Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I considered giving this one 4 stars, but I didn't really enjoy it all that much. I felt pretty much "Okay" about the entire thing. I never hit a section that was a slog (or at least not one I couldn't skip over without consequence) nor did I ever really hit a part that got my blood running. Reading this book made me feel like I just using it to pass the time idly, like browsing the web. So yeah, 3 stars.

This is only my 2nd thriller ever, so I'm not the best judge, but I thought the twist was pretty great. This novel kept me guessing despite a small cast of characters for a good 80% of the book. That's definitely noteworthy. However, I felt like all that guesswork kept the novel in a constant state of limbo without any defining moments sticking out in my mind, which is why I spent most of the book just strolling along waiting for something to happen. It was like a haunted house with no one in it, just a long walk of you scaring yourself, and then one guy pops out at the end and goes "boo!" An interesting way to do things, but not exactly my cup of tea.

Also, the writing style wasn't my thing either. It was very . . . how do I put this . . . simplistic? Everything felt flat and direct, in a sort of minimal style that felt extremely modern. If there is an opposite of "purple prose," it would be this book right here. However, I kind of like purple prose when done well. I like flavor and poetry, long drawn out and witty sentences with plenty to do. Not for everyone, of course, but that's just me.

So yeah, 3 out of 5 stars. I think I'm going to take a break from this new-genre thing I'm doing and check out a scifi now.

Oh, and one other thing. Assuming these two are good representations of the thriller industry (they have to be, right? They both won the Goodread's choice for their category) then I can totally see how people go through thrillers like they're nothing. My normal reading rate is one book in a month if I'm lucky, but I just tore apart two books in less time than that. These books are actually exactly what I expected thrillers to be like: Easy to digest, small cast of characters and setting, and a novel of guessing + one big twist. Oh, and endings that leave you less than fulfilled. That too.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I can't remember the last time I read a thriller, or if any of the books I've read prior to this one even qualified as a thriller. I took a chance because the last fantasy book I read, I hated, while damn near the entire rest of the fantasy community loved it, convincing me I must have a giant stick up my ass. In short, here's a review of the thriller Gone Girl by non-thriller reader.

I'll be right up front and say the first half of this novel was quite a slog. It moved at a glacial pace, but the subject and plot was interesting enough to keep me plodding along, and new develops popped up often enough that I felt just "okay" about it right til about 50%. Then shit hit the fan, and I gotta say, it was pretty exciting to read.

How exciting, you ask? Exciting enough that when I got finished with my workout at 3pm, I looked at TV, my video games, all my chores, and grabbed up my kindle and went to reading. I read for five straight hours, sitting on my bed, like I was a little kid again before video game consoles ever existed, unable to put this book down. That's how exciting it was.

Then the ending hit, and that ending just absolutely sucked. It feels like Flynn was just writing along, and then out of nowhere goes "Yeah, that'll do." Straight mid-thought it felt like to me. Not even a cliffhanger, more like you were watching a movie and then just randomly clicked it off halfway through with no intentions of finishing. It left me totally bewildered and unfulfilled.

Yet here I am giving this book 5 stars, and the reason for that is that 50% to 99% of the book that kept me so enthralled that I just couldn't put it down. I haven't read a book like that since A Clash of Kings, and if I'm not going to give a 5 star rating to a book that makes me read for 5 hours straight, then my standards are all jacked up.

So yeah, in short, first half was so-so, ending sucked, but that last half is gripping as hell and such a ride that it makes it all worth it. I think I'll try another thriller.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 1, 2016

Movie Review - The Revenant (2015)

So I'm a good week late on this review. I actually saw it last weekend but only just now got around to writing my thoughts about it. Don't worry, no spoilers here. You can read on without fear.

So the previews would have you believe this is a 50% Survival / 50% Revenge story, but the truth is it's about 90% Survival / 10% Revenge. The basic premise being Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), after being nearly killed, gets left for dead and has to survive a brutal winter while being hunted by Native Americans AND still recovering from said wounds. Overall the hero has a lot to overcome, and I thought this was a pretty great movie, but I'm not sure everyone would agree. I gave this movie a 9/10, but my wife near fell asleep, and I don't blame her.

So here's what I loved about it.

