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Val Kyrie (West Yorkshire, UK)

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Slum Online
Slum Online
Price: £2.98

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One-hit Wonder?, 3 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Slum Online (Kindle Edition)
Like most of the people who read "All You Need Is Kill", I decided to try "Slum Online" because I wanted to see if the author was capable of writing more than one book that was actually any good. As a casual gamer (the type who will binge-play computer games every now and then without affecting RL [Real Life]), I thought something like this would appeal to me as I like playing beat-em-ups myself and can understand why someone would consume their free time trying to be the best at a specific game.

In the story, our protagonist Etsuro plays an online RPG called Versus Town, where players go to fight with others around the country in order to win first place in the annual fighting tournament. Unfortunately, a mystery player known as Ganker Jack starts challenging the top four players of the game and beats them one by one. Etsuro, in a bid to discover who this Ganker Jack is, eventually draws the player into a fight that will decide once and for all who is the best in Versus Town.

While the writing is consistent, and, on occasion, quite humorous, what really lets the narrative down is the moment we switch from RL to in-game scenery, Due to the way that Versus Town is designed, there is very little variation in the gaming environment in comparison to what the author so aptly describes for RL; therefore, whenever the author goes back to detailing scenes with Etsuro and his girlfriend or other scenes where Etsuro inhabits a city landscape, the narrative distinctly comes to life, which makes me feel reluctant to read in-game parts of the novel.

I think another reason for this is down to the fact that the fight scenes aren't very captivating as a whole.- they're just a list of button combinations. Although it's easy enough to visualise what the characters are doing in-game (more so if you're familiar with beat-em-up gaming), you don't feel like you're connected to the action at all and it gets incredibly tiresome, reading all of these fights that mean absolutely nothing. And it's the same as well with the constant reference to sound FX. I know the author is trying to portray what it's like in the head of a gamer, but it's not really like that, even if you're hardcore! There used to be times where I all ever did was play computer games, but I never once went outside and saw my neighbours as NPCs or imagined a health bar floating over my head or disengaging with the real world to the point that even the sound of birds singing could only be described as sound FX! That isn't a realistic portrayal of gamers, and the author seems kind of juvenile with his approach, thinking a university student would have such a stunted imagination...

While I liked the relationship Etsuro has with the 'girlfriend' (can't remember her name now), their relationship receives little to no decent emotional development. I don't think a clever girl like her could endure a relationship where all they do is sit together in lectures and take notes, then drag each other around the city looking for blue cat graffiti. Fair enough if such a relationship can exist, but I needed something more concrete than what I was getting from Etsuro in Versus Town, especially since he barely explored the one friendship he had with Jun in Hokkaido (must say that was better handled in the bonus chapters) and doesn't bother to form meaningful relations with other players.

Like other readers commented, the novel touches on some issues without fully exploring them and I think the whole argument between whether to invest in the real world or retreat into gaming could have been so much more. I know Etsuro pulls himself back from becoming a shut-in like Jun, but how did he come to this rationalisation? Was there something out there that meant a little bit more than simply staying inside and playing that computer game? Jun himself expresses envy and amazement at how someone like Etsuro can still function as a top-class fighter without compromising RL commitments. So why didn't the author delve more into that and bring us full circle?

After reading "All You Need Is Kill", I'm extremely disappointed with "Slum Online" and kind of wish I'd returned it instead of reading on in the hopes it would slowly get better instead of steadily getting worse. Perhaps I'm too 'old' for this novel and the audience it was written for, but this novel would probably make a good point of reference for a student in the future, say, two or three centuries from now, in case they don't do gaming at all and want to know what 21st century players were like? I don't recommend "Slum Online" at all, unless you want a really light read that will disappear from your brain shortly after finishing.

As for an insight into Japanese culture? Er, no. Try actually visiting the country or talking to a few Japanese. This novel will only mislead you!


