Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Metro 2033Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of the ones I’ve read (which admittedly aren’t that many), there isn’t a single book by a Russian author that isn’t packed chock-full of descriptions, long confusing names and equally confusing locations (this has more to do with me being unused to their naming fashion than anything else, though). Metro 2033 is not much different: I found many of the station names a tad confusing until about halfway through the book, and I kept mixing them up. The descriptions were extensive, but pleasant despite the very lousy translation. If you like the subject and you read it properly, it will really transport you to their world of darkness. I did take a bit to start really getting into it though.
Alongside the detailed (if sometimes confusing because of the bad translation) descriptions of physical places came the heavy description of politics, mostly on a per-station basis. It was obvious each little station had their own world, ways of behaving and politics to follow. This too was a bit confusing to me at first, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly identified when Artyom felt totally in the dark about matters mentioned.

The story is pretty basic, but quite enjoyable- not because of the story or the characters itself, but because of the way the world is painted for us. The characters could have had more depth, though (or rather, been developed more as they traveled the metro lines), and the religious cults Artyom encountered did quite a bit to make me feel quite uncomfortable and nervous. Man, would I have run the opposite way!

And what happened to Khan? I sure hope we get to see more of him in book two- he was a bit of a wacky dude, but I liked him.

(view spoiler)

The Kremlin thing didn’t seem very well explained to me anyhow.
Was the underground goo-thing that powerful that, whomever stared the way of the surface-Kremlin was drawn to it by it? Or was the surface-Kremlin a different thing from the underground-Kremlin? And what about the shining rubies or whatever?
Was the goo-thing really a biological weapon or just another mutation?

And the part with Oleg dying, after all they had gone through to get the boy- that felt just like a low blow. Couldn’t they have just saved the kid at the last minute? I admit I was hoping he’d die or something because I really hate disobedient kids that get everyone else in troubles, buuuut it felt bad he did die because it was a dumb death and I actually liked his father. I saw no sense in him ‘reacting’ just when the kids jumped. It felt lame. (hide spoiler)]

At any rate, I loved the book, and I definitely want to read more of the story.

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Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

Magic's Pawn (Valdemar: Last Herald-Mage #1)Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story was catching and very interesting, I really liked it in the sense of story, though I must admit I disliked the writing style. Still, it was not the worse I have read, and once I got used to it I could get by it for the sake of the story.
I loved every single character in the book… except the main character, Vanyel. It felt way over the top, and that his angst could have well been toned down without making him as annoying and difficult to love as I found him to be. I spent 3/4 of the book wanting to slam his head against a wall and that the book would focus on something else.
And that’s the reason why I gave it a simple three stars- it was just above “ok” to me, but I hated the one that appeared as main the most, so I could not come to “really” like it.
I would, however, like to read most of this and recommend it for a simple time passing read.

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Writing Habit Mastery by S. J. Scott

Writing Habit Mastery - How to Write 2,000 Words a Day and Forever Cure Writer’s BlockWriting Habit Mastery – How to Write 2,000 Words a Day and Forever Cure Writer’s Block by S.J. Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Great tips, but sadly nothing new under the sun, as most things said here you can find in just about any blog, for free. It’s a to-the-point book, though, and tries not to beat around the bush on the explanations of the tips and tactics, so that’s nice. A good read if you need to be reminded to just sit and write.
I particularly enjoyed the section on outlining.

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Songmaster by Orscon Scott Card

SongmasterSongmaster by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was debating between 3 and 4 for a while, because I liked it, but it was a rather sad book, not to mention I liked the first half better than the second. The second felt hurried, and while I was hoping the book would show more of what happened after the point where the short story ended, I was rather disappointed by the happenings themselves. So, 3 it is.
Also, the cover creeps me out. I keep thinking it looks like his life’s being sucked out, rather than him just singing. It’s something about the way the face is painted. I guess it fits the book though.

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42: Deep Thought on Life, the Universe, and Everything by Mark Vernon

42: Deep Thought on Life, the Universe, and Everything42: Deep Thought on Life, the Universe, and Everything by Mark Vernon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I feel very special at being the first one to rate this book a one star.

