Archive | March, 2009

March 2009

31 Mar

* * *Books* * *

Books bought / ordered:
Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games
Susan Grant – Moonstruck
Kristan Higgins – Too Good to Be True
Alix Rickloff – Lost in You
Susan Squires – Body Electric
Pauline Trent – Falling in Love
Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road

Books read:
Kelley Armstrong – Bitten
Some Thoughts about the Heroine in Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten; review planned

Linda Howard – Open Season (4/5)

Eloisa James – The Taming of the Duke (TBR Challenge; 4/5)

Julie Anne Long – Like No Other Lover (4,5/5)

Anne Stuart – Cold As Ice
(re-read, 3,5/5); joint review with Jace at Jace Scribbles

Robin Schone – The Lover (4,5/5)

Teresa Medeiros – Heather and Velvet (Re-Read Challenge; 3,5/5)

Favorite novel:
Julie Anne Long – Like No Other Lover
Robin Schone – The Lover
If I would have to choose, I probably would go with Robin Schone’s The Lover as my favorite novel this month.

New-to-me authors: Robin Schone

New-to-me authors I would read again: Robin Schone

* * *Games* * *

Games bought:
Overlord (PC)
Persona 4 (PS2)

Games played:
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (PS2)
Puzzle Quest (PS2)

Comments: Games
I picked up Prince of Persia: Warrior Within again, after not playing for more than two months thanks to one of those annoying chase sequences. Many tries and shredded nerves later, I finally made it past that point in the game. Right now, I’m cruising along splendidly. That is, until the next chase sequence shows up. I hate them (or I’m too old for these thrills). I prefer the first.

Game Comment: Puzzle Quest (PS2) (4/5)

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Re-Read Challenge: “Heather And Velvet” By Teresa Medeiros

31 Mar

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009
This month:Re-Read Challenge: March!

medeiros-teresa-heather-and-velvet
GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Bantam, 1992

AVAILABILITY: still available


The back blurb:
“SHE WAS AN INNOCENT LASS…
One moment lovely Prudence Walker was living the life of a dutiful orphan; the next she was lying in a highwayman’s arms. Wounded in a foiled robbery attempt and thoroughly drenched from a storm, the dreaded Scot bandit seemed harmless enough. Or so Prudence thought–until the infamous rogue stole her breath and her will with his honeyed kisses, until she felt the rapier-sharp edge of his sensuous charm.

WHO HAUNTED A HIGHWAYMAN’S DREAMS…
She was everything Sebastian Kerr had ever wanted, but could never have: an impish beauty with amethyst eyes and wine-sweet lips he longed to plunder. But even as he drew Prudence into his embrace, he knew he must leave her. For the gray-eyed highwayman was leading a dangerous double life, one that left no room for love.

IN A LAND OF HEATHER AND VELVET
The courageous beauty and her sensuous outlaw ignite fires of passion that blaze from the storm-swept English countryside to the wild moors of Scotland…forging unbreakable bonds of love.”


Then

Heather and Velvet is one of the earlier romances I read in English but it was one of last novels I read by Medeiros. It’s not because I didn’t like Heather and Velvet; but her other novels didn’t completely fit what I was looking for.

Although I read Heather and Velvet the last time several years ago, I think of it very fondly and therefore consider it one of my favorites. It’s not just my favorite Medeiros novel, but a “real” favorite. Reading it for this challenge is a good chance to see how or if it still holds up.

Now

Reading the first chapters was a slightly surreal experience. There were a few things concerning plot and characters that struck me as too familiar (as in romance cliché) while at the same time I knew I didn’t blink when I first read them. I also knew I liked this novel a lot. The clichés aren’t very blatant but I still did wonder what I would think about Prudence’s reason for being out in a storm/her plainness with glasses and a severe bun whereas without them she utterly charms Sebastian/the convenient hut if I read Heather and Velvet the first time now.

