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Hellboy (2019)
Hellboy (2019)
2019 | Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Make up (0 more)
Acting (0 more)
It all looked soooo promising
Contains spoilers, click to show
Let me say this upfront; David Harbour looks f---ing boss as Hellboy. The makeup is far superior to that of Ron Perlman, not that there was anything wrong with Ron Perlman’s, but with this new incarnation it’s all in the eyes. Deep red, sunken, pained. Sadly, that is all I can say about this movie that is one hundred percent genuinely positive. There are positives however, but they come with a big ‘however’.
I was initially a little concerned that we were getting a re-boot and not a direct sequel to Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), especially as it still seemed so recent and was so well made. I know it was over a decade ago but quality is timeless, yeah? Then David Harbour was cast and Neil Marshall announced as director. Great, thought I, an actor I like and a director who’s put out some solid genre material. I saw the first picture of Harbour as Hellboy and I was genuinely excited. I saw the trailer and again, excited. Then I watched the film.
Eurgh, where to start?
Firstly, Ian McShane’s initial voice over is clunky and ill fitting, then they throw in some b@llocks about King Arthur and Excalibur. I had my first wobble here, as some of the effects seemed less than special.
Cue opening titles.
The film starts with a Mexican wrestling match that is purely exposition to let us know Hellboy is a hard drinking and hard fighting anti-hero working for an organisation that deals with the paranormal. The make up for his vampiric opponent is also great (can’t fault the makeup department), but the scene seemed superfluous. We get the nubbin of the story forming now; some horrible witchy wench from way back when was cut into bits and flung around jolly old England to prevent her from spreading a right ‘orrible plague. Turns out a potty-mouthed Liverpudlian pig-monster is collecting said bits in the hope of putting her back together in exchange for his normal appearance. Scouse pig-monster is quite entertaining.
Hellboy goes to England at the request of an upper-class paranormal society to help them kill giants; this goes t1ts up. Again, this seems like unnecessary exposition to introduce Alice, a medium who he rescued as a baby, who now rescues him in a transit van. We also get introduced to M11’s Agent Daimio. There something wrong with him, he keeps injecting himself with a serum to stop something happening. I knew at this point we’d get to see what it was eventually, probably at a juncture where something is needed to rescue someone important. However, at this point I had a feeling it would be bad, I just didn’t know how bad.
There some more fighting, some good effects, some mediocre effects and some terrible effects. There’s some good one-liners, there’s some dull and/or terrible dialogue and then we get the film’s conclusion.
There’s something I’ve been putting off mentioning as I didn’t want the entire review to be about it, and it could have been; the witchy wench at the heart of all this paranormal consternation, Nimue, is played by Milla Jovovich and she is terrible. From when she first opens her mouth to her predictable demise, she is terrible. Terrible. TERRIBLE.
I love some of the Resident Evil films but all she’s required to do is some slow-motion scissor kicks and shoot zombies and zombie-dogs in the face. She is tolerated, rather than enjoyed. Here she is emoting, or at least I think that’s what she was going for, and as a depiction of an evil entity bent of the destruction of all mankind, she is, for want of a better word, cack.
David Harbour and the Hellboy franchise deserve better than this. To be blunt, the franchise has better than this and Mike Mignola should be a bit more f---ing precious with his creation.
Hellboy (2004) was genuinely exciting; it was an origin story that bought that story full circle for its thrilling and apocalyptical conclusion. It has a wonderful nemesis, great support and breath-taking visuals. The re-tread of the origin story in Hellboy (2019) is, again, one more unnecessary diversion from a sketchy plot, which, for all its meagre bones takes a f-ck load of time to tell.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) was equally impressive. It also introduced a fully formed community of creatures and customs hiding alongside mankind. It did so with nonchalant aplomb. Nothing seemed irrelevant or forced. For two films with almost identical running times, Hellboy (2019) tells less of a story with way more waffle.
So, I did mention there were some positives. David Harbour is great. He’s dour, sarcastic, defiant and funny, he just has no engaging story in which to be all those things. Ian McShane is good as the father figure but he is overshadowed by memories of the late, unbelievably great John Hurt. The story of a witch trying to destroy mankind is solid fantasy movie gold and the unleashing of her plague late in the final act is suitably hellish; bizarre demons emerging from city streets and tearing humans limb from limb, it’s bloody wonderful and wonderfully bloody. They all could have come straight out of a Clive Barker fever dream. However, it’s too little too late, by this point in the story we’ve had too many cutaways, too much shoddy CGI, and Agent Daimio stinking up many a scene with his ‘will he won’t he’ turn into something rubbish… he does.
The worst part of all this is I don’t know if they can come back from this. The film may have sunk the franchise at least for the next few years.
I do however, look forward to a re-boot in a decade or so, if we haven’t all been assimilated by aliens, overrun by AI robots or decimated by a supernatural plague bought on by some witchy wench with an axe to grind.

THREE WORD SUMMATION: Big Red Turd.
  
Munchkin
Munchkin
2001 | Card Game, Fantasy, Fighting, Humor
A “Munchkin,” in gamer terms, is someone who is only out to better themselves with treasure and power at the expense of everyone else in their adventuring party. That rings so very true in the Munchkin line of games, as you are trying to be the first to gain 10th Level in a VERY loosely-based RPG setting. OG vanilla Munchkin (pictured above) was my first entry into hobby board gaming. Many many games later I ask myself: How has this system of games aged for me as my gaming tastes have changed? Let’s see.

In Munchkin games, you are trying to become the first player to reach 10th Level. That’s the goal. You take on the persona of a 1st Level basic human (no Starbucks jokes please) who will be adventuring with a party of your opponents through a dungeon. You will be kicking down doors, fighting monsters, placing curses on your fellow party members, and buffing yourself with cards featuring funny art and punny references. Your party mates are also trying to achieve 10th Level and will do everything they can to block your progress, so be prepared!

DISCLAIMER: This review is not for a specific game within the Munchkin universe, but for the system as a whole. All Munchkin games will pretty much use similar, if not exactly the same, rules to play the game with minor variations and different theming. I will be using The Good, The Bad, and The Munchkin for my review as it is one of the two versions I still own of the franchise. Also, I will not be detailing every rule in the book(s), but giving a brief overview of how the game plays. -T

Setup is easy: shuffle the deck of Door cards and the deck of Treasure cards. Deal cards to the players for their opening hands and keep the included die handy.

Your turn consists of just a few phases: Open a Door, Look for Trouble, Loot the Room, and Charity. To Open a Door, flip over the top card of the Door deck. If it is a monster you must fight it or run. If not a monster, you can move on to the next phase. If it IS a monster, prepare for combat. Combat is simple in that you add up all your bonuses from your gear cards you have attached to your character and try to beat the strength of the monster. Your party mates can screw with you during combat by adding strength to the monster or adding monsters to the fight to make it a more difficult encounter. If you win, you gain a Level on the spot. Some monsters are worth even more than one Level. If you did not encounter a monster, you will add the non-monster card you drew to your hand and you may Look for Trouble by playing a monster card from your hand to initiate a combat. This fight will work the same way and you will be susceptible to pile-ons as before. You may Loot the Room if you defeated a monster on your turn by drawing Treasure cards equal to the printed reward on the bottom of the monster card you defeated. If you defeated the monster yourself, unaided, these are drawn in secret. If you were given help by your mates then you may have to split up the loot per any agreements made. These cards are usually very advantageous to you so they are usually very valuable to others as they attempt to steal away your goods. If you did not fight a monster yet this turn, you may draw another secret card from the Door deck to add to your hand. Should your hand size climb above your limit (dictated by your Race card, if any) you will slide into the Charity phase to relieve your hand of extra cards. Give all excess cards to the player of lowest Level, or split them among those that share the lowest Level. It is now the next player’s turn and you continue play until someone reaches 10th Level.

