Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Books

When I decided to have a child and started imagining what it might be like, I kind of understood that it would take a lot of time from all the things I used to put a lot of time into, like gaming and writing. Interestingly enough things didn't really turn out that way when work came in and ruined most of the time I had for gaming and writing long before my son did, meaning when he turned up I didn't really have to change much or sacrifice much in my routines - my son basically replaced the time I had put into work. So everything was just fine until I slowly realized something else was suddenly missing in my life, something I hadn't really thought about but that I actually had put a whole lot of time into - in fact more time the more I worked. I am talking about reading.

I've always loved to read and started out young when my overambitious parents gave me books way beyond my age that I struggled through to make them proud. Because of them I read books of for example HP Lovecraft, Orwell and stuff about philosophy well before my teens and in all honesty I don't think I actually understood much about them (I reread most of them later though, and they were at least good books). It's not like my parents efforts turned me into some sort of literature mastermind, but I at least did find a love for reading that is with me still today.

If someone were to ask me what my favorite genres were I'd probably say sci-fi, historical and factual books (the sci-fi most likely from my mom since she's a total sci-fi nut). To me, reading has always been somewhat like doing quests and completing a book and starting a new one is something I find immense satisfaction in. For this reason there are few books I've given up on (but there are a few, probably enough for their own list eventually!). At work I was known as "the girl who always reads" as I made sure to always have a book handy to fill out those little spaces of time when you have nothing to do and most people play Candy Crush Saga on their phones (nothing wrong with that, except King are total asshats). In my line of work, psychiatric care, there are many holes like these to fill and they allowed me to do a whole lot of reading. Time and opportunity I no longer have and my reading has taken a massive plunge, which definitely saddens me a bit.

My problem at the moment is that eventhough I love reading, I love gaming just that tiny bit more, so the few times I have to do whatever I like are often turned into gaming sessions. Lately I've tried to end the day with some reading in bed however, both because reading makes me sleepy as hell and because I just want to squeeze in some reading somewhere. In the light of not reading however, I have been thinking a lot about books I love and wish I could read again. So here is my top 5 favorite books! All the books on this list are books that are my personal favorites (obviously), books I've read several times and could read a hundred times more without getting bored of because they're just that great. But first I thought I'd start with some honorable mentions, this is not something I normally do for my top-lists, but these are a couple of books that deserve to be mentioned, and if you're into reading a check out, eventhough they didn't make it onto the list.

Honorable Mentions
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - I actually saw the movie before I read the book. I loved the movie, decided to read the book and loved that one even more. It's a low tone murder mystery, a bit in style with an episode of Murder She Wrote or Midsomer Murders. Set in a historical mileu, the atmosphere and storytelling of this book is just great.
Musashi by Eiji Fushikawa - A grand story about honor, betrayal and love set in rural Japan. Obviously based on the sword master Miyamoto Musashi this book has a pretty epic feel to it.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden - I feel like the character portrayal of the main character Chiyo, and actually all the characters around her are just so good in this book. You really care and feel for them and eventhough they're entirely fictional they feel like real people you wish you could've known or met.
To the Edge of the Sky by Anhua Gao - I am a huge fan of reading about Mao China, because it's such a fascinating and horrifying telling of what man is capable of under pressure and extreme circumstances (much like Nazi Germany). Biographies from people who experienced it are my favorites since they're written by people who made it (obviously) and so offer some silver lining to all the gruesome.

5. The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes
As far as sci-fi stories go this one isn't bombastic or grand in any way. Unlike for instance the Isaac Asimov series it doesn't stretch over the entire galaxy but takes place on the planet Isis, where the orphaned girl Olwen lives alone with her guardian Guardian (yes that is his name). Olwen is basically a lightkeeper on Isis, guarding it for future settlers which arrive on her 16th birthday. The story that unfolds between Olwen and the new settlers is so greatly written, with a neat twist that I at least did not see coming when I first read it in my early teens, I just love coming back to it over and over. It is the kind of science-fiction story I wish I had written myself. This book is the first in a series of three that further explores the interaction between the settlers and Olwen and eventually as time passes also how the settlement evolves into its own society with religion and laws based on things that occur in the first and second book. It's really interesting to see how ordinary things in the first book turn into mythologies, rules and laws by the third book and how the people reason around it - it makes you think a lot about how these things might have come to be in society around us.

