Books Gave Way To Games

We’re about half-way through 2021. So I figure it’s a good time to check on my annual reading challenge. I set the bar at the bottom, one book per month for a total of 12. So how am I doing so far? I’m sitting solid at one. Which is better than zero. Yeah, I’m not gonna make my goal this year. But it’s not for lack of stories, oh no. I’ve been reading plenty of fiction…through video games. True, that doesn’t count, really. Yet I’m getting my escapism either way. So there’s that.


There are many books on my to-read shelf. Good ones. But I’m focused on my backlog — all the games on my to-play shelf. And the ones I love most are role-playing games, the kind that devour time. If I were rocketing to Mars on a months-long journey, I’d take RPGs instead of books.

RPGs, the best ones, have engrossing stories. And text. Lots of text. I read it all, even though these days, most of the dialogue is spoken by voice actors. So I’m “reading” fiction, sure. But as mentioned, I know it’s not the same as a book, which makes the imagination conjure every sight and sound in a story. But I’m cool with that.

Maybe I could squeeze a good read into my schedule, at least a short one. But I don’t think taking only one hour a day for reading would work out too well. I’d be stretched too thin, like the last sliver of ice in tea. No, I prefer a simpler to-do list, one focused on a stack of RPGs to grind through with glee.

I’m now about 62 hours into Dragon Quest XI S on my Switch — a superb RPG, one of the best. And based on average play-throughs (main game plus extras), that means I’ve clocked around 2/3s of the game. I estimate it’s a 100 hour affair. Seriously, that’s 50 2-hour movies for just $45 (the price I paid at Walmart). I doubt $45 worth in books would get me 100 hours of reading.

All that said, I’m sure I’ll return to book reading. It will likely occur when a new must-read book debuts. I also can’t escape the general doctrine that book reading is a healthier endeavor for the mind than gaming. And sometimes, I just feel like reading a simple short story in a book. Until such time, my RPG backlog beckons. So I’ll keep mashing those buttons.

2021 Reading Challenge Accepted

Howdy, y’all. A new year, a new annual reading challenge. As usual, I’m sticking with my one book per month goal at a minimum, so 12 books to read this year. And I’m happy to say I just finished my first one! So I’m on track. Speaking of, this first bit of fiction is called, Cutting The Track, by Cheri Baker.


Fresh off the digi-press, the book was released last week, January 22nd, on Amazon’s kindle. I pre-ordered it…and did not read it on my kindle! Instead, I devoured this one in the kindle app on my iPhone phablet. And despite the lack of e-ink, my eyes did not bug out of their sockets. Whad’ya know? I decided to move from the kindle to Apple’s Books app anyways because, well, it’s Apple! Call me a fanboy. But that’s another story.

Cutting The Track is number four in the Kat Voyzey series, a cozy mystery genre. The series is one of several I’ve read by Cheri Baker. Like all of them, Cutting The Track is a quick read. I’ve come to love that about Baker’s short yarns. Chapters are brief and to the point, allowing for fast sessions in-between life-tasks and to-dos. Also, it’s easy to read just…one…more…chapter!

A cozy mystery is cozy because it typically avoids things like sex scenes or graphic gore. This one’s cozy-enough. It contains some expletives and suggested sex scenes (no real details). And there’s nothing violent or grotesque. I’m not one who can stomach a real murder mystery, and I generally don’t like horror.

The writing is tight, but not too much. Settings, action, and characters are all described well without being verbose or flowery. There’s good character development, and the overall pacing is done well. Dialogue is natural, it flows and isn’t forced. Action scenes are fitting, not overdrawn.

The story (without spoilers) is believable. The roller-derby theme was interesting but not ground-breaking. The video gaming references, for this geek, were sweet! The mystery part, though, might be not-so-mysterious (more on this at the end).

Kat Voyzey is a new private investigator. Being new at her job, the story rightly depicts her lack of skill and confidence at points. In turn, it also shows Kat’s character grow in her new role as a PI.

I really appreciate how the story, written in the first person, interjected Kat’s internal struggles. More than once, she wrestles a bit with the ethics of her job that requires some level of privacy invasion. Other weighty issues or themes include sexual harassment, trust, and justice. I think these are all treated well within the context of the story as its events unfold.

There’s some nice juxtaposition too, intentional or not. Without giving anything away, on one hand, a gross character turns out to have some redeeming quality, however small. But on the other hand, a polite character hides debilitating traits. This goes to show that, however trite, you can never judge a person’s character at face value; there’s always more beneath the surface.

This is something I like about Baker’s stories. I have a tough time deciding if they’re more plot driven or character driven. She has a knack for writing true-to-life characters, not mere cookie-cutter stereotypes.

