Saturday, August 31, 2019



The first entry of author Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series opens with an enemy wizard, on the fourth day of Eluria, following the Feast of Consanguinity, vowing to take over the Warmlands. Following this, human protagonist Jonathon Thomas Meriweather encounters the otter Mudge, scarcely a foot shorter than he is. The lutrine takes Jon-Tom to the abode of the turtle wizard Clothahump, who informs the human that he deliberately summoned him to his world, given the looming threat of the insectoid Plated Folk. In this otherworld, all warmbloods except four-legged herbivores such as horses and bovines are intelligent beings.

Clothahump appoints Mudge to be Jon-Tom’s guide in the nearby Lynchbany Towne, which has a disposition similar to the feudal era of Earth’s Europe, where the prelaw college student acquires new clothes to blend in, and where the two dine at the Pearl Possum. However, a brawl breaks out there, with the human woman Talea rescuing them and leading them to the Thieves’ Hall outside town. Jon-Tom, Mudge, and Talea agree to stay clear of Lynchbany for a while, and ultimately come across abandoned items, among them being a string instrument known as a duar, with which the prelaw college student demonstrates talent as an eponymous spellsinger.

After an encounter with miniature beings known as gneechees, the group returns to Clothahump’s home, with the turtle wizard noting Jon-Tom’s talent with the duar. During an attempt to return the student to his world, the human woman Flores Quintera materializes in the otherworld, with a discussion following on the danger that the Plated Folk pose. Their Empress, Skrritch the Eighteenth, is amassing forces in the Greendowns, with Clothahump making it a goal to follow the River Tailaroam upstream. In the glade of Triane, the turtle and his servant, the bat Pog, summon the equine spirit M’nemaxa, who doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the story.

A ship of unsavory passengers adds the aristocratic rabbit Caz to the party, and whilst Jon-Tom attempts to summon river salamanders as transportation up the river, he inadvertently summons the dragon Falameezar-aziz-Sulmonmee, who has socialist leanings. The first entry concludes in the city of Polastrindu, where Jon-Tom briefly finds himself captive of insurgent humans that wish to start a race war, and Falmeezar considers incinerating the city after an argument with capitalists. Overall, this is a good introduction to the Spellsinger series, given its intelligent animal characters and predating Redwall by a few years, with only minor narrative issues such as an anachronistic reference to Armageddon.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Cannon Busters

Cannon Busters Netflix.jpg 

An anime adaptation of an American comic series focused on immortal outlaw Philly the Kid, who teams with the android Sam and diminutive robot Casey, with a giant coin-operated car called Bessie, which can transform into a bovine robot, thrown into the mix. The futuristic/western setting sort of reminded me of the show Firefly, and it was generally a good watch.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic (cover art).jpg

In the debut entry of the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, he gives some background on the world in which his stories occur, with the franchise’s eponymous world sitting atop a giant turtle named Great A’Tuin, atop which four sizeable elephants named Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon, and Jerakeen sit as well. This was a hypothesis until emissaries from the secretive nation of Krull were lowered beyond the edge of Discworld, with the gender of the voluminous tortoise being indeterminate. The turtle itself is supposedly crawling from its Birthplace to the Time of Mating, from which shall come a Big Bang.

The story proper commences with colorful fire raging through the twin city of Ankh-Morpork, with some characters observing from a distance. One of the more confusing aspects of the story is that it’s a tad unclear as to whether Bravd and/or the Weasel are one in the same character or separate entities. The chief protagonist is an amateur wizard named Rincewind, with a citizen of Bes Palargic, the major seaport of the Agatean Empire, named Twoflower, coming with supposed treasure. The wizard and this rich fellow embark upon a series of misadventures, along with animate Luggage, that will take them to the edge of Discworld, maybe beyond.

This is a good start to the vast literary pantheon for the most part, although there are peculiarities such as the story’s main sections not divided by any chapters, which can occasionally lead to confusion regarding things such as a change of scenery or viewpoint. The franchise is further billed as a comical fantasy series, although this reviewer didn’t laugh much at the humor, despite the abundance of many humorous situations. Furthermore, the author is kind enough to introduce the setting of his series’ many novels, with the uniqueness of its suspension, and this critic would definitely recommend this read, which is undoubtedly unorthodox.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

I Am Legend


The inspiration for the monochrome movie The Last Man on Earth, the Charlton Heston vehicle The Omega Man, and the film of the same name starring Will Smith, I Am Legend, despite its meager length, is inarguably author Richard Matheson’s magnum opus, opening with protagonist Robert Neville preparing a meal for himself, not to mention garlic and stakes to repel the vampiric beings that populate the planet due to a widespread plague. Neville is regularly taunted by one of the vampires, Ben Cortman, originally an old friend, and drives through post-doomsday California, mourning his daughter Kathy.

