Reviews

  • The Worried Man by Lisa M Lilly (Book Review)

    The Worried Man Book Cover The Worried Man
    Q.C Davis
    Lisa M. Lilly
    Mystery
    May 1, 2018

    The night before they plan to move in together, Quille finds the body of the man she loves dead in his apartment.

    Police point to his failed medical career and past alcoholism as evidence of suicide or accidental overdose. His ex-wife agrees.

    Marco’s son insists his father was stable, sober, and excited about his future with Quille.

    Suspicious of the police based on bitter experience, Quille vows to find the truth and help Marco’s son. Using her skills as an attorney and former stage actress, she investigates a world filled with fraud and corrupt Chicago politics.

    The closer she gets to the truth, though, the less likely she is to survive to tell it….

    The Worried Man Book Review

    The Worried Man by Lisa M. Lilly is the first book in a series about Quille/Q.C. Davis, an attorney in Chicago, whose boyfriend commits suicide on the night before they move in together. The book is anchored in Quille’s POV headspace as she mourns her lover, deals with the stress of handling his estate, and holds on to the hope that he didn’t kill himself. She takes up the task of not-so-quietly investigating either what could have triggered his alcoholic relapse–or who staged a potential crime scene to look like a suicide.

    Quille, as a young female attorney, is a very relatable character. She’s copes with the only tools she has– a keen eye for details that just seem off, her knowledge of the legal/political ties that Marco (her boyfriend) may have been tangled in, and her network of friends lending what they can (fellow lawyers and several close friends from her acting days).

    Lilly does a fantastic job showing the frustrating process of Quille’s investigation. Nothing is ever easy! As someone who’s worked in local government, I related to how Quille does her best to keep a smile on her face (despite the deep sadness she’s working through) while navigating red tape and people who don’t particularly feel like helping her out. The Worried Man weaves in a lot of secrets, many that Quille didn’t know about Marco, and we go on a journey as she tries to unravel which of these led to his death. The author demonstrates that no matter how well we know someone, people are complex. There are very plausible reasons why they would try to keep certain details of their life locked away, as Quille discovers.

    I generally stray away from mysteries, because I get frustrated and want to skip to the end! But the pace of The Worried Man, while slow in spots, did keep me engaged. With both a slice-of-life perspective on Quille’s day-to-day and the fascination of watching possible leads rise and fall… Quille’s persistence to find just one more lead left me rooting for her the entire time.

    The Worried Man is perfect for those who love a mystery anchored in reality (malpractice suits, political machinations, legal layers) with a heroine who is complicated, stubborn, smart, and struggles with her pursuit to prove that her boyfriend didn’t leave a loving son and herself behind.

    * * *

    I want granted a digital ARC of The Worried Man in exchange for an honest review. The Worried Man will be released on May 1, 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

    If you would like me to review your book, you can email me or contact me on GoodReads.

  • Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (Book Review)

    Iron Cast Book Cover Iron Cast
    Destiny Soria
    Amulet Books
    October 11, 2016
    336

    In 1919, Ada Navarra—the intrepid daughter of immigrants—and Corinne Wells—a spunky, devil-may-care heiress—make an unlikely pair. But at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, anything and everything is possible. At night, on stage together, the two best friends, whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art, weave magic under the employ of Johnny Dervish, the club’s owner and a notorious gangster. By day, Ada and Corinne use these same skills to con the city’s elite in an attempt to keep the club afloat.

    When a “job” goes awry and Ada is imprisoned, she realizes they’re on the precipice of danger. Only Corinne—her partner in crime—can break her out of Haversham Asylum. But once Ada is out, they face betrayal at every turn.

    Iron Cast Review

    Iron Cast that takes place in an alternate 1919 Boston, where certain creative types (poets, musicians, artists, etc.) are seized by an affliction called hemopathy. Hemopaths are adored and feared. From creating realistic illusions by tricking minds with charged poetic language or even plucking objects out of paintings, the gifts are easily exploited for crime.

    Ada and Corrine are close friends and powerful hemopaths who use their double-edged gift working cons on unsuspecting civilians. They raise funds for the Cast Iron nightclub, a sanctuary for them in an era where their talent has been outlawed. Iron Cast anchors its magic against the majesty and social conflict of its pre-American Prohibition historical backdrop. This strikes especially for Ada, as a young black girl who isn’t afforded the same privileges outside the Cast Iron that Corinne is, hailing from an affluent family.

    I absolutely loved the beautifully indulgent language Soria uses. She make us feel like we’re alongside the characters, feeling their unique talents come to life from the softest poem, to the subtlest shift in appearance, from the loudest performances, to the monstrous illusions (especially in the desperate, dark moments of the story). I found myself buried into the book, captivated by just how much an underground society of artists are willing to risk to to continue their craft even when all odds have been stacked against them.

    While the novel starts slow, the build-up is worth it when the pieces come together. Soria is a fantastic writer and the twists tugged at my heart. The ending was also more satisfying than I anticipated. If you want to dive into a world where artists are infected by magic, working among gangsters and fleeing from a deadly police force, Iron Cast is your read. It weaves a wonderful world of suspense, magic, gorgeous writing, well-rounded female characters, and a few sucker punches along the way.

  • The Shape of Water, Love Unites the Lost (Review)

    The Shape of Water

    I’d been curious about The Shape of Water, but I stayed away from most information about it to keep it a surprise. Last night, I discovered I had won a pair of tickets thanks to Geeks Who Eat! I met up with some other friends who had won passes, then crossed my fingers and prayed that the film would hold up to my expectations.

    I am very, very picky about the movies I see. Allen and I have a tradition as we drive home from screenings; we dissect what we saw in the car on the way home. And, for the first time this year, we left a movie screening completely devoid of a single bit of critique. Nothing about the movie stood out as superfluous. This is one of the few movies I can give a solid recommendation, especially to women, to go see. It works as a del Toro movie, it works as a romance, it works as a movie with a captivating atmosphere and story. Go see it!

    Notes

    • Tone: Dark comedy, tender romance, some disquieting parts.
    • Sex: The romance is passionate and not crass. There is nudity but it’s not for shock-value.
    • Good Ending: Not a typical depressing del Toro ending.