The story has a flare of girl-power to it, which isn’t a bad thing. But the reason I gave this Kat Voyzey book 3 stars instead of 4 is because of the change in Kat’s character with her new PI role.

In the first three books, to me, Kat’s most endearing qualities were her spunk and somewhat clumsy awkwardness. And she was even more of “the underdog.” She had a different job with different demands or restrictions, which affected her character.

But now that she’s a PI, she seems more serious. In fact, she kind of started to resemble Jessica Warne, the MC from Cheri Baker’s other fiction series, Emerald City Spies. That one has a darker tone. Kat Voyzey’s stories have been more light-hearted, but book 4 felt less so.


Overall, I liked reading this book, and I will be glad to read a 5th one in the series. I’m interested to see Kat’s career grow. But I hope the next one will focus more on the mystery.

While the denouement of book 4 was on par for Baker’s writing, meaning nicely done, the mystery itself was weaker this round. There were different leads to follow up, different suspects to scrutinize, and dead-ends. But it lacked a good twist or surprise ending. Not great, but certainly not a deal-breaker.

If you want a good read, you won’t go wrong with Cutting The Track. It’s got fun parts, touches on meaningful themes, has interesting characters, and is easy to jump-in and read through. Even if you haven’t read the first three books, Kat Voyzey book four is like a fresh start in the series. I recommend it.


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Review Of The Case Of The Lady In The Luggage

All Aboard

When you go on a cruise, you expect fun and relaxation. Not murder. But for Ellie Tappet, well, it’s truly a mystery why death always finds a cozy life around her. So it is in this 4th book, The Case of the Lady in the Luggage. Once again, Ellie’s sleuthing and relationship skills take charge. Whodunnit this time? Here’s my 99.9% spoiler-free review.

Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Story And Atmosphere

If you’ve read any of the previous Ellie Tappet books, you know what to expect here. It’s all good clean amateur detective work. No horror, nothing graphic or lewd, no cussin’. This story is about as comfy and cozy as can be for a murder mystery. And as always, I love how light and quick it is to pick up and read, especially in bite-sized pieces.

Want to breeze through a weekend while avoiding bad reports from the news media in real life? Easy! Grab this book and you’re cruisin’.

The story is also a wholesome one since it focuses more on Ellie’s relationships than previous stories in the series. I thought it was the huggiest of all – there are hugs happening almost every chapter it seems. It makes for an uplifting mood, something totally worth escaping into.

There’s also more drama in this story to accompany the cozy mystery. One character from the past, Violet, has quite a bit of relational baggage, which plays into the plot and keeps things interesting.

Character Developments

Among the several returning cast members, Ellie’s story-arc is best. Her character is challenged as she has more authority than before and must balance between taking charge and being overbearing. She also shows new open-minded growth, learning to work with people who are different from her. It brings a good level of maturity to the story.

There’s also levity and cuteness with a little girl aboard, Clara. She’s a precocious karate kid – don’t cross her! Her presence punctuates the story with glee.

Another new character, who I really liked, was a British guy named Julian. His was a refreshing personality. The writing of his dialogue really brought him to life and was very well done. I’d enjoy seeing him in future stories as he brought nice contrast to the returning characters.

So, yeah, I’d say this story is more character driven than plot driven.

The Mystery

Early on, I thought I had a clue as to whodunnit. As usual, I was wrong. Like the first three Ellie Tappet novels, you can expect this one to offer clues or info along the way that may or may not be obvious and will keep you guessing.

I must admit that one of the main antagonists, Murray the Magician, made me think that some elaborate illusion would be key to unraveling the story’s secrets: the who and why and how of the murder. But nope; I was tricked.

In the end, while loose lips sink ships, in this story, they keep things afloat. Want the truth to come out? Use alcohol. Works every time.

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of Cheri Baker’s writing is the wrap-up at the end. Story-arcs, relationships, and the various plots are always tied-up with a nice bow. Closure is satisfying and complete. There’s heart in it, not just duty bound “i” dotting and “t” crossing.

Summary

Overall, The Case of the Lady in the Luggage was a delightfully easy story to enjoy; it made for a relaxing weekend.

I read the novel on my iPhone in the Apple Books app. It was a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC). You can purchase a retail copy, now available.

This cruise ship cozy mystery is a recommended bit of escapism. And now’s a great time to read this short book for your annual reading goal. Even with busy holidays, this one’s easy to pick up and get into.

Rating on goodreads: 3 stars.

For more of Cheri Baker’s books, check out her website here.


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Ready For Ready Player Two

This is interesting. Over the Summer, I read many books – ‘twas a season of readin’. Then I turned to role playing video games for stories – gaming! Now these two forms of escapism are coming together in another way: Ready Player Two.

A new book by Ernest Cline releases in just a few weeks, on November 24, 2020. Ready Player Two is a sequel to Ready Player One, which spawned a movie that, somehow, I’ve yet to watch.