The Big Sleep
The Big Sleep
Price: £3.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars i would rather be asleep than read this, 6 April 2014
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This review is from: The Big Sleep (Kindle Edition)
the crime noir genre has always been, in my opinion, a genre for men & the americans who wrote it. (no surprise, i suppose, since i'm only reading this novel because it's a 'classic', but it's not like i haven't tried to change my mind...) in this story, an ailing millionaire hires philip marlowe to investigate a blackmail attempt, inadvertently leading him to discover more than one against the sternwood family. while i can see why people have praised chandler's narrative & mimicked his cynical style in novels thereafter, it does get, as one goodreads reviewer stated, 'as convoluted as a klein bottle' in the plot department, making leaps of progress which i wasn't able to follow or completely understand. i went with the flow, letting the novel take me wherever it was going, but i wasn't sincerely involved with the thoughts of philip marlowe.

of course, there were moments of cuteness, such as marlowe's banter with the butler & what he says to other characters, but the narrative was too misogynist for my liking, representing a crowd of vacuous beauties with little reason to be crazy or... or... what have you. you may blame this effect on the passage of time & the fact that's just how things were back in the day, so cut the guy some slack, but how do you expect a female reader to enjoy some dame, some broad, some squeeze getting slapped around or being viewed in a purely sexual manner? i'm not saying that chandler can't describe women well - when they're beautiful, they're beautiful & they come across so poetic that it makes you want to stare - yet these women don't behave in ways a real woman would; they get hysterical over nothing & give away kisses like lemonade in summer. and that's without going into how marlowe views homosexuals.

would i read any more raymond chandler? unlikely. the crime noir genre just isn't for me; it's a desert for women. no matter how i laughed at the crime noir sketches performed on "whose line it is, anyway?", i won't be reading another book from this genre any time soon.


The Lincoln Lawyer
The Lincoln Lawyer
Price: £2.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the movie does this book some favours, 6 April 2014
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after watching "the lincoln lawyer", i followed my urge to compare the movie against the book. while the storyline is more or less the same in both, there are subtle differences in the order of events & the way in which the main character mickey haller is represented. in the book, the author has this tendency to over-explain what is happening as the story moves along. being new to the protocols of court & how defence & prosecution lawyers conduct their business with clients, i found the insights offered by connolly interesting & useful, particularly when it came to understanding the bureaucracy which lawyers have to navigate in us law & just why haller was able to achieve what he did.

however, the level of detail can go too far in relation to the characters & their various relationships. sometimes connolly over-explains those as well, removing your potential to emotionally invest in the high stakes haller is facing by filling in the gaps which should be rightly imagined or telling you how to perceive the relationships of the characters. for instance, i thought it was really intriguing to see an on-screen couple who had divorced still maintaining a depth of intimacy you would commonly expect from a couple who hadn't.

alas, your curiosity regarding this set-up in the book is swiftly taken out of your hands, as well as the feelings of haller when mourning the death of his best friend & colleague levin. the author just keeps telling you & telling you exactly how you ought to think & feel about the characters, each & every time! as a result, you are left with a tenuous connection with the characters at moments you really shouldn't. the sense of desperation & anger which haller goes through, for example, was but a puff of air to me; i never felt as if i understood how much his family meant to him.

fortunately for us, the movie makes amends in this area & re-arranges some of the tricks haller pulls so that you can actually appreciate what a wily son of a bee he is. funnily enough, the author praises mcconnaughey's portrayal of the character, saying that the actor had played him spot on. well, isn't that ironic. perhaps connolly could watch this film again & take some notes?


A Time To Kill
A Time To Kill
Price: £3.66

2.0 out of 5 stars a waste of time - watch the movie!, 6 April 2014
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This review is from: A Time To Kill (Kindle Edition)
after watching the film, i wanted to see if the original source was as good as the film because, let's face it, that speech at the end was a triumph. it made your eyes burn, it made you believe that you were part of that time where a white could look down their nose at a black & think 'this is justice'. the speech was so touching that even the actor fell for his own performance, verging on tears as he uttered those powerful lines. so what was in the book that could evoke such emotions? what had grisham written to bring that summation about?

well... nothing. the novel wasn't that great. while i had my complaints about "the lincoln lawyer", i knew NOTHING when it came to reading "a time to kill". this novel is bad. so bad. they say getting published is the hardest part in any writer's career, but how the hell did bozos like grisham get away with such garbage? in his foreword grisham says that the novel was doing so well that they couldn't give it away or get it published in paperback. well, says i, no bloody wonder. this novel is bad & let me tell you why...