Not really.
The quotations were cool The “brilliant observations” were not (they were also not particularly ‘brilliant’ in my opinion). Too bad, because I really wanted to like this book.
I guess I’m the only one who expected more (fun) out of something with that title. And, you know, the part where it claimed to be “easy and fun to read”…
It was easy, it wasn’t fun. I got bored, I moved on.

Either philosophy books aren’t for me or I’m really choosing all the bad ones.

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Distraint: Pocket Pixel Horror

   DISTRAINT: Pocket Pixel Horror- screenshot

Distraint is a pixel 2D sidescrolling horror game by Jesse Makkonen. It’s quite an achievement of a game to have been made in just 3 months, and it’s also rather trippy in parts – which in this case works in its favor.

Before I get on to the actual review, I should specify: I played Distraint on mobile, but I know it’s also available on Steam. Not having the steam version, I’m not sure if there are any big differences between the two except for the free android version having ads. The ads were unobtrusive enough, but they were unskippable little videos, so they were a bit annoying in that sense. I only encountered them when reloading the game, though, so it wasn’t a big issue.

If there are any other differences, well, just keep in mind I’ll be reviewing the android version.

With that out of the way, let’s start: Distraint is a pretty minimalist looking horror game. The interface is kept nice and simple on the android version. Two arrows and three comfortable buttons (one for action, one for inventory and one for the menu) are located at the bottom. Since it’s a side-scroller, that was a very comfortable way of handling moving about the map.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first went into it. The visual of the game, to me personally, was both appealing and unappealing; I wasn’t overly fond of the sprite design, however, their quirky looks gave a new level of creepiness to the story that I didn’t expect. The backgrounds and settings, were beautifully done and most eerie to travel through, making the experience a pleasure.

The story revolves around Price, who guided by greed, seizes various properties from some people in order to gain partnership on the company he works for, a company led already by three very creepy, very shady guys. Along the way guilt and remorse eat away at him and he begins tripping all throughout. Or so it would seem. The game has very weird, very out of the blue moments, but unlike other horror games of the type I’ve reviewed, in this one it actually works in its favor. The very few jump scares (more like startle-scares) were mostly predictable, but not obnoxiously in your face, and also lend themselves to an eerier gameplay rather than just being there for a cheap scare.

Cover art

Which leads me to the sound, as some of these scares were things like a ringing phone. The sound, music and ambiance wise, was wonderful. The creepy music played throughout was perfect for the game, for the weirdness of it, there were, however, a few sounds that looped annoyingly or that were too loud for my taste compared to others.

But looks, story and sound all formed the perfect little creepy vibe to keep you on your toes the entire time, while still touching on your emotions, and truly making you care for at least the main character and the first two people he evicted. The third one… not so much. Even the very few “timed” events that were around were perfectly easy to complete without ripping your hair out… which leads me to the puzzles. The puzzles were simple but fantastic – perfect for a casual player, but perhaps it won’t cut it in that aspect for people who want a bit more difficulty. There is, however, a decent amount of backtracking and the damn character will not run. That is usually one of my major complaints on horror games that involve puzzles that send you backtracking through maps and maps: a lack of the ability to RUN.

You make me sad, developers. You make me sad.

Other than that, the game is fantastic. A true horror game indeed, which relies not only on the cheap scares but on some actual psychological aspects and on a great ambient. The ending is heart-touching, and I completely loved my play-through of it.

Definitely recommended if you’re into horror!

4.5/5

Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy by TabomSoft is a little horror puzzle/RPG for android. Except for the obvious backtracking required in it (like in most puzzle games, really), the game is fairly short (10 to 15 minutes per floor if you know what to do, with 5 floors and then some extra backtracking), which is not bad considering that it’s currently free (if you play it with ads).

You play Dorothy, a little girl who fell asleep in the closet while playing Hide and Seek, and now seems to have forgotten why she was there to begin with. A weird premise to be sure, but it’s a quick horror game for mobile, so I decided I’d try not to be as judge-y of it.

I, of course, promptly failed.

Despite its two endings, a lot of things don’t make sense in the story to me. Yeah, yeah, I hear those of you who liked it: “You like to be spoon fed the story.” Nope, I like stories to be clear. I guess you can interpret things a couple ways, if you’re into that; to me most of those ‘open’ stories (if it’s what it was intended to be) seem more like just writer laziness.

