Review: The Riddles of Epsilon

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The Riddles of Epsilon
By Christine Morton-Shaw

Back Cover:

Jess is not pleased when her parents drag her off to live on the weird little island of Lume. But then she encounters an eerie presence in an abandoned cottage, and her anger turns to fear when it begins to lead her through a series of creepy riddles. As she slowly unravels the mysteries of Lume, she finds the writings of Sebastian, a boy who lived one hundred years ago and to whose life contains unsettling reflections of her own. To her horror, the dangers he unearthed in 1894 now begin to threaten Jess and her family… and if Jess does not unlock the riddles in time, she may lose her mother forever.

I love finding hidden treasures like this book. I wasn’t expecting a lot out of it, a good mystery, riddles and some light reading. It is light reading, and has a strong YA feel to it, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Christine Morton-Shaw created a wonderful world and I love her all the riddles she placed in it. I envy that talent for I’m not the best with riddles as much as I would love to use something similar in my own writing. But what she did do that I have always wanted to and now have a possible structure/aide is how she had the book read in multiple diary entries and chat-room experiences. Set in the first person, through Jess’s eyes, we see what she sees and what she writes down in her diary as she puts together the riddles and clues she found, the mysterious person Epsilon, and her own problem solving skills as she works things out. We also see a lot of her teenage attitude, which can be annoying for some, but really puts an emotional feel into the book.

So the novel surrounds Jess as she moves to this remote island called Lume, away from her friends who has put her in a lot of trouble in the past. It is partly to get her away from them, but also for her mom to explore this large manor she inherited from her own mother. Right from the start, Jess is your typical moody, brooding teen, hating her parents for dragging her out to the middle of nowhere. She has no friends and feels very isolated. Thankfully she still has her computer and internet privileges that she uses to keep in contact with her friends from back home. But even then through the chat-room conversations we see how annoying her friends are and to me at least, am thankful her parents did take her away.

It is during one of her chat-room conversations that Epsilon first appears. But only Jess can see him when he logs on. At that point he is only known as ‘V’, but by probing Jess and poking her, giving her details of her day when she was completely alone and frightening her does she unravel the first of his riddles – that being his name. I’m not going to go through the process of how she discovered it, because well that’s part of the story and I don’t want to ruin it for potential future readers.

From then on, Epsilon warns Jess about her mother, about a prophecy and how if she didn’t solve the riddles in time her mother may be lost forever. At first Jess doesn’t believe him, thinking he is some sort of stalker, and rightfully so, but she notices changes in her mother’s behaviour, of her collecting multiple shells off the beach, painting only one portrait when her job is to paint other people’s portraits. We get a sense that something is not right with her mom, whether she be ‘mad’, or under a spell. Either way Jess begins to listen to Epsilon more and more. It is when she has the dream of a boy, writing about a dream he had about her – a mirrored dream of the two sharing parts of their lives with each other. She discovers the boy is named Sebastian, how he lived in her house over a hundred years ago and was facing the same riddles from Epsilon as she was. We learn his mother’s behaviour mirrored her own mothers. The riddles begin to frighten Jess, but so does the strange similarities between herself and Sebastian, forcing her to continue on instead of dropping the matter and forgetting it like Sebastian did.

I don’t want to spoil anything else, as from here on out, she begins to connect the dots, learn of the story behind Lume, the mythology and legends that turns out not to be quite so myth or legend as one may think. There are dark forces fighting against light, a secretive evil organization on the island to avoid, and several people warning Jess not to trust Epsilon. This novel has everything for a great adventure, full of excitement and some fun fantasy elements as well. It was a surprise how much I really liked the book and I guess it’s no wonder why I finished it in only a couple of weeks.

Like I said, this turned out to be a great hidden treasure. I recommend this book to anyone really, it was so much fun reading and I hope to find others by the author in the future.

Ghost In The Shell

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I’ve been debating on writing this post for a couple of weeks now. Debating because when I saw the movie – and enjoyed it. I’m a huge fan of the original anime and I wanted to watch the movie to see how well they handled it. There are several issues surrounding GITS including the ‘whitewashing’ and the ‘westernization’ of it. I understand and agree with it all and there is enough to fill another blog post, but I wanted to focus this post on the plot, visualization and themes the movie explores. At least at this point. I may work on a second related post talking about whitewashing in Hollywood cinema, but there are several of those out right now that are more informative, researched and presented than I could ever write.

Before I continue, please be aware there are spoilers! Many of the points I’m writing about deals with knowledge of both the original anime and the live action version. If you haven’t seen them and want to – avoid reading this post until you do.

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Plot:
In the live-action Ghost In The Shell the plot revolves around The Major, a cybernetic body with a human mind inside. Placed on a task-force called Section 9 that deals with terrorism and stopping terrorists, they face a new threat called ‘The Puppet Master’. While tracking down this terrorist, the Major faces her own suppressed memories and questions her existence and learns that Haka Robotics lied to her about her past.