"a time to kill" is about a black father who guns down two white men for raping his ten-year-old daughter & how his trial pans out in a county full of white folk. will they convict him or acquit him for taking the law in his own hands? what would they have done if two blacks had raped a blonde, blue-eyed white girl?

for a start, the verdict is a foregone conclusion - you know that carl lee hailey will be acquitted because everyone has said so. like connelly in "the lincoln lawyer", grisham makes the same mistake of getting hung up on the facts & the legalese & never quite addressing the human side of the argument. it's like a symptom for lawyers-turned-writers; they think that writing an essay disguised as a novel will make a good story, but it doesn't. it just gets boring. multiple scenes of characters getting drunk, blacks holding vigils & protests in the streets, buckley arguing with jake & jake arguing with buckley, etc. etc. it all becomes quite tiring, especially the whole if-i-say-the-trial-is-in-three-weeks-then-i've-got-to-write-three-weeks'-worth-of-build-up-or-the-readers-won't-believe-my-characters-exist. WE BELIEVE YOU! YOUR CHARACTERS EXIST!! so what if you didn't write about what the characters did on monday? monday's a crap day for most people! who cares if your characters just flirted in the library or went to a barbeque?! ugh... those scriptwriters just went above & beyond. they read this garbage & somehow found a diamond, but not me! not wasting any more time on this novel. just watch the film already; the book is rubbish!!


Night Shift
Night Shift
Price: £5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars goodnight!, 6 April 2014
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This review is from: Night Shift (Kindle Edition)
"night shift" is a collection of short stories with eerie little twists which are sometimes predictable but otherwise haunting.

the best one, in my opinion, is 'the boogeyman', where a man confesses to a local psychiatrist what happened when the boogeyman came knocking. although you're all familiar with the monster-in-the-closet scenario, something occurs in this story that you didn't think would be possible & as silly as it seems, it surprisingly works; it makes you realise just how ubiquitous the stretch of a monster can be. (see also 'oh, whistle & i'll come to you lad' by m. r. james for a similar feeling).

my other favourites were 'i am the doorway', 'battleground', 'sometimes they come back' & 'quitters inc.'

the first is the only short story with a sci-fi/horror element. an astronaut survives the crash-landing of his spaceship from an orbit of venus, only to discover that there are alien eyes peering up at him from his hands...

the second is strangely humorous: a professional hitman receives a mysterious parcel from the wife of a man he just killed & finds himself in combat with a sentient toy army with real-life weaponry...

the third is about a teacher recovering from a nervous breakdown. he is still haunted by the death of his brother by a gang of bullies & if he isn't mistaken, they're coming back for him too in the guise of transfer students at the school where he works...

the fourth takes quitting cigarettes to interesting extremes. a man determined to quit needs only the right incentive & the program will punish not just the man but also his wife & children...

what i wasn't so impressed with were 'strawberry spring' (the culprit & ending was too obvious), 'night surf' (really boring), 'the man who loved flowers' (made no impression on me apart from the charming descriptions of a man clearly in love), 'the woman in the room' (quite drab & had no suspense or passion whatsoever) & 'the lawnmower man' (became a little too ridiculous in the end for me).

all in all, "night shift" is quite enjoyable, teenage-friendly (in my opinion!) & offers a nice break from the soft, normal stories out there on the bookshelves. i would definitely recommend & will probably read another short story collection by stephen king.


Pity the Living Chapter 02 (Yaoi Novel): The Camera Never Lies
Pity the Living Chapter 02 (Yaoi Novel): The Camera Never Lies
Price: £0.77

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only the second chapter!, 6 April 2014
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I liked the continuation of Masami and Toshita's story from the first chapter. You can see the protagonist setting himself up for a fall with the trouble he goes through trying to seem more interesting in the eyes of his paramour. Unlike Toshita, Masami was never popular at school or considered very good-looking. Now that a photo of him drinking with Toshita has made its way on to Facebook, he can't help but improve on his profile a little by taking time off work just to shoot himself in locations so that any new friends he adds in the evening will think he has a life.

Alas, the reason for my 3-star rating is really down to the publishing format chosen by the author. Although you do receive some excerpts from her other series, as well as an interview with Kanno Sakamoto from "The Gangster and the Samurai" (the main character, in case you haven't read it), I feel like we should be paying for the story in five instalments, not ten. By publishing her story in a trickle, it jars with my ability to empathise with the characters as you don't get to read the full story straight away or build a sufficient bond with them in just one chapter. I'm not saying her writing isn't good enough to bridge the gap, just that enough doesn't happen for me to hang onto this story.