In case you missed it, the story in book one is heavy on video gaming, virtual reality, and 1980’s nostalgia. Fun, sci-fi, action…what’s not to like?

The big question in anticipation is, will book two be as good as the first?

If nothing else, it’s solid escapism to look forward to. We’ll wait and see. I have already pre-ordered my kindle copy and will likely post a review here, on goodreads, and Amazon.

With the holiday season kicking off next month, I think this new fun book will be a great start! Check out Ready Player Two on goodreads. Some put it in the genre LitRPG. Like, a role-playing game…in a book?! NICE!

I must say, how can I not be a fan of the author? He’s a full-time geek, and he lives in my state of Texas. From his bio on goodreads,

“Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.”

goodreads

Are there any other books coming out soon that you’re looking forward to? Share below!


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Power Play – A Review

Escapism has many forms, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this next one. With the privilege of a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC), I thoroughly enjoyed the book, Power Play, by Cheri Baker. Swiping the e-pages as fast as my little brain could absorb the words, I hit 100% in just over a few days. And what follows is my 99.9% spoiler-free review. I paused my video game for this.

Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Story

This second book in the Emerald City Spies trilogy, Power Play, is cold yet sparkling spy-craft. It takes the groundwork laid in book one and builds a solidly written plot driven story.

It’s set in a drizzly cut-throat Seattle business scene. In this noir-ish book, the ambitious assistant, Jessica Warne, sees more of the truth about her prestigious yet ruthless job, a truth that hurts more than she could imagine.

Yes, there are surprises and secrets!

Her employer, The Duke Agency, promised the world, yet her world begins to close in. Will Jessica grow, will she even survive, in the shadow of a shady business? Are the rewards worth the costs? 

Relationships are strained, bent, or in extreme cases broken. Familiar people from book one are here: Taylor, Andy, Cody, Carma, Lisa, Dana to name a few. There are new victims or victors too, like Wyatt and Priya.

Jessica, a.k.a Dollface, wrestles with lies versus discretion, subterfuge or subversion, and industrial or corporate espionage. Besides utilizing cool surveillance technology, Jess plays on emotions and hones her manipulative technique. But she also gets played and manipulated herself.

The city of Seattle does not play fair.

Emerald City Spies book one, The Assistant, was filled with tension, which never felt properly or fully released. Book two, Power Play, has tension, but there’s more stress and duress too. It feels like book one’s tense set-up is expressing itself in book two with higher stakes and greater risks.

If The Assistant was a yellow light of caution, Power Play is a red light of danger.

One of my first thoughts early on: you must read book one, The Assistant, to fully understand and really appreciate what Baker has written in book two, Power Play. Jessica and the supporting characters make more sense and have more meaningful impact; I can’t imagine liking Power Play as much as I did had I not first read The Assistant.

Also, there’s a pivotal plot point in book one that plays heavily into Power Play.

What I like about Power Play is Jessica Warne’s character because she shows much more strength. Her will and resolve feel more deeply settled. She’s not only ambitious but also resilient.

My eyes widened when I saw Jessica make a dramatic decision late in the story. You feel for her and more! It’s a raw, gripping scene, visceral in the way you see the emotional manifest in the physical.

Cody’s character has grown too. Before, he felt like mere tech and moral support. But his role now has more heart as he protects Jessica.

The Writing

Power Play is a well written book on its own, better than the first. If you read only one of the two books, I would recommend it over The Assistant. The pacing and plotting feel much better this time. The writing feels tighter, not wasting words.

It’s written in the third-person, with many short chapters you can snack on during a break. They’re like chips; it’s easy to say, “Just one more!” With a clear schedule, you could comfortably read the book over a weekend. (For ambiance, this story may best be read on a rainy day with a cup of coffee.)

Power Play is more mature than The Assistant, which made it more enjoyable to me. If it was a movie, book two would be rated stricter than book one. So maybe PG-13 over PG.

Throughout, the dialogue is clear, punchy at times, and believable. The story has good action scenes too. More than once, I was hooked to see how Jessica would pull off some tricky maneuvers.

There are memorable scenes, like the office party and the house party. They offer more interpersonal tension compared to Jessica’s solo spy scenes in an empty building. In all cases, the look and feel of the environment is described well enough so you are fully immersed. That good writing makes good escapism.

The book isn’t 5-stars to me because two chapters on familial connection and scheming felt boring or necessary. And the ending of the story lacks full closure and denouement because – cliffhanger! But that’s the nature of a trilogy, so it’s expected.

But yeah, I am for sure gonna grab book three when it’s available. 

Goodreads rating: 4 stars!

Thanks for reading my review; now go read Power Play!

Book release date: September 10, 2020.


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