Top 7 of 2016

I’ve come to accept certain things about 2016: that Death decided to be a huge bitch, that politics are going to be depressing for the next four years, and that I’m not going to finish my 2016 Goodreads Challenge. That being said, my burnout doesn’t mean I didn’t read some fantastic books, so I still want to share my favorites with you. As per the norm for me, I’m taking my top 10%. Since I’m at 69 books, I’m going to go ahead and round that up to 7.

My usual critera for selecting books apply: one book per author, must have been reviewed in 2016 (and for this I’m using my Goodreads page since I still did some posting there, even if I didn’t necessarily do a proper review of it) and must have been rated a Buy It from me. I’ll link to reviews where available.

 

7. 23447887

A great piece of historical fantasy set in a world where the Prohibition was against magic, not alcohol. It’s adult. It’s moody. It doesn’t preach. The characters are interesting, the romantic dance is a joy to watch, and the ending is fitting of the paths that Kelly was having these characters walk. Read my full review.

6. 29236298

Last year I made the predecessor Illuminae my top pick in part for the unique storytelling. While I still love it, this book didn’t quite blow me away as much as that one did.This one does have a much slower start, the ending you have to set aside ALL of your disbelief to buy and Kady and AIDAN feel a little shoe-horned in. That said, I’m still really looking forward to seeing the next book and it’s a no-brainer recommendation to fans of YA and popcorn sci-fi.

5. 26109041

Though not officially released in the U.S. yet, this book is easy enough to obtain on Amazon and I highly recommend you seek it out. I’m not a fan of zombies, but I love what she did with the genre. Add in a loner protagonist who isn’t an asshole, some great side characters, and some absolutely lovely details in the printed version of this book and I think this would be a hit for any fan of Urban Fantasy. Read my full review on Goodreads

4. 25036395

Talk about a book that came out of left field for me: the premise of the protagonist being The Only One who can save them all had me rolling my eyes, but then Durst surprised me: our heroine isn’t a Chosen One. Like. At all. She doesn’t have a ton of power, she doesn’t have some kind of birth right claim, she literally just works her tail off and through sheer force of will and an ability to think outside the box manages to save the day. Throw in some really well developed side characters, a fantastic magic system, a book where sex is treated as a healthy part of human relationships and you have a book that is all around fantastic. I can’t wait for the sequel I just hope it gets published. Ready my review on Goodreads.

3.

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YA done right. The kind of YA that I’d recommend to those who wouldn’t even normally read YA. This book takes a very clever magic system, a fun pseudo-Russian setting, and some great rounded characters to create a book that manages to avoid most of the traps that YA writers normally fall into. I adored this book, and if you like secondary world fantasy, I think you will too. Read my review

2. 25695756

I had a super hard time deciding between this, or the original book Rook on this list. Both are awesome. Both I have a ton of love of for. The sequel won out, however, because rare is the author who has a 4 year wait between books and have that second book really pan out and be fully worth the wait.

This one was.

It’s a story of female friendship, of clever paranormal creatures, and some fantastically dry British-style wit (he’s American by way of Australia, but still). I don’t know if there is a book three, I hope there will be a book three, and I will wait (im)patiently for it, even if it takes another four years to appear. Read my review on Goodreads.

1. 30258320

Okay, yes, this is a 2017 book, but I’m putting this at the number one spot because I feel like this book couldn’t be more timely. One of the overriding messages of this book is how the complacency of the people allows corruption and evil to infiltrate their lives and become an accepted part of every day life. This book is dark. There are almost no real heroes. It is grim. And it is fantastic. If you haven’t already pre-ordered this book, do so, now. You can thank me later. Read my review on Goodreads.

The End (For Now)

So this is something I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, but I’ve since decided that I’m at peace with it:

It’s time to call it quits with this blog.

Yeah, I had a post up just last Friday…and that was a book I finished like a week and a half ago? Swapping to posting once a week help me build up some lead time, which I’ve now completely squandered away and that honestly helped me make this decision.

So what’s going on?

Burnout and work.

I’ve recently touched on how I was hitting burnout as of late, but what I think has pushed me over the edge is a very real, and now very permanent, increase in my workload. While it is within the realm of what I can handle, I don’t have the downtime I used to have. And while I know many read to get rid of stress, I find myself not wanting to read as much when I am stressed – and when I do read, I need to be something I can fall head over heels in love with which is hard to do with the aforementioned burnout.

