Monster Hunter International

Have you ever started reading something without knowing why you chose it, not been crazy about the beginning, but kept going anyway? I can honestly say this week’s topic is the first time I’ve legitimately had that happen, ie choosing a book to read without even seeing a blurb, coming close to giving up after the first chapter, but after a few more, finding myself far more interested than I expected to be.


I’m talking about Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. It’s the story of Owen Z Pitt (who his friends call Z), a man from a military family, who decides to go into accounting in an attempt to live a quiet and ordinary life. One night after working late and getting ready to go home, his boss comes in and reveals having been turned into a werewolf. Of course, a dire battle ensues, and Owen eventually pushes his opponent out the window to smash onto the pavement many floors below. Owen himself sustained major injuries as well, landing himself in the hospital for a few days, followed by a large paycheck courtesy of a government fund set aside for the hunting and killing of supernatural creatures, and recruitment from the Monster Hunter organization.

As I mentioned above, being thrown into heavy battle from page one like that really turned me off. I found myself not really caring about the main character, probably more for his gun policy than anything that was happening to him, but the early onset of blood and guts certainly didn’t help. To be honest, as I’ve found with watching Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, the other characters in the story make the plot much more appealing. For instance, the driving force on Owen’s path happened to be the ghost of a Jewish toy maker from the World War II era – and he was probably the most interesting character of all.

Despite how important love and romance were to the eventual resolution of the conflict, the way it was handled in this book was extremely forced: man likes woman; woman is already in a relationship with someone else; the other man is kind of a jerk, but has something happen to him; woman falls for main character. While it would have made the book longer to draw out the development of the new couple, it would have also certainly made it more believable.

I can pretty much guarantee your mileage will vary with this one. It was kinda neat seeing mystical creatures in slightly more realistic circumstances, but I’d probably suggest you be predisposed to this genre before giving it a try. This is book one of a series, and I’m not sure I’ll bother looking into the rest of them.

Rating: 3rd Gear

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The Myst Reader

Those of you who know me are probably aware that I don’t play a lot of games – video, tabletop, or otherwise – and when I do, I tend to stick to only a couple genres. That being said, the subject of this week’s article shouldn’t really surprise anyone either.

Myst Reader

The Myst Reader, by Rand and Robyn Miller, is a great example of a video game story that has crossed over into the fully written medium. In the original Myst game, the player (unseen because it’s experienced in first-person, from their perspective, with no option to change the camera angle) is tasked with saving Atrus, who is one of the last remaining members of the D’ni community. In the sequel games Riven and Exile, we help him save his wife while working do defeat his father, and then dealing with his sons, respectively.

As expected, the novelization allows the curious player to delve more into Atrus’ life and the world of the D’ni. The Myst Reader is actually an omnibus anthology of three books – The Book of Atrus, The Book of Ti’ana, and The Book of D’ni. The Book of Atrus tells of his formative years, from the beginning of being abandoned by his father. His grandmother Anna raised him, teaching him to be curious and studious of the world surrounding him, laying the foundation he needed for when his father came back to teach him how to write Books. It ends beautifully with the opening lines that the player is introduced to the game series with (which is honestly one of my favorite things with stories like this – for a prequel to run right up to the beginning of the existing canon). The Book of Ti’ana goes back even further, telling of how Anna, who is fully human, came to join the D’ni community, and the society’s eventual downfall. The Book of D’ni goes foreward, past the end of the Exile game, to tell the story of Atrus’ return to his family’s home, and attempting to rebuild the community.

Being that these books were written by the same people who worked on the games, it’s to be expected that they have the same tone and structure of the stories that came before them. In the games, the player tells the tale, to the point that very few other people are seen, let alone interacted with, over the duration. That’s the real beauty of the novelization, though – as much as the players can learn about the D’ni, Atrus, and his family, from working out the various puzzles set up in each Age, there’s a phenomenal amount of background information that can only be gleaned from being presented in this other format.

People who have played Myst and its sequels will probably get a lot out of reading this book. For others, your mileage may vary. However, even with as many references as are made back to the games, it does stand pretty well on its own. Each volume is available individually, but if you decide to pick it up, I recommend the omnibus in order to see the entire story.

Rating: 5th Gear

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Tokusatsu Big Bang

Hello everyone, I hope you’re enjoying your weekend. If you live in the United States, I hope you’ll get to see an excellent fireworks show tonight!