    (further review, minor spoilers)

    Story

    I went in blind, not knowing a lot about the story, but the pacing folded me right into it. Elisa works for a secret government organization and has a hum-drum janitorial job. Her personal life is barely fulfilling and monotonous; she has a best friend, her own place, lovely daydreams, but she’s trapped. Part of her yearns for an escape that she’s not sure she’ll ever find.

    Eventually, one of the labs she cleans acquires a new “asset,” a Creature From the Black Lagoon-esque creature. Long story short, they feel a kinship and start an endearing friendship. When she realizes the officer overseeing the creature wants to dissect it, she decides to risk it all to save him with the help of her friends and a scientist.

    Sexiness/Romance

    A few of my friends joked about fish-dick before seeing it. The intimate scenes did not detract from how beautiful their relationship was. Elisa and the creature has a wonderful chemistry in The Shape of Water and you are genuinely happy for her and not creeped out.

    Art & Design

    The Shape of Water’s creature was emoted incredibly well by Doug Jones when it was injured, frightened, scary, and tender. I was completely astounded by the work on the creature design, which was meticulously executed and absolutely flawless. The world was wonderfully crafted to feel like a modern fairy-tale film. The filmography weaved in dark and unsettling moments, and kept me on the edge of my feet at times!

    Conclusion

    In the end, I would love to see it again just to experience the art direction, characters, nods, and incredible beautiful romance with a twist fairy-tale all over again. 5/5

  • Mafia III: Plain of Jars Review + Meeting the Authors!

    Mafia III: Plain of Jars

    (Don’t read this summary if you want to go into Mafia III: Plain of Jars blind.)

    Mafia III: Plain of Jars

    Teaming up with his CIA handler,  John Donovan, Lincoln Clay leads a secret mission to take down a communist warlord on the edge of the legendary Plain of Jars in Laos. But he can’t do it alone. First, he has to win over the people of the village of Vang Khom, including the beautiful Sho. Then he has to form them into an army that can defeat the warlord’s superior forces, using nothing but his street-honed wits combined with the guerrilla tactics he’s learned in the jungle. Victory seems to be finally within his grasp when he is betrayed by one of his closest allies, leading to a wild chase and an epic confrontation out among the ancient monuments, where his former friend becomes one of the first to discover what grim fate awaits those who cross Lincoln Clay.

    Book Preview

    AKA: How Our Favorite Murder Husbands* Met

    As I’ve already discussed, Mafia III was one of my surprise gaming hits of this past year. It had fantastic writing, fun gameplay, complex characters (Lincoln Clay and John Donovan in particular!), and the political climate (Civil Rights Movement, dealing with racists, etc.) was very topical. I wanted more content, but the game wasn’t well-received due to some minor issues (that were later amended). Which meant fans like myself have been sitting idly by and wondering if there was going to be any additional content beyond the additional DLC (Faster Baby!, Stones Unturned, Sign of the Times).

    I’ve played through the entire game twice (working on a third in the future to get my platinum), and wanted more from the world: What about more war stories that show how Lincoln and Donovan met? Why not some stuff after Lincoln’s canon ending (ruling New Bordeaux with all 3 under-bosses working together)?

    Well, the fandom gods have been merciful and there is a Mafia III book out!

    Meeting the Authors

    Facebook’s creepy algorithm caught wind of my interest and showed me an ad from the official Mafia page that they had a dang NOVEL that had just released! (They’re also doing a giveaway on the publisher’s site, heads up!) On top of that, the book’s authors (Marsheila Rockwell and Jeff Mariotte), were scheduled to attend Tucson Comic-Con as guests! It was like the universe had shined down upon me as a Mafia III fan. 🙂 After confirming on Rockwell’s FB that they would be attending on Sunday (Rockwell and Mariotte are a married author power couple), I made plans to get the book in time to get signed by both of them.

    I made it about 7 chapters on the way down to Tucson (my husband was driving), just at the part where Lincoln meets Donovan. Using Brick Cave Media‘s awesome booth as a landmark, I made my way around the corner. Marsheila was there, and told me Jeff would be back soon. I said that I had the Mafia III book for them to sign, and she was excited to see it. She explained that they hadn’t received their copies from the publisher yet, and my copy was the first one they had seen in the wild. Awesome!

    Meeting the Authors

    Mafia III: Jar of Plains team Marsheila Rockwell and Jeff Mariotte (Photo from Rockwell’s official FB page)

    Great Writing Team to Tackle Lincoln’s Mafia III Prologue Story

    Some authors just kind of sign and let you go on your way without engaging. Jeff and Marcy were the opposite — they were interested to see what I thought about the book so far, as a fan of the game. I, conversely, was really curious about how they got to learn about the world as they wrote the book. How did they research the era, the characters, etc.–and they explained a lot behind the process, from watching the YouTube clips of dialogue and cutscenes to get a feel of the characters and finding more in-depth collective knowledge from the Wiki. They also did a lot of research into the era and military stuff, to cover operating in the middle of the Vietnam war coupled with the Civil Rights Movement at home (which they go into a little bit with Ellis in New Bordeaux).

    It took a few drafts of notes from the liscencer to hash out what direction the book should go. They also explained their take on some of the characters. They wanted Donovan to be more lawful-evil, the way the game highlights his darker moments in the name of “doing it for his country,” and I appreciated that they picked up on that from their research!

    It was just wonderful to know that the book was in good hands and not just rushed through, the way some other video game properties have been handled.

    Mafia III: Plain of Jars Review

    For those who haven’t played the game, Mafia III features a bi-racial protagonist, Lincoln Clay, who returns home to New Bordeaux (the game’s New Orleans) from Vietnam War. Lincoln, the adopted son of the leader of the black mob, goes on a vengeance spree with his war buddy, a CIA operative named John Donovan, after the ruling mafia kills his family and leaves him for dead after a successful heist. Mafia III: Plain of Jars covers how exactly Lincoln made his way through the Vietnam War on a Special Forces team before the game’s events, trying to find a semblance of belonging in a place of death and darkness.

