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I’ve been following Sam Sykes on twitter for a while, and given my affinity for both well-crafted fantasy worlds and action-adventure stories, it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy of The City Stained Red, the first book in Sam’s Bring Down Heaven series.

At almost 650 pages, The City Stained Red is a doorstopper of a book, but a fast, fun, vicious read. The book follows Lenk, an adventurer that some readers may recognize from Sykes’ previous series, The Aeon’s Gate Trilogy (though reading that series first is by no means a prerequisite for Bring Down Heaven). Lenk has finally decided that he’s done with killing, and wants to put aside his sword and pick up what he believes will be a normal life in the trade hub city of Cier’Djall. He and his friends, Denaos the thief, young wizard Dreadaeleon, khoshicht (Sykes’ clever take on elves) archer Kataria, healer/priestess Asper, and dragonman Gariath have killed scores of people and monsters. With the money owed to them for their services, they could happily retire from their violent lives. However, the man who owes them is not so easily found.

Cier’Djall is a massive, sprawling city, and the wealthy who rule over it have made their gold by selling silk produced by enormous spiders. However, the beautiful silk-draped spire that towers over the city leaves long shadows. In darker corners of the city, some of the poor are disappearing, and the ruling fashas may be to blame. Two rival churches seek to position their armies within the city, and tensions are running high as negotiations between them loom. Then, there’s the small matter of the local thieves guild and their ongoing conflict with a new but powerful cult that claims to have demons backing them. This is reality in the city where Lenk hopes to find Miron Evenhands, the priest at whose behest they have been doing what they do best. Cier’Djall is a bonfire piled high, drenched in oil, and awaiting a spark, and Lenk and his friends are unwittingly bringing lit torches through the gates.

The City Stained Red takes a page from A Song of Ice and Fire by presenting chapters from the perspectives of each member of Lenk’s band of adventurers. After arriving in Cier’Djall, they split up to try to located Miron, each using their unique skills and connections to make their way through the city. Denaos has connections from his previous life in the thieves guild, the Jackals. Dreadaeleon seeks the assistance of the Venarium, the wizard’s alliance. Asper, a follower of the same church as Miron, travels to the various temples in the city. Kataria finds herself in Shichttown, a slum where the non-humans try to live out of the way of the fiercely racist upper class. Gariath attempts to gather information from another dragonman who works as a bodyguard for one of the fashsas. Lenk is trying to cope with the fact that his pursuit of retirement may lose him the closest thing he’s ever known to a family. None of them are remotely ready for what they find.

After a footwar between the Jackals and the Khovura cult spills from the back alleys into the streets, every faction with an interest in controlling the silk trade comes out of their corners swinging, and Lenk and company can do little more than hope to survive.

I absolutely loved this book. Sykes blends dark humor and trope deconstruction beautifully. I’m already reading the sequel, The Mortal Tally, because I couldn’t wait to see what happens to these folks next. Reading about these characters is like watching my college Dungeons and Dragons group in action. There’s violence and bloodshed, but also fervent emotion. It’s a wonderful thing.

Edit: As of 7/26/16, a copy of this review can also be found here and here.

So. Overwatch.

It kind of snuck up on me, not going to lie. I remember seeing a few bits and blurbs about it a while back, and getting pretty excited by the sheer variety of the characters (an article about Zarya’s addition to the game really pulled me in). The last new video game I bought for myself (not as a gift for someone else) was Minecraft last summer. Every other game I’ve purchased within recent memory was a used Wii game or a “new” game for my NES or Super Nintendo. My playthroughs of the Arkham Asylum games and Injustice were facilitated by my local library rather than dropping money I didn’t have on a game I didn’t need. But there was something about Overwatch that just called to me. Maybe it was the comparisons to things like Team Fortress 2. Maybe it was the promise of something so drastically different coming from the folks at Blizzard.

So yeah, I’ve been playing a lot. Not so much as some of my friends, but I waited almost two weeks after it came out to start. It arrived as a belated birthday gift, and I’ve been loving it. There’s not a lot of change from one gametype to another. You’re attempting to capture or defend a series of points on the map or escorting/defending a moving payload or capturing/defending a point and then escorting/defending a payload. It’s fairly straightforward, but with each player on either side being able to choose from any one of 21 unique heroes, it’s never the same match twice.