This plot differs slightly from the original anime version. Though elements are the same, there is enough of a difference to change the outcome of the movie. In the original there was never any ‘origin’ moment. There is a well animated opening sequence of the Major’s body in development, but when the movie begins with the Major taking down a terrorist attack, we are to accept everything without explanation. We learn throughout the movie of her cybernetic body and Haka’s involvement with that but there was no story arc in that regards. She works for Section 9 and in all honesty there is little character development with the Major other than her curiosity over the identity of the Puppet Master that borders on obsession.

The new plot for the live-action GITS is interesting, once it gets to the point about the Major’s memories. In the early stages of the movie there are scenes with Major in her apartment injecting herself with Haka Robotics approved packets in the back of her neck (where she connects to devices and uploads information) to help her mind accept her cybernetic body and not reject it. At first it makes sense, but as Major has more and more memories surface – those that don’t line up with the story Haka Robotics told her what happened, she questions everything and also the Puppet Master. These sensations and flashbacks get stronger after the Major ‘dives’ into a robot the Puppet Master had hacked and taken control of in the earlier terrorist attack to find the Puppet Master, his identity and where he’s holding up. It is through this first connection and a few others later on that we get the pieces of the Major’s real past and the secrets behind Haka Robotics and her own existence.

The Puppet Master:
The main ‘villain’ of the movie is the Puppet Master. Believed to be a super hacker with the ability to ‘ghost hack’ – taking control of a cyberized person’s body without their knowledge.

Even the identity of the Puppet Master changed between the original anime and the new live-action version. In the new version, we discover the Puppet Master is just like the Major, a previous test subject of Haka Robotics by placing a human mind in a cybernetic body. To control them, they give them the same fake story of them being a sole survivor of a terrorist attack. Thus giving them a purpose to use their new power towards fighting terrorism for them. The story gets much deeper than that!
It turns out that to find the test subjects for this process, Haka Robotics took several runaway kids, the Major and the Puppet Master are just two of them. Once Haka learns that Major is rebelling against them, they order her termination, and threaten Section 9 with closing down their division if they don’t give up the Major. The Chief of Section 9 sides with the Major and against the president of Haka Robotics and we see some amazing scenes the show how bad-ass members of Section 9 are!

In the original anime, the Puppet Master is a program created by Section 6 called Project 2501. An advance AI that went rogue, escaping it’s firewall confines that Section 6 put in place by using a factory produced robot body. After being hit in the road by a truck and sent to Section 9, it surprises everyone by asking for asylum as a sentient creature. Claiming self-preservation of its programming does not differ from DNA. At the end of the anime movie Major links or dive with the Puppet Master and converses with it, learning it wishes to pass on its ideas and evolve like any other biological creature instead of just making copies. Before Section 6 shoots both the robot body of the Puppet Master AND Major, Major agrees and merges. Having her own body shot up and destroyed along with the Puppet Master, she wakes up in a new prosthetic body – a new body for a new being.

Ending:
As you can see above, by changing the identity of the Puppet Master the endings of the live action movie is different. Where Major gets a new body and a new identity in the anime, the live action avoids that and we see Major in her original body all fixed. How that happens when she’s on the black list of Haka Robotics – I don’t know. Yes, she has her original memories, a mother, but does that count as a new identity? Sorry, as you can tell I prefer the anime’s ending over the live action one. Maybe, just maybe had they placed her in a new body, made it Asian… could that have saved the movie from the onslaught of bad reviews?

Ghost Hacking:
The main theme, idea that struck me the strongest throughout the movie (both anime and live action) is the ‘ghost-hacking’ the ability or potential ability to hack a person’s mind. In the GITS setting, we are in this futurist world where cyber implants is everywhere and all the rave. Not just physical parts, but also it seems mental parts, downloading holographic images of the mind and so forth. But with that comes the potential of being hacked. In particular in this movie, the people don’t know their hacked. The only way to tell is the alternating of memories.
Given the way technology is moving, this feels like something to worry about. Not to mention how frightening it could be to not even be able to trust your own memories! How could you defend against that?
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Visuals:
The visuals of the live action movie was amazing. Full of large holographic images on sides of buildings for ads – the new build boards, the depiction of diving or linking with robotic programs, and the creation of the Major’s body – and to add to that the way the body is mended after being cut/broken. The entire live action movie had a brighter-cleaner sleekness to it. It was a little different from what I remember from the anime, both my boyfriend and I agree the original anime seemed to depict more of a ‘Blade Runner’ feel, so a little dirtier, worn in feel. But still, the bright lights and look of the technology used in the movie is spectacular.

Themes:
In the live action movie the main theme that seemed to come out is that of identity, and what a ‘ghost’ means. In the movie we hear reference to the Major to trust her ghost, or her soul. But being in a full cybernetic body with only a human mind, were does the soul come from, or where is it stored? I’m using ‘ghost’ and ‘soul’ interchangeably thinking they are meaning the same thing. So as the Major discovers the meaning behind her dreams, and her real identity she is also forced to deal with herself, whom she become and who she wants to be. Basic questions that hall humans experience and goes through. It is a better story arch than the anime – at lest in my opinion, but they could have gone further.

In the movie we learn that the Major was in fact Asian, and her mind placed in a Caucasian looking body. There could have been a theme surrounding that aspect – but I understand by then there was no time for her to dwell on that one aspect as the climax was approaching and ending in sight.