Components. It’s a bunch of cards and one die. The cards are of okay quality. Nothing to write home about. The die is nice with one of the faces having the Munchkin logo head imprinted on it. It will also have a color scheme that matches the version of Munchkin you are playing, so it’s easy to match them back up if they become integrated with each other. Overall, the components are fine, but not wonderful. That’s probably why these are pretty inexpensive to purchase.

Okay, so like I said earlier the original vanilla Munchkin was the first hobby board game I ever purchased. My friends and family had no idea hobby games existed, so there was actually a pretty steep learning curve for us. Once we figured it out, however, we began to play it a ton and really love it! The cards are cute, the game play is pretty easy if you have played hobby games before, and the puns kept us rolling for a good while. There was a time when I owned every version of Munchkin in circulation and we never even played half of them. Seeing this I got rid of them through BGG Auctions. I have The Good, The Bad, and The Munchkin and Munchkin Zombies right now and I feel that will be plenty for me from here on out – unless they make a Doctor Who or Firefly set or something /*checks warehouse23 to find out if these are available/.

Do I still love Munchkin? No, not really. I LIKE it, but I don’t really want to play it all the time any more. Why? Well, as my gamer experience increases and I level up, my game tastes also level up. I see why people enjoy and even love this game system. I myself loved it for a time. But there are better games out there that accomplish the same feelings without being as sophomoric and have better choices to be made. Will I still play these games? Heck yeah! If someone asks to play a Munchkin game I am all in. I have different tastes and preferences now, but I’m no snob. Just come prepared, because I won’t go easy on you.

We at Purple Phoenix Games give this family of titles a backstabby 16 / 24.
  
DiTiC
DiTiC
2019 | Abstract Strategy
Purple Phoenix Games Preview
Abstract strategy games hold a special place in my heart. I’m not really a fan of Chess, but I am a fan of games that are light on rules and components but heavier in strategy needed to best your opponents. Yes, I like games that have zombies and gore or adventure and treasures as well, but abstracts are a great escape from those Ameritrashy games we all love.

So my original thought was to try to open this preview with a dastardly abstract statement to truly emphasize how theming is irrelevant with some activities. Not quite having done that, DiTiC is an abstract strategy game of “tile placement and dice-pawn” movement. How does it play? Read on.

In DiTiC the winner is the first player to upgrade one of their dice from a smaller-valued die into a value of six. Bring out smaller value dice and move them around the “board” to combine with other dice and win the game!

DISCLAIMER: We were provided a review copy of this game for the purposes of this review. These are preview copy components, and I do not know if the final components will be similar or different, or if the Kickstarter campaign will alter or add anything through stretch goals. -T

To setup a game of DiTiC, each player chooses a color of dice and takes all dice into their hand. The tile with “DiTiC START” on it is the, well, starting tile and is placed in the middle of the table. Roll off to see who goes first and you are ready to play!

On a turn a player may draw and place a tile or move one of their dice. Players start with zero dice on the board, so the first few turns will be drawing a tile from the bag and placing it on the board either side face-up. As you can see from the photos the tiles will have different colored (and shaped) corners. It’s when these corners complete an intersection of four tile corners that dice may enter the board. Depending on the color of the intersection’s majority control a die of said majority color comes into play on the value of the number of icons present. That’s a mouthful. So there are four corners to the intersection. If said intersection contains two red, a blue, and a black icon then red will place a die with value of two pips showing on that intersection. These dice may now be moved and combined with like-valued dice (with an exception). If a player has at least one die on the board when initiating this action, they may roll the action die after placement and complete any other actions the die result allows.

When a player decides instead to move, combine, or overtake a die, they simply move the die along the edge of a tile to the next closest intersection. Exception to movement: players can move all dice with a value of one BEFORE any other dice movement, and dice with value of one or two may move in any direction – even diagonally.

To combine/upgrade dice players will need to move one die into the same intersection as an equal-valued die in order to combine into a die of value +1. Example: a four die and a four die combine to make a five die. Exception to combinations: a value one die may combine with a value three die (remember the exception from the previous paragraph?) to create a value four die.

To overtake an opponent’s die, a player simply moves a superior die onto an occupied intersection. Typically, a die of larger value can overtake any die of smaller value. Exceptions: nothing may overtake a four or five, and only a five can overtake a three. Three-value dice seem to be the superheros of DiTiC.

So after many back-and-forth turns of placing tiles and rolling dice or moving/combining/overtaking dice the winner is crowned once they have upgraded any die into a value six die.

Components. Again, this is a prototype version of the game, so I will comment on what I can. I think the game looks very nice, even in this stage of production. The icons on the tiles are clear – and THANK YOU for considering the colorblind gamer community by making each icon different by both color and art style. The dice are your typical d6 (and I do not know if there will be any changes made to these as a result of a successful campaign). The icons on the action die make sense and I really dig the laser-etched wooden design, and I kinda hope that detail makes it into the final product. But I prefer wooden dice to plastic every time. The game also came with a burlap bag to house and conceal the tiles, and coupled with the wooden dice makes a nice little natural organic combo. My only request for the final version of the game? Go crazy with the color scheme. Black, red, white, and blue are great colors, but fling out the purple and the gold and the orange and the aqua. But I’m no designer. It looks great as it is.

So like I said up top, I love abstracts. Surprisingly so. The more I play them the more I love them. And this game definitely adds to my love of the genre. The rules are kinda wacky, and the dice of different values each can do their own thing, and I think that’s really interesting. It’s not simply a game of moving big dice around eating all the little dice. I mean, you CAN do that, but you will not advance your own strategies. But there is an amount of take that in this game, from the action dice to the tile placement to the overtaking of dice, that will really appeal to lots of people. It’s not a big game, but it looks great on the table, and plays really well once you have immersed yourself in the rules. I really believe that the more I play it the more I will fall in love with it. In fact, as I type this I want to go home and play it right now. And that’s a mark of a good, if not great, game, isn’t it?

If you like abstract strategy games and have a little room for this small game in your collection (or better, MAKE some room for it) then you should definitely consider backing it on Kickstarter, or (depending on when you read this) picking it up at your FLGS.
  
Pirate's Mark
Pirate's Mark
2020 | Card Game, Party Game, Pirates
I simply cannot get enough of pirate games! I know some gamers are tired of pirates and zombies and Mediterranean trading, and I most certainly understand that. However, I’m just a sucker for some themes, and pirates are one. I am also growing to love press-your-luck style games for that giant helping of luck. I mean, how different is it from rolling a die and basing turns on those results? In this case it is flipping over cards instead of flipping the number of cards rolled. Similar, but different. In any case, today I take a look at Pirate’s Mark from first-time designers, artist, and publisher. Let’s see if I have found a treasure or contracted scurvy from the ordeal.

Pirate’s Mark is a bluffing, bidding, press-your-luck card game about finding treasure in the sea and avoiding contracting the Pirate’s Mark: the mark of death. In it players are pirates searching the seas by boasting about how many treasures they expect they will find, flipping over cards, and dealing with any consequences of their pulls. The last pirate to remain unmarked at the end of the game will be the winner and richest of all pirates on the vast seas.

DISCLAIMER: We were provided a copy of this game for the purposes of this review. This is a retail copy of the game, so what you see in these photos is exactly what would be received in your box. I do not intend to cover every single rule included in the rulebook, but will describe the overall game flow and major rule set so that our readers may get a sense of how the game plays. For more in depth rules, you may purchase a copy online or from your FLGS. -T


To setup, include the correct number of cards as described in the rulebook for the number of players. Once the cards are shuffled they will be laid out in a 10 x 15 grid on the table, face-down. The Compass Rose card and die are placed near the card grid and the game is ready to begin!
On a turn a short bidding round commences with players announcing how many cards they believe they can pull from the grid without uncovering a Pirate’s Mark card. This bidding goes around the table with bids increasing with each player until one player calls the bluff and forces the last player to bid to take their turn. That player then pulls a number of cards face-up from the sea and resolves any cards that are immediate, stashes cards that are treasures, and holds cards that contain the phrase, “Play this card,” to be used at a later time.

