Tag Archives: suspense

Back in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah is gradually recovering from the car crash that killed his girlfriend and left him fighting for his life in the virtual reality world of the Dream State. But he’s got unfinished business with Wona, the creators of the game and the company responsible for orchestrating the crash to begin with. Somewhere in the Dream State is an item encoded with video evidence that could put Wona out of business, make them take responsibility for what they’ve done. To get this item, though, Noah must return to the game where he was previously trapped, reunite with his old team members, and race to find this item before someone else does . . . except, when he gets back to the Dream State, he finds that someone already has.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Stuck in the Game, and I think that Back in the Game is a solid continuation of the story. The author does some really great stuff with the setting, focusing less on explaining the mechanics of the game (which you should already know from the first book) and more just letting the game setting affect the way things play out in the story. There are aspects of the story that just couldn’t work in any other setting, and there are also some really neat ideas and nuances that are developed here that I liked a lot–the way that leveling, items, and spells affect the battles or the wide variety of locations, for instance. That said, the type of story presented here is actually pretty different from that of the first book; Stuck in the Game is more of a survival story, whereas Back in the Game is much more revenge-focused. It works, and I enjoyed the plot, but I think I personally like the story-type of Stuck in the Game a bit better–but that’s just me. Also, not to give out too many spoilers, but I felt very personally betrayed by one character in the story . . . and I’m intrigued to see how that betrayal will end up playing out in future volumes. I did enjoy getting a variety of character perspectives throughout the book; they were balanced out quite well and provided some interesting insight into the various players. Overall  I think Back in the Game would be an enjoyable read for anyone interested in LitRPG stories, light novels, video games, or cyberpunk/fantasy/sci-fi stories in general.

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 post.

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Finders Keepers

finders-keepersAuthor: Stephen King

Bill Hodges Trilogy, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In his obsession with the writings of reclusive author John Rothstein (whom he considers a sell out), Morris Bellamy devises a plan to break into the old man’s house and exact his revenge. There’s also the tantalizing rumor that Rothstein has been writing in private and has volumes of unreleased work hidden somewhere in his home. Morris’s plan works, and he gets away clean, burying dozens of Moleskine notebooks full of Rothstein’s writing as well as several thousand dollars in cash that Rothstein also kept in his safe . . . only to find himself imprisoned for life on other charges before he gets to read a single one of those notebooks. Decades later, thirteen-year-old Pete Saubers finds Morris’s buried treasure by accident. And who could fault a kid for secretly passing the money along to his struggling parents, bit by bit–or for obsessively reading the Rothstein notebooks, fueling an already burning passion for literature. But things get messy when Morris is released from prison and comes looking for what he buried (what he killed for) so long ago.

I have found every Stephen King book I’ve read so far to be quite enjoyable, including Finders Keepers. Having said that, I think King does his best work when there’s something paranormal involved. This book is more of a crime thriller, and while it’s still quite excellent, it’s not his best in my personal opinion. I should note that this is the middle volume of a loosely connected trilogy (preceded by Mr. Mercedes and followed by End of Watch), but it’s entirely possible to read it independently (I did) without missing much; all the background you really need is worked into the plot. I thought the characters were solid enough, although I never strongly connected with any of them–Pete and Holly were probably the closest I came, but even they weren’t particularly immediate to me. The plot was fairly interesting though, all of the seemingly disconnected pieces fitting together like a puzzle. As far as the pacing goes, this is a fairly slow-burn thriller, if that makes any sense at all. There’s definitely action, suspense, and intensity, but as far as the story chronology goes, it takes decades to build, and for the reader, it takes place over several hundred pages. I wouldn’t plan to read the whole thing through in one night, that’s all.  It never got boring or stalled out though, at least not for me. Fair warning that, since one of the characters is a murderer and a convict, this book has more than its fair share of violence and language, so don’t come complaining to me if it’s shocking. Just saying. One of the most fascinating aspects of Finders Keepers for me was the obsession the characters had with Rothstein’s story; that’s something I can sort of relate to, and it’s also a good warning. I think most of us can agree that Bellamy is just stark raving mad, completely losing sight of the boundaries between fiction and reality. The greater warning is Pete’s story, that fine wavering of those boundaries that we can explain away logically while still doing nutty things to feed our obsessions, losing sight of what’s really important–like the people we care about. In any case, although it’s not my favorite of King’s books, I still think Finders Keepers is a good read, especially for those who enjoy the crime genre.