All the same, the story is not bad in the terms of horror games, even if it does get a bit challenged by the poor translation at certain parts throughout it.

But let’s forget about the story for now, we’re here to be scared, right?

The game has that pixel-RPG vibe of RPG Maker games. I’m not familiar enough with the horror assets of it, but I did quite like the art, sprites and the tiles used throughout. Dorothy was pretty adorable. Ambiance wise, the game took you from normal to eerie to black and white badness as you progress through the floors, and it did gave it all a bit of a gloomy, eerie feeling, so thumbs up for that.

Moving through the game is easy-peasy; you have the four movement buttons to the left and two buttons to the right (action and inventory). You interact with objects by walking up to them and pressing action, making text choices, and using items from your inventory.

The puzzles weren’t horribly difficult, but again, one or two included reading and you needed to do some slight extra job figuring out what the translation had meant. It wasn’t the worst translated game I’ve encountered, however, so it was still mostly understandable. There are more than a few timed scenes (chase scenes) which, if you know me and timed events, you will know I didn’t like them at all. Not only were they cheap tricks to get your heart pumping without using actual horror, but the monsters looked ridiculous.

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

The game has a gimmicky mobile item: hearts, which you lose every time you die, and you unfortunately lose hearts often because it has even some traps throughout. You replentish times every so many minutes of gameplay though, so no big deal. There are also clocks, I assume they grant you more time during chase scenes, but I didn’t try them, so I wouldn’t know.

You save on grandfather clocks which are placed rather generously through the game, a much appreciated feature considering it’s, as I mentioned, scattered with traps. I couldn’t decide if I liked these or not. They were quite interesting, though frustrating, and once you knew they existed they were rather easy to spot if you were paying attention. But the first couple felt like just cheap tricks to piss you off, so I was a bit torn.

There are various characters through the game, however, except for three of them (and then “mom” and “dad”) they didn’t bother to name any, and they are all called A, B and C. It was kind of a lazy move.

There were some problems with it though, with the save games disappearing, so save often and in more than one spot, just in case.

As for the ads, they were rather bothersome. I had some at the top which I was able to easily ignore after some playing, but the ones popping up when you lose or try to hit to go back are just cumbersome, so watch out for them.

All in all, I rather liked the game for the looks of it, but the unclear story and the gimmicky chases and silly monsters knocked a few stars out of it for me.

Is it scary? Meh. Skulls are scary… right? No?

Would I recommend it? I think you’d have fun if you’re into quick horror games, but if you like a horror game with substance, look elsewhere.

2.5/5

SIM – Sara is Missing

   SIM - Sara Is Missing- screenshot

Sara is Missing (SIM) is a horror sim game for android (which can also be played in PC and Mac). I have to give the developers kudos for their originality: the entirety of the game is played through a phone interface, making you able to get a bit more into the story. Advisable to play it at night, of course, to be fully into it. Sadly it happened to be daytime when I played it, so it wasn’t –quite- as horrific and immersive.

The premise of the story is simple: You’ve found Sara’s phone, and the AI in it requests you help find and return the phone to her. To achieve this you must go through her phone – photos, emails, texts, videos, etc – and make various choices along the way, as well as interact with people she knows (and those she doesn’t, too).

The game’s graphical interface is pretty good: the graphics are well designed and truly make you feel like you’re in a phone OS, the use of your own phone back button makes it easier for you to feel like you’re really on her phone and not yours, the videos and images and sounds are pretty spot on and make it seem like a phone from a real person as well. What I’m not so happy about is the AI, though I suppose you need someone guiding you through.

At set times through the game you will be allowed to interact with people. Sometimes ‘real’ people, sometimes just the AI, and you can choose from 2-4 choices throughout. Unfortunately, as with most choice type games, I found the choices way too limiting. Sometimes your choices would just be three different ways to ask what was going on, instead of saying something different, and that’s not really much of a choice unless you’re also adding a personality engine to your game.

These limited options were just there to guide you in the one single direction, and the only real divergence was whether you accepted something or not (and sometimes not accepting wasn’t a choice if you expected to continue with the game), and the fates of a few and ending you got from a few poor choices.