If the turn is uneventful, by not revealing any Pirate’s Mark cards, then the game continues with bidding and pulling. However, once a pirate reveals a Pirate’s Mark card, they are marked and cannot participate in the bidding any longer (unless they find a way to unmark themselves, which IS possible). Marked players can get back in the game by calling another player’s bluff correctly. There is indeed risk here as a marked player that incorrectly calls a bluff is permanently dead and out of the game.


There are some more rules for the end of the game phase called, “Duel Mode,” but I will let you discover those on your own. Play continues in this fashion until one player is standing and unmarked. This player wins the game and the others need to pack up the 130 cards that were setup. Okay, I added that last part.
Components. This game is a ton of square cards and a fantastic d12 that is only used for the two-player variant. The cards are all glossy, but good quality, and feature photos (akin to screencaps from movies) instead of illustrations. I find the theme to be very present in not only the press-your-luck and bidding/bluffing mechanics, but also in the design of the cards and the photos used. It feels like a piratey game and plays like a piratey game. Like I said, the d12 is fabulous, and I actually happen to own a set of dice that I use for my RPG campaigns… sometimes. All in all the game has some good components and looks great on the table.

So I have some good AND bad news to deliver. First the bad. Some cards that are pulled are way too overpowered. One is called “Blackbeard’s Sword.” It allows the player to “peek under the number of cards left in your bid.” I used this card on a bid of 22 cards and was able to pull all safe cards because this allowed me to see 22 cards and avoid any Pirate’s Marks. Super OP if you ask me. The only other bad I have here is setup. There are 130 cards to be sorted, shuffled, and laid out in a nice-looking grid before the game can be played. For those of us with slight or full-blown OCD that is a nightmare. Luckily, I only stress if the cards are way out of whack instead of just slightly askew.

Now for all the good. I like this game quite a bit. To offset some of the OP of the aforementioned card, the game comes with some pretty great Lucky and Curse cards to be pulled. A couple Lucky cards are, “Drop Anchor,” which ends the player’s turn when revealed, thus negating any Mark pulls, and “Flying Dutchman,” which can be played on a marked player to instantly kill them. Now, I do not condone murder normally, but when playing a pirate game, it is to be expected. The Curses pulled are equally unlucky. “Winds of Fate” allows the person who called the bluff to choose the rest of the cards to be pulled for your turn. OUCH! Especially if they had used “Blackbeard’s Sword” and know where one or more Pirate’s Marks are hidden. Similarly unlucky is “Isla Muerta” which penalizes the player if they have 10 or more treasure cards and pull a Pirate’s Mark – they die instantly from the curse! These are just a few examples of some cards that can be encountered during play, and there are a whole lot more of them included.

I do so enjoy bluffing and luck-based games more and more, and Pirate’s Mark certainly gives it to me on those fronts. Being able to just whisk away 20 or more cards because you happen to have that coveted card you used is devilishly fun. Watching the other players seethe with envy as you pull treasure after treasure and avoid Marks is like winning $20 on a scratch-off. It won’t change your life, but it will give a shot of adrenaline and euphoria for a few minutes. I think Pirate’s Mark fills a void of straight bidding, bluffing, and luck that certainly matches the theme perfectly, and remains a good game as well.

Also, if you happen across one of the expansions, “Parrghty Mode,” it adds another five players to the game and bumps up the count of cards in play from 130 to a whopping 168! This is not for the small of table. I wish there was room inside the base game’s box to fit these extra cards, but alas, there is not.

So if you are like me and enjoy games on the lighter side that perfectly match game to theme, then you have to check out Pirate’s Mark. Purple Phoenix Games gives this one a haunting 8 / 12. I certainly recommend it and will now be finding a place in my main shelf unit for it. Hmm, which game do I make walk the plank…?
  
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Action/Adventure
Gameplay (1 more)
Graphics
Characters (1 more)
Twist ending
A Review By A Disappointed Long Time Fan
Before this game was released, I was certain that it was going to be my Game Of The Year for 2015, and in a lot of ways it is a worthy contender. As an open world stealth game, it is groundbreaking. The gameplay is some of the best I’ve ever seen, the controls feel tight, the underlying systems and features, (such as reflex mode and the buddy system,) are solid and the AI is responsive and fair. This is KojiPro’s first attempt at an open world game, and as far as first attempts go, this is ‘pretty good.’ The world is breathtaking as well, the graphics that the Fox engine can produce are stunning in every way, the world feels alive, with both enemies and wildlife, the textures, the particle systems, the gun models, every visual in this game has been created with an insane amount of attention to detail and all of it really pays off. I experienced little to no glitches while making my way through the single player campaign and the presentation overall is great. Motherbase is also awesome, you genuinely feel as if you are assembling an army and even though the Fulton is daft, it is a nice touch. And the amount of variety this game provides is vast, you can take 4 different buddies with you, each with unique skills, you can infiltrate in the morning or at night, you can choose your guns and customise them to suit, you can also customise your buddy’s gear, your helicopter and to a small extent Motherbase too, although that could have went deeper. Now, if that is all that you are looking for, then seriously, stop reading this review right now and go buy the game, you will love it and there is so much to do, I sank a good 75+ hours into this game and my overall completion rate is still only at 75%. If however, like me, you are looking for something more than just great gameplay, you will be left feeling as empty as I do. Like I keep reiterating, the gameplay is phenomenal, but that’s the problem, I have never played MGS for the gameplay. It wasn’t the gameplay that made me fall in love with the series growing up and if anything you would always suffer through the stiff gameplay in order to experience the deep and complex story and that was okay, because it would always be so worth it. This game throws all of that out of the window.

The way that this game is structured is awful. You play a few main missions in a row, the story is beginning to hook you, but then OCD kicks in and you realise that you have 4 or 5 side missions building up to be completed, so you go and do them, but then you come back to the main story and forget what was going on in the last mission, but who cares when you can Fulton a goat, right?

The writing in this game is possibly the laziest it’s ever been, one example of this is the ‘controversial’ character known as Quiet. This character has been masterly debated over a lot (see what I did there?) and thrown more gasoline on the fire that is the over-sexualisation of women in video games. My stance on it is somewhere in between, the reason for her lack of clothes and speech is silly, however she is running around Afghanistan and Africa, which are very hot countries, so really they could have put her in a bikini top and a pair of cargo pants and I doubt anyone would have batted an eyelid. Now, the Metal Gear series has always been known for its odd Japanese perviness, but when it is a main character that has been sexualised, it’s always been for a justified narrative reason, such as EVA in MGS3 walking about with the front of her jacket unzipped showing off her bikini clad chest, but the whole point of her mission in that game, was to seduce Snake, so it made sense within the context of the story, in this game the reason for Quiet’s over exposure is much lazier and feels tacked on as a cheap excuse.