1) The Revenant picked a theme and stuck to it: Brutal survival in the merciless clutches of uncivilized land. All the details from atmosphere, sound, dirt, and angles focused on putting the audience in a real-time view of the harsh American frontier. The Revenant was intense without ever going into the extreme. By simply focusing on what things would actually be like in a winter setting, no MichaelBayness was needed to cheese things over, keeping the movie in the grips of such intensity that it's hard to let go.

2) The art: Now, I don't know much about how movies are made, nor would I call myself some sort of movie-snob, but I do appreciate a movie that attempts to be artful. The Revenant had long, continuous, up close shots that really put you in the moment. Difficult to do, I imagine, but absolutely beautiful when done right. A camera that moves slowly but deliberately through intense, action packed scenes with every detailed etched liked a painting really digs in the realism of it all and makes for unparalleled storytelling in my opinion, and The Revenant had just gorgeous shots that encased every theme this movie wanted to hit on.

Also, great acting. Can't forget that. Not much else to be said there, really.

So here's why I knocked off that 1 point, and I also shrugged my understanding when my wife said it was "alright." In its path to make a brutal, realistic survival story in a skilled and artful way, the entertainment side kind of got dropped. Let's be real, watching a guy struggle for survival isn't exactly fun or entertaining. It's actually painful and nerve-wracking to watch, and at the end of The Revenant when the credits rolled, the theater was dead silent. No glimmer of hope, or shimmer of relief. Nature is an unforgivable, unsympathetic entity with no concern for us, and The Revenant made sure you remembered that.

So, The Revenant is a movie you kinda need to be in the mood for. But when you are, nothing else will do.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Game Review - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

I want to be clear that Uncharted 3 had a better story than Uncharted 2. ​We really got to know Drake and his friends much better, their background, and really turn Drake from a video game action-character into a real character. Had this been a movie, I probably would have loved it.

But it was a game, and as far as game's go, Uncharted 3 just didn't live up to Uncharted 2. The enemies didn't feel as challenging. The situations didn't feel as intense or as grand. The action seemed less urgent. The main big-bad-guy was a pansy suit-wearer who spent more time running and shooting sneaky drug darts than actually doing anything that felt threatening or worth giving a damn.
Really, story was great, but I just wasn't impressed with any of the situations I found Drake in, trying to fight for his life. No tightness in my gut as I barely squeak by or flash of heat as I get into a particularly hairy situation. The ending left me wondering, "That's it?" because I just couldn't believe it came to a close without a tough fight.
Oh, also, the puzzle solving. Tons and tons and tons of them in the first half of the game, which was awesome! Then the second half hit, and the puzzles just up and disappeared completely. So strange. It's like the Naughty Dog decided halfway through that Uncharted 3 wasn't meant to be a treasure hunter game anymore.
I'm also thinking this type of game just isn't my game. Perhaps I'm just not an Indiana Jones kinda guy. I mean, 75% of the reviews for this game on Grouvee are 4 or 5 stars, and here I am in the 15% bracket giving it a 3. Obviously I'm not to be trusted. Play Uncharted 3 and ignore my review.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book Release - World of Myth V: Juatwa

Today, I'm letting the world know that my 5th book, Juatwa, is available for purchase!

As usual, the editing was done by Patricia Hamill, who always does an amazing job. After working through 4 previous books together, she's really gotten to know my style (and perhaps I'm getting to know hers as well?) and the changes she suggests I almost always accept without hesitation. She's an author, too, you see and actually has a new book being released this February called Avalee and the Dragon.

The cover was done by Jack Baker, skilled artist and master interpreter of my sparse descriptions of "look & feel." His Reaping Death Orca drawing recently hit the frontpage of r/art, and also, he's a timely, prompt fellow who showed me I have a lot to learn about professionalism. My only regret in working with him is that I will one day run out of things for him to draw.

As for the book itself, here's the blurb -

The time has come for Emily to make good on her promise of vengeance—a promise made not only to herself, but to the angels of Lucifan. After chasing Heliena the world over, Emily finally has her cornered, but with nowhere left to run, Heliena won’t be so easy to defeat.