I will probably purchase the next instalment, depending on what the content includes (no more excerpts, please!!) But it would take some convincing to do so if she carries on with this ten-instalment thing...


Pity the Living Chapter 01 (Yaoi Novel): Captain of the Nerds
Pity the Living Chapter 01 (Yaoi Novel): Captain of the Nerds
Price: £0.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Only one chapter!, 6 April 2014
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After reading "The Gangster and the Samurai", I was so impressed with this author that I bought "Pity the Living" straight away. "Pity the Living" is about a young man named Masami, whose job as an IT expert in a company full of women and whose living arrangements with his dementia-suffering mother are slowly sapping his will to live, leading him to consider a trip to Aokigahara (Suicide Forest). Fortunately for Masami, his long-time crush from high school is desperate for a summer job. Placing his death on hold, Masami offers a vacancy at work to Toshita and hopes to win the man over somehow, instead of just stalking him.

The premise for the story is good and you feel for the meek protagonist trying his best to seem cool. However, it's difficult to tell how the rest will pan out as you only get one chapter in this e-book instalment. I think on the author's blog it says this story will be published in ten-chapter instalments of 5,000 words, which I'm not really sure I'm happy to purchase. I've already read "The Gangster and the Samurai" - her most accomplished work, in my opinion - so to have it showcased alongside her other novels in very short excerpts doesn't really justify her publishing format. If the author has already finished this story, then she should publish it in full like she did "The Gangster and the Samurai". She's a strong writer (ignoring the occasional typos and odd punctuation, which I've kindly highlighted through the "Report Content Error" function) and she works with a great artist, so I don't see the point in delaying the other chapters.

Of course, from a marketing perspective, it's the perfect way to bulk up the profits and make it seem like the author is terribly prolific, but the approach here is too obvious and affects my appreciation of what the story is trying to do. Yes, I want to read more (I've purchased the second chapter), but if the author's going to charge me £2 a time instead of something like £6 for the whole novel (like she's doing with her series "Big Deal"), then I'm not too happy to support her.

Would I recommend "Pity the Living", though? Well, yes. I genuinely would. But you'll have to buy the chapters one at a time, it seems. So, for that reason, you might find it difficult to rate your experience higher than 3 stars


Social Skills
Social Skills
Price: £2.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what a socially anxious person has been waiting for..., 9 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Social Skills (Kindle Edition)
Just as Madison Parker Love states on her blog, "Social Skills" really is a 'brilliant portrayal of what it's like to suffer from social anxiety'. Connor Owens, a shy violinist who has just started uni, struggles to communicate with other people and speaks best when he has a violin in his hands. After being asked to tutor Jared, an athlete failing the one class they share, it takes time for Connor to realise that the guy may actually like him a little more than 'just friends', though how would that work if Jared has a girlfriend and isn't ready to come out of the closet...?

I know, I know - gay guy falls for jock and they live happily ever after; it's that kind of story, but it was surprisingly real and also surprisingly painful. What Connor goes through every time he had to socially interact with someone or even think about being social is a trial I know only too well and it's just so good, such a relief, to finally read a story where the main character is going through exactly what I went through for a change. I don't know how many books I've read to reach this moment, but it was a bloody lot... Therefore, if you know someone, or suspect someone you know is suffering from social anxiety (and isn't homophobic), give them this book. Recommend to them this book. It doesn't matter if it's two males falling in love, it's about anyone falling in love, and more importantly, it's about a socially anxious person overcoming their fears to become part of the world.

Only criticism of the book I have (which is not enough to reduce my rating to 4 stars) is the fact that the author has no idea how to implement blond/blonde. If Sara Alva is reading this, I would like her to acknowledge that the correct usage for blond/blonde is this: 'blond' is for a male with blond hair; 'blonde' is for a female with blonde hair. It's a French word and the French language has gender-sensitive words. So, please, for the love of all writing, please get this right from now on!!


Strange Meeting
Strange Meeting
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "But I'm here because I'm here because I'm here!", 14 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Strange Meeting (Kindle Edition)
Finally, the Kindle version has been published! I initially read this novel as part of WW1 studies for English Literature and decided to re-read the story which has haunted me ever since.

We begin with John Hilliard, a restrained soldier currently on convalescence from the Front and how he feels out of place in the domestic, peaceful settings of his once familiar home. Communicating with his family is hard; it is difficult to convey what is truthfully occurring beyond the British newspapers and he wants more than anything to return to the Front where everything is simple, understood by other veterans.