In lieu of a formal review this week, I thought it might be nice to plug a project I participated in recently, called the “tokusatsu big bang”. What that means, is that a group of writers agree to cover a specific series of topics, in this case the video genre of tokusatsu, and then a group of artists selects which story they’d like to make an accompanying non-written piece for. When the writer and artist are finished, they post both parts on the same day, for everyone to partake.

All of the stories are linked at, and cover recent series of Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and Garo.

Please enjoy!

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at]

Never Go Back

One of the best things in literature is finding an author you can go back to again and again. They keep publishing new work, and every story is as compelling a read as what has come before it.

This week, I’m talking about Never Go Back, by Lee Child. This book is volume 18 in the Jack Reacher series. Yes, this is the same Jack Reacher that had a movie starring Tom Cruise, and yes, this is the 18th book. The movie was based on One Shot, which is volume 9, but enough about that.

Never Go Back

Jack Reacher grew up in the military, and eventually became the commander of an elite unit of the army’s military police (MP). After his term of service, he didn’t settle down, though. He has been spending life wandering from one town to another. During the events of 61 Hours, he finds himself in rural South Dakota, and eventually gains remote assistance from the woman currently in charge of the 110th. By the end, he’s decided to head back to Washington DC so he can meet her in person. However, when he gets there at the beginning of Never Go Back, it’s only to be brought back into service while various army lawyers are working to assemble obscure cold cases against him, that he was sure had either been resolved, or hadn’t existed in the first place.

To be honest, these books are vaguely formulaic. It would be difficult not to be, with such a long-running serial. Reacher arrives in a new town, is faced with a new problem (often, but not always, something he ends up sticking his nose into by accident), and then spends the rest of the time trying to resolve it in proper MP fashion, before moving on to the next leg of his journey. What keeps the reader coming back, though, is the specifics of how each case is handled, along with the occasional opportunities to see into Reacher’s past as it becomes relevant. Probably the best part is that Reacher is a wanderer, so it’s easy to drop into one challenging situation after another – allowing the series to continue as long as Mr Child is willing to revisit the character.

I came into this series by recommendation from a friend, with One Shot. Including that, I’ve read six of the later volumes so far, and really don’t feel like I’m out of the loop by not going back to the beginning (the first book is called Killing Floor). What I didn’t realize, though, was that even though it felt like I’d read several of them in chronological order, there had been other volumes released in between. That all being said, if you decide to pick this one up, you shouldn’t be afraid to make your selections based on which summaries appeal to you.

Rating: 4th Gear

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Heat Wave

As far as I know, television programs that get translated into books are few and far between (usually it’s the other way around). It’s an exciting thing from all perspectives, though, because it allows the media to produce more and varied merchandise, and the audience gets to take their visual idea of the story and move it into the realm of the fully imaginary.

Heat Wave

The subject for this week is one example of just such a situation. I’m referring to Heat Wave and its sequels, which sprouted from the television series “Castle”. On the show, the title character is a writer who had just killed off the main character from his cash-cow series of novels. When the police come looking for him because someone’s committing murders like those that have taken place in his books, he discovers he’s found his next main character. Of course, everyone else around him makes it into the books as well (except his daughter, sadly), and it’s incredibly easy to tell who’s who.

In the books, Jameson Rook is a freelance, award-winning news writer who’s always in search of his next big lead. Friends with many of New York City’s big-wigs, he finds his way to the side of police detective Nikki Heat, who naturally isn’t exactly thrilled on the matter. Much like their television counterparts, they solve several cases together. Unlike Richard and Kate, though, they get intimate in volume 1, just as Castle joked when manuscripts of the book were circulating on the show. Everyone’s character is pitch perfect, which adds charm where the actual story may be lacking in substance.

This series isn’t meant to be anything other than a silly hook to bring a little bit of the tv world into the real world, and it’s actually pretty successful in that regard. Reading these books will feel like watching episodes of Castle, especially when events from the show are transcribed into the text. If you’re a fan of the show and you’re looking for something silly, this is one to check out.

Rating: 4th Gear

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A Wrinkle In Time

It’s always fun to pull books from my archives, especially ones that were so formative to my taste in literature, and have stayed with me ever since.

a wrinkle in time

This week, I’d like to discuss the classic children’s series A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. It tells the story of Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and her new friend Calvin, as they are tasked with rescuing Meg and Charles Wallace’s father from the clutches of evil – no joke. Dr Murry is a physicist who had been working on tesseracts and their use in travel. One day about a year before the beginning of the book, he disappears without a trace. The three kids proceed, accompanied by the odd ladies Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which, on a mind-boggling adventure across the universe.