I’m not going to stop reading, nor do I think I’ll ever stop reading fantasy, but I am just going to pull way, way back. I just want to finish something or not without feeling guilty that I’ve got nothing to post. I want to be more at peace with the thought that it may take me another week or two before I want to pick up a book. I want to be able to just throw a star rating on Goodreads and call it a day.

So yeah. Time to call it a day.

Maybe I’ll post the occasional review if something moves me, or maybe I’ll just squee on twitter (@gilded_lady hint, hint) instead.

And maybe, just maybe, if I manage to get through this fun of mine, I’ll start this up again in earnest. But for now, so long and thanks for all the fish 🙂

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Summary:

Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.

Review:

First things first: this is a trilogy where each book has its own protagonist and an interweaving story. The first part is fairly obvious. The second, not so much. This story appears to be set in the same world, only half-way through the book do you realize the story was taking place before only to suddenly catch up to the start of the first book before going on and dealing with the after-effects. It’s just kind of strange and perhaps could have been handled a bit clearer.

That out of the way, a lot of what was enjoyable from the first book remains here: the world is still a fantastic bland of modern America and Nordic traditions, the characters remain likable, and the story does get poignant enough in parts that it actually made me cry. There’s a nice romance too between Signy and Ned the Spiritless.

So why then am I not quite satisfied?

It’s the ending. Like the first book, this too is about the Gods meddling with the lives of mortals, but where was the first book it really felt like outside influence, this felt much more direct which isn’t supposed to be what they can do and when the story wraps up, it just kind of feels like “Okay?” It does apparently tie into the third book, but it’s not necessarily a compelling hook that makes you go “I want to know what happens next!”

So while I happy to have read the book, I still leave feeling underwhelmed and debating if I even want to bother with the third, which does make me kind of sad.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

JRPG Review: Digimon Story: Cybersleuth

And it’s time for another JRPG review! I’ve been a Pokemon fan for ages, and have owned Nintendo’s latest portable to be able to play the latest game off and on, but inevitably always sell off said handheld because there just weren’t enough other games I wanted to play. So when I got the itch to pick up a new game, I got the next best thing: a Digimon game. For those of you who don’t know, Digimon is Pokemon’s younger and less kid-friendly knock-off franchise that has nonetheless managed to hit its 15th anniversary. Not bad for a knock-off, eh?

Anyway, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was released in 2015 as a PS4 and PS Vita title and released here in the US in February 2016. Is it worth a pick-up? Let’s take a look.

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Graphics: Funnily enough, the anime-inspired game looks like an anime. Cel-shaded people and Digimon traverse a static CGI-painted world. The “cyber” elements of the game are depicted in very Tron-esque neon blues and it all looks quite nice. That said, there are some graphical glitches to be found. My character often clipped with the larger Digimon models making it seem like the pair had merged into some kind of unholy beast, and my guest would often disappear on elevator rides to where I started to question whether or not they were supposed to – even though logic dictates they shouldn’t. It’s not game breaking, but considering that we’re not pushing any graphical limits here, it’s disappointing to see and you’d hope for more polish. Overall, it does work and it looks nice, just don’t expect to be wowed.

Sound: Unlike the graphics, the sound work leaves something to be desired. Music is there, but outside of loops like the dungeon theme that you hear so many times that you can’t not get them stuck in your head, it’s forgettable. The game is only voiced in Japanese as is presented with English subtitles. This is both good and bad, as battles tend to have intro’s and outros that are probably the same one or two phrases repeated over and over and over again. At least you can’t understand them? Bye the by, the protagonist is unvoiced, probably a cost saving measure but nonetheless annoying as even most Digimon have voices. There’s no character customization beyond gender, would it have been so hard to have two reads done?

While we’re here, I do want to bring up the messy translations Sometimes it’s as little as having another character call your female avatar as “he” instead of “she” but other times I’m wondering if some of the issues are caused by a team who speak English competently, but not natively. For example, there’s a scene where the old detective is saying that a certain investigation is going slow. The implication being that he wants to go slow, so he can do it right. The other character nods sagely and replies, “haste makes waste.” While that idiom technically works, the context they’re using it in doesn’t quite make sense. Furthermore, many of the characters seem to go from smart to navie/stupid in a conversation and back again and again I have to wonder if it isn’t the translation making iffy writing somehow worse. The combination does detract from the story and I found myself smiling and nodding along with the protagonist at parts because the explanations were so convoluted that I just didn’t care and you may tune out too.