    Mafia III: Plain of Jars kicks off with Lincoln as a private, right in the heat of the action in the jungle and doing what Lincoln does best–thinking fast and acting fierce in the heat of battle. His attitude draws the attention of his superior officer, starting a series of events and actions that gets him special training to run covert ops in a joint DOD/CIA collaboration that starts his friendship with CIA agent John Donovan. As we know from Mafia III, Donovan is the perfect handler and intel man for Lincoln, precisely because he is willing to break rules without a shred of guilt and has no issue helping Lincoln with civil warfare. Mafia III: Plain of Jars expands upon how this relationship developed.

    Impressions

    The story starts a little slow, building upon Lincoln’s POV as he works to gain his footing in Vietnam. For those who aren’t used to war stories, it takes a little adjustment. I was able to pluck some extra Vietnam War knowledge from Allen, whose dad served and flew Hueys. Stick with it! It’s a slow burn as the book works into what propels him to meet and work with Donovan, but once things get rolling the wait is ABSOLUTELY worth it.

    As a fan, there is a kick-off moment that expands upon some game POV that really delighted me. Honestly, after the initial world-building of Mafia III: Plain of Jars, the game tie-in moments are really fun. More like “Oooooh, the authors totally caught that Lincoln tends to do XYZ in game and found a way to expand upon it and make it part of his character development!”

    High Expectations Met

    Honestly, I had high expectations after how solid the writing and characters in Mafia III were, and Mafia III: Plain of Jars was a pleasant surprise.  Game novels can be hit and miss, but the writing flows well and feels well-researched. There are some bits that may seem redundant to veteran Mafia III players, such as some tidbits from Lincoln’s boyhood in New Bordeaux and being raised by Sammy and Father James, but I think it helps the readers who never finished the game or simply want to revisit those integral pieces to Lincoln’s evolution. It was also great seeing those in a new light, and tying them into Lincoln’s experience in Vietnam.

    The only item that appeared random to me was that Ellis (Ellis!) had some POV in the novel. I wasn’t expecting that, but Rockwell explained to me that Ellis was a way of fleshing out the novel with some of the Civil Rights Movement, which played a prominent role of the era and game. The moments are short and sweet, the primary focus of the novel is definitely Lincoln/Donovan.

    Cover Art

    Joe Jusko did a beautiful “pulp cover” style design for the Mafia III: Plain of Jars novel. It also ties into the art book style very nicely!

    Verdict: Highly Recommended

    Remember that excited pit in your stomach when Lincoln survived his coma, went to the burned-out husk of his childhood home, and you thought “oh, man, shit is going to go DOWN” when he pulled out his survival knife and cleaned up for urban warfare? Mafia III: Plain of Jars builds directly off of this. Lincoln has a history the game only showed us glimpses of, through Donovan’s hearing and Lincolns tactics/body language, and we finally get to see more through his own eyes.

    The novel holds up wonderfully for Mafia III fans and those new to the series who like the era/Vietnam war stories, especially for those who want enjoy how Lincoln and Donovan’s friendship developed before the events of the game!

     

    *If you played the game you know why I call them that. 😛 It’s our inside joke as we played.

  • Girls Rule!: 15 Kid-Friendly Comics Starring Bold & Brilliant Ladies

    Want to get a young girl into comics, with heroines that she can relate to?

    Well, look no further! It doesn’t take long to find an awesome series to show young women that girls kick plenty of butt (or use their wits to get out of shenanigans) in comic books!

    Recently, I was asked for recommendations on comics for a five-year-old girl that featured ‘female protagonists “that were fun and had adventures.“‘ Most of the comics I read are for an older audience, so I put an inquiry out and was blown away at fantastic recommendations that many friends shared. It was hard to narrow it down to fifteen, but I finally came up with a list.

    Please note, while this list links to Amazon options, I highly encourage you to shop at your local comic stores instead. Bring your daughters, involve them, and pick up cool swag and other recommendations from the store staff!

    Disclaimer: This list covers a range of young ages. Check it out and make sure what you select fits the bill for your kids. 🙂

    Recommendations (Ordered Alphabetically)

    Brave Chef Brianna

    #1 Brave Chef Brianna

    Brianna Jakobsson works to impress her ailing father, but her only customers are monsters!
    Author: Sam Sykes
    Illustrator: Selina Espiritu

    #2 Courtney Crumrin

    This is a fan-favorite for folks who want to shake some Disney out of their fairytale adventures. Courtney is an isolated outcast at school, but when her parents move in with her Uncle Aloysius she discovers she can do magic.
    Author & Illustrator: Ted Naifeh

    It is also highly recommended that you check out Polly and the Pirates and Princess Ugg, also by Ted Naifeh.

    Ladycastle

    #3 Ladycastle

    What are the women of a fantasy story to do when the king and his men die and are left to fend for themselves? Easy! Take up arms and kick butt themselves.
    Author: Delilah S. Dawson
    Illustrators: Ashley A. Woods, Rebecca Farrow 

    Gotham Academy

    #4 Gotham Academy

    Who doesn’t love the DC ‘verse? Meet Olive, a student at Gotham Academy, a prestigious institution with lots of shenanigans and dark stories lurking before every corner.
    Authors: Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher
    Illustrator: Karl Kerschl

    #5 Jem and the Holograms

    Jerrica Benton is a girl with a secret–she, alongside her besties, transforms into Jem and the Holograms! Yep, a fresh new take on our favorite 80’s cartoon!
    Author: Kelly Thompson
    Illustrator: Sophie Campbell

    Lumberjanes

    #6 Lumberjanes

    Five best friends won’t let supernatural misadventures get in the way of having an amazing summer camp!
    Authors: Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis
    Illustrator: Brooke A Allen

    #7 Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

    Lunella Lafayette is a genius who wants to change the world and finds herself matched up with… well, a giant red dinosaur sent to the present day!
    Authors: Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare
    Illustrator: Natacha Bustos

    Ms Marvel

    #8 Ms. Marvel

    What list would be complete without Ms. Marvel? Kamala Khan is fangirl-turned-superhero in the Marvel Universe.
    Author: G Willow Wilson
    Illustrator: Adrian Alphona