The first book is definitely the best in the series, although they're all well written and worth a read as they explore different aspects of human interaction and social development, subjects that really interest me.

4. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
As far as I know, Ken Follett is mostly known for writing thrillers, but The Pillars of the Earth is nothing like that. Set in 12th century England, it's about building a cathedral and weaves in the life stories of families around it. It's extremely well written and also has some very naughty sex scenes in it which made me all blushy when I first read it around 14 or so. As with most other books on this list, the characters are well developed and it's just like a really good tv-series where you just need to know what happens next and really feel for the characters. In fact, it's a lot like Game of Thrones, but with a lot fewer people (something I think some people would welcome). In fact, this book sports a character mean enough to rival Joffrey. I just recently found out it was actually turned into a miniseries (and a board game!), that I have to watch now of course.

3. Robots & Empire by Isaac Asimov
I like basically everything written by Isaac Asimov, but I've got to say that his entire Robots, Empire and Foundation series is truly epic. There is the occasional dull book in that series (which spans 14 novels, not counting short stories!), but in total it tells of one of the best and most fascinating science fiction universes I've ever read about. Originally these three series (Robots, Empire, Foundation) weren't connected, but eventually Asimov decided to write a couple of books that would bridge them. Robots & Empire serves to bridge between the first three Robot books into the later four Empire books. It continues the story of the three novels in the Robot series which follows the detective Elijah Bailey, who in this book is long dead. This book follows two of the main robots that also appear in this series, and explains a lot of the things that are later referred to in the Empire series in a very satisfactory way, by giving us the unknown fourth robot law, which is why the book is called "The Unknown Law" in swedish. The Robot series was always my favorite in the entire Saga for characters, and reading this closing novel was actually quite emotional and without giving away too much of the story I will tell you that this book made me cry.

2. Black Holes and Time Warps by Kip S. Thorne
This book is actually not a novel, but a factual book about pretty much exactly what the title says - Black Holes and Time Warps and everything around it. The one thing I love about this book, besides the mind boggling "I am a tiny speck in the Universe" kind of mentality it manages to put me in, is that no matter how many times I read it I always seem to discover (ie understand) something new about it. Although it is written in a very understandable language, even for someone like me who only really has a big interest but no real knowledge about the kind of physics in this book, the themes are totally mind blowing in a way few novels can be. This book proves the old saying that the truth always outshines imagination.

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
You've all probably heard of this one, and if you haven't read it, I couldn't recommend it more. I had something of a "read all the classics" phase a couple of years back and went through a lot of the Old Great Ones - one of which turned out to be on my top 5 most disliked books (a list that's probably coming in the future)! And then there was this one. The first time I read it I was truly glued to the pages, it was one of those page-turners I just couldn't put down. The story of how Edmond Dantes becomes set up, spends years in prison only to come back and exact his gruesome revenge is so darn good, after I had finished the book I felt I needed to see every version of the story that was out there. I watched several movie and series adaptions, all of which came nowhere close to being as good as the original book of course (the best one was actually an anime called Gankutsou, the worst one is the movie from 2002). I definitely don't want to ruin any of the story here, but Dantes doesn't just have one person to get his revenge on. The intricacies of the way he goes about it means you can't tell what's going to happen next, his plan is executed in many stages where some people are punished and some people are rewarded. It's without a doubt the best revenge-story out there because it's just not as simple as the bad guys getting what's coming for them. No matter how many times I read this book, I never ever tire of it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

R.I.P Leia (070997 - 080214)

The more you love something, the more it hurts when it's gone. That's something I am pretty sure all of you have experienced, hopefully not too often. I am sad to tell you that my lovely little cat girl Leia has passed away, she would've turned 17 this year. I am writing this post because I feel like she, just has her brother who passed away 5 years ago, deserves it and because everyone should know what an awesome little cat lady she was.

Leia and Luke were the only pets I ever had (yes, named after the Skywalkers!). When I moved from home, one of the hardest things to move away from were definitely these two little rascals and I knew I would even miss their pain in the ass rummaging in the middle of the night.

