Soulless by Gail Carriger (Parasol Protectorate #1)

Title: Soulless
Series Title: Parasol Protectorate
Author: Gail Carriger
Date Added: October 26, 2016
Date Started: April 26, 2018
Date Finished: June 1, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural/Paranormal, Paranormal Romance

Soulless by Gail Carriger coverPages: 357
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: October 1, 2009
Media: Paperback (Library)

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. 

First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire–and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Note: I borrowed this from the library with the thought it was a graphic novel/manga.  While there is a manga (which I also want to read after I finish the series), I didn’t realize it was based on the book, and that is what I wound up getting.

Nothing makes me happier than when a novel I’m dicey on becomes an utter delight.  I considered DNFing this because of the, how should I say it, Victorian bigotry that’s presented more as Alexia’s navigation through it rather than her own personal fixation.  She has to be concerned with her spinster status, huge nose, and darker skin (courtesy of her Italian father) because everyone, including and especially her mother and half-sisters, judge her for it.

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The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis (A Dance of Dragons #1) (DNF)

Title: The Shadow Soul
Series Title: A Dance of Dragons
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Date Added: June 15, 2016
Date Started: May 14, 2018
Date DNF: May 15, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (YA), Paranormal

The Shadow Soul coverPages: 292
Publication Date: January 22, 2014
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Media: eBook/Kindle

When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…

This is one of those books that initially seems like I’d tear through with alacrity based on the blurb, but I was extremely meh about the opening.  It’s your typical destroyed people/vengeance fare, but I didn’t garner much deep emotion from it because I didn’t invest much in the characters due to that cataclysm being present in the blurb.  Even so I liked what the author was setting up with Jinji’s story arc, an indigenous young woman whose home and culture is destroyed.  I was here for that revenge story, but then…the male character is introduced.

Rhen is unlikable for a variety of reasons.  He’s arrogant as fuck with an unearned know-it-all attitude.  Davis tells us how smart he is through his own ruminations, which may be her way of disputing it, but it just comes off as pompous.  I could forgive this slight, but I was pretty much done when he revealed he might be an unabashed rapist per the very act that introduces him.

He did however feel slightly uneasy.  It really wasn’t the girl’s fault that he had slipped into her room just before dawn.

I won’t say it’s blatant, but it gave me an icky feeling.  Pairing that with a lukewarm beginning sealed the deal.  If Rhen had been interesting or reputable, I might have continued, but I had no interest in seeing a fairly decent character like Jinji paired with what can’t even be considered a mediocre man.  Maybe he matures; maybe she “fixes” him (ugh), but she deserves better.

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente (A Dirge for Prester John #1)

Title: The Habitation of the Blessed
Series Title: A Dirge for Prester John
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Date Added: September 28, 2012
Date Started: March 26, 2018
Date Finished: May 23, 2018
Reading Duration: 58 days
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Christian Mythos

The Habitation of the Blessed coverPages: 269
Publication Date: March 1, 2010
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Media: Paperback

This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?

Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit. These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness. John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye–a headless creature who carried her face on her chest–as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family.

They think you childish, that you insist your god looks just like you.  That is how a baby thinks, because she has only her parents to protect her, so all the power in the universe bears her own face.

Catherynne M. Valente is mostly a hit with me, and though I’ve had issues getting into a few of her novels before, I was determined to give The Habitation of the Blessed another try.  Not only did I love the language and mytho-religious basis of it, but the following book The Folded World seemed even more intriguing.  Of course there’s no rule that says you must read all the books in a series; I just don’t like entering a narrative in the middle unless, of course, it’s in media res.  The second attempt was more fruitful, and my inabilities prior might have been due to my own concentration issues.  The beginning is a bit slow, but it doesn’t last for long.

The Habitation of the Blessed exists as a series of vignettes tied together and hinged on a butterfly’s wings.  Using the framing device of Brother Hiob searching for Prester John who went abroad to teach Christianity, but found himself the recipient of an immortal faith.  This style of story within story is very similar to Valente’s other series The Orphan’s Talesthough Habitation doesn’t go quite as Inception as the fore mentioned.  It also involves multiple story tellers as opposed to just one.

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Piczle Colors

More video game reviews and analyses can be found here.

Title: Piczle Colors
Series: Piczle
Genre: Puzzle, Logic
Developer: Rain Frog
Release Date: January 31, 2019

Piczle Colors cover

System: Nintendo Switch

Piczle Colors is a puzzle game in the Piczle franchise that includes Piczle Lines and the update to that Piczle DX.  PC is a type of nonogram in the similar vein to Picross i.e. a picture logic puzzle in which cells in a grid must be colored or left blank in order to reveal a hidden image.  In the case of Piczle Colors, all the cells are filled with a particular color based on number clues in the the rows and columns.

Piczle Colors screenshotThe logic of the game is simple in theory but becomes complex in action.  Each row and column contain clues to help the player figure out how they should be filled in.  A number in a circle indicates that that particular color will be consecutive, so if we take the first column from the left, we know there will be three whites in a row.  A number that has no circle with not be consecutive.  Examining the same column once more, we know that blue will not fill up six adjacent spaces, and there must be another color in between to break it up.  If the player doesn’t put three whites in a row or does put six blues, an X will appear to indicate it’s not filled out correctly.