The worst part about all of this is the fact that, this is it, Kojima’s definite last Metal Gear game, there is no going back to redeem anything, like in MGS2 when everyone hated it, but because 4 solved some of the problems that were created in 2 people are now okay with 2, that can’t happen with this game because Kojima and Konami are no more. Now I could write a whole other paper on Konami vs Kojima and my stance on it but this is the jist, Kojima was spending too much money and taking too much time with this game, Konami demanded he finish it so they can make their money and add their microtransaction’s etc Kojima told them where they can stick it and the partnership was dead. This has had an effect on the game, there is clearly content missing, Konami has confirmed that at least one mission was cut, where Snake would have went to Africa to have another battle with Eli and Sahalanthropus, which is the Metal Gear in this game, which is unacceptable really. Also, I assume there was a lot of other content that was cut that we weren’t told about. Sahalanthropus is another problem I have, how is it that this Metal Gear created in the 80’s is more advanced than REX, which was created in the early 2000’s. Also, when you fight Sahalanthropus, there is no one in the thing, it is an empty robot being controlled by Mantis, who floats beside the giant mech. That is actually a decent metaphor for the lack of villains in this game. Skull Face is hardly in the game and his eventual death, like every other significant event in this game, just kind of happens with no build up and packing little punch. The team of bosses in the original Metal Gear, headed up by Liquid and Ocelot, were probably the best team of villains in any game ever, since then the bosses have gone slowly downhill. The Sons of Big Boss were great, Dead Cell were pretty cool, The Cobras were okay, The Beauty & The Beast Corps were pretty lame and The Skulls in this game are emotionless zombies who don’t even have individual names and Skull Face is such a disappointing antagonist, he is hardly in the main game and then he shows up at the end, gives some silly speech that we have heard before in the trailers and then just dies, no boss fight or anything. Also, no customisable Metal Gear, which I feel like is a huge missed opportunity and no Sims like Motherbase customisation, interior or exterior.

David Hayter was missed in this game, Keifer was fine on the rare occasion he did speak, but the phantom Snake twist was the perfect opportunity to reintroduce Hayter’s voice and they didn’t take it. Also no Campbell or EVA, not even a reference. And it is never explained why the last time we see the real Big Boss, he is rescuing a child and a young girl and the next time we see him he has become modern day Hitler. Ultimately, this game just makes me sad, it is hard not to focus on the fallout from the Konima debacle, P.T/Silent Hills is no more, that promisingly terrifying demo we were teased with will amount to nothing and this game is all we will ever get again in terms of the Metal Gear saga. This is the end of an era, and it’s an end that doesn’t sit perfectly with me.
  
Down These Strange Streets
Down These Strange Streets
George R.R. Martin | 2011 | Fiction & Poetry
8
7.0 (2 Ratings)
Book Rating
This anthology gathers stories from authors who normally write in various genres. The commonality is that each story is a mystery, and there's a fantastic twist to each. Martin's introduction calls such stories the "bastard stepchild" of mystery and horror.

[a:Charlaine Harris|17061|Charlaine Harris|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1307925926p2/17061.jpg]'; "Death by Dahlia," set in the Sookie Stackhouse universe, is one of a series of stories about the vampire Dahlia Lynley-Chivers. Each story stands alone, but my enjoyment grows greater with each addition to her tales. I'd much rather see Dahlia as the main character of a novel than Sookie, to be honest. This story, set at the party for the ascension of a new vampire sherrif, was a little gem, and a nice start to the collection.

"The Bleeding Shadow" by [a:Joe R. Lansdale|58971|Joe R. Lansdale|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1200406474p2/58971.jpg] is grittier from start to finish, set in the south of black folks in the 1950s. A beautiful woman sends her sometime-suitor to find her brother, a blues musician who has gotten into music that isn't of this world. I couldn't be done with this one soon enough, as it gave me the willies. I have a feeling Lansdale would be happy that it stuck with me for a while.

[a:Simon R. Green|41942|Simon R. Green|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1224555729p2/41942.jpg]'s "Hungry Heart" takes us to the Nightside, where John Taylor is hired by a young witch to retrieve her stolen heart. I haven't read any of the Nightside novels, but this is probably the third or fourth short story I've read, and for some reason they never leave me wanting more. I don't hunger for the darkness, I guess. I will give Green points for creativity in evil henchmen, though.

"Styx and Stones" by [a:Steven Saylor|42919|Steven Saylor|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1243268148p2/42919.jpg] takes a teenage version of his novel hero Gordianus on a world tour to see the Seven Wonders of the World, and this stop is Babylon. Gordianus and his companion, Antipater, find a murderous ghost in residence near their inn in addition to seeing the Ziggurat, the Gate of Ishtar, and what's left of the Hanging Gardens.

[a:S. M. Stirling|6448047|S. M. Stirling|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg]'s "Pain and Suffering" was unsatisfying to me. It opened with an ex-soldier's combat flashback twisted into something Other, then we learn that the ex-soldier is a cop. He and his partner spend a lot of time investigating an apparent arson and possibly-connected kidnapping. The flashbacks repeat. There's more, but I don't want to spoil the story. I just felt that there was a lot of build-up for very little payoff, and that perhaps this story was meant as a teaser for a novel in which context it would all make far more sense.

"It's Still the Same Old Story' by [a:Carrie Vaughn|8988|Carrie Vaughn|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1231952277p2/8988.jpg] features vampire Rick, from the Kitty Norville books. An old friend calls him needing his help, but by the time he gets to her, she's dead. Most of the story is told in flashback, with him remembering when he originally met the now-old-woman, when they were lovers for a time. The murder is no great mystery for very long. The story felt more rote than anything else, as if perhaps Vaughn wanted to humanize Rick a bit by showing that he had cared for this woman at one time. I didn't feel much of anything from it.

One of the more creative pieces, "The Lady is a Screamer" by [a:Conn Iggulden|119121|Conn Iggulden|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1235073163p2/119121.jpg], is told in first person by a con man turned ghostbuster. I didn't like it, precisely, and i certainly didn't like the narrator. It stands alone, though, and doesn't feel derivative at all, so that says something all by itself.

"Hellbender" by [a:Laurie R. King|6760|Laurie R. King|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1314242901p2/6760.jpg] is probably the only story that left me determined to hunt down more of the author's work. I would classify it as near-future science fiction, but it certainly fits in the noir detective genre as well. I have no hesitation giving this one story five out of five stars.

"Shadow Thieves" is a Garrett, P.I. story by [a:Glen Cook|13026|Glen Cook|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1207159752p2/13026.jpg]. That's another series I haven't read, but I believe this is the first time I've read a short story set in that world. I wouldn't mind reading the series if the novels are all light-hearted like this story. There was some darkness, obviously, or the piece wouldn't be in this anthology - but overall, there was humor.

[a:Melinda M. Snodgrass|725899|Melinda M. Snodgrass|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1271184595p2/725899.jpg]'; "No Mystery, No Miracle" is probably the most controversial story in the book if anybody is really paying attention. I found it intriguing and well-written.

"The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery" by [a:M.L.N. Hanover|1868743|M.L.N. Hanover|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-M-50x66.jpg] takes us a big city, where an overworked cop is trying to get a confession out of a supposedly demon-possessed killer. He gets help from an unusual minister (Unitarian, we're told - not something that will thrill any UUs out there). I found this one of the most chilling stories in the book. Telling you why, however, would be a spoiler.

I would love to see a novel featuring the main characters of [a:Lisa Tuttle|38313|Lisa Tuttle|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1296860221p2/38313.jpg]'s "The Curious Affair of the Deodand" - a young woman in the Watson role and a young man as a Sherlock Holmes-type consulting detective. The young lady is every bit as vital to resolving the case as the man is, which is one of the things I enjoyed about the story. The resolution isn't as satisfying as it could be, though, which is one of the reasons I'd like to see the same characters in other circumstances.

"Lord John and the Plague of Zombies" by [a:Diana Gabaldon|3617|Diana Gabaldon|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1213918339p2/3617.jpg] is a Lord John Grey story. This is, I believe, the first thing I've read by Gabaldon. It wasn't bad and it wasn't earth-shakingly good. It was decently-plotted with predictable characters and a nice little twist at the end, so enjoyable to read. I won't avoid her work but I'm not burning to read more, either.

"Beware the Snake" is an SPQR story by [a:John Maddox Roberts|19522|John Maddox Roberts|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1285244765p2/19522.jpg]. Once again, I'm unfamiliar with the author and the series, but the story gave enough context for me to understand the setting and the characters, so that was all right. It was enjoyable, although I probably would have twigged to a couple of things more quickly were I more familiar with Roman naming customs.