Another theme I wanted to touch on was the roles of woman in technological fields. I hear a lot about the lack of women in science fields and the lack of role models to help young girls get interested in such studies and fields. In this movie we see at least two prominent women in leading cybernetic and robotic fields. Dr. Ouelet and Dr. Dahlin. Outlet had direct correspondence with Major and deals with both her psyche and body, and shares almost a mentor/student or mother/daughter relationship. Although I still understand the issues surrounding the whitewashing, I still like seeing at least two female scientists in the movie with lines and a personality.

In Conclusion:
I enjoyed the movie, the visual and themes within the movie. As much as there are problems with the live action movie, if wish to avoid that, at least find the anime and watch it that way. There are now several new versions of anime relating to Ghost in the Shell, and I’m sure there will be other new versions like this western one. I hope if there will be a next live-action movie the makers of the first will learn their lesson and listen to the fans and treat their audience with respect.

Do you keep your old drafts?

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This feels like an embarrassing question.

I hear writers talk about all their drafts as they work to hone their story after edit after edit – and I wonder …. Do they keep all their different drafts? Really, I’m starting a fourth draft for one of my stories after having an editor and a few beta readers read over my third draft and I’m wondering what to do with my previous drafts. Given how easy it is to just write overtop of your first draft with your second, third and so forth – does anyone keep their original drafts or do they just take the electronic document and write over top of it again and again?

Right now, for this particular novel – I’m keeping all my previous drafts – well most of them. Draft 2 I started editing within that draft for half way through the story before taking a break and going back later to start a third separate draft. Having multiple drafts feel a little confusing, but given how much I’ve changed things – especially with my fourth draft I don’t want to get ride of for fear I may need to go back to a previous draft and pull up a scene once deleted but should be included again. Just trying to remember past scenes I’ve changed, deleted or just passed over is difficult so I’m glad I have an old drafts to go back to if necessary.

This is why I think this is an embarrassing question. It feels like many writers have old drafts around to keep track of what they’ve changed. But with today’s style of just deleting and re-typing have things changed?

This fourth draft has fallen to a snail’s pace. I’ve reached chapter 7 and hit a bit of a wall. I’ve taken out one of the secondary characters which has helped but this chapter doesn’t have a good flow in my mind in relation to scene structure. I’m not sure how to really fix it at the moment. I have the main goal of the chapter – which is achieved, but I think I’ve forced my character to stay in her previous characterization to leave feeling freaked out after confronting an evil spirit. Now in this new draft she is more confident and more in control of her choices. Given this change of my main characters personality, she wouldn’t just leave or run away. Maybe at first but after the walk from the haunted zone back to the headquarters she’d cooled off. So… now my chapters have really changed. This one chapter will really change the entire feel of the book I think. I’m not sure what that is yet so I’ve taken a break and tried to think of a better way to deal with the chapter and how it is affecting the rest of the book.

As I write my fourth draft, I feel I’ll be going back more to my original or second draft for help or to find old scenes that may help my novel get back on its feet. In the meantime any answers to my question, or suggestions how others deal with multiple drafts and where they keep the old ones would be great!

Utopian/Dystopian Worlds

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So, surprisingly enough this topic came to light while in discussion with my dad and my boyfriend’s dad. I’m not sure entirely how we got onto the subject, but I’m sure we were talking about the rising cost of hydro, gas and government both here and across the border in the US. Anyways, the topic turned to the future and perspectives we had towards it. Mostly towards the decline of knowledge in certain life-skills. For example how many people today actually know how the electrical grid works? Or the water treatment plants or sewage? What would happen if we lost that knowledge all together? Now, I may be more optimistic in certain areas – humans to me are adaptable. Even if we lost knowledge in a particular area, I feel that the human mind will find an alternative solution to achieve the same goal. It may take time – but I think it is possible.

The discussion continued on other areas as my dad began to talk about how he felt the world should move in – basically into more self-reliant smaller communities. They turned to me – the writer – and said I should write a book on that. Great… write a book on a self-reliant city where there are little to no problems – that’s not dystopian. Of course it’s closer to a Utopian, for which I know little about in the fictional world. Yet – their ideas did make me think and by that evening I jotted a few of them down.

Do I have a plot – NOPE!

Do I have any characters – NOPE!

Do I have a crises, or an issue to explore/exploit – NOPE!

I get what they mean. Hollywood has defiantly gone the way of dystopian lately, from the Hunger Games to Mad Max: Fury Road. All dark, depressing and showing a negative outlook with a few heroes that push the hope of a change or something different forward. I get those moves and books and I get why they are so popular at the moment. I also think the fad is on the decline and we may get a different outlook in the new future – I’m only guessing here. Anyways, their ideas that day did resonate with me and I began to wonder if there was a story in there at all.

My typically pet peeve about these dystopian novels is how there is a wall of some kind that keeps the character inside their surroundings. Just go and get out and explore the world around you! Of course by the sounds of the discussion we had such an idea wouldn’t fit for them. I’ll just have to save that for something else.