Story: Since I brought it up, I’ll just say that the story is servicable. It sets up the world nicely, but ultimately winds up being a fairly standard affair of Bad Company Doing Bad Things and it being up to you to figure out what. There are some touching moments, but really the more enjoyable stories come in the form of the side-quests which evoke everything from a bit of J-Horror to Digimon being addicted to boxing and taking selfies to just wanting to put their CD out for the world to hear. It’s the side-stories that kept me going, and they often have the best humor that isn’t impeded by the translations since the stories are shorter and simpler.

Gameplay: For better or for worse, this game feels like it was designed for the Vita and ported to the PS4, and not the other way around. I say this because the game uses a “case” system to move things along. Most of the side cases and even many of the main story cases can be completed in 20-30 minutes or less, making it perfect bite-size gaming. On the downside, the game feels incredibly linear. You can’t go explore unless the game tells you to explore. You have some freedom in the order you pick up cases (and the side cases are purely optional) and there are a few things you can mess around with on the side, like both “offline” and online battle arenas and the like, but this game is still 90% linear as many cases and tasks are only opened up to you after others are completed. I personally don’t mind, but your mileage my vary. I would also be remiss if I didn’t say that the “investigation” side-quests (obtained by sending the ‘mon on your Digifarm out searching for them) are EXTREMELY repetitive (Go to place X, run around until you find the shiny, return, repeat) and really the only reason to do them are you occasionally get some good rewards out of them.

As far as the battle system goes, this takes your basic Pokemon-esque rock-paper-scissor mechanics and both simplifies it and makes it more complex. On the face of it its simpler, because there are only four main types – data, virus, vaccine and free. where it gets more complex is that each one of those four types is then divided into elemental attributes like fire, water, plant and so on. Ideally, when you send out your Digimon you’re going to be looking at both type and attribute, as they do stack. That 2.0 damage a virus can do to a data Pokemon can become 3.0 if you add the right elements into the mix. But that’s ideally. Realistically, as long as you’re leveling properly and upgrading your Digimon when you’re able, you can often pay less mind to that secondary level of mixing, unless you’re in a boss fight or you just want to speed things up and get the fight done a bit sooner. Additionally, your health and SP points all replenish upon level up and between that and there are plenty of terminals that let you access the Digilab where you can heal up for an inconsequential amount of Yen, so you shouldn’t have to do too much health management, unless again, inside certain tougher boss battles. Overall, Pokemon fans should find this game easy to pick up and it’s definitely accessible for casual fans as well. It’s an easier game overall.

Finally, I do like how the game builds in mechanics for you to increase/decrease random encounters at your discretion and that said mechanic is available practically right away and is the only thing that makes the search quests bearable as the monsters in a given dungeon stay the same even as you level. I also like that how it wears off when you leave floors of a given dungeon so you can’t accidentally keep it turned on in areas where you really should be participating in those random encounters to ensure you stay appropriately leveled. If a game is going to use this kind of mechanic, this ability should come with it.

Verdict: Buy it on Sale. This an unapologetic old-school JRPG and fans of the genre/Pokemon fans should find something to like her. The general lack of polish, however, makes it hard to fully recommend, let alone recommend to newbies unless you’re looking for a relatively easy way to dip your toes in the waters. Western RPG fans who expect deeper story and character customization should steer clear.

Available: Now

Skip It: The Crown Tower (The Riyria Chronicles #1) – Michael J. Sullivan

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Summary:

A warrior with nothing to fight for is paired with a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Together they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most valuable possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels the old wizard is after, and this prize can only be obtained by the combined talents of two remarkable men. Now if Arcadius can just keep Hadrian and Royce from killing each other, they just might succeed.

The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles are two separate, but related series, and you can start reading with either Theft of Swords (publication order) or The Crown Tower (chronological order)

Review:

As mentioned in my review of The Death of Dulgath, the Riyria Chronicles are meant to be prequel stand alone novels set in the same world as the Riyria Revelations. It’s probably a good thing that they are stand alone, because depending on why you are reading the books, it may well be one you want to give a pass to and for a number of reasons.

First and foremost? If you’re reading these books because you like Hadrian and Royce together, you need to know that the two don’t start talking until the half-way mark of the book. And the Royce-less first half of this book just isn’t that interesting. While it does well to paint Hadrian as naive, it’s just kind of dull and leaves you wondering when we’re going to get to anything interesting. When the pair do meet up, however, you can instantly see that spark that made the first six books so popular. It made me wistful for more.

The other reason you might want to skip this one? Quite frankly, the plot is kind of a stinker. That big impossible heist? So not impossible that (spoiler alert!) it happens off screen. The reason that they just HAVE to work together? Because. Literally. There’s not an actual logic-basic reason for them to do so, it’s just because the old wizard has this hunch that this pairing will be Special and makes them work together so Royce can discharge a debt to him. I found it cringe-worthy and almost rage-quit the book because it’s so contrived that it’s hard to believe that the desired end result of them working together would really happen.