[a:Patricia Briggs|40563|Patricia Briggs|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1228867484p2/40563.jpg]'; "In Red, With Pearls" is set in Mercedes Thompson's world but featuring werewolf Warren Smith and his lover Kyle. Kyle is set upon by a zombie assassin who is thwarted by Warren, but of course Warren wants to know who sent the zombie, why, and who made the zombie. It's a very good story, as I've come to expect from Briggs. I had a bit of a hard time keeping up with some of the secondary characters in the story, but then I was distracted at the time.

"The Adakian Eagle" by [a:Bradley Denton|198305|Bradley Denton|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1320697919p2/198305.jpg] is a Dashiell Hammett story - as in, Hammett is a character. That was interesting alone, but the story in general was well-told. Spare and hard, as befits one of the main characters.

All in all this is a collection that I can definitely recommend. There are very few clunkers are several excellent stories. [a:George R.R. Martin|346732|George R.R. Martin|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1195658637p2/346732.jpg] and [a:Gardner R. Dozois|12052|Gardner R. Dozois|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1247758142p2/12052.jpg] did their jobs very well.
  
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Hadley (567 KP) rated Pet Sematary in Books

Jul 31, 2019  
Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary
Stephen King | 2011 | Fiction & Poetry, Horror
8
8.4 (53 Ratings)
Book Rating
Realistic horror scenes (1 more)
Great writing
Overuse of some words (1 more)
Some contradictions
Louis Creed, the main character of Stephen King's 'Pet Sematary,' wants a good life for his family. He's starting his first term as a newly appointed doctor for the University of Maine. Louis' family moved from Chicago to Maine for this very job, which consists of his young daughter, Ellie, his wife, Rachel, his infant son, Gage, and Ellie's black cat, Church (which is short for Winston Churchill). This cat quickly becomes the topic of conversation when the Creeds' new neighbor, Jud Crandall, warns them about the road in front of their house: " 'I'd get him fixed, ' Crandall said, crushing his smoke between his thumb and forefinger. 'A fixed cat don't tend to wander as much. But if it's all the time crossing back and forth, its luck will run out, and it'll end up there with the Ryder kids' coon and little Timmy Dessler's cocker spaniel and Missus Bradleigh's parakeet. Not that the parakeet got run over in the road, you understand. It just went feet up one day.' "

When Louis becomes curious about a trail behind his new home that leads into the woods, Jud gladly introduces the Creed family to the infamous 'Pet Sematary.' A place where children, for years, have buried their pets when they die. This place, and the death of Church, form the starting basis of King's amazing novel.

Louis' life suddenly changes after the death of a University student named Victor Pascow, and gets even worse when Louis starts to have dreams about him. One night, even the ghost of Pascow shows up at Louis' house: " He stood there with his head bashed in behind the left temple. The blood had dried on his face in maroon stripes like Indian warpaint. His collarbone jutted whitely. He was grinning. 'Come on, Doctor,' Pascow said. 'We got places to go.' " Louis ends up following Pascow to the pet sematary where he tells him: " 'I come as a friend,' Pascow said--- but was friend actually the word Pascow had used? Louis thought not. It was as if Pascow had spoken in a foreign language which Louis could understand through some dream magic... and friend was as close as to whatever word Pascow had actually used that Louis's struggling mind could come. ' Your destruction and the destruction of all you love is very near, Doctor.' He was close enough for Louis to be able to smell death on him. "

Later on, Louis feels Pascow's premonition might be coming true when he finds that Church has been killed by a passing vehicle. Jud, who happened to find Church, tells him to follow him so that they can bury the cat, but Jud doesn't stop at the pet sematary as expected, instead he goes past a deadfall barrier and continues on to a place he calls the Micmac Burial Ground, a burial ground that was made by the Micmac Indians. Through this entire scene, Louis experiences paranormal-type things, including the maniacal laughter of a disembodied voice. Jud warns Louis to not pay any attention to anything he experiences here: " 'You might see St. Elmo's fire- - - what the sailors call foo-lights. It makes funny shapes, but it's nothing. If you should see some of those shapes and they bother you, just look the other way. You may hear sounds like voices, but they are the loons down south toward Prospect. The sound carries. It's funny.' "

Now, the real story begins when Church returns to the house after his burial, where Louis finds dried blood on the cat's face and small pieces of plastic from the garbage bag his body had been in. Breathing and eating, the cat has certainly come back to life, but Louis notices that Church isn't the same as he was before; while Louis is in a hot bath, Church takes a seat on the toilet, where we witness him swaying back and forth, from this point on, Louis starts to regret following Jud to the Micmac burial ground.

Ellie, Louis' daughter, begins to suspect that something is different about Church, but she shrugs it off and doesn't necessarily question it:

" 'Daddy?' Ellie said in a low, subdued voice.

'What, Ellie? '

'Church smells funny.'

'Does he?' Louis asked, his voice carefully neutral.

'Yes!' Ellie said, distressed. 'Yes, he does! He never smelled funny before! He smells like... he smells like ka-ka!'

'Well, maybe he rolled in something bad, honey,' Louis said. 'Whatever that bad smell is, he'll lost it.'

'I certainly hope so,' Ellie said in a comical dowager's voice. She walked off. " King spends a majority of 'Pet Sematary' addressing everyone's fear of death; he discusses parents' fear of explaining death to their children for the first time, and even makes readers face the real nightmare of losing a child.

And the realism that King writes about is what makes him the great writer that he is today. King writes about the death of a child, but also makes Louis into a very real character that any parent could relate to. While many books touch on this subject, none can touch on grief like King does: " It was well for Louis- - - well for all three of the remaining family members--- that Steve had shown up as promptly as he had, because Louis was at least temporarily unable to make any kind of decision, even one so minor as giving his wife a shot to mute her deep grief. Louis hadn't even noticed that Rachel had apparently meant to go to the morning viewing in her housecoat, which she had misbuttoned. Her hair was uncombed, unwashed, tangled. Her eyes, blank brown orbits, bulged from sockets so sunken that they had almost become the eyes of a living skull. Her flesh was doughy. It hung from her face. She sat at the breakfast table that morning, munching unbuttered toast and talking in disjointed phrases that made no sense at all. At one point she had said abruptly, 'About that Winnebago you want to buy, Lou---' Louis had last spoken about buying a Winnebago in 1981. "

Yet, this isn't a book about grief, but a horror book about grief, which King masterfully put together. He molds the darkness of losing a child with the horror of making zombies, but King makes the story seem so realistic that any parent would go to the lengths that Louis did - - -and Jud, for that matter - - - even with the dire consequences at stake: " You're slanting all the evidence in favor of the conclusion you want to produce, his [Louis] mind protested. At least tell yourself the goddamned truth about the change in Church. Even if you want to disqualify the animals--- the mice and the birds--- what about the way he is? Muddled... that's the best word of all, that sums it up. The day we were out with the kite. You remember how Gage was that day? How vibrant and alive he was, reacting to everything? Wouldn't it be better to remember him that way? Do you want to resurrect a zombie from a grade-B horror picture? Or even something so prosaic as a retarded little boy? A boy who eats with his fingers and stares blankly at images on the TV screen and who will never learn to write his own name? What did Jud say about his dog? 'It was like washing a piece of meat.' Is that what you want? A piece of breathing meat? And even if you're able to be satisfied with that, how do you explain the return of your son from the dead to your wife? To your daughter? To Steve Masterton? To the world? What happens the first time Missy Dandridge pulls into the driveway and sees Gage riding his trike in the yard? Can't you hear her screams, Louis? Can't you see her harrowing her face with her fingernails? What do you say to the reporters? What do you say when a film crew from 'Real People' turns up on your doorstep, wanting to shoot film of your resurrected son? "

Pet Sematary is an emotional thrill ride, with Louis as a very relatable character, and the writing makes this a must-read book for all readers. With one of my favorite descriptive parts taking place in the 'Little God Swamp' that exists just outside of the Micmac Burial Ground when King describes the legendary Wendigo:

" The mist stained to a dull slate- gray for a moment, but this diffuse, ill-defined watermark was better than sixty feet high. It was no shade, no insubstantial ghost; he could feel the displaced air of its passage, could hear the mammoth thud of its feet coming down, the suck of mud as it moved on. For a moment he believed he saw twin yellow- orange sparks high above him. Sparks like eyes. "

The novel is so well-written that it reads easily, and King's descriptions put the reader right inside of the book.