So… here’s my world so far. I picture it like a circle with three zones. The external are the agriculture fields, the producers of the food. There’ll be greenhouses and natural sources of water. The next zone will be manufacturing plants, water treatment and the like. The final zone would be the core where the city’s government, education and medical facilities are located. I don’t like the idea of getting rid of technology, there are enough minds out there that if something did happen with electricity and the internet, a new infrastructure should emerge with a new wave of technology that would fit with the needs of this new futuristic world.  Travel between countries will be limited, gas is highly expensive and out of reach for several, making these cities more close-knit. Population should be reasonable to support their needs. (This is the one issue that was brought up – that cities are too populated and can’t become self-reliant because of that). That could be an issue for the book – the population of the city is getting too high and something needs to be done. But the more I think about it, the more I feel there would be an underground, another zone below the city – perhaps living in the remnants of the old world that has mostly been forgotten as the city rose and was built on top of it. So, all together there are four zones now within this ‘utopian’ city, and only one issue I can foresee that could be a conflict.

But then again – who says there needs to be a conflict in the utopian? There are other stories where conflict happens between people, I could make a love story with this city in the back ground – but I don’t do well writing romances… I’m still spit-balling ideas around. What I have thought about is the idea of travelling convoy’s. Of a certain type of people who move from city to city in this futuristic world making trade. As much as travel is limited, it’s not impossible, and there would be some cities with deals with others and have to transfer goods from place to place. Having these nomads be there makes some sense – unless robots take over which I doubt I will have in my future world. ;-P

Having a character as part of this convoy nomad group may be the view-point I need to examine this new world, as she travels from community to community to see the differences across a country. I’m not sure if that idea would work, but it’s a start. Or, if anything start the story from someone within the community and switch to the nomad later on? Finding a conflict, or theme for this genre is difficult for me and it may not be my speciality. I’m still wanting to accept the challenge, but I obviously need to think about the world I’m creating and what my characters think of it.

I have gone online and found several other books written either in dystopian style or utopian style. I need to read them and see their ideas before I get carried away with this one. If any of you have a utopian or dystopian novel that would be good to research and read let me know and I’ll add it to my list.

Visual Novels – To write one or not….

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While exploring more games available through distributors like Steam, I’m finding new styles and indie games that follow a different path then just an action or first person shooter. I’ve explored Visual Novels in the past – though I’ve never thought of them that way. To me they have been ‘Dating Sim Games’, where the main character takes first person view and you as the main character watch/read on as your character make choices that will ultimately decide if you’ll fall in love with the character or not. These seem to be the most common style of visual novels – and the ones I’ve reviewed in the past have all been available as apps for phones and iPad. It only took me a brief search on Steam for me to find several other similar games if not different and more diverse ‘visual novels’ available.

The more I searched, the more I find that there are several indie style visual novels, some I will admit look poorly drawn or animated, but I don’t want to judge a book by it’s cover. Others have a sleek, more professional look if not a bit on the ‘adult’ side of things. At first I was just looking for what’s available, maybe find a sci-fi theme, or paranormal theme visual novel to explore – but those options seem to be rare, many are still romance based where I’m looking for more adventure style and want to stay away from romance. Which made me think how I would go about making my own visual novel.

I began researching that idea. I found software out there that are designed to help you create your own visual novel, including the coding, character art and templates. One of those would be a good starting point, if only to get an idea of what’s involved. But there would be other things I’ll need to consider, music, backgrounds, the story itself. If I want to put this up online and get money for it – copyright becomes an issue.

But that’s further down the line, most important I think would be the story. Given whats available there seems to be two different styles of stories Visual Novels display – a choose your own adventure/ending theme that many of the romance and dating sims fall under, then there is another called ‘Kinetic’ which has a pre-determined ending. Both seem to have their merits and as a writer, both have their challenges. I personally feel I would start with a Kinetic story, just to get the feel and work with the software on a decent cast of characters and visuals. But the choose your own adventure/ending sounds intriguing. I remember reading those books as a child and having a good time – but now as  a writer I can see how challenging such a project would be. Yet, maybe that’s something to consider in the near future.

Basically, after doing some quick research on the topic of visual novels, I feel that this is another avenue writers could choose to follow. I’m not sure about the rest of you but I do visualize my novels in my head – and they are typically anime style. Something like this could really take off for me – if I do it right.  It could be another outlet for my writing, a new platform to find followers or those interested in what I’m writing about. Ideally I’d love to do this the proper way with coders and illustrators and make it perfect, but just starting out I’ll settle with one of the software’s first and see how that goes.

This has definitely taken a hold of my mind and imagination. I will have to sit on this idea myself and think about it, even try to find a story that would fit with this style. In the end, this is something to consider for the near future. If anyone is familiar with Visual Novels, I’d love to hear some feedback,  either on suggested VN to read, or topics to research to help learn more about this industry and what stories are lacking.

Editing & Revisions: Take 2

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As many of you are aware, I’m currently in the process of editing an Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Young Adult fiction novel. Wow, what a mouthful. I have sent out my third draft to a handful of people to beta read and paid an Editor I know to do a manuscript evaluation. I’m still waiting for a few of my beta readers to get back to me, but I have received the full manuscript evaluation from the editor. It was a lot to take in and digest! I am now just starting to use my editor notes to go back and fix a number of parts of my novel. Thankfully the overall assessment my editor gave me was positive, she enjoyed the story and at times couldn’t put it down. Great starts, but I need to work on my characters and making them more unique and noticeable, my tone and voice and research a few areas a little deeper from what I’ve put together so far.