Neville visits the tomb of his wife Virginia, having an encounter with vampires there, and returns to his home in Gardena where, due to his leaving his home’s garage unsecured, he has to deter more of the creatures and remake his abode. The alleged last man on Earth regularly has flashbacks of his wife and daughter, with talk of mutating bugs and the spread of disease that ultimately incite the vampiric pandemic. Neville believes that blood holds the key to stopping the plague, discovering the vampirism to be bacterial, and performing experiments involving things such as exposing vampiric blood to garlic.

The scientist in one instance bonds with a dog that survived the worldwide epidemic, and discovers the possibility that there might be other humans left in the world. The final chapters provide twists with hints of social commentary, including the revelation of the meaning of the novella’s title. Overall, I found it a good short novel, although it’s somewhat anachronistic given its setting in the 1970s, and one might find difficult discerning flashbacks from “present” passages. Being autistic, as well, I also somewhat sympathize with the themes of the story presented in the latter sections, and would recommend the story to those who can look past the anachronisms.

Record of Grancrest War


A fantasy anime that seems to borrow elements from the Wheel of Time book series with the warrior / magician bonding seeming similar to that of Aes Sedai and Warders within the books, although there are other elements such as werewolves and vampires, the action is generally good, and I definitely don't regret watching this.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Etrian Odyssey Nexus

Etrian Odyssey Nexus Box Front

The Final Odyssey

Known as Sekaiju no MeiQ in Japan (“World Tree Labyrinth,” MeiQ a stylized form of Meikyuu), Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey series, beginning with its inaugural installment on the Nintendo DS in 2006, combined first-person dungeon navigation with cartography taking advantage of the system’s touchscreen capability. The franchise would continue on the 3DS, which would see its lifespan end due to the Big N’s move to games for its home console/portable system hybrid Switch. Thus, since making a main installment without touchscreen mapping would in the developer’s eyes be pointless, they made an entry to mark the series’ end, Etrian Odyssey Nexus, which combines the gameplay elements of its precursors into an enjoyable package.

The final game opens with Princess Persephone of Lemuria summoning explorers from across the Lemurian archipelago, surrounding the Yggdrasil Tree, to the floating city of Maginia, tasking them with exploring the labyrinths in her lands. The party the player creates is blank-slate like in previous Etrian games, although the cast of characters has a degree of memorability, and the storyline actually connects the settings of prior games in the series, chiefly the first three Nintendo DS entries. Aside from a late-game narrative cliché, the plotline of Nexus definitely helps more than hurts.

Perhaps the weakest link of the last Etrian game is its localization, which has many indications that Atlus’s North American branch rushed it. Foremost is the decision to leave the voice acting completely in Japanese, although one can see this as a mixed blessing, given the questionable quality of that in Etrian Odyssey V. Regardless, there are occasional inconsistencies with character names including the bartender Kvasir’s name spelled Kvashir during the closing credits, and there are other odd identities such as Blót. Even so, the translation is certain coherent, and otherwise doesn’t hurt the game.

Fortunately, the gameplay is significantly better, the player initially tasked with creating a party of up to five playable characters from nineteen different classes taken from prior Etrian titles, including the new class of Hero. Each vocation has its share of good and bad points, not to mention effectiveness on either the front or back rows of combat (or even both), and afterward, it’s off Maginia’s shop to outfit them with whatever equipment they can afford through the meager finances the player initially receives. As in previous installments, each character has four slots, one for a weapon (though the Shogun class allows two equippable katanas), and three for armor and/or accessories.

Once the player delves into one of many first-person labyrinths, a colored indicator gradually turns from blue to red to note how close they are to encountering enemies, as always alleviating the frustration affiliated with traditional random encounters. Battles themselves are turn-based affairs, the player able to input commands for their party, including attacking with equipped weapons, using TP-consuming abilities, defending to reduce damage, using consumable items, using abilities granted from full Force Gauges, or attempting to escape, with this opinion naturally not always working, although if all the player’s characters attempt to do so, there’s a decent chance they’ll get away.

When the player inputs all commands and gives their party the go-ahead to proceed, they and the enemy exchange commands depending upon the ability stat, and while there’s no turn-order meter a la other turn-based titles with the feature such as Final Fantasy X and the Nintendo DS remake of SaGa 3, it usually isn’t a big mystery as to who will go when, and turn order generally remains consistent. However, a turn order meter would nonetheless have been welcome since the sequence of commands might be critical on more challenging difficulty settings.