    Nimona

    #9 Nimona

    Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter who aims to prove, alongside her partner-in-crime, that the “good guys” aren’t exactly what they appear to be.
    Author & Illustrator: Noelle Stevenson

    #10 Princeless

    Adrienne Ashe challenges her parents, the King and Queen, and chooses to pursue her own destiny.
    Author: Jeremy Witley
    Illustrator: M Goodwin

    #11 Scary Godmother

    The spooky and whimsical adventures of Hannah Marie and the Halloweeny creatures on the fight-side of her bed!
    Author: Jill Thompson
    Illustrator(s): Various

    Space Battle Lunchtime

    #12 Space Battle Lunchtime

    Earth baker Peony gets the deal of a lifetime when she agrees to be a contestant on the Universe’s hottest reality TV show, Space Battle Lunchtime!
    Author & Illustrator: Natalie Riess

    #13 Spider-Gwen

    In an alternate Spidey-Verse, Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman after being bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker.
    Writer: Jason Latour
    Illustrator: Robbi Rodriguez

    #14 Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

    A girl with the powers of a squirrel who fights crime. What more could you want in a comic?
    Writers: Ryan North
    Illustrator: Erica Henderson

    A Wrinkle In Time

    #15 A Wrinkle in Time

    Yep, that’s right: there is a graphic novel version of this ground-breaking novel!
    Author: Madeleine L’Engle
    Illustrator: Hope Larson

     

    Good luck on your comic hunting! Let me know if you have any other recommendations in the comments. 🙂

  • Mafia 3 Review: A Story of Vengeance in the Bayou

    Short and sweet review: Mafia 3 is surprisingly mature and progressive. A three-hit punch of some of the most fantastic writing, character development, and world building that I have seen in a recent title.

    This is a one-way road, Lincoln, and once you start down it, there ain’t no turning back.
    -Father James

    Why Mafia 3 is My Current Favorite “Underrated” Game 

    Okay, this is the weirdest review I’ve ever had to write, and it’s completely about me, a simple otome-and-adventure-game-playing fangirl, completely adoring freakin’ Mafia 3 by Hangar 13 (published by 2k).

    I have never been overly fond of mobster films or stories. My husband, on the other hand, loves them. So how do I, the fangirl who usually goes for titles in franchises like Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect, and artsy walking sims, end up falling in love with a Mafia game?

    Because this game surprised me in all the right ways. 🙂

    In fact, how did I even get the idea to play Mafia 3?

    My friend Christen first planted the suggestion in my brain, explaining it had a really good story and that it was worth giving it a go. And then my author/history teacher friend, Don, praised the game multiple times on Facebook, especially about its portrayal about racism (and setting racists on fire) in the deep south in ‘68. (Quick shout-out to his book The Token Black Guide: Navigations through Race in America).

    Best Buy had a copy for $16 on sale, Allen gave it a shot, and then when I saw the Collector’s Edition on sale for $40 (a STEAL), I decided to give it a go.

    Okay, so what the heck is Mafia 3 about anyway?

    Long story short: You play the entire game as Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam vet who returns home from war and gets mixed up in a revenge plot.

    (Minor Spoilers) The story unfolds in New Bordeaux, a direct homage to New Orleans. Lincoln’s family (they took him in after he was orphaned) happens to be the leading black gang in New Bordeaux, controlling Delray Hollow’s criminal activity. Lincoln is initially torn when he returns home from war. He’s delighted to see Sammy (his father figure and the leader of the black mob), but wants to move on. He doesn’t feel ready to tell his family, just yet. How do you tell your criminal family that you maybe just wanna have a simple skilled laborer job?

    But Lincoln’s main weakness is his loyalty to his family. When Sammy finds himself in debt with Sal Marcono, the head of the Italian mob and the boss of all the districts, Lincoln volunteers for an impossible heist to clear Sammy’s debt. Unfortunately, Marcano betrays them, killing everyone and leaving Lincoln for dead.

    The only two people Lincoln has left in his life are his local pastor, Father James, who gives Lincoln a place to recover and seek spiritual guidance, and his CIA ops buddy, John Donovan, who offers to help him enact his revenge.

    Leaving Lincoln with an angel and a devil firmly on each shoulder.

    Despite the challenges and the long road ahead, starting with almost nothing but the burned-out bar that Sammy owned, Lincoln is ready. He’s done more than his share of violence in Vietnam, and his experience in warfare enriches the story as he prepares to wage his own war over the districts Sal Marcano owns. Just like he and Donovan did in their ops missions, they’ll chip away at Marcano’s resources until he has nothing left.  

    Sal is a cancer. A leech. The only way to make that right is by killing every cocksucker who’s ever looked at that piece of shit.
    – John Donovan

    Fangirl Impressions

    The main characters are written well and incredibly engaging, but the standouts in the game are definitely Lincoln and Donovan.

    First of all, I would like to raise my arms in the air and praise the developers for putting so much love into all the characters; the underbosses you recruit, the leaders you take down, and many of the side characters. The cutscenes are cinematic with some fantastic mo-cap performances. The voice acting is top notch. Additionally, the characters are deliciously complex; it’s a crime story, and nobody is coming out of this with their hands clean. And the game doesn’t shy away from this fact. But two characters in particular hit just right for my inner fangirl.

    The main character, Lincoln Clay, is A+.

    Lincoln is charming as hell and it’s a blast to play him. He’s not the typical Hollywood black gangster stereotype (Lincoln is bi-racial). He’s a complex character who left me constantly surprised. Lincoln is open-minded, charming, and displays a disarming patience in dealing with racist assholes of the deep south. He’s loyal to his family and friends, and later earns the trust of major gang leaders (while making sure they know he means business if they decide to screw him).

    But then the switch flips. Hangar 13 does a great job of showing us how brutal, efficient, and tactical Lincoln is, and we discover it’s how he was in the war; that he has a gift at controlling the battlefield and getting the job done with overwhelming odds. Lincoln’s life as a soldier and now a rising mob boss work very well in the narrative, and it helps the construction of the tale and why he’s able to pursue a problem in a way that other criminals may not have considered. Especially with some particularly brutal public executions to get his point across throughout the game in a shock and awe scheme. 