But the chemistry between Prudence and Sebastian works, and so it’s no wonder that they both remember their first meeting and the stormy night in a crofters hut in 1791 they shared long after they parted ways the other morning; even though it was all innocent. They expect to never see each other again. Prudence had something of an adventure – a dashing highwayman smitten by her. And Sebastian, Sebastian glimpsed that there could be something else in life besides regaining his father’s castle and land and taking revenge on Killian MacKay.

It’s something of a shock when Prudence and Sebastian find themselves in close proximity again. Tricia, Prudence aunt, wants to marry Sebastian who changed tactics to accomplish his dream and stretched the truth some and took on the role of a wealthy laird to gain respectability and money. Prudence lives with her aunt as her aunt is Prudence’s only relative.

As Tricia’s fiancée, Sebastian and Prudence see each other daily. Sebastian’s fascination for Prudence and their attraction to each other make the weeks before the wedding increasingly difficult for them both. Sebastian can’t give up his marriage to Tricia because it would mean giving up his lifelong dream of revenge on MacKay. And Prudence doesn’t want to become his mistress.

But that is not all. Heather and Velvet is a action-packed story. There are two subplots that greatly influence the romance between Prudence and Sebastian.

There’s Sebastian’s French grandfather, D’Artan, who took Sebastian in after his father died when he was thirteen years old. He’s the villain in this story and he uses every means to further the cause of the revolutionists in France while masquerading as a fugitive of the French Revolution. Because of that, he’s also interested in the formula for gunpowder Prudence’s father was working on before his death. In short, depending on what suits him best, he wants Sebastian or Prudence or both either dead or alive in the course of the story.

While the grandfather influences the outward action, the second subplot fuels Sebastian’s motivation – his wish for revenge. It has to do with his mother, his father, and MacKay, and what his father did to his mother. At some point later in the story Sebastian fears he’s the same as his father.

If you think this story is rather convoluted, you’re right. The first part goes really well. It’s just the romance and D’Artan’s wish for Prudence’s death. It’s the second part (halfway through the story) that things get more complicated and Sebastian’s life as a highwayman catch up with him.

I still really like the first part – lots of drama there with the focus mostly on Prudence and Sebastian that ends when Prudence sees no way out of the tangle except taking a drastic step that ends all.

The second part suffered in this re-read. The writing covers several months and different locations, often jumping from one place and time to another. While I didn’t mind that, together with the two subplots and Prudence’s and Sebastian’s mistrust, miscommunication and misunderstandings, it got slightly complicated as in asking myself “why did he/she do this again?” It’s seemed a bit much for the pages the story had. I also was irritated and slightly bored with the (silly) misunderstandings that seemed to govern much of Prudence and Sebastian’s interactions later in the story.

Heather and Velvet is a novel worth the read. It’s epic and covers roughly a year. There’s a nice sense of structure, everything gets a conclusion and comes together well in the end, and little touches like the weather coincidenting with the action or Sebastian’s name and its conncetion to the composer Bach make the story well-rounded. There are also quite a few dramatic and heart wrenching scenes between Prudence and Sebastian and their romance is different than what you usually find today.

Verdict: Heather and Velvet is a decent read. But I fear I’ll remember Heather and Velvet now more for a nostalgic reason than anything else, with the first part leaving the strongest impression. (3,5/5)

Some Thoughts About The Heroine In Kelley Armstrong’s “Bitten”

30 Mar

armstrong-kelley-bitten

Elena Michaels seems like the typical strong and sexy modern woman. She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She’s also a werewolf.

Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must reckon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel.

As I already said, this is the second time I read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. I read it again because I wanted to read the second one in this series, Stolen, and I remembered nearly nothing about Bitten except that I liked it a lot the first time I read it.

This post covers my thoughts about Elena, the heroine of Bitten, because damn, I have a lot:

The heroine

In the post linked above, I asked if Elena is a kick-ass heroine because Bitten is the only urban fantasy novel I’ve read so far. Nath said she isn’t a typical one “as in, tough attitude and language. She has her weakness, but she’s strong and smart” and I agreed with that. She also can be quite sarcastic at times.