A lot of the joy is in that variety. You can change heroes any time you choose, so long as you’re willing to return to a spawn point (you can also switch at respawn), and so you’re never lacking a character who can counter an enemy’s strengths or offset an ally’s weaknesses. Because of this, it’s really in your benefit to learn to play as many of the different heroes as possible, or at least one for each category (offense, defense, tanks, and supports).

Lucio’s great fun for me. Speed, healing, and a knockback effect let him excel at holding a point when you’re near ledges. Being able to self-heal puts him at the top of the support list for me, even though he lacks Mercy’s oomph as a healer. He’s agile, and in the right hands can harass an enemy team just as well as Tracer. His speed boost can be used from the beginning of the round to get your entire team to the objective sooner, too.

Hanzo. You’ve got to love a sniper with a bow and the ability to climb over a lot of the obstacles in his way. His mobility is second really only to Genji. His ultimate is devestating to anyone who can’t get out of the way. I know that he’s a defensive character, but he’s mobile enough to be valuable to attacking teams as well, depending on the map, especially since his sonic arrow provides enemy recon faster than Widowmaker’s ultimate (albeit for a shorter time and over a smaller area).

Pharah is my go-to offense hero. I’m learning Tracer, and Soldier 76 is ridiculously straightforward for anyone who has ever played an FPS, but Pharah’s range and power maker her one of my favorites. On an open map, she can rain down rockets on an enemy team, with her hover ability rendering her very difficult for most heroes to accurately hit. She can also make good use of her rocket launcher from the ground, saving her jump jet for an emergency escape.

I’ve never been big into MMOs, and so my experience with tanking is rather lacking. Still, Winston makes for a great introductory character to the role. He lacks range with his weapon, but it auto-hits anything in range. Combine that with his leaping, and you can catch a lot of squishier heroes off guard. He can easily be used to clear of room of Symmetra’s turrets by combining his cannon and shield.

And then there’s Junkrat. Stupid fun. I love TF2’s Demoman, and Junkrat takes all of the grendade launcher goodness and adds a pseudo-stun with his steel trap. If I’m on defense, and there’s not already a Junkrat on the team, he’s a sure pick at some point in the match.

So, yeah. I’m learning more of the heroes, because everyone has a place somewhere in the game. Finding which hereos work best together is a lot of fun, and Blizzard is already talking about DLC heroes, maps, and gametypes in the future.

Now I’m going to try to get some actual story writing done. Until then!

The world is burning, one person at a time. A new sort of plague, a spore known colloquially as Dragonscale, is infecting hundreds of thousands around the globe. It begins with something small. It gets into your head. It grows. You feel fine until you see it on your skin-a small stripe, like a gold-flecked stain. You might even mistake it for a bruise at first. But then you know you have it. You know that you’re going to burn, and it’s only a question of when. No one knows exactly how it spreads, and there’s no sign of a cure short of being killed before you ignite. You’ll smoke a bit first, and then you’ll combust, unless someone decides to end your life before then.

In the midst of the chaos is Harper Willowes, a Portsmouth nurse who sincerely wishes for nothing more than to be able to help others through the crisis. She volunteers her services caring for the infected while her husband Jakob works for the Public Works Department, helping to clean up the devastation left behind by the burning infected. It’s at work that Harper first meets the Fireman. He brings a child in for treatment, not for the Dragonscale covering him, but for a ruptured appendix. After the boy, Nick, is taken in for surgery, the Fireman vanishes. A few days later, Nick is gone as well, leaving only questions in his wake. Then, disaster strikes and the Portsmouth Hospital burns to the ground. Harper escapes, but soon makes two discoveries. She’s pregnant and she has the ‘scale. Believing himself to be infected as well, Jakob snaps and Harper is forced to flee for her life and that of her unborn child.

When all seems lost, the Fireman intervenes. He rescues Harper from Jakob’s pursuit and secrets her away to a small camp where over a hundred and fifty infected are living in hiding, including Nick. Living and thriving, to Harper’s great surprise. While there’s no cure for the spore, the people of the camp have found a way to live in harmony with the Dragonscale, under the leadership of Nick’s grandfather. Harper’s medical skills quickly make her indispensable. The camp, however, is no paradise. As panic grips the nation, marauders seek to eliminate any infected. Harper only wants to survive long enough to deliver her baby, but internal power struggles in the camp threaten to expose them all to the roving Cremation Crews. The Fireman may be the only one who can save them all, but he hides a dark secret of his own.