    I also loved how he treats groups differently in his kill moves. Racists get stabbed 6 times in the face. Others get a quick throat slash. And for a few ladies I meleed, he punches them in the face before politely laying them on the ground to nap. 😛 Lincoln has a soft side and doesn’t like murdering women (though you can override this and shoot them/knock them over in the street). The gameplay itself adds just the right details to understanding who Lincoln is as a man.

    John Donovan is fantastic as a handler and… well, utter psychopath.

    When Lincoln is nearly killed, he utters one name: Donovan. And immediately, we know that the dude’s going to be fairly important. John Donovan is a product of the CIA, and the one person Lincoln clearly trusts as brother throughout the entire game. Donovan realized Lincoln’s combat skills in classified missions they ran in Vietnam, and for inexplicable reasons (likely how well they operate together), he seems willing to drop everything to swoop in and act as Lincoln’s handler again. Donovan coops up in a nearby hotel room with stolen FBI surveillance equipment. So as Lincoln seems to pave down anyone in his way, it’s Donovan that helps him learn who to target and what their weak point is.

    Donovan is also absolutely fucking nuts. In all the best possible ways. He clearly loves being a tool in war. He convinces himself that he’s just willing to do what it takes to serve his country (and seemingly his best friend, but he takes such deadpan delight in it that it’s really hard not to fall in love with his personality. His voice actor seriously gets major kudos from me for absolutely nailing it. Donovan is the perfect character to act as Lincoln’s “man in the sky,” and provides excellent comedic relief.

    He’s also happy to accept that he and Lincoln are fucked up in their own ways, and are just doing what they have to do.

    It doesn’t shy away from the racism of the era.

    The game has a pretty cool disclaimer before it starts, saying that in an effort to have an accurate time piece, there is going to be a lot of content that is offensive.

    You play a black dude in the south in ‘68.

    Folks are going to do more than yell “nigger” at you.

    I feel that Mafia 3’s treatment of this reality, especially today where there are still countless racist injustices, is a positive over a negative. It acknowledges that racism is an issue, and we know Lincoln would be able to eradicate it, but at the very least we can run over racists motherfuckers with their own confederate flag-waving trucks. In fact, Lincoln has much more violent kill animations with the racist assholes of the Southern Union gang in the game.

    You can even set set racists on fire with molotov cocktails.

    It’s encouraged in a mission and it’s very therapeutic! (AND you get to gun down a KKK rally!)

    The location, music, and all that A+

    New Bordeaux is beautifully crafted, and seizing control of the districts is pretty satisfying.

    While there are flaws in the sandbox of New Bordeaux, is still stands out as its own character piece. The lighting and game rendering suit the landscape, and the districts stand apart. Downtown, suburban, bayou, slums, industrial; everything is there and the era is reflected in every corner, from the roads to the architecture.

    Every district has its own lifeblood, and the game adds an extra layer of complexity as you get to directly decide which of the three underbosses – Cassandra, Vito, or Burke – get to control the districts and rackets within. You can even choose to let one underboss has sway over all the districts, but naturally that’s going to lead to strife and possibly betrayal.

    The soundtrack is gorgeously curated and really enriches the game.

    It’s super satisfying to hear House of the Rising Sun, Paint it Black, or Sympathy for the Devil as I wage war on rival mob members and roll around New Bordeaux. 🙂 I’m very happy I splurged on the Collector’s Edition (which was on sale for $40), which included some actual vinyl records.

    Great DLC content adds to the story

    The DLC is absolutely worth it; if you can afford it, you should get it. I mean, the game’s on sale for $20 at this point, and if you’re lucky the Collectors Edition or the Deluxe Edition can be snagged for dirt cheap too.

    Faster Baby and No Stone Unturned should be be played during the main campaign. Faster Baby allows you to help the game’s equivalent of the Black Panthers in a sundown town, and No Stone Unturned gives a side story with my favorte character Donovan as he tries to stop a former operative who left him for dead.

    Sign of the Times is suited for post-game, and it’s a nice send off because the DLC allows you to (minor spoilers) restore Sammy’s bar. It’s also a gameplay departure, as it walks you through a cult story with some fun murder-investigation mechanics and some freaky-ass scenes.

    Honestly, the game did have some minor flaws (and glitches).

    I wanted more customization for Lincoln. Watch_Dogs 2 is exemplary in how it handles character customization. Lincoln is an awesome character, and I wish I had a ton more to dress him up with to make him look fine as hell as we drove over racists.

    I wanted fast travel. Driving gets old at some points. I mean, this one is a hard one to complain about, because the driving around does flesh out the districts (as you drive from on to another), but after doing that 40 times….

    I wanted more customization for his car. Because there’s no fast travel, you have to drive. I wanted a killer car customization system, and the game’s was a little lacking for me.

    I wanted more variety in side missions. With the Faster Baby DLC, I decided to say “screw it” to the side missions that allowed my district bosses to generate income and just hover around my weed house with MJ.

    Glitches were frequent. I know patching games aren’t easy; I did experience a few graphical glitches, but thankfully it didn’t kill my experience.

    New Bordeaux can feel lifeless at times. Again, I wish the Ubisoft devs on Watch_Dogs 2 could help them flesh out the interactions in the world the way they did for San Francisco.

    If these issues didn’t exist, Mafia 3 would have almost held a GOTY spot in my heart.

    Problematic Content Warnings:

    • Lots of violence. In-your-face-I-have-to-look-away-for-a-sec-wow violence. Lincoln is BRUTAL. Other characters are also brutal.
    • Some rape content, but nothing directly shown (not glamorized like Game of Thrones). Addressed respectfully. 
    • Many, many adult themes. Drugs, human trafficking, sex, murders, super violent murders. Not a kids game. 🙂

    The game is on sale, so at this point.. you should get it. 😀

    Seriously. Minor issues aside, it’s wroth $20 for the story and characters. Give it a go!

