Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review Format

I've done so many book reviews yet I have not really explained the format that I used.  This post is just for that, and it's here to explain what each component of the review is, and probably give a better insight as to how I do things.  Every review will follow this format (unless otherwise specified).  Remember, the whole point of these reviews is to give my opinion on whether it is a good book or not, and if it is worth reading.  I will now present the review format, and a description on what each section means:

A number which indicates this is the "nth" review.  Does not really have a meaning other than indicating how many other book reviews preceded this one.

Self-explanatory, this is the title of the book, as displayed on the cover.

This section states if the book belongs to a series, and if it does, what the name of that series is, and where this book fits in that series.  I try to find the official series title, however, sometimes it does not have one, so I will then just use the title of the first book in the series with "not official name" in brackets afterwards.

The author, usually displayed on the cover.  There are instances where the name on the cover isn't truly the real author, I will use the real one revealed in the publication details (a good example is this one).  If the author uses a pseudonym, I will use that and not the 'true' name.

Read Before
This section will either have a 'yes' or 'no'.  Obviously, I would have read it for the review, but it indicates whether I had read it before this instance.  Why is it important?  It is because I would have known any twists and plot elements beforehand.  I would most likely anticipate what is going to happen (either eagerly or cringing), and before I've already opened the first page, have an opinion and probably some bias.  I try to view the book as reading it for the first time, but sometimes, I might accidentally let my previous reading/s affect me.

My Comments
This is where I put in my view of the book.  I try and do not put spoilers, however, at times I will use vague descriptions and character names.  I will point out, in my view, the strengths and/or flaws of the book, and how much I enjoyed it.  It should be noted, that anything in this section is my opinion and my opinion only.  If you do not agree to it, that's fine, but don't condemn others just because our opinions are not the same.  The whole point of these reviews is giving my opinions on how much I enjoyed these books.  I am not forcing you to read it, nor am I forcing to change your views on the book.  I just want to give a recommendation on whether the book, is, in my eyes, worth reading.  Obviously, this is going to be the longest section in the review.

I will give a rating out of 10, with 0 being the worse, and 10 being perfection, going up in increments of 0.5 (although a few reviews have something in between, that was before I had sorted this all out).  Again, this is a very subjective thing, and it's based entirely on how much I enjoyed the book.  The book may well have many flaws, but if I enjoyed it a lot, and those flaws didn't stop me from enjoying it, I will give it a good rating.  Likewise, if those flaws are too hard to overlook, and ruins the story, then it's going to be rated down.  The element I consider most important is the coherency, consistency and the attractive of the plot, and good writing to back it up.  I will now give qualitative characteristics on some of the actual scores themselves:

< 5:  A bad piece of work.  The terrible plot will bore you to death and it will become a chore to read and finish, just so you can say "there, I've finished it, and now I don't have to ever look at it again".  Only read it if you are 100% sure that you are interested in the content, otherwise, avoid.  If it gets a rating less than 3, then it is an absolute shocker, and not worth reading at all.
5.0:  Point of indifference.  There is no harm reading the book nor is there really any benefit/enjoyment.  It's not bad, and it's not good, just... somewhere around the middle.  Nothing to lose and nothing to gain.
6.0:  It's an interesting book, and the story is enough to keep you motivated to the end, but there are a few flaws and boring sections.
6.5:  Worth reading if it sounds interesting to you, but a few flaws hold is back.
7.0:  An all round solid book, it will keep you interested until the end and highly recommended you have a read.
7.5:  A very good and enjoyable book, cannot stop reading.
8.0:  Excellent plot and writing makes this a decent and worthwhile read.
8.5:  Amazing, you will be constantly turning the pages of this one, in anticipation for the big revelations.
9.0:  Near perfection, this is rare book that provides you with a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction.  It should be highly regarded.
10.0:  Absolute perfection.  Everyone should read this, and the story is so captivating that you can overlook any (minor) flaws, if it had any.

Rereadability Factor
In some of the older reviews, you will find something called the 'Rereadability Factor', which gives a rating out of 10.  I have phased this out, as I felt that it did not add anything (still left it in the older ones).  The aim of this section is to try and give a rating on how worthwhile it is, to reread the book.  Some good books are worth reading only once, due to maybe over relying on a massive plot twist, while others are worth reading twice, thrice or even ten times.  The rating rises in increments of 0.5, with 0 being not worth reading again, and 10 meaning it's worth rereading however many times you want, it's that good.

See Also
Very very rarely, in some of the older reviews, you will see this section in which it provides links to other books in the series.  Obviously, I have become lazy and stopped doing this after the first few times.  If you want to look at other books in the same series, just go to the Book Review Index and search for it using the Find function (ctrl + F).