Nothing too drastic, but here I am finding myself revising once more. I’m trying to make my main character more strong in her convictions, and decision-making. I’m also trying to make my second main character stronger as well, more confident and in control of the situation. It means I’m revising a lot – but I’m still keeping the basic essence there. Or at least I’m trying.

Besides those two characters, my editor pointed out two of my minor characters not having strong arcs or even necessary to the plot. I agree after she mentioned it – but finding solutions is difficult. I don’t want to kill any of them, one being the love interest the second being a member of the paranormal team. For now, I’ve removed the member from the paranormal team from most of the scenes, she’s mentioned but I’ve decided that there was an incident with another member playing a prank on her and she’s in a huff and not returning to participate in the group for the time being. I’m not sure if this is wise, but I want her to still be around in a support/advisory role when the team needs here – either later in this book or in future books. As for the love interest, I’m making him more of a jerk that my main character has a crush on as a foreshadowing of how incompatible they really are as a couple. I might throw him more into the fray, making injure him or something to make his purpose and arc more substantial than what I have it as now. I’m not sure if it’ll work or not.

So there’s my beginning of my fourth draft for you. More revisions then edits. I am worried now that I’m working on a fourth draft that after all that my editor has suggested and the more changes I make – that I’m ruining my novel in someway. I don’t know if I’m taking the right suggestions, making the book better and stronger – or really throwing it back down to the quality of my first draft. These doubts are really making this revision session longer. I’m more hesitant with changes, I’m rewriting sentences four or more times and staring at paragraphs wondering if it’s good enough of if I need to move elements around. Part of me thinks by really thinking hard on my sentence structure, vocabulary and scene structure – I’m making a stronger book – but the other part of me is worried that if I go back to my editor I’ll have even more edits/revisions to do.

There’s really no getting around this until I’ve finished going through all the suggestions and the fourth draft. I will then have to consider doing a second manuscript evaluation or just push forward to a copy-edit instead. I really do hope that each draft I create makes the book better in the end.

Review: Shall We Date? Guard Me Sherlock!

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I believe it was sometime last year I did a review on a dating sim game for the iPhone and other mobile devices… Shall We Date? Wizardess. Well… I found a new game from the same group. This time it’s called Guard Me Sherlock and yup you guessed it – it’s all about falling in love with three characters from the Sherlock Franchise.

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Sherlock Holmes. John Watson. James Moriarty.

I was hooked the moment I read the description. Set in modern times – similar to the BBC Sherlock series, there are several other characters that appear as supportive roles. Not only is John Watson there (and possible love interest storyline), but we’ve got Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, George Lestrade, Hercule Poirot, a teenage male Mika Hudson, the villain James Moriarty (the third love interest storyline), Jeremy Cassel, Jack Stillman and Sebastian Moran. I’m not sure if some of these are characters from other detective mysteries, Hercule I know is one – and the original name of the heroine you’re playing is Jane Marple.

I’m already in love with this – even before I get to the case!

 

So similar to the other romantic dating/visual novel games out there, you play the main heroine (choosing a name of your choice) and pick one of the three character and storylines that accompany them. Throughout the story you are given choices that will impact how much of a bond/love grows between you and that character. Depending on your ‘love meter’ by the end you will have an option of different endings to choose from, hopefully your love meter is high enough to get a happy or blissful ending.

There are other quizzes that happens throughout the game, puzzle quizzes, math quizzes, all with a multiple choice answer to choose from. Thankfully these quizzes have nothing to do with the love meter. I managed to get a few right, but felt I got most of the answers wrong here. However, they are fun and really make you think when you least expect it.

Other checkpoints include ‘sweetie points’ which is in a separate part of the game, and a wardrobe/fashion section that you have to purchase items to put on your mannequins in order to proceed to the next chapter.

The game is free, so there is no reason to purchase in-game money. Sweetie point area earns you coins that will buy a lesser article of clothing that may not allow you to get the ‘premium’ story but enough that you can still proceed and not be hung up or stuck in a particular spot.

So I started my first round with Sherlock Holmes – duh! In this case you (the heroine) are an actress performing a play and are receiving threatening notes. A boring case that Sherlock may not take, yet he surprises you by accepting and returning to the theatre with you. Finding the culprit was easy, but just then as they are checking out the stage, a light fixture from above crashes down and almost hits our heroine. Sherlock is there to protect us, and smiles – the case just got interesting.

From that point you move in with him and John at 221B Baker Street as they try to track down the culprit who’s sabotaging the play. Staying in an apartment full of guys can get romantic, and before long you get used to Sherlock’s strange tendencies and quirks as the two of you fall in love. It’s not perfect, but it feels genuine and I seriously staring falling for it myself.  I managed to reach the blissful ending for this one – but unfortunately I haven’t been able to play through the premium route.