  • Alien: Out of the Shadows (Audiobook Review)

    Allen and I desperately needed an audiobook to fill the silence of our road trip to SDCC this past weekend. I realized that I have been neglecting my Audible account, and had 5 credits available. Whoops! In order to meet a middle ground (we have different tastes), I decided to learn towards an Alien movie-verse book that had a performance cast– Alien: Out of the Shadows.

    Impressions

    Alien: Out of the Shadows occurs between Alien and Aliens and answers some questions about what took place behind-the-scenes. Additionally, it features how Ash, the Weyland-Yutani loyal science officer/android, wont surrender his objective of obtaining a sample of the alien.

    During Ripley’s slumber on the Narcissus, something directs her off-course and not directly to Earth, putting her in reach of a mining operation that is neck-deep in trouble with aliens. On top of this, there are collisions with some of their vehicles, making a quick escape unfeasible. Instead of waking up on Earth to unite with her daughter, poor Ripley has to walk from one trauma to another; realizing that she’s been sleeping for 37 years, and discovering that she just can’t escape these acid-blooded murder machines. With the expertise she developed in Alien, Ripley assists the miners the best way she can. It’s not easy with a Machiavellian android who wont leave her alone, but she and the miners have hope of finding a way back home in the abyss of space.

    The audiobook has some stellar performances. All of the voice actors are distinct, and the sound effects are top-notch! To fill in gaps of confusion, Ash does “mission reports” at the end of each chapter. He keeps the reader apprised of where his current objects of manipulating the situation to get his sample (including how Ripley stands, mentally and physically, in the face of more trouble).

    Overall, we enjoyed the story and managed to finish the book on our trip. The adventure does have it’s slow bits (for character development), but we grew attached enough to the characters to feel tension when they were in death traps and dire situations. If you’re a fan of this franchise, I definitely recommend a read!

  • More Than Just an Underground Tiki Bar: UnderTow Swept Me Away!

    Personally, I have been wanting to visit UnderTow for the past several months. Jeff saw my post on Facebook about desiring to go, and took me and Allen this past Saturday. If you’re intimidated about going, don’t be! (I was, stupidly, which is why it took me so long to get there.)

    To help others out, here’s a mini guide/adventure on getting to UnderTow and enjoying it.

    Finding UnderTow

    UnderTow is a hidden “tiki/concept bar” located at Indian School and 36th St. To locate it, GPS takes you to Sip Coffee & Beer Garage, which was a former car garage (so coooool). This is not a mistake. There’s no outdoor signage, so don’t drive in circles looking for it.

    Important Parking Note: Uber/Lyft over, or get there early enough to have a backup parking plan if no parking is available at Sip Coffee & Beer House. If you park at a neighboring joint, you will get towed. Friends on Facebook had this happen to them.

    Reservations are Vital

    UnderTow is TINY. It’s the former oil change pit of the car garage Sip is in. In theory, you can hop on over and wait for a chance to get in (in case someone cancels). But don’t do that.

    Getting reservations is relatively easy. Hop to their website, scroll down, and use the Open Table reservation thingie.

    Just don’t try to get a reservation of more than four people. It’s a very intimate location for drinks and conversation. Bring close friends. Bring your partner.

    Reservations are good for 90 minutes. It will fly by. Enjoy the experience while you’re there!

    Allen, Dannette, Jeff, and me!

    Inside the Vessel

    Once you’re in Sip, walk down the stairs under the ship decoration hanging from the ceiling and the door person will direct you to where you’ll be sitting. If it’s your first time, I recommend sitting at the bar (as Jeff suggested to me). It is a blast to watch the bartenders at work – the cocktails here are a work of art!

    You can get a peek of the menu here (no food, pure drinkage). Yes, the drinks are pricey. I am a cheap ass, so I feel your pain. But they are strong, and flavorful, and worth it. Also, two cocktails will leave you relatively tipsy. Additionally, there is no judgement if you just have one drink. If you don’t feel like drinking a lot, no pressure at all.

    If you DO want to drink a lot, they have a few giant $30 cocktails you can split with a friend or go nuts on. Also: the bartenders are more than happy to help you, no matter how busy they look. Ask away!

    I got a “The Smoking Cannon” (Menu description: This stirred cocktail blends Bourbon, Barbadian Rum, French American, Amontillado Sherry, Pineapple, Bitters & topped with Cinnamon Smoke) for my first cocktail, and a “Bridge Between Two Worlds” (Menu description: A blend of Coconut infused Dark Rum, Pineapple Rum, German Bitters, Pineapple & Lime) for my second (which was a recommendation from the bartender when I told her I loved coconut rum drinks). “Bridge” was my favorite, though the “Smoking Cannon,” with its cinnamon infused smoke swirling about, was super cool.

    As a bonus, they were also super accommodating serving Allen a virgin cocktail because he was voluntarily DD for the night!

    Noise

    It’s very crowded and noisy. If you get claustrophobic and (noisy) small spaces give you anxiety, this is not the bar for you. Some conversations had to be yelled into each other’s ears. It took a little getting used to. It also took some creative maneuvering not to bump people over.

    Swag

    Occasionally, they have limited edition art tiki mugs. If you collect them, ask! They also have super sweet t-shirts for $18.

    Overall Review

    I had a phenomenal experience and can’t wait to return for a “treat yo’self” night!

    5/5

  • Alien: Covenant – My Impression as a Casual Fan

    Alternative Title: David is a Giant Asshole

    I am definitely not as big of an Alien franchise fan as my partner-in-crime, Allen. But, when a good friend (Geeks Who Eat) does one of their awesome movie-inspired recipes and ticket giveaways for the latest film in the franchise, Alien: Covenant, you enter! Allen jumped on top of entering too. And he won!

    Upon arrival, the screening theater was PACKED. We had reserved seating outside the roped are – but practically everywhere was roped off. It was nuts! This was definitely one of the most popular screens I had been to. We ended up having to get a pair of sets up front, but in the end the movie was interesting enough that we were able to enjoy it despite our strained necks.