I hope you've gained a better understanding on how I structure my book reviews or clarified any misunderstandings you might have had.  Above all, may you enjoy the reviews themselves!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Review:  #258
Title:  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Series:  Harry Potter - 5th book
Author:  J.K. Rowling
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  Still a good book but the weakest entry into the Harry Potter series (thus far and overall).  The author really had a knack for creating extremely annoying characters that you just cannot wait until you see how they fall from power.  It’s a masterful skill to balance between empathy for the main characters and annoyance to the point where you don’t want to carry on reading.  The protagonists have also gotten more annoying, with Harry being the most noticeable.  He’s a lot more stubborn compared to previous books, and I guess that’s what makes him more interesting (as it is boring if a character is perfect in every aspect), but you’d wish he’ll listen to some others sometime…  Another drawback is the length of the book, easily the longest in the series, and it becomes a drag to read it by the time you get to the middle, particularly as you know that the ending is where a lot of the good stuff is going to be.  The relationship between Harry and Cho was actually quite sweet, too bad it never worked out (although Cho was starting to get annoying with all the crying and mentioning of Cedric).  The death was really surprising though, I remembered when I first read it, I couldn't believe coz it just came out of nowhere.  In the end, I felt that this book didn't achieve that much that added to the series as a whole and not super groundbreaking like Goblet of Fire was.
Rating:  7/10

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Review:  #257
Title:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Series:  Harry Potter - 4th book
Author:  J.K. Rowling
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  There’s no denying that this is a good book.  Compared to the previous three, there’s not contest, Goblet of Fire is much more intense and exciting.  The Quidditch World Cup made for a great start, but it gets even better by the other major event, The Triwizard Tournament.  When it is first mentioned, you do not expect Harry to take part in it, and yet he does, by treachery.  There’s a lot of suspense thrown in, mysteries and weird things happening left and right.  It’s only right in the last few chapters is everything revealed and becomes crystal clear.  The twist and revelations are unparalleled in the series up to this point, they were amazing.  At each task, you feel and panic for Harry, wishing he can somehow get through it, however, it is a bit annoying how much assistance he gets, it seems he’s very lucky that he knows the people he does.  The death was a shock and not one you were expecting, since it happened at a supposedly happy moment.  There are some very annoying characters here, annoying as in characters you can’t wait to see them punished.  This is also the last book in which it’s more ‘friendly’, since with the rise of Voldemort, the rest of the series take on a dark and sinister turn.
Rating:  8/10

Monday, September 24, 2012

God of War Collection

God of War:
I think God of War games might just not be my thing.  Don't misunderstand me, I enjoyed it, but I didn't feel the satisfaction of playing something that I truly loved.  I never got into the story, it didn't captivate me too much, but I really do like the inclusion and portrayal of Greek mythology in this universe.  It's always interesting to see which way/view the developers have taken on a particular Greek myth/legend/monster.  The story sounded awesome in theory, but the execution wasn't stellar.  I think it's more interesting to read a text summary of it rather than playing through the game to learn about it, since it'll make more sense.  Anyway, the game play is excellent, with a lot of options and fighting styles, and I am very surprised at the variety of game play available too.  Instead of just killing monsters all the time, I love how there's other things to break it up, such as moving stuff around to solve puzzles and atypical boss fights.

That said, some of the platforming elements were downright annoying, it doesn't help when you're jumping from platform to platform and you accidentally (read:  not your fault) miss it, die and go back to the last checkpoint which could just be a bit too far away when you've repeated this for the tenth time.  While most of the puzzles were pretty good, some were a bit complex and would take some time to figure out what you need to do.  This kinda broke the pace, if it was not clear to you how things were suppose to go.  The fixed camera angles takes some time to get used to (I'm always one to move the camera around to survey and take in the surroundings).  To be honest, I don't think the graphics has aged well (obviously, they were great when the original game was released, but now, it's not too great), the prerendered cutscenes are very good, but the real-time cutscenes looked awful (a lot of jagged edges), even worse than the game play animation.  Most of the trophies were surprisingly easy to get, apart from two really hard ones (speed run of the game and the arena challenge after the first playthrough).  The soundtrack was good, and really suited the atmosphere.  Overall, frustrating at times, but worth playing to see what all the praise is about.