I’m now on the James Moriarty case. Surprisingly the case is completely different. This time I’m still an actress but the play is to be set on a Train, owned by James Moriarty who is a huge fan of yours and begins flirting and throwing money at your. You still had gone to Sherlock Holmes about your reservations of the play, the train and not knowing who it was who hired you to perform. I’m currently on chapter 4 (or 5?) and Sherlock and John have reappeared on the train now that my character is already starting to fall in love with Moriarty. I’m very curious to see how this story goes… James Moriarty is a bit obsessed about your character and it makes me a bit uneasy – but it still feels a bit genuine and I won’t know the ending until I reach it.

I’ll be sure to fill you all in on John’s storyline next. But I highly recommend this game if you’re into dating sim apps or interactive visual novels.

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SS: Palace in the Sky

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Palace in the Sky

I laid in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. The bright full moon shone through the narrow gap in the curtains and landed on my face. Above me hung several models of airplanes, ships and spaceships. My grandmother would always buy me one to work on over the summer holiday after thirteen years I had a decent collection. Yet as I laid awake, looking at the memories hanging above me, I cringed inside. This would be the first summer without my grandmother, and without a model to build.

It happened several weeks ago; I was still in school when my mom received the news. Since then it was a whirlwind of activity; the funeral, visitors, and the cleanup at my grandmother’s cottage. It felt odd arriving and hot having her be there waiting for me. No cookies on the table, or a new model waiting for me to create. The cottage felt quiet, cold, and dead. My mom busied herself with organizing my grandmother’s possessions. She created piles to be donated, piles to be thrown out, and piles to keep. The longer my mom spent going through the belongings, the more heartbroken she became. I found hers several times crying over a dress or photograph. It was depressing, and even I couldn’t hold back tears when my mom got so emotional. I hoped when my father arrived that weekend, he would help. You know bring my mom back down to earth and make her smile again.

Instead, they fought.

I don’t remember them fighting before – maybe when I wasn’t around they did, but never like this. They disagreed, but always seemed so reasonable in front of me. My mom wanted to keep the cottage, she grew up in there… I grew up in there – but dad said it was too much of an expense and that it would be easier to sell the place. The next argument was about moving into the cottage full-time, selling their small city loft for something with space. Again dad shot down the suggestion, claiming he couldn’t work from home and the commute was too much. That’s when the fighting began, the yelling, screaming… of how dad didn’t understand what mom was going through.

It made staying in the cottage unbearable. They ruined it for me. This place was my summer escape, where I learned to swim, climb trees, catch fireflies. It was a place full of laughter… now all I wanted to do was cry. My parent’s voices rose again from downstairs, they shouted insults back at each other. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Pushing the covers off, I ran to the closet and grabbed my red coat and threw it over my white nightdress. I moved to the bedside table and opened the lower door where an old oil lantern hid. Grandmother taught me how to use it and left it there for me to use whenever I had a nightmare. I hadn’t had one for the past two summers, but she kept it there just the same. Slipping on a pair of boots, I pulled open the curtains and lifted the window pane open to crawl out. I was on the second floor, but a lattice full of vines grew right next to my window. I reached over and grabbed the wooden lattice frame and climbed down.

The kitchen light was still on and shadows of my parents moved back and forth. I hunkered down on my hands and knees to crawl under the windowsill without them noticing me. Clear of the obstacle, I pushed myself up and ran the rest of the way across the grassy green field to the old, twisted oak tree that grew on the hill just at the corner of the property.

There, I hung the lantern on the metal hook that grandmother fixed in the trunk. I reached up on my tip toes and impressed myself by growing high enough to hook the lantern with no additional aid. I hurried to the other side of the trunk where several nailed pieces of wood created a ladder up to the branches. A few planks of wood created benches between branches the further up, but I climbed even higher, to the tallest branch where I could pop my head up above the canopy and see the entire sky full of stars.

I was away from the fighting, the yelling and crying. I was alone, and it was quiet. Grandmother brought me out here on warm summer nights like this. We would climb the tree and gaze at the stars. She’ll tell me stories about the constellations; funny stories, sad stories, lessons learned and passed down. I searched for the constellations I knew, the bear, the dragon, and finally the north star – the brightest star of them all. The moon was large and full, and it filled me with a yearning to see my grandmother again.

Before I knew it, tears streamed down my face. I brushed them away, grandmother was a happy person, crying won’t bring her back, and I knew she’d want me to keep smiling – like her. But at this moment it was so hard. I missed her so much that I couldn’t hold back any longer.

Gazing up at the stars, and the few clouds passing by, I tried to brighten myself up by telling the story of the Palace in the Sky. Grandmother told it throughout the summers. I never grew tired of it. When she took me out here to the tree, she’d tell it again, and point in the distance to a bunch of clouds and say that’s where you look if you want to see the palace.

But there was a trick. The palace didn’t just appear to anyone. One had to be worthy. The palace only appeared to those with pure hearts, of loyalty, bravery, and justice in their souls. I would hold my breath and stare in the sky, wishing I would be lucky to see it. Grandmother would laugh and say I’m too young for them to judge. Another year perhaps – or two. She always ended it off with my youth and gave me hope that next summer I’d see it.