    Non-Spoiler Impressions

    Alien: Covenant‘s story was disjointed, and it was difficult to follow unless you had previously seen Prometheus. For a person walking in blind – I wouldn’t recommend it without a Prometheus watch.

    The first half the movie was much more cohesive than the second half; once a mysterious character appears, it seemed like the movie just threw so much at you. It reminded me of how Sunshine unraveled after its slower paced first half.

    One of the bonuses is that it does clearly explain what happened after Prometheus ended. The acting was fine, the crew felt very natural and like long-time working pals. The crew still made dumb decisions, but in other parts they acted very realistically (when everything starts going to shit they freak out the way I would have freaked out). Lots of disturbing parts. Very tense, I was on edge the whole movie.

    The doomed Alien: Covenant crew.

    Spoiler-Filled Break-Down

    Story Spoilers

    I have some friends who just want the nitty gritty details. Well, here you go! (I’m doing this from memory, please bear with me.)

    The Covenant in Alien: Covenant is on a colonization mission and everyone is still in hyper-sleep. They have seven years left to reach their future home planet. Walter, a newer model of David-Fassbender-Bot from the Prometheus film, oversees operations while the crew and colonists sleep. Long story short, there’s an accident when the ship attempts to do a solar refuel and one of the crew dies horrifically in their sleep pod due to a fire. (RIP James Franco, you never stood a chance.) The crew puts out the fire, is sad a bit, then proceeds to fix the solar issue. During the repair they discover a rogue transmission of Shaw from the first movie from a nearby planet. The new captain (previous captain died in the sleep pod fire) is like “Hey, instead of going back into cryo, let’s check the new planet out! It looks habitable and we can save some time going to our original destination AND discover the source of the transmission on the planet.”

    Lead heroine Daniels (Katherine Waterson) is like “oRrrrrrrRRRrrr how about we just stick to the original mission?” and of course nobody listens to the lead woman, so we know they’re all going to die from this point on.

    Most of the crew lands, and they adventure over to the rogue signal. They split up, so… we know stuff is going to go wrong soon. Team 1 and Team 2. Two members of the traversing crew from each team activate spores from the black-goo-infected plants (that black-goo from the previous film that made it into this planet). Because, this is where Shaw and David landed after they scuttled off in Prometheus, of course. And the black-goo followed.

    Team 2 discovers the alien vessel that’s the source of the signal, they have their “oh wow, this is cool” moment, and they realize the rogue signal was from Shaw (who was totally losing it). They know about Shaw because it’s common knowledge in the Weyland space world that the crew disappeared on their mission a decade ago. Also, they find her name tag.

    The black-goo eventually starts to do its stuff. Team 1 makes it back to the shuttle that took them to the planet, but a dude in Team 1 is very sick and convulsing and ends up being that guy in the trailer that the lady was locked in with. Everything is terrible as the alien BURSTS OUT OF THE DUDE’S DAMN BACK and it’s super nasty and a lady ends up trying to kill it by shooting it and setting everything on fire. (Which, to be fair, is what I do when I find a big spider).

    Long story short, those three people die. (To the alien exploding out, to the alien baby feasting, and to the untimely fire explosion, which also totally destroys the shuttle.)

    Seriously, this part was so gross! 😛

    The other crew witnesses this, and they’re like “Oh no!” but they have bigger fish to fry as one of their dudes also convulses and has a black-goo alien pop out of him. The two alien babies run around the grass around them like tiny terrifying velociraptors, and after putting up a brave (but kind of crappy) fight, a mysterious caped and hooded figure swoops down to spark a flare to distract the alien babies and save them.

    They follow their mysterious savior, through a giant graveyard of dead Engineers (this is answered in a little bit), and find out that it’s David from Prometheus.

    And the audience collectively sighs because we know David is simply awful and homicidal and they’re all going to die and we can’t warn them so we just gotta sit back and be frustrated.

    They tell David why they’re there (including Walter, who is David 2.0 and has more of a stick up his ass), and he’s like “Oh, you have 2000 colonists on a ship, that’s so cool.” And the audience sighs again because we’re like “Oh God, why did you tell David that.”

    Daniels, this whole time is like “I told you everything would go horribly wrong” but she doesn’t say it because it’s too late for that crap.

    It’s hard to type from here on, because the movie becomes a weird mess after David appears and honestly, it blurs together. Long story short, after Prometheus, David set off a catastrophic black-goo drop on allllllll of the Engineers and killed them all. He then spent a long time (a decade?) watching the black-goo aliens destroy all life on the planet. He does it because he’s bored and has a god complex that is shoved down our throats through poetry the whole dang second half of the movie. He also goddess-worships Shaw for her part in dying and helping bring the black-goo/aliens here. He becomes this weird-hot-maternal-God-figure who wants to rebel against his creator by spitting in humanity’s face by creating new aliens from the corpses and flesh of theirs.

    There’s also a lot of weird existential David-on-Walter moments, which I’m not sure were for fan service or to test Fassbender’s acting limits. There are some awkward extended Fassbender-on-Fassbender scenes where we’re half positive he’s gonna do himself.

    David waits patiently for the crew to signal the Covenant to find a way to yank them out of that shitty planet (there’s a violent storm that complicates things), and then David starts picking off the crew with his alien babies.

    Daniels starts to piece stuff together. They all FINALLY figure out David caused the planet to die and killed Shaw. David seems to have the upper hand, so Walter shows that he’s a badass and tries to stop him because he has protocols to not be a total dick like David. Walter is cool. He runs out in time to escape with them.

    Blah blah blah, an alien that popped out of the captain (WHO WALKED INTO A ROOM FULL OF ALIEN EGGS EGGS BECAUSE DAVID PINKY SWORE THAT IT WAS SAFE) grows comically fast and attacks the crew trying to escape, but the survivors get away anyway.

    Eventually they make it back to the Covenant, but SURPRISE! One of the survivors was infected by David, the alien comes out and kills some people in the shower in a pointless shower-death-tropey scene, and Walter helps Daniels and Whats-His-Face corral and kill it by jettisoning it into space….

    … but then…

    ………………………………..