God of War II:
While I may have some doubts about the first game, and didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would, God of War 2 blew me away.  I thought the beginning was even stronger and left a stronger impact than the first game.  I loved the canon explanation on how Kratos lost his god powers (which ended up removing his magic bar and decreasing his health bar, it was an interesting way instead of just starting out with the reduced powers straight away).  The graphics were noticeably a step up, and I'm pretty amazed that the PS2 managed to dish out something this impressive.  Granted, some of the cutscenes were still a bit jaggy, but it looks so great and smooth while you're playing, and the pre-rendered cutscenes looked stunning.  The environments look great, but you do wish you can have a freely controlled camera instead of the fixed one.  Sure, it plays out to how the developers intended, but often times, I wished I could check out my environment more.  I am not sure why everyone says it is a short game, it still takes around 10 hours to finish it, and will take longer if you don't know how to solve the puzzles right away.  Speaking of the puzzles, they are even more intricate and involved.  If you have no clue and aren't as experienced with these puzzles, it will frustrate you to no end.  There are multiple uses for the tools you get, and sometimes the tools blend out well into the background, such that you'll spend time looking for it.  That's not including where to start, since some puzzles are so big in scope that it's just overwhelming.

The magic attacks you get this time aren't as cool, I really missed Poseidon's Rage from the first time (Cronos's Rage just isn't the same).  The combat is as slick as ever and the extra powers you get are pretty cool (the gliding, slowing down time and fleece to reflect attacks).  The boss fights are good, but most of them are like a puzzle themselves, which makes it quite intense at times, and annoying at others when you can't figure out how to advance to the next stage of the fight.  Just like the first game, some annoying platforming aspects are still here, but it's not as numerous.  The violence is still there, as well as the large amount of blood everyone seems to have, Kratos is pretty brutal... and unlike the first game, he doesn't have as strong and believable a motive to be this violent.  Actually, in terms of narrative it's not that strong, what basically happens in the game is Kratos just heading to the island where the fates are, and the whole game revolves around him getting past the obstacles.  Sure there's the whole titan god thing in the background, but it takes a backseat and you forget it about until right at the end.  I loved the ending and then cliffhanger is left though, excellent.  The music is epic, and suits the mood and what's happening all too well.  Overall, I had way more fun with this sequel than the original, the scope, music and puzzles made it much more fun and enjoyable.

A good collection of games, and both stands to the test of time (although naturally, the second one better than the first).  The trophies are pretty easy to be honest, a huge majority you get by just finishing the game, it's just the couple of harder ones that you'll waste most of your time on.  I liked how they had the "Making of" video for God of War II, you glean a lot of insight on how a game is made.  It's so involved and so much to do for the least little things.  A worthwhile disc to get.


Other game reviews can be found on this page.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Review:  #256
Title:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  The Last Straw
Series:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid - 3rd book
Author:  Jeff Kinney
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  A fairly bland book with the occasional highlights.  As per usual, there’s no real plot here, keeping within the theme of a diary, having a string of events one after another.  These events weren’t particularly interesting, although some of the jokes were really well done and very funny.  The page count seems high but it’s a book that takes a short time to read and finish.  I enjoyed reading the book, but it doesn’t seem as high quality or imaginative as others in the series.
Rating:  5.5/10

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Transformers Poses 10

The main theme this time is Prime toys.  As always, there's toys from other series, but the majority are Prime figures.  Hope you enjoy the photos!  I do think they're my best yet.

Some poses didn't turn out as I originally intended when I took the photos, for example, Soundwave was supposed to be bowing and Jazz would have seemed more dynamic and threatening.  Cliffjumper would have looked like he was studying his hands with horror, Bumblebee would be saying something like "count on me!", but at least Wheeljack's and Oil Slick's poses turned out great.  Anyway, all I can say is, look forward to the next round!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review: The Silver Door

Review:  #255
Title:  The Silver Door
Series:  The Three Doors Trilogy - 2nd book
Author:  Emily Rodda
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Brilliant, simply brilliant.  If you think more carefully, the plot isn’t intricate, nor complex, yet the way the author has presented it, creates a huge sense of wonder and amazement.  It gets your adrenaline pumping.  The first part deals with the trip back to Weld after the first book, and that was okay.  Not stunning, but not too boring either, just… average.  However, by the time the characters enter the second door (a.k.a. the silver door), the book gets exponentially better.  By the climax of the book, it overwhelms with a sense of urgency, an adrenaline rush that was handled very well.  It does not have the classic fantasy structure of The Golden Door, it is a bit darker, and questions are answered.  I literally couldn't put the book down; I was absorbed and wanted to keep reading on, finding out what would happen.  More than ever, this book cements the fact that it is set in the same world (probably not at the same time) as Deltora Quest, I cannot say more without mentioning a spoiler.  The ending was slightly confusing, in that it was hard to imagine what was happening.  A handful of familiar elements from that series turn up here.  If you asked me what I loved so much about the book, I would be hard pressed to say anything specifically; I think it is the writing style that had absorbed me.  I mean, the author is great at writing these styles of books.  Highly recommended, it’s been a while since I have read something of this quality.
Rating:  7.5/10