Elena is strong in that she overcame her horrific past. She survived being bitten by a werewolf. And while she is strong physically, she knows she can’t take on every other werewolf and knows that sometimes it’s better to run. There are also things she’s squeamish about doing. For example, she can’t stomach watching someone getting tortured. Much of that is due to her struggle to not lose her human side to the werewolf side.

So yes, Elena is a mix of strong and weak and she faces one of my favorite problems in novels: the question of identity. She’s not sure who she really is. She wants to be human but – from her perspective – her werewolf side keeps messing this dream up.

The rant

But GROWL!, for roughly three hundred pages I was writing a major rant in my head about her while I read the novel and I constantly asked myself why I had liked Bitten a lot the first I read it. What had I been thinking!?

Elena starts the novel on the wrong foot for me: she struck me as a barely concealed Mary Sue character I so often encountered in fanfiction back when I read a lot of it. Only something in the world? Check. Orphan? Check. Molested by foster fathers? Check. Thinks of herself as rather unattractive? Check. But still highly favored by males? Check. (Yes, I know, it’s only the male werewolves that slaver over her, and that’s only because she’s the only female werewolf in existence but the effect is rather the same: Elena is very “special.”) “Loved little sister” statues with with quite a few men? Check.

This is accompanied by quite some interesting but rather unattractive character traits. Such character traits combined? Uh-oh. Very exhausting when you’re stuck in the head of that character for the whole story because it’s written in first person. Like Bitten is.

Elena is full of anger. She’s also stubborn to no end and argues and digs her heels in over nothing but barely bats an eyelash when she has cause to argue. She’s totally without self-awareness, coupled with stubbornness this means that she’s right and the others are wrong. All the time. I didn’t trust her one bit.

She engages is juvenile battles for supremacy with Clay, she lets herself get cuddled (and carried around) like a pup by all male werewolves of the pack (except Jeremy, the alpha, of course), she gets into trouble mostly because of her stubbornness. In short, she doesn’t act like what I would expect from a mature woman of thirty years.

And I haven’t touched upon how she handles her werewolf side and her relationship with Philip, an architect she’s living with in Toronto. Totally irresponsible.

Mediating factors

Of course, the point is that Elena has a lot to learn about herself. As I said, Elena’s struggle with her identity, her needing to accept her werewolf side, is the major story line in this novel. My problem is that for over 300 pages, there is not one ounce of self-awareness discernible on Elena’s side, and that, after ten years, she doesn’t at least have some kind of grip on and acceptance of her werewolf side. Even more, for three hundred odd pages, Bitten doesn’t exactly read as if Elena’s struggle with her identities is the major story line.

The balance is off. During that time, I didn’t understand Elena. While I don’t need to like characters, I need to understand them. At least some.

Maybe I was prejudiced by my Mary-Sue impression of Elena, maybe there is actually more in regards to her identity problem in the first three hundred pages and it was just too subtle for me to catch, maybe Elena was supposed to be a heroine you can’t trust, maybe it would have been better to see the “black moment” in Elena’s and Clay’s relationship (although I really liked that it happened off stage) to not snicker at dialogs like this [words in bold are in italic in the book]:

“You’re miserable because you don’t have what you want. Not because you want me.”
“Goddamn it!” Clay swung his fist out, knocking a brass penholder off the desk. “You won’t listen! You won’t listen and you won’t see. You know I love you, that I want you. Damn it, Elena, if I just wanted a partner, any partner, do you think I’d have spent ten years trying to get you back? Why haven’t I just given up and found someone else?”
“Because you’re stubborn.”
“Oh, no. I’m not the stubborn one. You’re the one who can’t get past what I did no matter how much–”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Of course you don’t. God forbid any truth should complicate your convictions.”
Clay turned and strode from the room, slamming the door behind him. (249/250)

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

For whatever reason, the characterization of Elena failed to engage me for three quarters of the novel and several times, I really was tempted to put the book down and be done with it.

The turning point

I’m glad I didn’t.