    SURPRISE! Walter didn’t make it off the planet after all! It was David disguised as Walter! (Not. A. Surprise. At. All.). This reveal happens when all seems safe and sound after killing that “last” alien that snuck onto the ship. Daniels is falling back into hypersleep, makes eye contact, and realizes David snuck back up with them. She freaks out as she is locked in the cryo pod, but it’s too late.

    David has access to a shitload of colonists and colonist embryos and the movie ends on a dark note as he smirks and plots his next awful series of events.

    World Building & Cinematography

    I really appreciated the layered world-building design. Crew costumes. monster designs. David’s lair. The half-dead planet they discovered. Everything feels incredibly well-crafted, and there is a lot of visual geek porn.

    And while I’m not a huge fan of gore, Alien: Covenant definitely delivered on the aliens bursting out of the poor human characters.

    The cinematography was also gorgeous and worked well with the pacing to keep me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t think of a scene that failed visually Everything was really beautiful and desolate.

    Confused Theology

    The movie didn’t really know what themes it wanted to stick with. It doesn’t really explain how the main crew are all couples, the way the trailer does! They also throw in David’s obsessive god complex (if I hear “Ozymandias” mentioned ONE MORE TIME… I swear to Jeebus), then a possible awesome “Walter might discover his humanity and might also turn evil” thread that goes nowhere… they should have kept one and stuck with it cohesively.

    A Tale of Two Man-Bots: David and Walter

    Michael Fassbender was, hands down, the highlight of Alien: Covenant. He had some really creepy scenes that, for some reason, folded into fan fiction material. There is an extended scene where David helps Walter with “fingering” his flute. (Actual quote from the movie had us all giggling like 12-year-olds.) And a scene where David leans down to kiss Walter in possibly the less-sexy-self-gay-kiss I have ever seen in a film. Come on, David. You had 10 years in exile and no time to practice?

    Either way, Fassbender did a great job playing two distinctive man-bots. At the end of the movie, we, as an audience, had a great time trying to figure out which Fassbender-bot had survived.

    My Verdict

    Okay, the movie was a hot mess in terms of the Alien lore and ret-conning, but I still enjoyed it a lot as a guilty pleasure fic. I recommend watching it with friends, some parts are much too hilarious and tropey to experience alone.

    I give it 3.5/5 stars.

    For a refresher, here’s the trailer for Alien: Covenant

     

  • Horizon: Zero Dawn is My Current Game of the Year (Review)

    Horizon: Zero Dawn – Mini-Review!

    Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that I’d been loosely following for a while. It’s a Playstation exclusive (sorry!), by Guerilla Games – the folks behind the Killzone series. Which sounds like a weird departure, but I soon learned that this game is directly reflective of the talent behind that studio.
    I was on the fence about cancelling my pre-order for Mass Effect: Andromeda, but my friend Robi Dean insisted that I should just borrow his copy about Horizon: Zero Dawn so that I can still get Mass Effect: Andromeda. (Review for that coming soon.) He lent it to me last week, and I’m already 20+ hours in. I. Am. Obsessed. I can’t express just how many of the right buttons this game is hitting for me. I am even slightly regretting rushing this for ME:A. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that you need to give a go.
    The juxtaposition of the tribal world with technology is a weird combination that Guerrilla manages to seamlessly intertwine.

    Aloy is an Awesome Main Character

    Aloy is an outcast and she finds herself on a quest to discuss her lineage that also folds into a “save the world” story-line as machines grow more and more malevolent. Aloy herself is fantastically voiced by Ashley Burch. Burch plays an expressive, inquisitive, and brave Aloy. Aloy’s designs are fabulous, and her interaction with the world around her feels genuine and real. she is a blast to play and I am really enjoying watching her story unfold as I play.

    Other Characters

    In short: really well acted and fleshed out. Sure, some fall into predictable tropes, but I felt connected to them. Even characters I was weary about, I fell in love with later. This game kept me guessing on characters and I’m stoked that just as much love and craft was put into the supporting cast.

    What’s Up With the Tribes?

    Basically, a LONG time has passed since civilization as we know it ended. Why are people afraid of the old cities and technology? How did they turn into tribes? I will say I was a little bit concerned that the tribes would be hokey, but the story thoroughly explains how Horizon: Zero Dawn‘s world occurred.

    Open World

    The open world is just phenomenally gorgeous. The starting area may feel boring at first, and at moments it can feel like a rehash of Witcher 3‘s landscapes. But once you fold into the second act of visiting Meridian and hoofing/riding from one corner of the world to the next, you’ll realize just how diverse the ecosystems are.
    I have to do an extra shout-out for how beautifully lit the locations are. Guerrilla really pushed the limits of the PS4.

    Gorgeous Set Pieces

    You know how in the Uncharted series you’ll find a mystical city in the end, visit for 4 minutes, and then promptly escape its destruction? Horizon: Zero Dawn lets you stay and explore the epic city and do quests for it. Meridian is one of the most jaw-dropping locations I have visited in a game.
    And how the environment affects thing! When it rains in any location, I stop to see how the forest dampens. When it’s night, the moon and fog are eerie and ethereal. Dust storms remind me of our local haboobs (but prettier). It’s a work of art.

    Hunting the Beasties!

    The combat is smooth, and appropriately challenging. You can get bag of tricks, and how you use them is completely up to your game style. You can hide and snipe down fortresses (reminded me of Far Cry), or override machines and use them to take down other machines and evil humans. The machines are FUN to fight, and each has a series of attacks to learn to take down. If you like the hunting, there are also challenged in the game in the form of hunting grounds and bandit camps.

    Side Quests Flesh Out the World

    Plenty of side quests flesh out the world and the different tribes. I fully recommend them – as it was in Witcher 3, some of the side quests are more fun than the main story missions. There are also different quest types, so you can switch them up depending on how you feel.

    My Verdict: A Must Buy

    If you like open-world games with a boatload of quests, I believe that Horizon: Zero Dawn is a system seller the way The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a system seller for Nintendo Switch. Witcher 3 was my GOTY of 2015, Uncharted 4 was my GOTY for 2016, and without question– Horizon: Zero Dawn is currently in the running for my favorite game of 2017.