Finally, this book almost half-a-dozen narrators, at least one or two too many that don’t add enough to the story before disappearing to have warranted their inclusion.

Ultimately this is just bog-standard fantasy that lacks the charm that elevates the other works. If this had been my introduction to the series, I don’t know that I’d have bothered reading any other because it just felt so underwhelming. Thankfully, I have and I still do plan to eventually read The Rose and the Thorn at some point in the future and I hope that I’ll get sucked back into this world.

As for you? Well, if you don’t mind the basics, it’s an okay enough read. But if I could make different choices during the Kickstarter, I’d picked up Theft of Swords instead. This book really was made for people who already love the characters, and I think that lack of emotional investment made this a much rougher read than it otherwise would have been for me.

Verdict: Skip it

Available: Now.

Disappointment at #LACookieCon

“LA Cookie Con & Sweets Show: the West Coast’s Biggest Baking, Decoration and Pastry Convention!”

How does that not sound cool, amirite?

But then you see the title and clearly something has gone wrong.

I took the Metro line down to the Convention Center and the first thing I notice is an immense lack of signage: I literally have no idea where to go. I walk inside the closest building and after looking around for a minute, I finally spot a banner above the hallway where the convention is being held. But other than that? Nothing. No sandwich boards, no banners hanging from the rafters, nada.

And then I find the registration line.

Ohhhh that mess of a registration line. I spent fifty minutes in line to trade my ticket for a wrist band. I’m about ten from the front when a guy goes, “does anyone here have a one day pass? You don’t need a wrist band, just go up to the door and you can be scanned in.”

Commence swearing here – and I wasn’t the only one. A LOT of people were upset and I don’t blame them.

While it technically did work, they didn’t do anything like say, set out a box of programs for those who entered that way. So no wrist band, no program. I’d complain about not getting a bag either except the show didn’t even have one of those. Not a tote, not a printed plastic bag. Nada. Have these guys ever actually been to another convention before?!

Anyway. So I get inside! Huzzah!

The first thing I notice? It’s small. If this is the “biggest” then the other shows must have been minuscule.  Technically there were about one hundred booths – I’m not counting the VIP areas that were only available for VIPs because that’s kinda bullshit – but take out a dozen or so for completely unrelated things: roofers, Lyft, Yelp, silk-screen shirt printers and savory food. Another dozen had some random baking supplies – cookie cutters here, molds there, fondant there – and the rest were all companies hawking their pre-made goods. On the one hand, samples! Hooray! On the other hand: where’s the water? You can’t eat sweet on sweet on sweet on sweet without something to break it up and water stations were nigh impossible to be found. I’d settled for a booth to buy water from, but I think only one stand sold that kind of thing and it had a super long line and nope.

Going back to the few booths actually selling supplies. I was SO disappointed by that. These kind of conventions often have suppliers hawking there wares at a nice discount. I was hoping that I’d find some tools at reasonable prices to round out my collection and there was practically nothing to be had. And there were zero general supply stores anywhere. Just very disappointing in light of the “baking, decoration and pastry” title. If you were looking for decoration items you were most likely to find something you might want. Anything else? Pfft.

Oh, and finally, I feel like they oversold tickets to the show. Once the crowd had really filled in you could barely approach some of the booths because everything was packed so tightly together: floor planning at the con was pretty awful unaided by the oversized space given to the VIP areas that could have instead been made smaller and allowed for more breathing room in the mian layout.

As for the main stage, they advertised Sarah Michelle Geller at 12 pm. She got pushed back to 12:30. She came on at 12:35 and was done almost ten minutes later after basically delivering an infomercial for her subscription food box. That is not programming, people. I had wanted to stay for Duff Goldman, but then they announced that he was going to be pushed back from 1:00 to 1:30 and that point I was just done because I was seriously afraid that I’d wait another 45 minutes only to have another 10 minute presentation.

There was not two days worth of value there. There’s barely one day worth of value there. This convention felt underbaked and underdone: just not ready for prime time. There were almost no guests of any name there (I don’t count “social media stars” as people of name),  and the booths were way too heavily tilted towards already made food and they clearly got desperate towards the end to let in some of the really random booths.

All told, this feels like it should have been added on as an extension of an existing show instead of a standalone. It is a young show (only it’s second year) so some glitches are to be expected, but this just goes beyond that. Avoid this one for a few more years and see if they can’t get it together before you try attending for yourself.