I shifted my gaze towards the direction my grandmother pointed at all those years before. I didn’t expect to see anything; I felt too heartbroken to see such a magical display. Through tear-filled eyes I saw clouds shift and circle around each other. More clouds appeared, or the smaller clouds grew larger. I don’t know how it happened, but the clouds took shape. At first I thought it was a storm in the making. Sudden rain storms were common out in the country, but it didn’t frighten me away. Instead, I kept my eyes locked on the numerous clouds all swirling together. A spire shot forth, then another, followed by a domed roof and large arched doorway.

I blinked, whipped the tears away and looked again. The palace kept its shape – it wasn’t my imagination. It formed just under the full moon, the light of which shown over the palace as it solidified in front of me. Maybe it was my imagination… or maybe it was my grandmother’s story come to life.

I climbed to my feet, waved my hands at the palace’s doors. The Palace in the Sky showed itself. A smile crossed my face as I yelled up the greeting that would grant me entrance.

“The earth greets the sky with open arms, I greet the sky with an open heart.”

Book Review: Rising of the Shield Hero

cover_1_engThe Rising of the Shield Hero

By Aneko Yusagi

“Naofumi Iwatakni, an uncharismatic Otaku who spends his days on games and manga suddenly finds himself summons to a parallel universe! He discovers he is one of four heroes equipped with legendary weapons and tasked with saving the world from its prophesied destruction. As the Shield Hero, the weakest of the heroes, all is not as it seems. Naomi is soon alone, penniless and betrayed. With no one to turn to, and nowhere to run, he is left with only his shield. Now, Naomi must rise to become the legendary Shield Hero and save the world!”

I stumbled upon this book quite by accident at my local Chapters. I had a gift card from christmas to use up and while looking in the fantasy section I found this very colourful manga looking book. It caught me off guard, not expecting such a book in the fantasy novel area. At first I thought it was a mistake and a full manga novel, but it turns out to be a written novel with a dozen or so manga pages inside. I was hooked instantly! The back cover was just the frosting.

The story is all written in first person from the perspective of Naofumi, starting with a brief look at his life before being transported to this alternate reality. We learn he’s an otaku, how he likes having fun, goes to college but spends all of his time on manga and games. In games he tends to lean towards the jack-of-all trades, more about making money than fighting all the bosses. He is also very practical and when he doesn’t have the money to spend on manga and the like, he goes to the library to read manga there. That’s where he stumbles upon and odd book called “The Record of the Four Holy Weapons”, and went into detail about four destined warriors spent to a realm to fight the waves of destruction that came. There were the Sword, Spear, Bow, and Shield. He began to read the book, considering it all fantasy and enjoying the first bit when it talked about the first three heroes and their personalities. There was also a princess who played and toyed with the heroes, causing them to fight amongst themselves. Naofumi instantly dislikes her but to his surprise there was no information on the shield hero – the pages were blank.

That is when he is transported to this magical realm. The next moment he is on an altar with three other guys around his age. And on his arm is the Shield. The monks/priests, whoever did the summoning takes the group to the King for further details and clarifications.

Now at this moment, I found it odd how everyone just shrugged and followed the priests. There were a few questions from the others but when the priests ask them to save them from destruction only Naofumi agrees to hear them out while the others began to nitpick about rewards. Seriously, if this happened to me I would be freaking out a whole lot more and asking several questions about how to get back.

Anyways, onto the story. So they meet the king who tells them their destiny and the waves of destruction that wrecks this world. They happen once a month and in the meantime they are to level up (as they all start at level 1) in order to prepare. Here we also start to learn the mechanics of this realm, which is very much like a video game. In each of their vision there are menu items to the corners that they can focus on and open, reading up on their own stats and weapons, as well as the world and anything else they come across. The other three accept the King’s propose, as does Naofumi and all are given a shared quarter to rest until the set out the next morning with guides that the King will provide.

It’s the only time the four heroes are together for a reasonable length of time. We learn that not only are they from another reality, but all are from different realities, they are all Otakus, and all besides Naofumi have played games similar to this. They understand the mechanics better and tell Naofumi how weak the Shield class is once he reaches the higher levels. They also discover another difference amongst them, how previous to their transportation, all the others besides Naofumi had been in some accident, that they were about to die before arriving here. It was enough to put distance between Naofumi and the others. They gave him some advice, but not a lot, coveting their own knowledge for themselves. The bitterness Naofumi has grows at that moment.

The next day, the King has the guides pick their hero, and nobody wants the Shield hero. Unable to go on the offence, Naofumi complains and a young woman offers to go with him. Naofumi is grateful as it means he can protect her while she handles the monsters. All seems to work out that first day, the woman – Myne – take shim to an armoury, upgrades their armour and weapons and discovers that he can’t even hold a sword in battle, only the shield. Disappointed, Myne takes him out to the fields to beat up on the lowest monsters, that he can only punch – but their bites don’t inflict damage due to the shield.  It was a slow first day, the two find a tavern to sleep in, Myne asking for two rooms where Naofumi falls asleep in one right after supper. The next morning he finds himself robbed, of his chainmail, the remains of his silver, only his shield and underclothes remain. He is instantly captured by city guards and taken to the palace where Myne betrays Naofumi by claiming he attacked her sexually in the night.