Joe Hill takes on an apocalypse of his own, one that rivals The Stand in scope and violence (not to mention pop culture references). As the world around them burns, his characters must face the fact that other humans may be a greater threat to them than the Dragonscale ever was. The Fireman is a hell of a ride from beginning to end, and is every bit as intense as the flames it evokes.

The Fireman, hits store shelves on 5/17. Go check it out.

[My most sincere thanks to William Morrow for the Advance Reader Copy of The Fireman, acquired at PLA 2016]

In 1977, Stephen King chilled readers with a tale of a young couple and their son, and the worst winter to ever pass in a hotel in Colorado. That book, The Shining, was King’s third novel, and thanks in part to the brilliant work of Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick, is widely remembered as the basis for one of the greatest horror films ever. Now, almost forty years have passed since The Shining first hit shelves, and we are granted a rare treat from the master of horror. On September 24th, 2013, Stephen King released Doctor Sleep, a sequel to one of his earliest and most famous novels.

One winter, long ago, one of Colorado’s finest hotels burned to the ground after the aging boiler exploded. Four people were at the Overlook Hotel at the time. Jack Torrance (the recently hired winter caretaker), his wife, Wendy, and their son, Danny (a young boy gifted with the titular “shining”, a type of psychic power), were living in the hotel for the season. Also on location was Dick Halloran, head cook of the Overlook, who had returned from vacation in Florida because of a growing concern for the safety of the Torrance family. Mr. Torrance was killed in the blast while the other three escaped with relatively minor injuries. Torrance had reportedly returned to the hotel’s basement in an heroic attempt to relieve the pressure in the boiler, albeit regrettably too late to save the hotel and himself. The truth of that winter is known only to the survivors.

Years later, Danny Torrance is a grown man struggling with ghosts, both literal and metaphorical. Having inherited his father’s propensity for alcohol, Dan tries to hide from his past, locking away the memories of the Overlook and drinking to numb his psychic abilities, always on the move from town to town. After a time on the road, bouncing from bottle to job and back again, Dan realizes that he has to get his life back together. In a small town in New England (surprise!), Dan finds an AA sponsor and gainful employment at a local hospice. Before long, he’s learning to use his shining to help those who are near death to cross over to the other side, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

Far across the country, a group of people known as The True Knot are stalking people with shining, feeding off of their powers and extending their lives. They soon set their sights on a young girl named Abra, whose latent shining is a blazing fire next to the flickering match that is Dan Torrance’s power. The True intend to find the girl, torture her to death, and feast and rejuvenate on her power, or “steam.” When she learns of their existence and their plans, Abra reaches out via the shining, attempting to find someone who can help her stand against the True, and finds Dan. Soon the two are communicating, planning a way to defend Abra from those who would do her harm and simultaneously lay Dan’s ghosts to rest once and for all.

King has crafted a delightful tale with Doctor Sleep, continuing the story of a tormented young boy as he passes into adulthood. He skillfully weaves new and old, tying details of The Shining into the present-day narrative. It’s not The Shining all over again, but rather a different, more mature type of horror. Dan is sympathetic, and overwhelmingly human, struggling to flee from the gifts that saved his life when he was a child. Abra is a bright spot in his life, reminding him of the hope his family once had.

If you’re a Stephen King fan, odds are that you’ve already at least considered giving Doctor Sleep a read. I devoured it, and as always, I wanted more when I was done. It’s a fascinating opportunity to see the evolution of King’s writing style and technique, and a great story in its own right.

I recently finished Chuck Wendig’s first novel for young adults, Under the Empyrean Sky. As a fan of Chuck’s blog over at Terrible Minds, I felt I owed it to myself to give one of his full-length books a read, and I’m damn glad that I did.

Under the Empyrean Sky introduces us to our intrepid young hero, Cael McAvoy, captain of a teenage scavenger crew in the Heartland. Cael and his friends sail a land boat across the seemingly endless fields of corn to salvage anything they might be able to sell in their home town of Boxelder, because any extra money they can bring in helps provide for their families.

See, only one thing grows in the Heartland. The Empyrean makes sure of it. Hiram’s Golden Prolific is a modified strain of corn that spreads anywhere it pleases, choking out any other potentially competitive life (and it’s not fond of people walking near it, either). It’s the only seed that the Empyrean distributes to the farmers in the Heartland, and the returns for working for the Empyrean machine are enough to barely survive.