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: The Kane Chronicles Survival Guide

Review:  #254
Title:  The Kane Chronicles Survival Guide
Series:  The Kane Chronicles - companion book
Author:  Mary-Jane Knight
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Just like the Percy Jackson Ultimate Guide, the only worthwhile parts of this book were the illustrations.  In terms of content, there was nothing new, and it just summarises what you could already deduce from the books.  Considering that it’s written by someone else, and the author of the series is probably working on another piece of work, it’s somewhat understandable the content is rehashed information.  I wasn't disappointed, since I had expected as much, but it was boring to read.  You can finish this within an hour, so it doesn't present much value in terms of time.
Rating:  5/10

Saturday, September 15, 2012

L.A. Noire

Got this game as part of the bundle for my PS3, and from the good reviews, I thought it would be a good game, especially since it's published from Rockstar.  It also offered something different in terms of game play, where you're supposed to find clues and solve cases.  This all sound great in theory, but the execution just isn't that great.  I'm going to be honest, I didn't like the game, and I'll tell you the reasons why.  It's a very repetitive game, the process of finding clues was all good for the first few cases or so, but by the time you've finished your first ten cases (21 in total), you're already sick of what you have to do.  You know what to expect, and it doesn't help that the latter ones can take over an hour to complete (some even two hours, the earlier ones take around thirty mins).  Basically, the gist of it is that you go to a crime scene, walking around waiting for your controller to vibrate to 'find' the clues, pick it up and jiggle the analogue stick until the character says something, then you question suspects, before moving onto the next scene.  More often than not, once you arrive at the next scene, a person will run away and you'll either have to chase them by foot or a car.  Then begins the whole process again with the questioning and clue finding.  If you're lucky, you might have a gun fight but that's rare in the story cases.

Like I said, it was good for the first few cases, but that same repetitive formula gets really stale and I had to force myself to finish the game, it was more a chore than anything.  If you're hoping for a good mystery though, you can forget it.  Most of the cases are boring, you simply don't care what's going on, since you feel so detached anyway.  There's one during the middle of the game where it's supposed to be a big reveal of a serial killer, but I couldn't be bothered figuring out the clue, and when the killer was revealed to be apparently someone I should have seen before, I was struggling to remember when (it was a random one-off encounter in one of the earlier cases), so much for the big plot twist.  The game doesn't offer much variety in terms of side quests, you only get the 'street crimes', in which there are miniature 2-5 mins cases.  It's something when I tell you that I enjoyed the street crimes more than the story cases themselves.  Plus, when you're driving, you're not supposed to break any laws or crash, otherwise you get penalised in the final rating, you can't pull out your gun whenever you feel like it.  Sure, all this is understandable since your character is a police officer, but it just makes for very boring and restrictive game play.

There were a few better parts in which I did enjoy myself, I was very glad when I got off the homicide cases as they were a trudge to get through, and the first vice case was interesting enough (until it got boring again at the end of the case and into the next one).  The final three cases were interesting, a lot of action, and I liked how it tied to events from five (or so) cases before it.  In regards to the main character, Coles, he is an okay guy, not someone you can sympathise with (especially after the events in Vice, which was kinda like wtf to me).  His back story was frankly, quite bad.  After every case, a clip shows but it feels so disjointed, and the subject matter so unrelated, that you don't care.  The map is huge, it will take you more than ten mins just to drive from one end of the map to the other, but it isn't all good, since if you're not paying attention, everything just looks like the same.  The graphics isn't too great either, and the whole facial capture thing, like other aspects, it sounded great, but in practice when you're playing the game, after the first few times, you don't notice it much anymore.  There's no wit required here, it's not satisfying when you managed to shake something out of the suspect, coz everything's going to turn out right whatever you do, you don't have control.  There's a ton of swearing in the game, every single person will swear, it is unnecessary and frankly, just over the top.  Like I said, the best parts were the gun fights, but only because it got a bit more exciting, clue finding got boring very quickly and the stories isn't that great.  I'd say, play this game only if you like this sort of stuff.