Fights tend to flow at a quick pace, with an option in the game menus allowing for adjustable battle speed, making even the most daunting encounters breezes. Speaking of daunting, as with prior Etrian games, more powerful antagonists known as FOEs wander dungeons, typically taking notice when the player draws near and pursuing them. Contact results in an encounter, and if other FOEs are nearby, they may take notice as well and join the fray. FOEs tend to be more difficult than the enemies in standard encounters, but are mercifully beatable at least on the Picnic difficulty (the easiest setting).

The difficulty setting dictates how the game handles death, with easier settings reviving the player’s party in the hub town, and harder ones resulting in a Game Over screen, with the option to preserve the mapped dungeon before reloading a previous save. Victory, on the other hand, nets experience for all participants still alive, with occasional level-ups and consequential stat increases. Winning also nets monster appendages the player can sell at the shop in town to diversify the inventory, necessary for the purchase and equipment of more powerful gear, and fortunately, money isn’t too big an issue.

Level-ups also acquire a skill point the player can invest into each class’s skill tree to unlock new abilities, more advanced skills necessitating lower-level ones having a certain number of points and being at a certain experience level. Skills range from passive abilities that allow for things such as recovery of some health after battle (which can actually make the need to use healing magic rare, especially on the Picnic difficulty), to active skills that increase or decrease stats or assault one or more encountered enemies. Late in the game, each character can choose a subclass that allows them to obtain abilities from other vocations’ skill trees, but odds are most players will want to stick with their characters’ current jobs.

Overall, the gameplay helps Nexus far more than hurts, the battle system avoiding the negative tropes affiliated with traditional turn-based combat engines such as unpredictable turn order, long ability animations, and, on lower difficulty settings, wasted time in losing battles. The aforementioned issue with the absence of an indicator of turn order is pretty much the only real issue in the game, and is only of great concern should more masochistic players choose to quest on higher difficulty settings. On the whole, the final Etrian installment takes the franchise’s signature gameplay to new heights.

The use of the touchscreen to graph maps is another part of the series’ signature gameplay, with the availability of options that automatically map encounters walls and tiles in dungeons, significantly reducing the time needed to cartograph labyrinths, with only the need to mark doors, treasure chests, and shortcuts that reduce time when revisiting floors. Also reducing the need to revisit parts of dungeons is that if a player has mapped a floor enough and report it, they can outright skip to the lowest visited floor in a maze, significantly reducing superfluous playtime.

Given the general linearity of Nexus, it’s usually not a big problem to figure out where to go next, and while some quests available from the town tavern may be hard to complete without a guide, there are fortunately more than enough to max the levels of the player’s party. The game menus aren’t terribly intrusive, and dungeon navigation is no chore, with the only major issues being that shopping for new equipment only shows the stats after equipping an item instead of them alongside those of their current equipment, and playtime is only visible on saved files. Regardless, the last Etrian entry is one of the far-more user-friendly Japanese RPGs.

Composer Yuzo Koshiro returns to provide the soundtrack for the final game, which from the track that plays during the introductory backstory, one can tell will be a good one. There are plenty of original tracks such as the various themes played in the hub town and its facilities, which sound superb, and one original dungeon theme that has a choral remix in the final labyrinth of the main game. Given its connection to prior Etrian games, there are also a number of returning themes, including new remixes of tracks from the third title, which very much evoke nostalgia.

As mentioned, the localization team left the voicework in Japanese, with none of it every sounding miscast, and the player can customize the voices of their playable party. In this regard, the player should probably pick at least one voice, given the occasional vocal cues of points of interest within dungeons. There are, however, some rare annoyances such as Kvasir’s “Dahahahaha!” during his dialogues. The sound effects, moving on, are as one would expect from a title of the current generation, with different step sounds depending upon the territory encountered in dungeons, and things such as gunfire when using the Gunner class in battle. Overall, an excellent-sounding game.

Like its precursors, the game features great art direction, with customizable character portraits for the player’s party and portraits for the other characters with whom the player interacts throughout the game, which show eye-blinking and alternate emotions. The colors are realistic, the labyrinth environments have nice, unique appearances, and the final Etrian Odyssey uses the Nintendo 3DS’s three-dimensional capabilities well. Enemies in battle contain great designs as well, in spite of occasional reskins, and have alternate looks when low on health or inflicted with status ailments. The only real issues are the pop-up of distant walls during dungeon navigation, the pixilation and blurriness of some environs, and the strict first-person perspective of battles, but otherwise, Nexus looks good.

Finally, Nexus features thirteen story-driven labyrinths and several optional ones, making it one of the biggest games in the series, although one can complete a straightforward playthrough somewhere from one to two days total, with several sidequests such as the bar quests, item and monster compendia, post-game content, and a New Game+ enhancing lasting appeal, although there are no in-game achievements akin to other systems’ games such as the PlayStation Vita’s.