So Cael McAvoy scavenges, but he and his friends are not the only crew at work. The mayor’s son has a crew, number one in salvage recovery in Boxelder, and Boyland Barnes Jr. brings daddy’s money to the fight to ensure that Cael’s crew remains in second place. With tensions running high as the Harvest Home festival approaches, Cael takes his ship out for a prime target, only to be shipwrecked in the corn by Boyland Jr. It’s then that he finds something out in the middle of the field, something no one in the Heartland could have predicted. Vegetables. Fruits. Things that have no right growing in the midst of Hiram’s Golden Prolific. The discovery could make them all rich enough to buy passage to one of the flotillas, massive hovering cities of the Empyrean, where the wealthy live in splendor floating over the Heartland like Cael’s boat over the corn. Or it could get them and everyone they’ve ever loved killed.

Wendig packs one hell of a punch into the pages of this book. Deep characters and rich world building blend seamlessly with gritty violence and some of the most honest dialogue to hit the pages of a young adult novel. While some things might come across as a bit heavy-handed (like Empyrean agent Simone Agrasanto‘s name), most of the novel is quick and sharp, like the leaves of the plant that lends its name to Wendig’s self-dubbed “cornpunk” genre. Under the Empyrean Sky weaves teenage love, sex, violence, and intrigue into a wild land boat ride that will leave you counting the days until the release of volume two.

I recently took the time out of my schedule to play through Injustice: Gods Among Us. I’m not normally one for fighting games, but this one boasted a full roster of DC Comics characters and a seriously compelling story, so I figured I’d at least give the story mode a go.

WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD (But please note that the game is three months old at this point)

Our story begins in an alternate universe (surprise!) in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion that has obliterated Metropolis. The Joker managed to get his hands on a nuke, and link the trigger to Lois Lane’s heartbeat. When he managed to drug Superman and convince him that Lois was actually Doomsday, Superman kills the love of his life and their unborn son, and triggers the nuke. In a fit of rage, Superman murders the Joker in revenge and establishes himself as High Councilor of Earth.

In our universe, the Joker is about to unleash a nuke as well. The Justice League is en route to stop him when he and several of the heroes are pulled into the aforementioned alternate universe. Parallel Batman has brought heroes from our world into his to help end Superman’s reign, and the fighting begins.

Each of the twelve chapters of the story allows you to play through several fights as a range of characters. Batman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Deathstroke, Lex Luthor, The Flash, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, The Joker, Aquaman, and Superman are all featured in the main story mode. Each has a standard set of light, medium, and heavy attacks, and various special moves. It’s hardly the most complex fighting game to come down the line (I’m looking at you, BlazBlue and Dead or Alive), but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Voice acting is top-notch, character designs are spot-on, and the story is pretty damn compelling. I’d rate it almost perfectly, except for one glaring issue.

I have one major complaint about Injustice, and it applies to the story mode. While you have a wide range of characters to play as, especially in standard fighting modes, story mode only includes one female character. Wonder Woman is the only female character you play while in the story mode, and her character is placed in a less-than-ideal scenario. Story mode places her playable portion near the very end of the game. She has three story mode battles instead of the typical four (or more) given to the other characters. And finally, two of her three battles take place against other female characters, including a mirror universe version of herself. Injustice takes great strides to establish itself as a strong fighting game with a great roster of characters, but the story falls flat at including this level of equality. It’s worth a playthrough, but keep in mind that Netherrealm Studios could have done a better job of implementing more of DC’s female characters. Raven, Killer Frost, Catwoman, Hawkgirl, and Harley Quinn are all fought against, and Zatanna and Batgirl are available as downloadable content, so the overall roster isn’t lacking. You’ll still find plenty of DC’s ladies kicking ass and taking names in tournaments, but the plot really needed to showcase more of them as active heroes.

In October 2005, a video game was released that pushed the limits of the Playstation 2, a console then in the last years of its supported life. That game was Shadow of the Colossus. I never owned a PS2, and so I never directly encountered the game in its original run. Recently, however, my girlfriend received a PS3, and so I’ve been delving into the console’s library via my library. It turns out that a couple of years ago Shadow of the Colossus was given the high-def treatment for a PS3 re-release. I hope that you’ll all forgive my not writing much over the last week, because my free time has been devoured by this gorgeous game. 

Jaw-dropping.

This is the first enemy you encounter.