While I wouldn’t say that the last one hundred pages more than made up for what went before (the balance thing), at least there I found what I was looking for for the first three hundred pages: Elena’s two identities get confronted. Her struggle for identity – barely hinted at before because Elena was determined to be human – finally took center stage. What before read as an angry and stubborn chick bungling her way through a few days turned into a psychological interesting drama that forced Elena to face her two identities and deal with them. No longer was it possible for her to separate them and keep them in different worlds.

And yes, on the last few pages of the novel, Elena finds her self-awareness. She’s still argumentative, stubborn, aggressive, violent, moody, and all that (429), but she’s now aware of herself and accepts these traits as part of herself. And that turns her from a whiny and self-absorbed character into an interesting character. Now I’m looking forward to reading Stolen when before I was dreading it. A lot.

Hard to believe but I have more to say about this novel. So later this week: my commentary about Bitten.

Game Comment: Puzzle Quest (PS2)

28 Mar

puzzle-questInfo: Infinite Interactive (Developer); D3 (Publisher)
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: E 10+

Started: May 2008 probably, then continued in February 2009
Finished: March 2009
Playing time: no idea how many hours altogether, it’s not provided on the save file

Links: Official Website; Current Obsession: Puzzle Quest (PS2) (with video)


Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is available on all kinds of platforms. It also comes with different playing options: Single-player, Multiplayer, or Instant Action. Only the single player option follows a story line. It offers different types of heroes and heroines and you can gain companions who can give you bonuses in battles. There’s no animation and voice acting, relying on pictures and text to tell the story, so it’s far from what is standard in games today. Although there is a soundtrack at least.

Puzzle Quest: is a puzzle game using the well-known match-three formula and elements from role playing and strategy games, and combines them all with an ongoing good vs evil story. At the start of the game, the player’s character sets out with a small errand but soon it becomes clear that more is at stake: the evil Lord Bane is up to no good and it’s up to your character to save the world.

To achieve that, you fight battles in match-three (or more) games, using either spells or you match three skull icons to reduce your enemy’s hit points.

puzzle-quest-basic-gameplay

For each battle won, your character gains experience points, and with each level up, you’re able to improve skills. You also gain money from fights and either spend that on new items or on improving your skills.

In addition, various twists are added to this match-three formula for different tasks like capturing creatures, learning spells, level up your mount, or creating better weapons and armors.

What I liked

♦ I like match-three style games and so I was good with that. Where Puzzle Quest really shines is using this formula and adding to it.

For example,

when you want to capture an enemy, you have to clear the grid by matching three.

puzzle-quest-capture

My favorite variation.

for researching spells (from the captured enemies), you have to match a certain quantity of icons and produce a certain quantity of scroll icons (by matching four or five other icons) to learn that spell. The higher the quantity, the more difficult it gets because when no more match-threes are possible, you fail to learn the spell and need to start anew.

puzzle-quest-research-spell

I loved that but sometimes it also got rather frustrating and could be very time consuming the more icons you needed to match for a spell. (I still have two spells to learn. For one, I need to produce more than 40 scrolls!)

Then there are timed matches (you only have a few seconds to make decide on your move), and for creating items you need to find runes and forge three of them together by producing a certain quantity of hammer & anvil icons.

♦ I also like that you can play just for a few minutes or as long as you can take it.

♦ lots of sidequests

What I didn’t like

♦ auto-generated enemies on the map (between towns) could get tedious when you had to fight several battles to reach the town you wanted to go to. By the time I was there, I was sometimes fed up with playing and just quit. Some battles could take up to ten minutes…

puzzle-quest-map

♦ winning or – for example – learning a spell often depends on luck

♦ Because of the way it was presented, I didn’t follow the story line too closely.

Verdict: I like to play match-three games now and then and so this odd mixture of game genre elements was quite entertaining. IMO, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords makes the best of the match-three formula and uses it rather well to incorporate elements of other game genres. So it’s a good game when you like these kind of puzzle games. Otherwise Puzzle Quest is not something that can compete with what games usually offer these days. (4/5)

[pictures: Xbox 360 edition, from the developer’s website]