In the end, Etrian Odyssey Nexus is a fitting end to the franchise worth celebrating, given its positive aspects such as its fast and tight battle engine with plentiful customization, engaging mapping system, the storyline connections to previous games in the series, the superb aural presentation, the good art direction, and plentiful reasons to come back for more. Perhaps the only major issues are its rushed localization, somewhat inexcusable given Atlus’s general good track record in that area, not to mention the visual blemishes, but the game is sure to appeal to veterans and newcomers to the franchise of all skill levels.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy purchased by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Quick, tight battle system with tons of customization.
+Engaging mapping system.
+Connection to prior Etrian games.
+Superb soundtrack and voicework.
+Good visual direction.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Rushed localization.
-Some visual blemishes.

The Bottom Line:
A fitting swan song for the Etrian Odyssey series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.0/10
Story: 8.0/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Bolt from the Blue / Fire and Rain

Book Details:
Book Title:  A Bolt From the Blue by Lise McClendon
Category:  Adult Fiction, 243 pages
Genre:  Mystery, women's fiction, suspense
Publisher:  Thalia Press
Release date:   August 1, 2019
Tour dates: Aug 1 to 23, 2019
Content Rating: PG-13 (No sex scenes but some language, mostly mild)

Book Description:
More international intrigue, murder, and romance for the Bennett Sisters overseas in the newest entry to the bestselling women's fiction and suspense series. The next to youngest Bennett Sister, Francie Bennett (Blame it on Paris) is a hard-charging attorney whose boyfriend Dylan Hardy invites her to join him in Paris to help with a client. When Axelle Fourcier left Paris behind after the student riots of 1968, she vowed never to go back. She made a life for herself in America as a professor.

But now a beloved aunt, age 104, has died and left her an inheritance to be shared with a cousin she never met. A fabulous Belle Epoque apartment in Paris filled with pop art from the '50s and '60s is just the start of Axelle's discoveries in Paris. Wrangling with her slick cousin for the proceeds is distasteful but oh so French. Then the apartment is broken into, a friend is murdered, and Axelle's fears that the French state is once again conspiring against her seem very plausible.

Francie tries to deal with her cranky client, her own new relationship, and her boyfriend's nine-year-old daughter, as the estate problems spin out of control. Intrigue, romance, Paris and the Dordogne, and a soupçon of murder, wrapped in the legal and art world of France bring more than a few 'Bolts from the Blue' to the Bennett Sisters.

Meet the Author:  
Lise McClendon writes fiction from her home in Montana. She is the author of numerous novels, short stories, and articles. In 1997 she wrote and directed the short film, The Hoodoo Artist, featured at the Telluride Indiefest. She has served on the national boards of directors for Mystery Writers of America and International Association of Crime Writers/North America. She is on the faculty of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference.

Her books, written under her own name and as Rory Tate and Grier Lake, are full of the fascinating lives of women. The choices that women sometimes make are a quagmire of directions and misdirections, sending women into careers, love affairs, children (or no children), travels, and hobbies. And, in the case of her novels, into suspense, crime, secrets, and love.

Connect with the author:    Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Pinterest  ~  Instagram

Book Details:
Book Title:  Fire and Rain (A Casey Jones Mystery) by Katy Munger
Category:   Adult fiction, 260 pages
Genre:  Mystery
Publisher:  Thalia Press
Release date:   August 2019
Tour dates: Aug 1 to 23, 2019
Content Rating: PG-13

Book Description:
Casey Jones is back with a new adventure that takes her from four-foot strippers to forty-something bikers—and a head-on collision with too many ex-boyfriends to count. When a routine bodyguarding case turns deadly and Casey loses one of her oldest friends, tracking the killers and a missing stripper — who may or may not be in on the murder — turns out to be a wild ride that takes her from the flatlands of eastern North Carolina to its most exclusive mountain enclaves.

Fans of Casey Jones will recognize their favorites in the cast of colorful supporting characters who answer Casey’s “all hands on deck!” call. If you’ve been missing your kick-ass Casey and craving Krispy Kremes, you’ll find all that you have missed in this seventh installment of a long and beloved female P.I. series.
Buy the Book: 

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Meet the Author:    

Katy Munger is a North Carolina-based mystery author who has written under several different pseudonyms. She is the author of the Dead Detective series, writing as Katy Munger (Angel Among Us and Angel of Darkness) and as Chaz McGee (Desolate Angel and Angel Interrupted); the Casey Jones crime fiction series writing as Katy Munger; and the Hubbert & Lil mystery series, writing as Gallagher Gray. She has also been a book reviewer for the Washington Post and served as North Carolina’s 2016 Piedmont Laureate.

Connect with the author:    Website  

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Cowboy Joel and the Wild Wild West

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