With a few inconsistencies here and there, and overuse of some words, Pet Sematary is a very enjoyable book for lovers of the horror genre. I highly recommend this book!
  
Shadows & Dreams
Shadows & Dreams
Alexis Hall | 2014 | LGBTQ+, Paranormal, Science Fiction/Fantasy
1
3.3 (3 Ratings)
Book Rating
Review** spoiler alert ** *Warning: contains spoilers, bad words, and quite a long rant*


To be honest, I was very disappointed in this book. It had a great premise, which meant it had the potential to be a really good story, but the writing style of the author just completely ruined this book for me.

The basic idea behind the story is that Kate Kane, a paranormal PI, sets off on a case to find the brother of a woman she slept with once, and during this investigation, she runs into ALL MANNER OF TROUBLE. There are vampires and werewolves and ex-girlfriends around every corner, just lurking and waiting to pounce on Miss Kane. It's a very busy and involved story, and if it had been better written, I would have easily given it four stars at least, but there was just TOO much about this book -- style-wise -- that drove me insane.

For instance:

1. The plot, itself, is actually fairly well thought out and developed and is nowhere NEAR as cheesy as it sounds when you hear, "Vampires fighting werewolves," -- which, let's be honest, these days is so trite and overdone that it is scoffed at on a regular basis. However, there IS a good story in this novel. But the way Hall writes the not-cheesy story is so cheesy that it makes you THINK the story is cheesy. A lot of cheese, huh? A little confusing? Well then, let me give you an example.

Page 7-8: "Truth be told it was a little bit awkward, but my social weirdness threshold has gone way up since my girlfriend tried to murder my ex-girlfriend because her ex-girlfriend tried to murder her."

Okay... a bit ridiculous, especially seven/eight pages in, but I can roll with it. However, at the bottom of page eight:

Kane asks, "Who saw him last?"
Her assistant -- who is actually a statue brought to life and gifted to Kate by a group of rats who are apparently all seeing and all knowing God-types -- says, "I don't know. [...] Probably somebody at the hospital."
Kane asks, "Which one?"
And the assistant replies with this fantastic line: "The Whittington. He broke his leg changing a light bulb. Because he was standing on a swivel chair because he's an idiot."

Okay, I concede that maybe this line is supposed to sound ridiculous and funny, so I can even let that one slide. But then, three pages later, Hall completely turns me off to the book with this:

"Well, fuck. I was about to be hired by a woman I'd very nearly slept with to find her missing brother who was working for the woman who'd left me for a tech startup at the tech startup she left me for."

Wh-wh-what?! Are you kidding me? Could that sentence BE anymore convoluted or that plot-point any more ridiculously stereotypical?

And what is truly awful is that the story itself REALLY WASN'T THAT BAD. I mean, the writing was awful, which, overall, meant that the novel was -- in my opinion, of course -- bad, but the way the story progressed WAS interesting. It was nowhere near as bad as these 'recaps' by the main character make it sound, but the problem is that Hall throws in these inner-monologues for Kane ALL throughout the book, and they are terrible! Which, in turn, decreases the value of the entire story.

Another example falls right on the heels of the page 11 jewel.

Page 14: "I really really hoped this wasn't going to be another zombie plague. There'd been an outbreak when I'd taken Eve up to Lake Windermere for our third anniversary, and we'd spent the whole weekend under siege in the hotel, making molotovs from the minibar and clubbing re-animated tourists to death with souvenir walking sticks."

Really? Zombies now? On top of the vampires, witches, and werewolves? Can we POSSIBLY fit anymore para into this normal?

Enough with that.

Now on to point number 2. The girl on girl sex scenes in this book between sexy, snarky PI and her vampire girlfriend, the Prince (yes, Prince) of Cups, should be hot, right? No. They are forced, fake, and ridiculous. Halfway through the first one, I thought, "Jesus. This isn't lesbian sex. This is lesbian sex if it was written by a man who WISHES he could see some lesbian sex." That was the point at which I decided to look up more info on Alexis Hall, and I found out that he is, in fact, a man, which at least explains the sex scenes.

#3. Speaking of sex scenes, Hall also has this really irritating -- and distracting -- habit of throwing in random, explicitly sexual thoughts at TOTALLY inappropriate times. Right in the middle of the most stressful situations -- being locked up, about to be killed, thrown in prison/on trial -- Kate Kane begins inner-monologuing with herself about how much she'd like to fuck whatever female happens to be standing in front of her. RIDICULOUS! And annoying. Hated it.

4. One of the MOST annoying things about this book, however, was that it was in DESPERATE need of a SERIOUS case of editing. All throughout the book there were glaring errors that any first year college student should have caught while reading. I'm willing to discount SOME of these "errors" as simply being lost in translation, as the book is written with a British tone, and I am very much American. However, SOME of these errors simply CANNOT be due to anything other than careless editing.

For instance, page 113: "It's main distinguishing feature, right, was that was it was blue."

WAS that WAS it WAS blue? What does that even mean? Oh, yes, it means that no one bothered editing this beast before printing.

Page 141: "Piercing the heart will paralyse, but it won't kill, and anything will do, it doesn't have to wood."

Okay, so maybe the "paralyse" is simply British, but surely the "doesn't have to wood" bit needs a "be" in there somewhere, right?

Page 157: "Have we have achieved case closed, Miss Kane?"

Yes, yes have we have.

There are several -- SEVERAL -- more examples of these type errors, but I'm not about to point them all out. If you read the book, I'm sure you'll easily catch them on your own.

5. Another thing that drove me NUTS was the repetition. The awful thing is I'm fairly certain that Hall used these repetitious lines PURPOSELY to create some kind of effect -- humor, maybe? Whatever the desired result, it failed to do anything other than annoy me.

For instance, page 163: "'Hi. So. Look.' I tried to find a way to express the fact I had some good news and some bad news that wasn't I've got some good news and some bad news. 'I've got some good news and some bad news.'"

...blink... ...falls over...

Page 177: "All the more reason to tell them. [...] If they know that we know that she has returned, then they will not be tempted to conspire against us out of the false belief that we do not know. Of course, they may already know, but at present, we have no way to know what they know. If we tell them, we will know what they know, and all we will not know is how long they have known it."

Oh. Jumping. Jesus. On. A. Pogo. Stick. Please tell me you aren't serious.

And there was this one thing that repeated over and over again throughout the book. The first time, it was actually pretty clever. The second time, even, was okay. But by the time I'd read it nine times -- yes, NINE TIMES, no exaggeration whatsoever -- I was ready to never EVER read anything like it ever again.

This particular phrase was something Kate Kane internalized or muttered aloud to herself each time she decided to do something stupid OR she felt her life was in danger. The basic format went something like this:

"Here lies Kate Kane, died peacefully in her sleep aged 94. Beloved daughter."

The "Here lies Kate Kane" part remained constant, as did the "Beloved daughter." It was only the middle part that changed, for instance, "Here lies Kate Kate. Should have minded her own business. Beloved daughter." Or perhaps, "Here lies Kate Kane. She made a difference to dozens. Beloved daughter."

This continued NINE TIMES. It is not cute, funny, or clever after about the second time, definitely after the third. BUT NINE TIMES?! Come on!

And finally, my last complaint.