Leia was so very curious, she loved running up to us when we came home just to see what we might have in your bags. She climbed everything she could see and I can't even count the amount of times we had to pull (yes, pull!) her down from the roof of my dads balcony because she couldn't get down herself. Our curtains took their share of her escapades as well. She quickly learned how to open doors around her which forced us to take counter measures to make sure she didn't let her brother out. In fact she hated closed doors and always made sure we knew that she wanted us to open them when we had them locked. Leia never shied away from vocalizing her thoughts or needs, but she gave twice as much love and attention as she asked for. Countless are the times she came comforting me when I was sad, it's like she knew.

Leia loved socializing and never went out on her own, she always wanted company. Taking a walk she used to run after us, meowing along to make sure we wouldn't forget her. When something happened at home she made sure to get a spot where she could sit and observe. She hated loud noises and would meow angrily if someone sneezed or did the dishes. She was playful and loved playing fetch. Her favorites were crumpled little balls of plastic bags that she wanted us to throw so that she could run off and bring them back to us. She'd drop them at our feet, look up expectantly and meow. She'd go crazy if there was promise of mince meat or chicken.

My sweet, lovely, beautiful little girl - I love you so very much and I hope there is someone to play fetch with you, talk to you and hug you wherever you are now. I will never forget you and I will always miss you. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top 5 Games I Regret Buying

I've been talking a lot lately about all the games I've bought and that I am currently trying to work my way through, this got me eventually to thinking about a couple of games I've bought throughout my life that I actually regret buying. It happens a lot less frequent than you'd think. In fact, finding 5 entries for this list was difficult and I just barely scraped enough of games together. Obviously, before there was massive Steam sales, each game I bought was most often carefully scouted beforehand, to make sure that the money put down on it was going to be worth it. Not only were the games pricier, I also had less money to spend on games and if I bought a bad one that was what I had to live with until I had saved up enough money for the next one, something that normally took a couple of months. One benefit to this was that I gave each game more time and so an initally boring game could grow on me, something I miss about the fast paced flow of games that is common place now. If a game doesn't amuse me within the first 30 minutes, I have 20 other ones to take its place instantly and sometimes I find it hard to motivate myself to pain through something I'm not enjoying when I could be doing something fun instead. But I digress, and that feels like material for a different post.

My point here however is that the games on this list aren't necessarily games that I simply didn't enjoy but rather a combination of a game I really looked forward to trying, was quite disappointed with and subsequently felt like I had spent a lot more money on than I thought it was worth. If I pay a small sum for a moderately fun to boring game, I probably won't regret that buy much. A good example is Skyrim, which although I ended up not liking very much, I definitely don't regret buying it, and it was still among the most expensive games I bought that year. The difference between Skyrim for instance and the games on this list is that I wasn't expecting too much from Skyrim, although a lot more than I got, and I think I got my moneys worth out of it in the end after all. For the following games however, not so much.

5. Rayman Origin (N3DS)
This game is only fifth on this list because it's actually a really good game and I can appreciate it as such eventhough I ended up not liking it. After having played a lot of Rayman on the GBA, I decided to grab this game on a whim when I was on something of a shopping spree in a Game store. It was on sale already and since it was marked up in pounds, which are worth ten times the swedish krona making the price look ridiculously cheap, I didn't really think much about it. Unfortunately it turns out that A. I really suck at platformers and B. Platformers are just not my thing (these are probably connected somehow).

Impending doom -

Sure, I had had a lot of fun with Rayman on the GBA, but Rayman Origin wasn't enough like it for me to enjoy it in the same way. Because of this I was quite disappointed when the gameplay wasn't exactly like I remembered it and even more so when the game kept kicking my ass way more than Rayman on the GBA ever did. To put it simply, Rayman Origin was way too difficult for me and my tendency to get easily frustrated did not help. I was hoping for some simple platforming fun, but I realize this was just not the game to choose for a newb platformer like me. In the end I don't regret buying Rayman Origin too much since it's not a game I mind owning, but it does make me sad knowing I will most likely never finish it and I really wouldn't have minded never having picked it up either.