Other game reviews can be found on this page.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Review:  #253
Title:  The Girl Who Played With Fire
Series:  Millennium Series - 2nd book
Author:  Stieg Larsson
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  An absorbing and engaging novel.  That said, the first 100 pages or so were very boring and unnecessary.  The author spent a lot time setting up the story, to the point where I didn't know where the novel was going to go.  Once that finished, the story picked up, the plot was intense.  I was surprised at the two murders, and equally surprised at the suspected murderer.  Throughout the whole novel, a lot was kept back, and slowly revealed, piece by piece.  I would have rather it was revealed faster, as it was getting annoying when the characters kept hinting something but not explaining it until much later (a prime example is the character Zala, who was only mentioned, and who’s background was only eventually revealed in the last 100 pages or so).  It felt much more incredible than the previous book; I couldn't put the book down once things got rolling.  I got confused between a few characters, since they were introduced and seemed to be the same, I couldn't wait and see how things would turn out, how everything fitted together.  The ending felt a bit abrupt; and I wouldn’t really say it was a cliffhanger but it somewhat felt like one.  I would have preferred if the ending included what happened afterwards, how the police investigation finished up, and everyone going back to their lives (i.e. a typical one).  It’s not an elegant and deeply complex plot, what made it so good was the writing.  All in all, a better novel than I had expected.
Rating:  7/10

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One

My only other Ratchet & Clank experience being A Crack in Time, I was kinda looking forward to this one as well.  Got it cheap and although I know from reviews that the experience was different and wasn't as good as its predecessors, I was pretty pumped.  Finished it the other day and I can see where the reviewers are coming from, it's not as fun, it's hard to pinpoint where it is, but it feels quite different, maybe it's the fixed angles or the excessive focus on cooperation.  Playing by yourself isn't that great, but when you've got friends (or even going online) to play alongside, the fun really ramps up, I had a ton of fun just playing the game the whole way with a friend.  It was funny to see them stuff up at the most awkward of ways, and the cooperative elements really shines through.  Despite that, you're also competing to get the higher points at the end of the level.  I can't help but be impressed at how Insomniac balanced those elements, it's something that's tough to do, yet they did it quite well (at least... at the expense of playing solo).

It's an easy game most of the way through, the last couple of levels was pretty intense in terms of the number of enemies that come out and get at you (...until you discover the Critter Strike, a weapon that turns enemies into animals, by far the most powerful and useful weapon in the game).  I found that at those times, you have no choice but to cooperate with your team mates to survive and win (if each fought independently, you'd run out of ammo).  It's at those moments, when after dying a few times, and finally you've worked together in unison to get past, that makes the game so great.  You achieve a sense of satisfaction that you can work together, it's very hard to describe, but it makes the flaws worth it.  Just like the other games, you usually only stick with the limited few weapons, I found that changing weapons was a hindrance, since the game doesn't pause when you do so (understandable).  So in battles when you had to quickly change to another weapon, cycling through the menu gets very annoying and you'll probably sustain a few hits (and you only have a four hit points health bar).  I found the puzzles interesting, but towards the end, you'd know what to expect, so a bit more variety would be nice.

The final boss battle was a bit disappointing in that it was not very challenging, although it had four stages, each stage only had one or two attacks, and they were very repetitive.  The only challenging part is that he has a lot of HP... but that just translates to the battle being dragged out.  The story wasn't all that captivating but I did like how Nefarious is forced to help, and in the end, maybe, just maybe, having second thoughts on being a villain.  The trophies are relatively easy to get too, and you're likely to get a Platinum with a little effort (some Trophies are annoying and you will need help from a second player).  I found the stage selection for the story mode to be odd at first, but understandable from a 'drop in/drop out' multiplayer perspective.  Even though the game haven't been out for a year, it's getting hard to find a game online (especially one that has four players), which is annoying considering one of the most lucrative ways to collect a million bolts for a particular trophy is to play a four player game at one of the latter levels (so, unless you've got a boosting partner, you're going to spend a few hours grinding the same levels).  Overall, it's great if you can have someone to play with you the whole game through (and I don't mean via online, literally a person next to you), since that's honestly the best and most fun way to enjoy this game.  Playing alone = mediocre game, playing with a friend = awesome.


Other game reviews can be found on this page.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review: Inheritance