You play as Wander, a young man who has journeyed to a forbidden land to resurrect a girl named Mono. Your only companion on this journey is Agro, your loyal horse. Upon arriving in a temple, Wander speaks to a being of great power who offers to revive Mono. In order to do so, Wander must destroy the sixteen statues that line the temple, but it is impossible for him to do so directly. Instead, he must seek out and defeat the sixteen colossi represented by each statue.

As the writer over at New Gamer Nation so eloquently said, “It was and still is an awe-inducing game, littered with memorable moments from start to finish due to its grand scale and design.” The first foe, Valus, pictured above, is by no means the largest of the sixteen colossi that our protagonist, Wander, sets out to defeat. Each colossus is a unique puzzle to solve, combining platforming elements with combat.

There is an unshakable feeling of loneliness throughout the game, emphasized by the soundtrack and the sheer scale of the world, empty but for the colossi (and a scattering of lizards and birds). A somber tone pervades the entire game, and I felt a true sense of awe and sorrow as each colossus fell by my hand. I won’t say anything regarding the rest of the plot, but I will say this: I have never been so emotionally invested in a video game. What Wander is willing to do for Mono’s sake brought me to tears.

If you own a PS3 (or a PS2, and you can snag the original version), you owe it to yourself as a gamer to play Shadow of the Colossus. Trust me.

Some time back, I’d mentioned that I was looking forward to the eventual release of J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. Turns out I had very good reason to be excited. I wrapped up the final chapters of the book about an hour ago, and I have not felt such a powerful emotional response to a book in a long time. Bittersweet is the best word to describe it, but then, the novel is set in a far more realistic world than Rowling’s other works.

Rowling’s novel is set in the fictional town of Pagford, a seemingly ideal English village where a seat on the local parish council is the highest life achievement to which many aspire. The parish council is about to deal with several major issues, including a low-income housing development that tarnishes Pagford’s image (The Fields) and a local addiction clinic with a questionable success rate, called Bellchapel. Due to a deadlocked council, it seems that neither problem will be sufficiently resolved when the unthinkable occurs.

On his wedding anniversary, Barry Fairbrother, parish council member and longtime supporter of the Fields and Bellchapel, suffers a brain aneurysm and dies, leaving his seat on the council open in a casual vacancy. The story is primarily character driven, with reactions to Barry’s death serving as motivation for most. In the wake of Barry’s passing, Pagford splits into three main groups. We are privy to the perspectives of the pro-Fielders and their staunch opponents as well as the teenagers who are caught up in the conflict. Barry’s death means that an election will have to be held to fill his seat on the council, and each side strives to arrange for someone who shares their views to be appointed. The buildup to the election sends ripples through the community, as no one is fully prepared for the revelations that will rise to the surface. Unrequited love, racism, drug addiction, teen sex, and dirty politics are only the beginning in this unflinching look at small towns and modern life. Narrative shifts from character to character in a manner akin to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, allowing Rowling to place us inside the heads of girls who are being bullied at school, heroin addicts who are being threatened with the loss of their children, corrupt businessmen who live with the constant fear of being caught, and more. Barry’s death shatters the veneer of Pagford, and life there will never be the same.

Rowling’s book is a drastic departure from her earlier writing, and I have to say that it’s a great step for her. Whether she continues along similar lines in future books is uncertain, but she has crafted a wonderful exploration of the sides of humanity that many writers are afraid to examine. The Casual Vacancy is intense, and certainly not for the faint of heart, but I loved it. It’s a damn good novel. I would highly recommend that you give it a read, but be aware that, like life, it’s rarely pretty.

Pictured: A wonderful representation of the town of Pagford. Seemingly uninteresting but hiding one hell of a story.

Pictured: A wonderful representation of the town of Pagford. Seemingly uninteresting, but hiding one hell of a story.

 

Over the weekend, my girlfriend and I took the opportunity to catch a couple of the latest theatrical releases. First up on the schedule was the latest Bond film, Skyfall.

Caught up in development hell (primarily caused by a bankruptcy filing two years ago), this film has been four years in the making. Franchise fans can rest at last, knowing that every day of waiting has been worthwhile. Daniel Craig is back as James Bond, his third film as Agent 007. The ever-graceful Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as James’ boss, M, making her seventh appearance in a Bond film (a role she first assumed alongside Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in Goldeneye in 1995). Starring as the antagonist of Skyfall is Javier Bardem. Bardem brings an eerie boyish energy to the role of Raoul Silva, a computer hacker with a dark connection to M.