The great thing about a series like this, is that even though the plot is generally so fantastical, the reader can’t help but follow along for the ride because the author makes the characters so real. Meg, for all she discovers about herself over the course of the first book, starts out basically as a delinquent – she’s not a particularly good student, and often picks fights to make up for it. Calvin, on the other hand, is the third oldest of eleven children, is relatively smart and athletic, but otherwise considered the odd one out of his family. He takes comfort in spending time with the Murrys as a change of atmosphere. Charles Wallace is the unusual one – completely aware of himself from a very young age, he didn’t start talking until he was four, and then it was in full and complete sentences with complex vocabulary! The only two average characters in the series are Meg and Charles Wallace’s twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys, who are featured in a later book titled Many Waters.

If there was ever a series of books I read growing up, that I’d like to see portrayed on screen, I think this would be it. What I didn’t realize before sitting down to write, of course, was that it was done in Canada, back in 2003. As such, I am unaware of how well the stories were conveyed, but I do still think it would be interesting to see given the full treatment.

This was probably the first series of books to help me bridge the gap from just reading fiction, to igniting my interest in science, science fiction, and fantasy. I’m due for a re-read, and I recommend it to you as well, whether it’s your first or third time looking at it.

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at]

Who Censored Roger Rabbit

Upon recommendation from our leader Mr Gogal after posting my first book review of the summer, I delved head-first into another interesting tale. He knows I’m mostly into mystery, action/adventure, and fantasy stories, and handed me something I came to realize sat squarely in my wheelhouse.

roger rabbit

I’m talking this week about Who Censored Roger Rabbit, by Gary Wolf. It features a world where cartoon characters exist in three dimensions alongside human society. Well, not quite alongside – segregation is a heavy theme that’s touched on at nearly every opportunity, and is even integral to the mystery’s resolution. The narrative is told from the perspective of the private investigator, Eddie Valiant, who is approached by Roger at the beginning of the story to look into his employment contract. Roger claims he was promised to be made the lead character of his own comic strip, which was never fulfilled. Eddie is reluctant to take on a Toon client, but does so anyway with the offer of a considerable sum of money as payment. When Roger and his boss later turn up dead, he decides to finish working the case anyway, to satisfy his particular brand of integrity and curiosity.

In the grand scheme of things, there were really only three aspects of the story I struggled with. One was the constant mention of segregation. I started to wonder pretty early on if this book was allegory for the ongoing civil rights struggle, despite its otherwise off-the-wall nature. The second thing was how long it took me to wrap my brain around the concept that the Toons didn’t actually talk audibly. Except for those few who actively suppressed it, most non-humans spoke using comic strip speech bubbles. It was interesting because it introduced the added aspect of another way to express how a character was feeling, but it made for very tortuous “he said, she said”. Third, there was an awful lot of alcohol and cigarettes. I figure this is more due to the genre and era, but it still bothered me how much emphasis was given to them.

I was told before starting, that Mr Wolf kept the culprit a secret until the very end. I didn’t believe it, because usually there are hints at it all along the way of the plot, but it really is true. There’s a tiny bit of foreshadowing in a couple places, but there’s no actual indication of who the culprit is until Eddie comes to the conclusion himself. It’s refreshing, in light of how most mysteries are written nowadays. I was also told that it doesn’t have much in common with the movie version, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but since I only watched that once many years ago, I’ll need to see it again before being able to comment properly on it.

Paper copies of this book are in limited supply, and even the mass market version is more expensive than anything on the shelves that happens to be more recent. I recommend that if you decide to pick this one up, grab a digital copy to your favorite reading device.

Rating: 4th gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at]

The Codex Alera

I read something once where Jim Butcher explained that his first “swords and sorcery” book left much to be desired. I don’t know what it was called, let alone have a chance to read it, but what he’s published since then has definitely piqued my interest.


This week, I’m talking about the Codex Alera, a six-volume book series that starts with Furies of Calderon. The story is about Tavi, a young Aleran, who aside from his wits is otherwise relatively unremarkable. Of course, that’s what makes him so special. Most of the population of Alera has ongoing working relationships with one or more elemental “furies”, that is, water, fire, wood, earth, metal, or air. Despite coming from a frontier community where they make use of furies just to survive, Tavi grew up with none of those abilities. After a near-death adventure which he and a new acquaintance narrowly survive, he finds himself admitted to the school in Alera’s central capital to learn about diplomacy, warfare, and other skills deemed valuable to the nobility, which he employs counter to everyone’s expectations.

alera map

About half way through the series, the reader finds out that there’s more to Tavi than meets the eye, after which everything for him and his family changes. It was beautiful to watch him try to balance every aspect of what faced him after that. I wish I could say more, but it’s such a major plot element, that I don’t want to spoil it for new readers!