There were 300 puzzles at initial release and the developer just added 40 more that were part of one larger picture instead of individual ones.  They also included a way to skip the title screen, but they haven’t yet updated menu navigation, which comes off a bit dated.

Piczle Colors menu screenshotYou have to meticulously scroll through before clicking on arrows at opposite ends of the screen, as opposed to using one of the buttons to back out.

Another issue revolves around colors being either be too close to the background or another color, which can make for some confusion.  It’s possible to change the backdrop, and the colors are always in a particular order; however it can become frustrating, especially if you’re trying to best your last time and pick the wrong one.  The later pictures with more dimensions do come out looking more complex, but the developers could’ve explored options to forestall situations where colors are close in hue.

The initial puzzles are 5×5 then 5×10’s (and the inverse) are introduced before moving onto 10×10 and finally 15×10 puzzles with up to four colors.  There’s the option to do a randomly selected puzzle of the 300 or even an utterly random configuration using the player’s choice of 2-4 colors and any of the dimensions. This is by far the most difficult mode to play in as even 5×5 puzzles can be nigh on insurmountable with or without the optional clue.  The request for a clue can be turned on or off at your leisure or decided on an individual puzzle basis.  The game randomly selects a row and a column, filling out all of the cells there.

Between release date and current, 40 more puzzles were added that were part of one larger picture, and hopefully there will be more updates soon.  Despite its foibles, Piczle Colors is both entertaining and challenging.  It fosters logical thinking, and there’s a legitimate sense of accomplishment when a particularly difficult puzzle is completed.  Often I wasn’t certain or even concerned with what the picture was until I finished, and it’s never a bad thing to become totally engrossed in a game.

4 stars.

Note:  Just a quick reminder: I use the 5 star method for games.

Oxenfree: Review and Analysis

More video game reviews and analyses can be found here.

Note: Source for banner artwork can be found at this site discussing other potential media adaptations of the game.

Title: Oxenfree
Adventure/Exploration, Puzzle, Mystery, Horror
Developer: Night School Studio
Release Date: January 15, 2016

Oxenfree coverLet’s Player: ChristoperOdd
Date Started: 9/2/18
Date Finished: 9/5/18

A supernatural thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift.

With a heavy Stranger Things vibe and a female MC who’s a person of color, I couldn’t help but be drawn into this paranormal tale that starts out (like most) normally enough with a group of teenagers participating in a high school rite of passage that turns into a supernatural mystery involving secret subs, a lost crew, and a government cover up not dissimilar to The Philadelphia Experiment and Montauk.

Oxenfree, developed by Night School Studio and the brainchild of former Telltale and Disney employees, was released on January 16, 2016 accompanied by developmental documentaries and an alternative reality game (ARG), which allows players to interact with it in the real world, lending a creepier air to an already eerie narrative.   The atmospheric music, composed by scntfc, adds the perfect accompaniment to Alex and company’s exploration of the abandoned Edwards Island.  Along with the music, Morse code serves an integral part to understanding what happened here, though, as usual, the internet provides for those of us not savvy enough to be knowledgeable.

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The State of the Writer: 3/24/19

<–The State of the Writer: 3/10/18         The State of the Writer: 4/7/19–>

A post updated every other Sunday discussing my current writing projects and any completed the prior two weeks.

Finished Projects: 1

Project: Story
The Broken Rose
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Type: Fanfiction (FFVII) Novel
Current Word Count: 254,553
Prior Word Count: 254,713
Word Difference: -160
Status: Editing
Progress: Chapter 15 Second Edit

I think I’m about halfway through the second edit, which should be the last one before I post.  Hopefully before the end of this week *fingers crossed*

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Restless Bones on Crystal Lake by B. Batiste (Moon Investigations #2)

Moon Investigations

<–Witch Hunt on Crystal Lake

Title: Restless Bones on Crystal Lake
Series Title: Moon Investigations
Author: B. Batiste
Date Added: March 26, 2018
Date Started: May 1, 2018
Date Finished: May 12, 2018
Reading Duration: 11 days
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural, Mystery

Restless Bones on Crystal Lake coverPages: 170
Publication Date: March 28, 2018
Publisher: Amazon
Media: eBook/Kindle

A soggy decrepit ghost visits Hazel. And with her new ghostly admirer comes a new case and a new hidden danger.

Lola is wanted for the murder of Royce Habernath, a pirate treasure hunter whom she has fought with many times over a treasure map. In their search for the truth, Hazel, Syn and Blossom struggle with the realization, Lola is the mistress of secrets and killing someone is definitely within her wheelhouse. But when it becomes clear that Lola was framed it becomes a race to find the real murderer before Lola is sent to a prison most don’t return from. At least not whole.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Hazel may have a hidden power a queen is searching for. Whether Hazel truly has it or not the Blood Queen and her minions now know she is on Crystal Lake. And if they find Hazel, her death is certain.

Lola is one of the most interesting characters in the Moon Investigation series.  Often side characters are just that: ones on the side, but Miss Batiste puts a great deal of effort into making all of hers intriguing.  Unsurprisingly, Lola didn’t become a bad ass on a whim.  She was forged in fire and pain with pirate ancestors who became embroiled in more than what they bargained for.

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