Tag Archives: mystery

Ghost in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah has made the difficult choice to work for Wona–the company he had believed responsible for his girlfriend Sue’s death as well as the deaths of several other individuals–in order to find those truly responsible and hopefully see justice done. But that choice has come with a cost as most of his friends in the Dream State now see him as having betrayed them . . . which he kind of deserves, actually. He’s trying to fight for the greater good and hope they come around eventually. Of course, working for Wona has its perks, too. Cushy living conditions and great pay IRL, position and privilege in-game–it’s not all bad. But things continue to get more complicated as players in the Dream State find themselves attacked by seemingly untraceable random attackers . . . especially when one of these Screamers, as they quickly become known, shows up wearing the face of Noah’s friend Chloe’s brother, one of several beta-testers who had previously disappeared. Now it’s up to Noah to bring together a functional team and figure out what’s going on and who is behind it all.

As with the first two Dream State books, I found Ghost in the Game to be a treat to read. Keene continues to impress with his world building, giving us a sweeping, imaginative view of the Dream State world in its many iterations. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I really think that his way of presenting the world and the way the characters interact with it in-game are not only one of his greatest strengths as an author, but it’s also some of the best I’ve read, period. It manages to be immersive, easily understood, and captivating. I really enjoyed that in this volume we move away somewhat from the revenge theme, getting into more mystery, adventure, and relationship building/repair. There’s definitely some intriguing plot going on, which is fun to read, and it’s nice to get more interpersonal development in this volume as well, especially with where Back in the Game left us. I’m still not sure about Noah’s way of looking at the whole situation, but after three volumes, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that he and I just think really differently about stuff . . . and it’s actually kind of neat to have a character that is developed enough that I can draw that kind of conclusion about him. I also quite enjoyed getting to see more of the characters IRL in this volume; combining both in-game and IRL character interactions seems to add a lot to the character development and really flesh Noah’s group out as individuals. I should mention, we get left with a bit of a cliffie, or at least with lots of room for plot development in future volumes, which I am looking forward to. I would recommend Ghost in the Game, particularly for gamers, cyberpunk fans, and LitRPG fans in particular.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Back in the Game from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review

Choices: Stories You Play (Mobile Game/App Review)

Publisher: Pixelberry Studios

Platform: Android

My rating: 4 of 5

Do you enjoy visual novels with solid characters, great music and visuals, and real choices that affect the course of the game? The Choices may be just the choice for you. Find true love, save your kingdom, solve the mystery . . . just remember that the decisions you make matter, so choose wisely.

Choices was quite an interesting find; I’m frankly at a loss as to whether to refer to it as a game itself, or to just call it a platform, like Steam or Tapastic. More the latter, I suppose, although between the visual novels offered on this platform, there is a consistent system and gameplay style, so it’s sort of all one game consisting of multiple stories in that sense. Either way, it offers a variety of interesting stories (which I’ll likely review individually at a later date) including a number of romance stories, at least one epic fantasy, some quirky mysteries, and a couple of horror games. Pros include a solid gaming system that is explained clearly, interfaces well for the player, and is actually interesting to play. You also really do get some significant choices, which is cool, although in my experience the ones I’ve played have kept me from dying so far. And so far, the stories I’ve played have been well written–as stated above, attractive art, good characters, and nice music. Cons are mostly in the way they’ve set the game up financially. Technically, this game is ad-supported and free-to-play, which is cool and technically true. You get one (generally un-obnoxious) short ad before each chapter, and it’s otherwise a clean game without interruption. Where this technicality falls apart is that you have limited keys (stamina, essentially) to unlock new chapters, and you have to wait a good bit of time or pay for more keys if you want to play more than the allotted amount at any given time. Now, that’s not entirely a bad thing, although it can be annoying, since it keeps me from spending hours at a time staring at my phone. More significant is that the games use diamonds to unlock certain options, but you only get one diamond for completing a chapter, and most options require several to unlock them. So your choices are to generally take less favorable/special options and save up your diamonds for where it really counts or spend money to buy extra diamonds. Having said that, I’ve yet to find a place where the story suffers significantly or where you can’t proceed if you only take the free options; you just miss out on some extra scenes and such. So the general conclusion is that, while I have to take points off for being a bit annoying in making me want to spend money when I shouldn’t (and yes, I would pay a lump sum to install a version of this where that’s not an issue), I think Choices still has a lot of potential to be a fun (even addictive) visual novel platform with a solid interface and some enjoyable game options. Recommended.

