent–conversational and nice-high-school-kid-ish. There is also sufficient plot aside from the game to keep the story interesting. I think what surprised me most was Sachar’s honest attempts to include bridge into the story: as Alton learned, he explained what he learned in beginners terms, and he typically tied the explanations into the story so that they also had a point (and didn’t just sound like a rule book). The Cardturner flows well, and I found it to be quite enjoyable. I would recommend it both for those who enjoy game-related books and for those who simply enjoy a good slice-of-life, human drama sort of story.

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