In Juatwa, a place of never-ending war waged on a massive scale, Emily must fight her way through deadly creatures, ninja assassins, and not one, but three armies, all for the slim chance at defeating her nemesis, once and for all.

But Emily has an ally on her side whose skills rival her own. With his help, a bit of determination, and perhaps some luck, they might just win the day.

I won't say much else to avoid spoilers, but I would like to state that this was the book I looked forward to writing when I started this series. So much foreshadowing and work went into the first four books to set everything up for this one, and I'm glad that all my beta-readers enjoyed this book immensely. One has even said that this book that made him want to read another five more.

So without further ado, the links! (US): Formats are Parper & Kindle
Smashwords: All electronic formats
Createspace: Paper format only (and also where I receive my largest royalties from)
Barnes & Noble - Nook

Please leave a review wherever you like, but don't forget Goodreads as well if you use it.

I hope you enjoy my work!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have only one complaint about this book: it ended.

A Short History of Nearly Everything (ASHNE) is a comprehensive, witty, yet brief overview of the what we know about who we are, how we got here, and the interesting developments of what we used to come to these conclusions. ASHNE covers a good bit of ground from the breadth of the universe, the composition of atoms, the plight of evolution, and what the Earth does in its spare time. Bryson does a fantastic job of providing a steady stream of interesting information while avoiding the potential numerous pitfalls of sounding dull, repetitive, and droning when talking in depth of certain scientific topics. Not only that, but he frequently injects lighthearted humor throughout the work, keeping the reader constantly chuckling whilst still being in awe at the wonder of life.

I'm really not sure what more to say about this book. I really did love just about everything and couldn't wait to read it whenever I had time. I don't know if it's the best non-fiction I have or will ever read, but I'll be damned if it isn't close, and I'd recommend this book to everyone everywhere.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 4, 2015

Game Review - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

So Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was originally released back in 2009, but I was too busy playing WoW (probably) to notice or care. I gave the the first Uncharted a shot not too long ago, and ultimately ended up rating it 3 out of 5 stars, feeling it had potential but just didn't do enough of what was good to make the game great. I asked my friend Ken (who I've been borrowing these games from) why he even bothered giving me the 1st Uncharted to play and his response was this:
"Yeah, the first one wasn't that good. But the 2nd one was awesome!"

Now, after my first experience, I'd originally had no intention of picking up Uncharted 2. However, I decided to trust my friend and give the game a try. Let's just say I'm glad I did.
Uncharted 2 improves upon every aspect of the game.The melee is more fluid, the guns are more varied, combat in general feels more tactical and strategic, there are varied enemy strengths and weakness rather than just a hail of bullets flying down upon you. Not to mention a ​significant ​improvement was made on the jumping/climbing aspect. All of it seems to have been seamlessly integrated, too. Let me explain.
In the 1st Uncharted, the game felt like it was divided in 3's. There was the puzzle aspect, the shooter aspect, and the acrobat aspect. They all felt different and distinct, one never overlapping upon the other. "Now I'm shooting. And now I'm jumping." Never "Now I'm shooting and jumping." Basically, I didn't like that, and Uncharted 2 fixed this by seamlessly integrating the acrobatics and the combat into one, so Drake is shooting, leaping, and diving all at once. It seems such a simple fix, but ​damn ​did it pull this game together. The world was immersive, real, and alive. I didn't feel like I was on a stage like in the 1st game, moving from one scene to the next in a cliche way. With Uncharted, from shooting to climbing I constantly felt in the moment. Amazing work.
And the story! Such a great story, and characters, and settings! Such a huge improvement. Uncharted 1 always felt like the story and setting were simply lip service, where as Uncharted 2 felt like the story was given just as much attention as the game mechanics, and it really paid off! Drake felt like a real, likable guy that I enjoyed playing. His enemies and allies brought out emotions and intrigue in me when I saw how they interacted. I actually worried and cared who was going to make it out alive!
Essentially, I can see here how this company went on to make a game like The Last of Us. I can see how they cut their teeth and learned the skills of storytelling with this game, Uncharted 2. Naughty Dog is very much deserving of the praise they received for making this masterpiece, and I'm glad I didn't let my lackluster experience with Uncharted 1 prevent me from giving Uncharted 2 a shot.
So yeah, 5 out of 5 stars. Easily.