6. Several of the items, scenes, quotes, etc. in this book seemed waaaaaaaaaay too close to things from other books for my taste. Perhaps it is simply a coincidence and the author did not intentionally siphon plot points and details from other authors -- except, of course, when he obviously did in his quotations, such as his use of "Not all those who wander are lost" and "As old as my tongue, a little bit older than my teeth" which are DIRECTLY taken from other books, but I'm hoping those were intentional and not attempted-to-get-away-with-it plagiarism.

But there are several things in this novel that could have been taken from Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files", Lewis' "Narnia" chronicles, and Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series. I'm hoping, however, that they weren't, but they were very, very similar.

All in all, I'm disappointed to say that I was not a fan of this book at all, and I will most likely not be reading anymore Kate Kane books.
  
C
Carniepunk
6
7.0 (2 Ratings)
Book Rating
As soon as I read about this collection on Kevin Hearne's Facebook, I knew I would be buying it. I don't care for carnivals at all, and every story will be related to one in some way - but there was just no way I was going to miss an Atticus and Oberon story! I even pre-ordered the book on Amazon, the first time I've ever done that. It was SO hard not to skip right ahead and read Hearne's contribution the moment the book was in my hot little hands, but I managed some discipline.

Rob Thurman's "Painted Love" opens the book. It is dark, but to be fair it isn't quite as dark as the only Thurman novel I've read, from the Cal Leandros series. I rather liked the twist. I adored the fiercely protective older sister, especially the way she is described. I'll rate this one at three.

I don't believe I've ever read anything by Delilah S. Dawson before, certainly not anything in the Blud universe, so I had no idea what to expect from "The Three Lives of Lydia." It was a far darker story than I would generally choose to read. I found the male love interest highly appealing. The portrayal of mental illness was horrific. I found it interesting that Dawson is an Atlantan as well as a fellow geeky mom, but I'm sure that I've never heard of her before. She does have a book coming out next year that looks promising, so I may give it a read. This one's a two.

Then there is the Iron Druid story! "The Demon Barker of Wheat Street" is set a few books back in the series' chronology (two weeks after "Two Ravens and One Crow"), so Granuaille isn't yet a full Druid. To make things even more interesting, Atticus accidentally offended the local elemental many years ago, so his magic doesn't work as well as usual in the area. The story isn't vital to the series, and knowledge of the series isn't necessary for enjoying it. Hearne's fans definitely won't want to miss it, though, and it could be used as a nice little taste of his style for new readers. Definitely a five.

I couldn't make it through "The Sweeter the Juice" by Mark Henry. Zombies are disgusting, but I was way squicked before the first walking dead even appeared on the scene. A one, just because there are no zeroes.

Jaye Wells is another new-to-me author, as far as I can remember at the moment. I didn't really like "The Werewife," to be honest. There was no joy anywhere in this story. There wasn't even a hint that perhaps the couple in the story had been happy together at one time. Both of them seemed pretty miserable, and I didn't like the way it ended. It didn't seem like there was any way to give them a happy ending, but that ending didn't feel "true." It gets a two, and that's only to set it apart from the previous story.

"The Cold Girl" by Rachel Caine is about an abusive teen relationship. Oh, and vampires. I'm not a Caine fan, but this story was better than some of her other work. Again, too dark for my tastes. If half stars were possible, it would have one. I'll be nice and round up to three.

The name Allison Pang sounds familiar, so maybe I've read something by her in the past. If I did, I'm certain that it wasn't set in the same world as "A Duet With Darkness," which says it is an Abby Sinclair story. I found the main character to be an annoying, immature twit, but I'm a sucker for fiction with musical influences. The music is well-done here. I don't know if I will read anything more by Ms. Pang or not - I suppose that depends on whether or not her other work has better characters and is also musical. This one gets a four.

I found "Recession of the Divine" by Hillary Jacques fascinating. The Greek inspiration was unusual. I didn't really buy the customers being quite so unquestioning of Ophelia's state, but it wasn't a major complaint overall. I was highly disappointed to find nothing but a credit in another anthology for her. But! Reading the author profiles at the end of the book pays off, because that's how I learned that she also writes as Regan Summers. Now her works published under that name are on my to-read shelf. Another five.

Jennifer Estep's "Parlor Tricks" was actually released free on Amazon a little while back to promote Carniepunk, so it was the first story I read. I enjoy the Elemental Assassin series in general, and this story is no exception. Again, knowledge of the series is not required to understand the story, and the story is not vital to the series. It is a nice little sample, though, and I enjoyed seeing Gin and Bria having a sisterly outing. I'm probably biased, but it gets a five.

 I liked Kelly Meding's "Freak House" a lot, and her name sounded familiar, but the story was set in the "Strays" universe, which I was certain I had never heard of before. I actually stirred myself to look her up, and learned that I've had one of her books on my to-read list for ages, and Strays is a new series she's just starting. Djinn, werewolves, vampires, pixies, harpies, leprechauns, skinwalkers, and more, some "out" to humans, some living hidden - what's not to love? This one gets a four.

Nicole Peeler us yet another author who sounded vaguely familiar to me, and yep, there is one of her books on my to-read list (yes, it is massive, why do you ask?). It is, in fact, the first of the Jane True books, and "The Inside Man" is set in that world. Peeler's writing style dies not flow for me, but I liked Capitola Jones and her friends Shar and Moo. As clowns are indisputably evil, I had little to complain about in the story. It gets a three.

Succubus (former?) Jezzie is the main character in Jackie Kessler's story "A Chance in Hell." Obviously, the story is set her Hell on Earth series. I had to look that up, though, because while I know you're shocked, her name did not ring any bells for me. I don't actually have ALL the urban fantasy books on my to-read or read lists! The piece opens with a confusing remark about a demon eating Jezebel's face, when that definitely is not the anatomy in question. If that's a common euphemism, it is wholly new to me. Within the next couple of pages there are multiple references to the fact that she has fallen in love with a human since becoming mortal, but absolutely no explanation of how she would reconcile sex with an incubus with her human love. As much as I would prefer that it were not the case, the default assumption in our society is that people are monogamous. Therefore, when there is a deviation from that norm, the reader expects - something. Is it supposed to demonstrate that the fictional society is different? Is the character in an explicitly non-monogamous relationship? Is her love unrequited? Is the guy dead? Do demons not count? Is she just a skanky ho? Then this great love isn't mentioned again for the rest of the story, so none of the questions raised are answered. Oh. There is, in fact, a plot here, but I was so annoyed by that stuff that I almost failed to notice it. Demonic circus, yo. The whole demon thing reminds me too much of another series I've read in the past. I can't even remember the author's name, much less the title, right now, but Kessler's work feels derivative. She gets a two.

Next up is Kelly Gay - Hey look! Another author whose name I don't recognize! - with "Hell's Menagerie," a Charlie Madigan short story. Okay, this series is set in an alternate Atlanta. As an Atlanta girl, that certainly gets my attention. And Charlie is a single mother. I don't recall any other single mothers in the UF world right off. (Kate Daniels doesn't quite count, because she adopted her daughter as a teen. Although it is interesting to note that Kate is also Atlanta-based.) I was ready to like this one, based solely on what I knew of the series. Then there was a grammatical error on the second page of the story that set my teeth on edge, one which could not be chalked up to a character's voice. Add in the fact that we get a fast, "and also, Jim" style introduction to Charlie (who isn't even present in the story!), Rex, and Emma in less than two pages, and I am officially annoyed. It isn't an old matinee movie, so surely that information could have been worked in a little more naturally? Emma won me over. Mostly. There's some, "Not another super-gifted kid," reaction, but I guess if the mother is supposed to be all that it's to be expected that the daughter might be special, too. Hmm. A three.

The last piece is Seaman McGuire's "Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely, Sea." Is that title a mouthful, or what? It has the feel of a Toby Daye story, although it isn't subtitled as such, and there are no fae so maybe it isn't in that universe at all. As there are other stories in the book that are set in the same world as their author's series, yet not marked in any way, lack of a subtitle can't be taken as a negative indicator, though. In any case, the story is poignant, which I've come to expect from McGuire. I didn't really like it, but I didn't dislike it, either. I couldn't "feel" Ada in any true sense. I have the same problem with Toby. A three at best.