Nobody believes Naofumi, the girl plays the victim quite well and there the Spear hero Motoyasa is wearing his chainmail. Unfortunately, he asked to be sent back if nobody wants him, but that is impossible. The only way they can get a new Shield hero is if all the heroes die and they have to summon a new group. Everyone is quiet at this, but Naofumi is outraged at the injustice. Being the Shield hero, they cannot lock him up as he is the legendary hero, but the entire town has heard the story and for the rest of the month before the first wave, they judge him. Myne joins Motoyasa’s group, leaving Naofumi on his own. Nobody will join him, and he becomes more bitter inside.

Eventually he knows that he needs someone to fight the monsters for him, the simple ones in the field are too much, but he uses them allowing them to bite him and hide them under his cloak to use as intimidation tactics against the townspeople who try to give him a rotten deal on loot. He gathers a few coins from the few monsters he can take care of, and is then met by a slave trader who offers him three miserable demi-humans, all weak, ill or having some deformity. He picks the little girl – a girl who reminds him of Myne and his hatred for her. She’s the cheapest, but also coughs and looks battered. Still, he needs someone and the slave contract magic would prevent her from betraying him. With the spell on her, he takes her immediately to the armour to get her a sword and some basic armour and forces her into battle. The girl is frightened and has night terrors but Naofumi needs her to make it to the first wave. He gives her medicine he made, food, and shelter even. He doesn’t rebuke her – only when she refuses to fight. The demi-human is a racoon humanoid, named Raphtalia, and she begins to grow attached to Naofumi, finding a good master in him and giving her a strength to fight.

I’ll end my synopsis there, this is really only the first half of the book and there is more on the story with Naofumi, Motoyasa, Myne and Raphtalia. I will say that I’m glad the ending was happy, and that the bitterness and hatred Naofumi feels for the majority of the book is cleared away by Raphtalia’s respect and I will call it love. But I don’t want to give too much away, it’s a great ending.

I really enjoyed this book, it was light-beat, easy to read and a lot of fun. It only took me four days at the most to get through it. The book looks large, but the lettering is larger than most fantasy novels and is double spaced. I’m not sure if that’s typical for these type of books or not. There were a few issues that I found that could just be due to translation, but mostly what made it such a simple read was that it was all direct and to the point. There was no long drawn out explanation for scenery, or history. We are expected just to pick things up and go with it – which can be typical for any fantasy story. But I felt that with this one in particular it was even more condensed than usual. I had no problem following the course of events, but I did miss some of the long-winded expositions, or maybe I felt something was missing because they weren’t there. Either way, the story still has an emotional tie behind it – which is all you need to connect the readers.

This is a first book in a series, and the author included the first two chapters in the next book at the end. I am extremely excited to find the next book and hope to find it soon. For anyone looking for a light, fast-paced fantasy story with a manga twist – this will be a great read of you!

Updates & New Ideas

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So, my down time this past week has been more productive than I originally imagined it would be. Face it – I seriously though I’d end up on the couch watching Netflix for eight hours straight. Thankfully, i’ve but that distraction aside and kept up with the habits i’ve forced myself into.

Morning Writing. Every morning, after breakfast I sit at my kitchen table and write. Well try to write something. Lately it’s been outlining a new novel idea. I’ve been working on character sheets, races, history, coat-of-arms for the royal families – a whole bunch of tidbits and bits of information that I may use for the story. Mostly this research and background information is just to get my head wrapped around this new world I’m creating. I still have a way to go with it, like my magic system that I don’t know what to do with yet, and the main history. Don’t get me wrong I have a brief summed up history of the world, but I need to flesh it out – because as it turned out it’s now a major plot twist at the end.

I’m actually quite happy with my outline. I struggled with it all week, but the ending came and to my surprise a plot twist I didn’t even seen coming. I just hope it stays in the story once I start writing it out.

You see, this story started as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast… those characters are still there, but suddenly the mysterious Empress I’ve created in the background thrusted her way onto the main stage. Now I feel my story is more “Into the Woods” or “Once Upon A Time” feeling then that of a particular fairy tale I started. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, defiantly more original. At least I hope. I also added dragon-born from Dungeons and Dragons… less face it dragons are always better – especially if they talk, and are more humanoid.

This story may be finished, but I now have to consider a series to try to defeat this dragons that are approaching this country. I may have created something much larger than anticipated! I’m still enjoying it though and I can’t wait to see what other Fairy Tale characters I can throw in.

So, that’s one update for me. I’ve also found tutorials on making fantasy maps in Photoshop – so you know that’s my next project. Making the map of this world. I’ll be sure to show it to you all when it’s done.

Another project on the go is my Shop-Hop quilt I started a couple of years ago… maybe even longer? I had 15 blocks I collected from 15 different quilt stores around my area. I finally found material to use in the quilt and finish the top once and for all. Working on something different is a nice change of pace, it gives my head a rest from planing a novel and worrying  about edits that are due back soon. I find quilting relaxing and am looking forward to finishing this quilt off to start another.

I think that’s all. Happy Friday everyone!

PS. My weight loss challenge. Well, it’s been a few weeks and I’m proud to say I’ve lost 9 lbs so far. I have gone up a bit one week, but on average i’ve been loosing  1 – 1.5 lbs a week. A fair start but of course after all this chocolate from Valentines I may have to rethink my calorie intake.