 

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Ouroboros (2015 TV Series)

TBSouroboros

Status: Completed, 10 episodes

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Growing up together in the orphanage of Mahoroba, Danno Tatsuya and Ryuzaki Ikuo found love, inspiration, and strength in their caregiver, Yuiko-sensei. . . . That is, until one night when she is murdered and the case is covered up by a police man wearing a gold watch. Young Tatsuya and Ikuo vow to find Yuiko’s murder and exact their own justice. Twenty years later, Tatsuya is a leader in the yakuza and Ikuo is rising through the ranks of the police, working together to ferret out any clues as to Yuiko’s killer. But will they be able to handle the truths they find?

Ouroboros is probably the best J-drama I’ve seen to date. Of course, part of that is the fact that it stars both Shun Oguri and Toma Ikuta, two of my favorite actors. They have a really great dynamic when they work together, and their part in this show was definitely a huge plus for me. But I think that even for those unfamiliar with these two, the show has a lot to offer. It’s a cops and yakuza story, with lots of interconnecting plots, tragic backstory, and a nice balance of drama and action. There are some nicely choreographed fight scenes, even. And an adorable but tragic love story (more than one, depending on how you look at it). Of course, being a J-drama, there’s a certain amount of just plain goofiness, especially at the beginning (then again, can you put Toma in a show without some goofiness?). But again, it balances out, and by the end of the show, it’s just plain heartbreaking. This is a tear-jerker, to be sure, but I think the writers did a great job of making the story fall the way it needs to, not the way you necessarily want it to. . . . It feels like hitsuzen when you get down to it, I guess. Also just have to mention that the character development is remarkably well done–especially for this sort of show–and even the relatively minor characters are interesting. And one last point of note: the casting for the childhood versions of Tatsuya and Ikuo are fabulous. So often, kids seem just picked at random, but the kids chosen for the roles here are perfect, both in appearance and in how they act. Ouroboros is high on my list of recommendations, both for those who enjoy J-dramas and for those who like detective stories in general.

Note: At this point, I don’t know of an official English version of this show, but there are some quite decent fan-subs available.

Based on the manga by Kanzaki Yuya/Directed by Yasuharu Ishii/Music by Kimura Hideakira/Starring Toma Ikuta, Shun Oguri, & Juri Ueno

 

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Dread (Tabletop RPG)

Publisher: The Impossible Dreamdread game

Designers: Epidiah Ravachol & Nathaniel Barmore

Just recently, I was introduced to a rather unique tabletop RPG called Dread. I found this game to be most interesting to play. It involves many of the elements typical to other tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, but rather than using, say, dice for ability checks, players have to pull from a Jenga tower to see if they can successfully complete a task. This makes the game particularly well suited for horror and suspense style stories, since (as you can imagine) the tension builds more and more the longer the game goes on. Also, since a large number of players will likely be removed from the game at some time during play (since your character is removed if you knock down the tower), this is great for one-shots. I think that, while I still prefer a more fantasy-themed longer-duration game, Dread is pretty interesting for something different on occasion. If you like tabletop RPGs at all, I think it would be worth trying at least.


For more information, you can check out The Impossible Dream’s Dread page here or their WordPress blog here. Enjoy!

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The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatkethe return of zita the spacegirl

My rating: 5 of 5

Zita the Spacegirl, vol. 3

After being wrongfully accused of crimes she didn’t commit, young Zita has been tried and imprisoned on a dungeon world along with her friend, Mouse. She finds herself in a cell with a living ragpile and a talking skeleton–a skeleton whose fingerbones can open any lock. Befriending these two, Zita takes her first opportunity to break out and try to rescue her friend Mouse. Along the way, Zita finds unexpected help as the friends she’s made and people she’s helped along her journey join forces to help her escape.

I’ve said it before, but Ben Hatke’s graphic novels are fantastic. I absolutely loved the first two Zita stories, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is the perfect conclusion to this delightful trilogy. While being perhaps a bit darker than the first two (being set almost entirely in a prison setting), the story remains consistent in its emphasis on friendship, courage, and doing the right thing. Zita’s an amazing girl, no question, and the friends she makes are delightful, unexpected, and heartwarming. The art is fabulous, full of quirky originalities. I also love that the story is rich enough to be fun for an adult reader while being clean and simple enough for an elementary-grade reader to also enjoy. Additionally, I liked that the ending of this one was conclusive enough that I’m not searching for a continuation while still being open enough that there could potentially be more volumes in the future (unlike the earlier volumes which absolutely demanded a continuation). I think I would highly recommend The Return of Zita the Spacegirl to pretty much anyone–just read the first two volumes first.