1 Comment

Filed under Media Review

Lost Boys

Author: Orson Scott Card

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature audience; also, 1) this book made me cry more than I have since Grave of the Fireflies, and 2) kids do get hurt here–it’s dealt with as the heinous, awful thing that it is, but it still happens, so worried moms might not want to read this if they want to sleep at night.

In 1983, Step and Deanne Fletcher move their growing family to the small town of Steuben, North Carolina, for Step to start a promising new job for the growing computer company Eight Bits, Inc. But right from the start, things seem to go wrong. Step’s new job turns out to be nothing like what he’d expected, being relegated to writing program manuals and being told to sneak around behind his immediate supervisor’s back, even though he had great success in the past as a programmer himself. Deanne’s pregnancy makes her constantly sick, adding to the burdens of caring for their three young children. Their oldest, eight-year-old Stevie is becoming withdrawn, spending his time talking to imaginary friends. The house they’re renting seems beset by plagues of insects. And little boys in the area have started disappearing, presumed kidnapped and murdered. But in the midst of all their stress and worry, the Fletchers are determined to not quit, throwing themselves into serving in their new church ward, parenting their children, and generally doing their best with the situation they are given, however difficult it may be to trust all will be well in time.

Lost Boys was an unusual and unexpected book. The only other think by Card that I’ve read is Ender’s Game, and this book is nothing like that. The majority of this story is just this story about this Mormon family and their lives–the most innocuous, simple thing imaginable. And Card does that aspect of the story well, giving us a deep, developed view of Step, Deanne, and Stevie in particular, as well as of their other kids, Robbie, Betsy, and later Zap. The pacing is slow, leisurely, giving us time to get into these people’s day-to-day existence, sharing in their concerns and their little joys and victories, feeling how much their faith and family bolster them. And you know what? I really came to like these people; they’re good people, doing their best to do what’s right, to protect each other, to love others and be compassionate. But underneath this innocuous slice-of-life story, you’ve got this constant undercurrent of something deeper and darker and possibly supernatural going on. It reminds me of some of Stephen King’s books, the way the tension lies just under the surface. There’s a slow, certain inevitability to the plot development in this regard that makes the ending (which I won’t spoil) an expected conclusion by that point–which makes it no less a tear jerker, but it’s kind of cathartic as well. Peaceful, strangely enough. In any case, Lost Boys was a story that struck a deep chord with me and that I would highly recommend, if you have the patience for the slow development.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Angry Robot SF and Fantasy Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle is offering a selection of books from Angry Robot, featuring a variety of science fiction and fantasy titles. Personally, I’m not familiar with any of the stories of the authors, although I have at least seen The Lives of Tao (included in this bundle) around. Regardless of my familiarity, these titles appear to be different enough to be interesting, if only for the sake of variety and novelty, and thus may be worth checking out. Several of them appear to be paranormal or steampunk mysteries of one sort or another, which could be quite enjoyable.

If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/sf-fantasy-angry-robot-books?hmb_source=receipt_page&hmb_medium=product_tile&hmb_campaign=mosaic_section_1_layout_index_2_layout_type_threes_tile_index_2.

1 Comment

Filed under General Site Update

Familiar Strangers (InuYasha Fanfic)

Author: DwaejiTokki

FanFiction ID: 10746579

Status: Complete (oneshot)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Sango and Miroku wake up in the forest with no memory of their past, their friends, of anything really besides their own names. Together, they begin to piece things together and attempt to get to some kind of civilization–only to encounter first a scary giant boar-demon that they somehow know how to fight and then a gruff half-demon who seems to know them. He’s certainly irritated enough with them right now. Turns out, he’s part of the party they were traveling with, and not only have they lost their memories, they’ve somehow lost two of their party members as well! Not in the mood, the half-demon InuYasha dumps Sango and Miroku with Kaede to sort themselves out and attempt to regain their memories while he retrieves Kagome from the future and searches for Shippo and Kirara.