Review:  #252
Title:  Inheritance
Series:  Inheritance Cycle - 4th and final book
Author:  Christopher Paolini
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Wow, the final book of the Inheritance Cycle, one that I have been looking forward to reading, and enjoy the ending to this long series.  The final confrontation of Galbatorix has been one, which I expect a lot of people would be waiting for.  That said… there are just a bit too many things that barricade me from enjoying it.  Most, if not all, of the reasons have to do with the author’s writing style.  The author has gone overboard.  The book is simply too long, similarly with previous books, it’s filled with too many events that simply do not add to the story in a meaningful way.  It is worse here, it’s the longest book in the series, and when you have been spending the three preceding books and most of the fourth and final one, building upon this confrontation, would you GET ON with it.  And not only the events, the author pads it out even more by including elaborate, painstaking descriptions, filled with fluffy words that is pointless.  By no means bad pieces of writing, but most of the parts that focused on Roran we could do without.  It broke the pace, as with the cliffhangers at the end of chapters before changing the character views.  Again, it’s a style of writing and while it worked, it was the length and time taken that caused it to be frustrating to bear.  For the 800+ pages of the novel, only 40 pages related to the confrontation with Galbatorix, and most of it was talking and Eragon’s fight with Murtagh.  The way Galbatorix was defeated, though plausible, was a bit of an anticlimax.  There was no fight between Eragon and Galbatorix, zip at all.  Needless to say, four books in and that was how this massive threat ended?  It’s not so much a disappointment but that the author could have fleshed it out a bit (he fleshed out everything BUT this event that the whole series revolves around).  The ending felt like The Lord of the Rings, it was long, way too long.  I get that the author provides plenty of closure with a lot of loose ends, but again, it would have been nice if it was done more swiftly.  You lose the adrenaline from the climax, and by halfway through, you’re drained and felt that it’s been dragged on for far too long.  Thankfully, there is less overuse of the Ancient language in which it forces you to go to a translation glossary at the back to find out the meaning.  I hated the flipping of pages to find out what one word or phrase meant.  The author should have stuck with his own world and not have fallen into the trap of bringing in more complex real world stuff, where it feels contrived (like the world is round and physics).  The author’s twists have too much cliché, I promise you, you will cringe.  Another trademark of the series, way too much foreshadowing, and the surprise weapon to bolster the strength of Eragon was easily guessed (although the author did cause doubt to your thoughts at one point).  Especially when the Vault of Souls was mentioned waaaay back in the first book “Eragon” and how pretty much you were expecting it to appear from each book onwards, it was another anticlimax, not as impressive as you would like.  That’s the problem I had, I expected way more, I expected myself to be impressed and wowed by what the author promised to reveal, and my expectations were set too high, it did not deliver.  The ending was sad, and you empathise with Eragon, however, it kind of sets a good point for a sequel series…  Nevertheless I enjoyed reading the book; sure there were things (and plot elements) that felt a bit weak and wonky, but for the most part, a good book to read (albeit a bit too long, it felt as if the author had pretty much burnt himself out by the end).  One more thing to point out, while it’s good to read, like the rest of the series, it’s not worth rereading since there are just too many unnecessarily prolonged bits.
Rating:  7/10

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: D.Gray-Man Vol. 16

Review:  #251
Title:  D.Gray-Man Vol. 16
Series:  D.Gray-Man - 16th volume
Author:  Katsura Hoshino
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  The battle against the Level 4 Akuma finishes in this volume, taking up a good portion of the novel.  Lenalee gets new powers, and it’s okay, when the energy trailed from behind her boots (either that, or it was fire, like an engine thruster) it was kinda lame.  Anyway, I loved how Allen and Lenalee teamed up against the Akuma, although it took Cross to arrive to finally defeat it.  However, the events that happened afterwards were confusing, and it was only with the benefit of having read it before, was it more clear and enjoyable.  It was really well done how the author managed to convey the sadness of one of the workers in the science department passing away.  It wasn't even a major character; yet, the author had managed to create a sense of connection with him, such that when he died, it was painful.  It was surprising how the Noah appeared in human form and blended into society very well, even the Earl.  The final arc is somewhat lame, and feels like filler.
Rating:  6/10

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Toy Review: Transformers PCC Grimstone w/ Dinobots

Review:  #108
Name:  Grimstone w/ Dinobots
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  PowerCore Combiners
Year of Release:  2010
Size Class:  Commander with Drones (Wave 4)
Variations:  repainted as Grim Master in the Japanese United EX line


First off, I know there were inaccuracies with the labeling of the species of some of the dinosaurs on the packaging, but I can't be bothered repeating it here (and frankly, it isn't that important).  Grimstone here apparently transforms into a Triceratops, in classic Dinobot colours of gunmetal and gold.

If it wasn't for those unsightly blue combiner ports again, this mode would have been pretty good.  The baby blue clashes horribly with everything else, and to be honest, I think the red just makes the colour scheme too busy and more like a mess.

There's little to no poseability here, sure, the legs can bend but it's pretty useless and doesn't look too natural.

A bit more mass than some previous PowerCore Combiner 5 pack Commanders, and a lot more fun.  An okay dinosaur mode.


The first drone is the Ankylosaurus drone.  Just a mention that even though these are animals that, in real life, have a lot of joints, the ones in this set are pretty static.  One thing that I must praise this set, it's that they didn't skimp on paint, each drone have splashes of silver and gold paint.