Skyfall’s release marks the fiftieth anniversary of the film series, and I can’t imagine a more perfect present to mark the occasion. Daniel Craig’s performance is emotional and sincere as the movie’s plot forces Bond to revisit his past and secure MI6’s future in a rapidly changing world. When hacker and cyberterrorist Silva attacks the security agency’s headquarters, James must return to England to protect M, who is now facing queries and pressure from oversight organizations. Can 007 succeed in a world where a man can “do more damage on [his] laptop in [his] pyjamas than [Bond] can do in a year in the field”? Is everything as black and white as it seems? Bond travels around the world, from England to Macau, leaving no beautiful woman unseduced and no martini undrunk, and he does it all with impeccable fashion, but as Silva chases M and Bond chases Silva, there’s no telling who might get caught in the crossfire.

Skyfall had a lot to live up to, given the delay and the hype that always surrounds a new James Bond film, and the script and cast do not disappoint. Neither do the breathtaking visuals, fast car chases, intense action sequences (Craig has always been a more physical Bond, as he proved in his free-running intro back in Casino Royale), and beautiful score (headlined by Adele’s “Skyfall” theme). Ladies and gentlemen, break out the suits and cocktail gowns and dust off your martini glasses. Bond is undeniably back.

After braving the cold of a November evening in Colorado to make a trip to the nearby brewery (delicious local stout was had, as was, of course, a martini), we returned to the theatre for the second film of the evening, Wreck-It Ralph.

Wreck-It Ralph is the latest animated feature from Disney, and it is a wonderful tribute to video game lovers everywhere. The film is set inside an arcade, where some games come and go, but others, like the (sadly fictional) Fix-It Felix Jr. remain popular decades after their release. Ralph is the villain of Fix-It Felix Jr., and as such, he spends his days climbing to the top of an apartment building (built over his bulldozed forest home) to destroy it, threatening the homes and lives of the Nicelanders until Fix-It Felix Jr. can come to the rescue with his magic hammer. When the arcade closes for the night, however, Ralph and the other video game characters are free to gather in the Game Central Station, a massive terminal where the characters can mingle, have a beer at Tapper’s, or pass through the power cables into other arcade cabinets.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of his game, Ralph leaves a support group (hosted by Clyde) after hearing from other villains, and realizing that he’s not thrilled with the idea of remaining a villain. After crashing a party thrown by the Nicelanders in Felix’s honor, Ralph sets off to a first-person shooter to win a medal, believing that becoming a hero in another game will earn him respect. While initially somewhat successful (Ralph does get a medal), his quest is derailed when he accidentally ends up in the racing game Sugar Rush. The childish Vanellope Von Schweetz steals Ralph’s medal, and working alongside her is the only way for Ralph to get it back. Unfortunately, Ralph’s game-jumping could spell disaster for his own game (what happens when the villain doesn’t show up for work?) and potentially the entire arcade.

Wreck-It Ralph is a fun ride, filled with great cameos and background events taken from the long history of video games. You’ll find yourself cheering for Ralph from the get-go, and learn that being a bad guy doesn’t necessarily make you a bad guy. The animation is phenomenal, as we get to see the evolution of gaming graphics from 8-bit to high definition (animators apparently had the most trouble making certain characters move jerkily, having trained their whole careers to strive for fluid motions). The voice acting is spot-on, with John C. Reilly as Ralph and Sarah Silverman (in what may be her most sincere and heartwarming role to date) as Vanellope, and the soundtrack includes catchy 8-bit-inspired tracks by Buckner and Garcia (of Pac-Man Fever fame) and Owl City. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be wishing you could put another quarter in the machine and do it all over again.

House of Leaves is an editor’s nightmare.

I love it. It’s a jumble of narratives, strange font choices and jarring shifts between them, footnotes that ramble on for several pages, and pages that suddenly switch direction as the labyrinthine house that serves as the main location for the book.

It is riddled with grammatical errors, and seems utterly nonsensical to anyone who picks the book up and flips through it, hoping to find some semblance of sanity within the pages. In short, it is everything that a novel about an eldritch abomination should be.

I recently finished reading the book, and I must say that while it was one of the most dense reads of all time, it was incredibly satisfying to be able to put the book down and know that it was complete. There’s nothing beyond the text whatsoever. There is nothing behind me, growling in my ears now that I’ve completed the book. 

In short, read the book if you’re looking for psychological horror. It’s not a quick read, but it will definitely make you think.