There was another part I didn’t much enjoy, I don’t want to spoil much, but you are asked to make a choice between two people (it’s a fairly typical horror after all), however, because at first it phrases it one way, and then rather than offer you the actual option it goes on babbling and phrases it another way, if you fail to read through the inane babbling after when you just want to make the darn choice already, you might end up making the wrong choice. As I did. Which just pissed me off.

SIM is original and immersive in the technical aspects, but the story was rather lame. I could not really find the curiosity or desire to help find Sara with the limited content (or just because some AI asked me to, instead of maybe say… her mother texting me, or friend, or someone actually invested in her well-being), and I certainly didn’t care to pick for many of the choices that came after since I hardly got to interact with any of the people she knew, so I had no attachment to their well-being. Which in turn made the whole game a bit pointless since you’re probably supposed to want to find and help people…

The inability to interact with whomever I wanted whenever I wanted was kind of annoying too, having to wait for prompts to interact with others was boring, and this is why I end up giving this one such a low rating despite its originality.

2.5/5

Review: Book Marketing for Authors: 19 Tips and Tricks to Market your Book to Readers

Book Marketing for Authors: 19 Tips and Tricks to Market your Book to Readers
Book Marketing for Authors: 19 Tips and Tricks to Market your Book to Readers by C.A. Price
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was ok. If you know absolutely nothing about writing, publishing and marketing, it’s a good starting point. It sums up a lot of stuff for you and provides many useful links to other sites and books that will give you in-depth knowledge in all those themes.

That said, this is no more than that: A summary of various topics and a collection of (far more useful) links.

That your book should be well edited and proofread is a given, if a prospect author doesn’t even know that, then they’re in the wrong business. Also, I don’t know how that relates to actual marketing, because if you don’t count the “look inside” that not all books have, then they’ve probably already bought the book by the time they get to read it.

But lets forget about that, because this book made me ranty.

I might have been slightly miffed by the following quote: “Nowadays, readers can be vicious, and there are trolls everywhere. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the greatest books out there, go to their Amazon page, and look at the one star reviews.”

I don’t deny readers/reviewers can be vicious. And of course, there are trolls everywhere. But this seemed to imply that all reviewers that gave these “greatest” books one-star reviews were trolls, which is simply not true. There is a thing called “taste”. It’s different for everyone. Some people just don’t like those so-called “great” books. Get over it.

Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. *shrug* But it set me in a bad mood for the rest of the book.

The tips he provides, as I said, are sound enough, and he does a lot of name-dropping which was both annoying and good. Annoying because on the one hand it left me wondering why he just couldn’t go into it himself as part of the tip instead of just saying “You need this” or “you need that” but “go read this book for more information”; good because at least you know where to look for more information.

Another thing that annoyed me slightly is that this was supposed to be about marketing, but it’s all over the place with pre-marketing stuff (editing, proofing, etc) as well as side-stuff you should be looking into (formatting for paperback, etc).

And finally, one of the tips is to make it easy for the reader to get to more of your books by adding links. Yet he assumes that everyone reading on a phone, tablet, or ereader has working wifi and/or is willing to go through the bother of using it, rather than going to their desktop PC. As such, actual urls are only put at the very end, and the text is peppered with hyperlinked words that made it really, really annoying to me, both because I’d sometimes accidentally click on one without realizing, and because it required me to go through extra steps to get the actual url (or wait until the end, and by then I was no longer motivated enough to click most of those links.)

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Evil Origins Collection by J. Thorn

Evil Origins: A Horror & Dark Fantasy CollectionEvil Origins: A Horror & Dark Fantasy Collection by J. Thorn
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Most boring thing I’ve read in a very long while. I started all 3 of the main novels to see if any caught my interest, but none could.
Could not relate/did not like any of the characters, did not care what happened to them, did not even mind where the story was going and it was so boring that I even got tired of skipping to reach the end and see if anything of interest happened there.

Also did not like the repetitive way in which people’s faces were described. (“His eyes sat (…)”, “His hairline sat (…) “)

Don’t get me wrong, I can see where a certain crowd would like it, but I’m clearly not part of it.

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