Among the new faces introduced to Hilliard's battalion is that of David Barton, a slightly younger man who freely shares his feelings and opinions with the others. Untouched by the trauma of war and the misery it breeds, Hilliard and his comrades are drawn towards Barton - and Hilliard more so, when he suddenly finds an outlet for his roiling emotions, as well as a friend he will cherish for life.

Although many readers have criticised the narrative for its distant emotions, I felt that the novel was just right, precisely measured, in the way it portrayed the characters and described the obscenities of war. At times it does become stiff with its constant use of affirmatives ("yes"), but the emptiness of the people walking through such vivid landscape is painfully clear to the reader who is struggling to know who they are.

I don't believe, like some, that this novel is about a gay romance. I had my suspicions when I read this novel ten years ago, back as a student, but now, as an older, and hopefully wiser, adult, I see this friendship between Hilliard and Barton as strictly that: a friendship. In stressful times, the unlikeliest people come together and share their thoughts and emotions, and just because two men happen to do this in a war does not mean that the two of them are closet homosexuals. As a person similar to Hilliard, I can understand how such friendships can come about with people like Barton. If you keep things to yourself because you have nothing in common with others or feel that they won't understand what you mean, and you suddenly find a Barton willing to listen, to tease you out of your shell, and still stick around, despite your social awkwardness, then of course you will feel like Hilliard is feeling. But that isn't gay!

Wholeheartedly, I would recommend this story to anyone with an interest in WW1, though it isn't a historic account by any means; it is merely a representation.


First Against the Wall (Administration Series Book 6)
First Against the Wall (Administration Series Book 6)
Price: £6.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Best of the bunch so far, 2 Dec 2013
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I am currently on the seventh book, and while I haven't (yet!) reviewed all the books I've read beforehand, I just had to say that "First Against the Wall" in the Administration series is THE BEST instalment of the story so far.

The story begins with Toreth lying cuffed in the dark, injured and wondering if the resisters are going to kill him. Despite the Administration's attempts to quell seditious activity, the resisters have somehow managed to infiltrate their once loyal ranks and slaughter a significant number of I&I personnel. Resisters just want the whole structure to change, to get rid of the so-called justice being meted out in cells where citizens are tortured into making confessions. For para-investigators like Toreth, it is merely a trial where the only clear outcome appears to be execution or running away before they hunt you down.

For me, the murky world in which the characters operate has been described in enough detail to satisfy the story and act as a general background, but I have always been waiting for something like this to happen, something far bigger than just the Administration getting its own way. In the sixth book, Francis develops a thrilling account of what Toreth and the others must go through to ensure their familiar world does not fall apart. To balance the practicality of Toreth is the more human perspective of Sara, whose traumatic experience of what was done at I&I demonstrates how important it is to survive, even if it means risking all you have to stay where you are. Francis writes fluently, logically, and her world springs to life in the only way mist can weave through a garden - I just enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel, even if I wished for something more from the world around me and the rest of the characters.

However, there is so much more to this series than simply getting down to the nitty-gritty details of building new worlds. Where previous stories have gently expanded on Toreth and Warrick's relationship, separating work (the novels) from play (the novellas; short stories), "First Against the Wall" takes a serious look at the fragility of Toreth and his fear of commitment. What is hinted throughout the series is now brought into the open rather viciously by someone who has nothing left to lose. In seeing the ordeal and the impact it is has on the precious little confidence which Toreth desperately grasps in the first place, we come to understand the depth of Toreth's fears and the extent to which they can destroy his trust and love for Warrick.

Despite thinking their relationship would break at the 'typical' points in any dramatic fiction (infidelity, staggering rudeness, and so on), Francis treats us instead to the 'traditional' manner in which all things can burn and come crashing down. Without spoiling the finale for anyone, I just want to say that she does it so, so well, and though I spent parts of this series not feeling much at all for one reason or another (not necessarily the author's fault, by the way), I suddenly found myself, at a certain moment, brimming with tears because I just got; I just got what Toreth was feeling at a fundamental level and I didn't even think that I ever would. It's like one of those movies you watch with complete apathy, only to turn on the waterworks because of one particular scene for no reason you can possibly explain. It's incredible, believe me.


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