Familiar Strangers is an endearing and amusing oneshot InuYasha fanfic focusing primarily on Sango and Miroku. The plotline’s pretty crackish–going so far as to break the fourth wall and point out the unnatural convenience of a demon attack at one point. But crack or not, it also manages to be in-character, which is particularly challenging when dealing with an amnesia plot. It was fun (and funny) to see Miroku and Sango dealing with the memory loss–and to see how they viewed each other when they had no history to go on. The rapid switch when they got their memories back was also pretty fantastic. Most of this author’s fanfic has a tendency to be pretty dark, so Familiar Strangers was a fun change from that, while still using the solid writing style that makes his work both enjoyable and easy to read. Recommended for basically all InuYasha fans, especially those who enjoy the quirky relationship between these two (and really, who doesn’t love them?).

Note: You can find Familiar Strangers at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10746579/1/Familiar-Strangers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review

When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up, Miranda’s life has been pretty normal. Her childish yet bright single mother falling in love, wavering over whether to give Richard (Mr. Perfect) a key to their New York apartment, getting all excited over entering a TV game show, making plans for what to do with the winnings before she ever gets on the show. Her best friend Sal who has always been there for her, growing up together, like two sides of the same coin. But her sixth grade year, Miranda’s life begins to fall apart. Sal stops talking to her for no obvious reason, and suddenly nothing seems certain anymore. And then she starts getting these messages, small notes giving her instructions, telling her things about the future that no one should have known, claiming that the writer has come back in time to prevent something awful–and that her following these instructions is vital to this happening.

When You Reach Me is one of those unexpected, brilliant finds that just go to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Although the whole Newbery Award should have probably been a good indicator of that. It’s like this fabulous mashup of the things I love best of the writings of Madeleine L’Engle (no surprise, since she’s clearly an influencer of Stead’s writing), E. L. Konigsburg, and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The writing itself is just really good, for one, with layers of depth in the characters and little observations of the everyday thrown into the mix and with a lot of character development and growth and self-realization over the course of the story. That in itself would make for a great story, but then you throw in all the time-travel stuff and the mystery surrounding that, and the book goes to a whole new level in my mind. I liked that attention was given to the effects of time travel, but essentially zero mention was made of the actual mechanics; it wouldn’t work in every situation, but for this story, it was the best possible way to handle the topic. The inclusion of all the references to A Wrinkle in Time really helped to set the stage and explain the time travel better, so that was nicely done as well. Oh, and this is an actual instance of first-person, present-tense that actually works; it feels like reading a letter for the most part, maybe that letter Miranda was supposed to write. Recommended particularly for middle-grade readers, but this is one of those stories that surpasses its recommended grade range, so if you like the above authors’ works and are interested in time travel-related stories, When You Reach Me may be worth trying.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

(White) Collar Optional (Psych/White Collar Crossover Fanfic)

Author: DTS

FanFiction ID: 10367570

Sequel to Psychic in the City

Status: Complete (18 Chapters)

My rating: 4 of 5

Shawn and Gus’s friendly visit to New York has gone dangerously off the tracks, and Gus finds himself teaming up with FBI agent Peter Burke in an attempt to find Shawn who has disappeared along with Peter’s CI, Neal Caffrey. Meanwhile, Neal and Shawn find themselves kidnapped, waking in a strange place and searching for a way of escape. And back in Santa Barbara, the gang are also placed on alert as they find their resident psychic has been kidnapped and is currently missing. . . . And is this even really just a kidnapping, or is it part of some grander scheme?

I really enjoyed DTS’s story Psychic in the City, but as I mentioned in my review of that, it leaves us on this major cliffie. (White) Collar Optional brings us in right where that story cuts off–you might even consider them two pieces of one story, only this second part leaves New York pretty quickly. The things I loved about Psychic in the City are here in spades–the fabulous crossover, the great writing, the interesting and fun combination of character interactions and bigger plotlines. But this story feels more mature, more developed. It actually handles the things I had minor issues with in the previous story, drawing out the characters’ individual quirks more and also discussing more how Shawn and Neal’s relationship actually works. And I have to say, their hijinks here are pretty amusing. It’s also fun to see the SBPD group get in on the action here. The one area I got tripped up on in this story (and this may totally just be my being stupid and slow) but the whole big plot of showing up Shawn as a fake got kind of convoluted and weird in my mind. . . . But I enjoyed the story as it occurred anyway, and I found the individual characterizations and their interactions to be more than enough to make up for any plot confusion I felt. I would definitely recommend (White) Collar Optional, although please read Psychic in the City first; this is one of those stories where the sequel really needs to be a sequel and is not a standalone story.

Note: You can find (White) Collar Optional at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10367570/1/White-Collar-Optional.

2 Comments

Filed under Media Review