 

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Except the Queen

Authors: Jane Yolen & Midori SnyderExcept the Queen

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Fey sisters Serana and Meteora have lived in ageless, carefree youth for uncounted years, but that all changes when one of them accidentally reveals their Queen’s most carefully kept secret. In punishment, the both of them are stripped of everything they have always relied on: youth, beauty, magical power, the freedom of the Greenwood, even the presence of each other. The two are dumped into the human world, miles apart, in the forms of fat, powerless old women. And so, they must find a new way to live, blending in with humanity and seeing humans in a new light. But even the Queen’s curse can’t keep them wholly separated, and in the midst of this new life, the two sisters find new purpose and unity.

So, I’m normally a huge fan of Jane Yolen’s writing, but Except the Queen just didn’t hit me right. I still liked it–a 3-star rating is still a definite like–but I probably won’t ever read it again. I even suspect it’s actually quite a good book, but still. . . . The first part of the story, while they’re still in the Greenwood, was very difficult for me to get into; I had to force myself to read the first 6 chapters or so. It was only after Serana and Meteora became a part of the human world, as they became more human themselves, that I found them at all possible to relate to. The actual structure and build-up of the story was quite good–I think if it had been written just a bit differently (maybe by just Jane Yolen; I’m not familiar with Snyder’s writing), this could have easily been a 4.5- or a 5-star read. I did love that a good chunk of the story is told in letters exchanged between the sisters, and that’s probably one of my favorite aspects of this story. One of the biggest negatives was that the story is told from numerous perspectives that flop from first person to third person to (very weirdly, and just for the Queen) second person. It’s kind of off-putting. Still, for those who don’t mind a few issues along those lines, I do think that Except the Queen is an original, intriguing sort of contemporary urban fantasy that melds intrigue, romance, and the sweet daily lives of two little old lady sisters quite nicely.

 

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The Replacement

Author: Brenna Yovanoffthe replacement

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The town of Gentry is very good at keeping secrets and not noticing horrible things. Mackie Doyle knows this better than anyone . . . after all, he’s the best-kept secret of them all. When he was little, he was placed in the crib of Malcolm Doyle–a fey changeling to replace the stolen human child. But instead of creating an uproar, Malcolm’s parents chose to treat Mackie as their son, hiding the fact that he wasn’t human as best they could. But now as Mackie is in high school, it’s not so easy being a fake; blood makes him sick, all the iron around him everywhere is slowly poisoning him, and now he finds himself approached by individuals who aren’t even as convincingly human as he is . . . which isn’t particularly, not that anyone seems to notice. Because Gentry is good at not noticing.

The Replacement was an unexpected find for me, a dark paranormal romance with a refreshing twist. I have to admit, I’ve gotten extremely tired of vampires and zombies, even though there are some excellent stories featuring these beings. But having a contemporary story that looked back to the old legends and fairy tales of the fey and their habits of stealing children in exchange for “luck” or “protection” or some such was a pleasantly creepy change. I think the way Yovanoff handled the concept worked well too, especially in Mackie’s character–the extreme allergy to iron allows for all sorts of interesting plot developments, since the element is so commonplace we don’t even notice its presence usually. But Yovanoff also did a great job of keeping the story human, of putting people in Mackie’s life to love him, whatever he may be. I did have a few minor issues with the plot development, although I realize they were probably necessary for the story to flow. For one, the romantic development felt too fast for me;  I mean, I totally think that Mackie fell in love with the right person, it was just like “whoa, they’re kissing already?!” you know? The other thing was the complete paralysis of the parents. I get how a town could overlook awful stuff happening around them when it’s convenient. We do it all the time, you know we do. But mother instincts are pretty crazy strong things, and I can’t see any real mom not realizing that her baby’s been exchanged–or not doing something about it when she realizes, however futile her actions may be. But still, in spite of these relatively minor issues, The Replacement was an eerie, exciting teen paranormal romance that I would recommend, especially to those who really enjoy the genre.

 

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