Next is the Pachycephalosaurus drone.  The one thing I love is that all the drones have a weapon attached to them, they're like an assault team.  Needless to say, these are organic dinosaurs, all of them having noticeable robotic elements.  The sculpting on all these drones are great.

The third is the Parasaurolophus drone, this one actually has it's arms attached via balljoints, being free to move around.

Lastly, it's the Spinosaurus drone, and my least favourite one.  Since it's limbs are sculpted into the body and feels even more static than usual.  Ironically, this one can open it's mouth and lift it's tail (part of the transformation).

What makes this look like a proper group is not only that they are all dinosaurs, but the fact that they all have the same colours, this will make a huge deal of difference later on.


A extraordinary simple transformation, but at least it's not the typical arm turns into arm and legs turn into legs.  Well, the beast legs do turn into robot legs, but the arms fold out from the body (which was surprising).  There's not tricky parts here, it's just that kibble will get in the way of moving parts around.  Transformation into torso mode frees up some pieces and is easier, and I really like how the folded up the lower part of the legs and showed the red pieces as thigh guards, it was different.  Putting the drones in were annoying, at least two of them needs a lot of manual help (partially transforming it and then connecting it), but at least they stay attached.


Grimstone's robot mode is short, and stubby.  He's nearly as wide as he is tall.  There are a few good elements here, from the head of the dinosaur as his chest to the look of his shoulder armour.

There's a lot of kibble here, the forelegs are unceremoniously just tucked onto his back, along with the tail and sides of the head.  This wouldn't be a problem if not for the fact that it hinders arm movement.  At least all the blue pegs aren't visible from the front.

The head sculpt feels generic and lacking any sort of character.  The red is much more prominent in robot mode, and I still don't believe that's a good thing.

He's a reasonable size, I can't really complain about his height.  He's missing a weapon though, would have been awesome if he managed to have some sort of weapon to strike with.

His shoulder pads can be tilted up slightly, make him more menacing I suppose.

Poseability is okay, as mentioned, the arm movement is hindered by the backpack kibble, while the legs are passable.

Not really a bad robot, just a missed opportunity.  It could have been the highlight of the set, but as it is, pretty mediocre and boring.


So, Dinobots that combine (at least it's not this one), this sure is something different.  Not sure if this was what people were wanting, but there we go.  One of his arm ends with a beast head for a hand, and the other hand is two claws.

One of the dinosaur legs have their tail sticking way back, so at least Grimstone's stable in this mode, and unlikely to keel over backwards.  It's actually quite a compact mode, and creative.  The angles and ways the legs rest flat on the table isn't intuitive...

The head has a huge crest (nicknamed Dino Pope...), the face needs more paint to bring out the details.  Black is just too dark and obscures all the sculpted detailing.  The head is on a weird joint that prevents it from swiveling side to side too much, and it also makes it sit too low, which, coupled with the high shoulders, makes him look hunchbacked.

Supposedly around Voyager height, he falls just a bit short (a bit taller than Deluxe though), but he has similar mass (albeit, arguably simpler engineering).  He has the mass to back him up though.

Posing is difficult, made even harder if you want a good one.  He has knees and elbows, but how good are they when you have fairly undefined hands is another matter.  Still, he looks great in a neutral standing pose.


A solid Transformer, considering Grimstone is effectively a triple-changer, he does it well.  Still not the degree of awesomeness as Steamhammer was.  Grimstone's colour scheme could do without the red, and it's really the consistent colour scheme of Grimstone and his drones that make his combine mode the highlight and most like a set than all the other 5 packs together.  Worth getting.


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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: The Crowded Shadows

Review:  #250
Title:  The Crowded Shadows
Series:  The Moorehawke Trilogy - 2nd book
Author:  Celine Kiernan
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  While still the same addicting read as the first book; it loses some of its charms by repeating the same mistakes.  The plot does not push forward at the pace you would want it to go.  It stalls and slows down, to the point where you wonder what next the author will use to pad the book.  It loses its goal and wanders aimlessly.  Too much time was spent building on the anticipation to encounter the Prince (which is going to happen in the next book).  There were many times where I thought, how does this add to the overall, and it doesn't.  What's more, a lot of the things that happen aren’t explained properly, leaving you confused.  Two of the main characters act weirdly for a period of time, but the reason is never revealed or justified.  One small nitpick is the growing tendency for some of the characters to speak in another (fictional) language.  I understand that they are another race of people, yet, when it’s being used frequently and you have to keep flipping to the back of the book to try and find if the author included the translation, it gets very annoying.  Not as great as the previous book in terms of story and events.
Rating:  6.5/10

Sunday, September 2, 2012

To Love-Ru Darkness Vol. 5

VOL. 5

17 – Trigger

I’m on the fence about this chapter, but I think I enjoyed it more than I was uncomfortable with it.  Yes, uncomfortable.  It was weird, and totally unnecessary with what Momo did to Rito in the gym storage room.  I am actually surprised the author actually went in that direction, although, I think he had done it before, but not as heavy as this time.  The innuendoes are heavy in this chapter too, but for some reason, I found it quite funny and amusing.