Overall, the book was decent. The ratings only average out to 3.21, but I'm very glad to have read the stories by Hearne and Estep. Discovering Jacques/Summers was absolutely worthwhile. I really hate that I read as much of Henry's story as I did. If I could delete that from my memory, it would probably raise the rating for everything else.
  
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Daniel Boyd (1065 KP) rated the PlayStation 4 version of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in Video Games

Mar 1, 2020 (Updated Mar 1, 2020)  
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
2019 | Action/Adventure, Fighting
Lightsaber Customisation (0 more)
Almost everything else (0 more)
Wasted Potential
So I just finished Jedi: Fallen Order and it's left me feeling confused. Not because of some complex twist or story revelation, but because on paper I should have loved every minute of this game. You take the parkour movement and sense of adventure from a game like Uncharted and you give it to a Jedi, who we follow during some of the darkest days in the Star Wars lore and what do you get?

Apparently you get something that doesn't feel like Star Wars.

I have a fair number of problems with this game, so I'm going to go ahead and list them and explain why they bothered me so much during my experience playing through Fallen Order.

First of all, when this game dropped and did pretty well commercially and critically, EA were commended in the games media for having the guts to release a single-player, story based Star Wars game with no online play. When the reviews dropped just before the game's release, this news got me really hyped as I have never been much for online gaming and much prefer story based games over anything else. Now whilst EA did give us a single-player, offline Star Wars story, they did so in such a sloppy, janky, half-finished fashion.

I lost count of the amount of times that I had to restart my game because of loading errors or game breaking bugs. Almost every time I would enter a new area the characters would initially appear in a T-pose position and remain that way for a good few seconds until I approached them. Onscreen prompts would often fail to appear making the game's already confusing exploration methods even more unclear. I have not seen this much pop-in in a videogame since the first version of No Man's Sky. Almost every area was covered in murky textures upon initially entering them, with some entire structures and areas failing to render. During a few boss fights, the AI character would fail to attack me and just stand still and no matter how many blows I would land on them, their health bar would not budge until I fully reloaded the level. This sort of thing was present during every one of my play sessions and at a few points the game became almost unplayable due to it's glaring technical glitches. Also, I got this game as a Christmas gift, so it has been out for a decent amount of time. A game of this calibre, that has been out for months at this point, from a major studio like Respawn and a publisher like EA, not to mention being from a major franchise like Star Wars, - the fact that it is in the current broken state that it's in is frankly unacceptable.

The next issue I had was the story and characters in the game. The game's protagonist Cal, is an unsympathetic, whiny bitch of a character that got on my nerves every time he opened his mouth. The rest of the crew were also pretty bland, unendearing and lacking in much personality. I grew up loving the Star Wars universe, yet I found myself trying in vain to skip almost every cutscene and really not giving a crap what happens to any one of the characters. The villains were unengaging and the other side characters like Cal's master and the old dude that left holograms for Cal to find got increasingly annoying every time they appeared. The only character I found engaging throughout the whole game was Sister Merrin.

I always thought Jedi Knights were supposed to be extremely capable, powerful warriors, yet at no point in this game do you ever feel powerful in any significant way. The whole time, you feel on par with the non descript enemies that you are fighting. While I agree that the last major AAA single-player Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed was too easy, at least you felt powerful while playing as that character. The combat never feels as satisfying as it should due to the lack of dismemberment. The decision not to allow the player to chop off limbs makes it feels more like you are hitting enemy shaped piñatas with a big stick, rather than welding a laser sword of pure, raw energy. I also felt that there was a lack of variation in the combos and moves-set and found myself watching the same animations over and again no matter what combination of buttons I was mashing. Every fight in this game is hard and not in a fun,challenging way, but instead in a grinding, irritating way. The ridiculously long loading times also made dying even more frustrating. If you are going to design a game where the player is going to die frequently, you HAVE TO have a snappy respawn system in place à la Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami. (Especially when your fucking studio is called RESPAWN, but I digress.) They were clearly going for a more defensive, methodical approach to the combat system, which is fine, but they should have given you a choice between that and a more aggressive, offensive skill tree, meaning that more play styles could be catered to. Another majorly annoying thing was the way that the game justified unlocking new skills for Cal, with him having out-of-the-blue flashbacks at seemingly random points in the story where he would suddenly remember that he could wall-run or double-jump. I hate when games do this, it feels extremely lazy and unjustified within the context of the story that is being presented. Another thing that bothered me gameplay-wise was the checkpoint system. The whole refilling your health = respawning the enemies thing felt really arcady and often broke immersion.


Something else that I hate in games is when the game tries to pretend that it is an open world game rather than a linear experience, which this game does. I don't understand why you would want to masquerade as an open world game when that mechanic has been so oversaturated for this entire generation. After you play through the game's intro and get access to the ship, you are given the impression that you can choose what order to visit each planet and progress though the game. However this is not the case. When I was first given the choice to pick a planet, I chose Dathomir as I am a big Darth Maul fan and thought it would be cool to explore his home turf. I got there and was making my way through the clear-as-mud holomap when I got to a section where I could not progress. There was a jump that I just could not make no matter how many times I tried. After eventually getting fed up I had to look up a walkthrough to find out how to progress whereupon I learned that you actually need to go to the other planet first and gain an ability to make this jump. Now even if I did design my game so poorly that I let the player go to the wrong planet on their first travel, I would have at least had the decency to put in a prompt at the un-passable jump to let the player know that they don't have the skills to progress here yet and to go to the other planet and return here later. It could have been a voiceover from a crew member or even an immersion-breaking piece of text, but something would have been nice to prevent me having to look up a walkthrough to learn this fact. Witnessing this ineptitude in game design from such a major studio was shocking. So yeah, from that point on, - lesson learned, - I just followed the checkpoints to decide what my next planet would be to travel to, but then why even give players the illusion of choice in this? Why not just usher the player automatically to the next planet they need to visit after they return to the ship?

My final and biggest issue with this game is despite it being a Star Wars game, it never really felt like Star Wars. I noticed this during the first third of the game in the some of the character designs. Some of the side characters looked more akin to something from Ratchet & Clank than from the Star Wars universe. Then as I was playing through Kashyyyk and fighting spiders and giant slugs, I'm thinking to myself, I don't ever remember Luke Skywalker doing this and that dude lived and trained in a swamp for like a year. Then the shark was well and truly jumped. Upon revisiting Dathomir and finally being able to make some progress, a character literally raises bodies from the ground for you to fight. That's right, they put zombies in a Star Wars game. I thought since Disney had taken control of Star Wars, that they were way stricter than Lucas ever was about what does and doesn't get into the Star Wars universe, so whoever greenlit this zombie shit over at Disney should really get the boot. I can't quite believe that I'm saying this, but if you want a more authentic and higher quality Star Wars videogame experience, go play Battlefront 2. Sure it may have had an extremely messy launch and been marred with controversy ever since, but at least it feels like Star Wars.

There were a sparse few things that I did enjoy. As I mentioned above, Merrin was a fairly engaging and well acted character. The Lightsaber customisation was also pretty neat. I also enjoyed the music and (SPOILERS,) the brief appearance that Darth Vader makes. However the music is only great because it's the Star Wars score and whilst Vader's appearance as an unstoppable force was cool here, I personally feel like it was done better in Rogue One.

So yeah, I kind of feel like I played a different game to everyone else. I really wanted to fall in love with this game and I kept waiting for it to win me over, but unfortunately it never did. I think that there is potential here for something better, mostly owed to the interesting time period the game is set in on the Star Wars timeline, so I really hope that they take the few good elements that were present in Fallen Order and improve upon everything else for the sequel.