As a fan of fantasy novels from a young age, I really enjoyed this series, especially coming to it by way of another one of Mr Butcher’s series (which I’ll likely be addressing later). I remember reading once that his inspiration for the furies was taken from other stories that feature elemental creatures, like Pokemon. I think one of the greatest things about this series, though, is to see a character who is missing something that everyone takes for granted, explore other aspects of himself to find the strength to work around it.

(in case anyone was wondering, this series is where my current online handle comes from)

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at]


To my lovely readers in the United States, I hope you’re all having a relaxing Memorial Day weekend! …to everyone else, I hope your weekend is going well too. If you’re confused about the title of this week’s article, I’ve decided to take a bit of a detour, that will last from now until Labor Day at the beginning of September.

I just finished a really good book.


Although I guess that depends on your application of the word “good”. Hit, by Delilah Dawson is a very heavy story, but at 339 pages I honestly couldn’t put it down. Billed as a novel aimed at young adults, it tells the story of Patsy Klein (not to be confused with Patsy Kline, of course), the teen-aged daughter of a single mother in a financially depressed neighborhood of suburban Georgia. Patsy’s mom has cancer, and no money to pay for treatments. In steps Valor Savings Bank, recently changed to just “Valor Savings”, who Patsy’s mom had previously taken out a credit card with. They promise to cover the medical expenses and excuse any other out-standing debt… as long as Patsy will take care of some dirty work for them. If she refuses, they threaten to kill both of them, and set their home on fire. She accepts, desperate for an opportunity to keep her small family together, and is presented the next day with a mail truck and uniform and a list of ten names to whom she must now offer the same set of options – pay off the debt in one lump sum, kill, or be killed. The rest of the book is spent exploring how she handles her task without turning herself into a monster.

It’s dark, and it’s heavy. And I started to feel ashamed part way through when I realized I was enjoying it. But as with most stories that fall in this sort of dystopian vein, there’s enjoying, and then there’s enjoying. I appreciated the revelation that Patsy was a self-taught knitter, and that her big yarn bombing project was one of the things that kept her sane through the ordeal. On the other hand, even though it’s a fictional story, I look at it in the light of the world economy, and my heart sinks. I don’t believe for a moment that it would ever come to something like this in my lifetime… but what if it did? That terrifies me.

Your mileage will probably vary with this one. If you’re looking for a page-turner, I’d be confident recommending it. I actually found out about it via an article someone had retweeted, and the excerpt available from Simon and Schuster hooked me immediately. The ending was left wide-open for more, and I sincerely hope that Ms Dawson revisits it some time.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at]

xxxHolic (live-action)

I remember talking to people when the subject of this week’s article was airing on television, and how shocked we all were that one of the stories from the manga circle CLAMP had been adapted for live-action.


I’m talking this time about xxxHolic, based of course on the manga and anime of the same name. Starring Shota Sometani (Minna Esper Dayo, Bakuman (movie, 2015)) as the awkward Kimihiro Watanuki, and Anne Higashide (Propose Kyoudai, Samurai High School) as the mysterious Yuko Ichihara, the production company stayed amazingly faithful to the spirit of the source material, no pun intended. Sadly, since each episode was only half an hour, they had to drop most of the comedic elements of Watanuki and classmate Shizuka Domeki’s rivalry, but they more than made up for it through the retelling of a few of CLAMP’s stories, along with the addition of some new material.

The first episode begins with Watanuki explaining the strange power he has, to see demons and spirits that are generally otherwise invisible to human eyes. On his way home from school, he discovers Yuko’s shop, and is pulled inside mostly against his will. Yuko’s attendants, Maru and Moro greet him, and take his hands to drag him further inside so that Yuko can be given the opportunity to decide whether to fulfill his wish.

Fans of the series will likely also recognize Watanuki and Domeki’s classmate Himawari Kunogi as they’re watching. Even though the production budget probably only allowed for a certain level of special effects, the absence of the black-furred Mokona was inconsequential. One thing I particularly appreciated was that they brought back Shikao Suga to write the opening theme song, since I’d come to associate his music with the animated series.

Please keep in mind that this show isn’t really for the faint of heart. Having the horror themes amplified by the missing comedy made for a rather scary offering. In fact, I may not have chosen to watch it, were I unfamiliar with the source material. That being said, if you are a fan of CLAMP and/or scary stories, you should definitely check it out.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at]

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