The story itself doesn't advance the plot of the series as a whole.  I found that the author is drawing Momo more and more like Lala nowadays.  They way Momo gets all evil and angry is superficial and something which I thought didn't really fit.  It was surprising, and somewhat fitting, to see that Momo isn’t as lustful as she thinks herself to be, which was a nice revelation.

18 – Exchange

The chapter started okay, and a few pages in, when the plot finally revealed itself, I thought, oh man, not this again.  Once again, one of Lala’s invention cause some havoc, switching Rito’s and Haruna’s body.  For some reason, I felt that this type of plot happened frequently in Darkness.  Anyway, it turned out much better than I expected, and it was a fun read.  Of course, switching those two bodies, you would have thought they would have plenty of things to think about what they could do with the bodies they’re in…

There are plenty of contrived moments, but it was funny and somehow different (and not as annoying) to see Haruna blundering instead (although, technically, it’s still Rito’s clumsiness).  I didn’t like the part where Maron attacked Momo’s tail, that gag worked the first time way back with Nana, but time and time again, we see this happening, and it is simply overdone.  I found it amusing to see that at the beginning of the chapter, in a few frames, even Haruna’s face started to look like Lala’s.  This is a nice chapter to read.

19 – Nostalgia

I actually quite enjoyed this chapter; it has a sentimental feel to it, like it was trying to get a message across.  I think the way the memory from Kotegawa was slowly uncovered, and being pieced together was done well, and created a nice atmosphere.  Sure, there were tons of contrived situations for fan service, but the overall feel was nice.  The plot point was somewhat stale, using an animal that we had seen before, in a somewhat similar situation.  It was amusing to see all the main characters being converted back to their younger ages (especially the Principal).

The chapter furthers the relationship between Kotegawa and Rito in a good and constructive way, although you can guess what happened when, in Kotegawa’s memory, a boy climbed up the tree, it was one of those bittersweet moments.  Then, I loved how Rito was saved by Yami while he was falling, and the indifferent look on her face.  One of the best chapters in Darkness, it doesn't feel too contrived and I found myself wanting to read more of it.  If there are more chapters like this in the future, it’ll be awesome.

20 – Uneasy

Mea’s feelings and uneasiness is shown and explored here, a lot of recycled plot points are used though.  What happens is not that interesting, I keep comparing Mea with Yami, and how Yami had been there and done there already.  I mean, even when the three alien villains appear it felt the same, in this chapter, Mea doesn’t feel like her own individual character.  We can’t talk about a To Love-Ru Darkness without mentioning the ecchi, I was actually expecting some in the beginning with Rito and Tearju, but thankfully, that didn't happen.

The ecchi is the standard to which you would expect, not going too far, but still with a lot of innuendos attached.  What the chapter’s missing is a good dose of well constructed clever humour.  The best part is probably the ending where Nana finally finds out or gets a hint, about the true nature of Mea.  Due to Mea’s portrayal, this is an uninspiring chapter.

Extra – Flower

For some reason, I found that this chapter seemed to flow better, and not as awkward or contrived.  There is an abundant of ecchi here, yet, it feels like you expect it, in a good way, and that there was some thought put into it.

The chapter was funnier and better than a few of the more recent chapters, which is a bit shocking, considering this is ‘half chapter’ (Darkness can take itself too seriously sometimes).  Overall, this was something that was interesting and more natural.

Extra – The Changing Heart

The chapter started with Nana acting weird, and the chapter itself had a weird feel throughout most of it.  I kept expecting Rito was dreaming and that any moment he would wake up.  The truth was different, but somehow still on the same level… in that it just found a weak excuse for everything that happened.  I guess the thing that gave it away was that Nana was so unlike herself.  It was interesting to see that Nana is warming up to Rito more and more, to the point where she related it to Momo.


The only chapter I truly liked here was Nostalgia, since it had that nice tranquil atmosphere as Yui remembered something in the past (and that Rito and her had already met before).  The other chapters weren’t too bad but a lot of forced ecchi in them.  There’s a lot more contrived plot points than ever before, and a lot of old inventions popping up again.
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