4. Suikoden V (PS2)
Two of the games on this list I've bought purely based on someone elses recommendation without much prior knowledge of it - Suikoden V is one of those games. I was up visiting my parents, walked into a game store and found that one of my old childhood friends was now working in that store. I couldn't stand the guy when we were kids, he was an arrogant prick to put it nicely, but he had turned into a really nice guy as an adult. I asked him if he could recommend some game for me and he suggested Suikoden V. Since I quite like JRPGs and was in a bit of a slump not having played any good ones for a while, I was eager to get my hands on something interesting. I had heard of the name Suikoden, but never played any of the games. The case looked interesting enough and the back description was just as vague as you'd expect from a fairly generic RPG of this style.

Nowadays I always check the internet for metascores and/or reviews before I buy anything I don't know much about, if there is a larger sum of money involved, just so I will have a rough idea of what I am looking at basically. But at that point smartphones weren't a thing yet so I had only his recommendation to go of.

I wish I was this happy playing it -

I've tried to play Suikoden V three times, and each time I get tired at about the same place, roughly 2 hours into the game. I'm not entirely sure why I lose interest at this point - I just don't care about the characters, the intro part is too long and too boring and I guess a lot of it is just stuff I've seen before without it being engaging enough to want to do again. I will most likely give Suikoden V yet another try in the future, maybe it's one of those games that gets a bit better if you give it some time.

3. Might & Magic Heroes VI (PC)
I am a massive fan of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, and because of this I've felt compelled to at least check out all the other parts of the series. First up was HoMM 4 and initially I didn't check it out at all, I assumed it would at least be somewhat as fun as HoMM3. Even if it was only half as fun it would pretty damn fun, I decided. Oh how wrong I was. I don't remember much about HoMM4, I only remember that they had massively changed the map and I was completely confused about what anything was when running around. In HoMM3 most things are very clear whereas in HoMM4 I couldn't separate background objects from important ones, and that was just one of the problems I had with the game. It wasn't half as fun as HoMM3, it was maybe a 100th.

Pretty does not a fun game make -

After the mistake I did with HoMM4 I decided to make sure any subsequent games looked decent before I paid for them - I didn't even buy HoMM5 because it seemed like it was too much like HoMM4 and not enough like HoMM3. When what would essentially be HoMM6 was released, although they then felt the need to rename it to MMH6 for some reason, I actually thought that they might've gotten it right this time. I didn't think it would be as fun as HoMM3, I realized that game would be pretty damn hard to beat, but maybe it could at least come pretty close. The combat system looked fun and I liked the better graphics and updated models.

So I bought it and I really, really wanted to like it. It was far from shit like HoMM4 so at first it reeled me in and got me really hopeful about being quite fun. Unfortunately it quickly turned out it wasn't, I guess I just couldn't come to terms with the changed style of town building and other changes they had made to the winning HoMM3 formula. I think my disappointment with this game is the reason it is on this list rather than HoMM4. It really got my hopes up and crushed them pretty badly, and still to this day I wonder why it's so hard to make another decent HoMM game (and do you really need to rename it?). HoMM2 was great though.

2. Bastion (PC)
Another game I bought because someone recommended it to me, and not only that person but pretty much any reviewer on the internet said that this game would be so much fun and worth buying. Obviously you won't always agree with reviewers, for instance my bf thinks The Walking Dead games are shit whereas everyone else in the world seem to think they're ambrosia for the mind. To me it was just about running around shooting stuff, which can be fun - but it wasn't. I didn't get passed the first stage, I think, before I decided that clearly this game was just not for me.

Why was this so fun? -

I guess my problem with Bastion is that not only was I disappointed in how much I didn't enjoy it, but because I didn't listen to my inner self when I actually knew I wasn't going to like it. I bought it simply because it was recommended and I wish I would've given it more thought. It's not about the money, because it wasn't very expensive, it just annoys me to think that I had no reason to buy it and did it anyway because I was stupid at that particular moment. Hopefully I've learned something from that experience.

1. Unlimited Saga (PS2)
This is another game on this list put here mostly because of the emotional attachment I have to it, in a negative sense (just as with Bastion). I was maybe 16 and had seen Unlimited Saga on the store shelves. I don't know if you've seen the case, but at the time I thought it looked amazing. Someone should've stepped in right then and there and told me not to judge a game by its covers, because I was completely awed by the game based on nothing but how the case looked. This was during a time when most of my games would come from my parents during birthdays/christmas, so naturally I wished for it - and got it.

It just screams "buy me!" -

I was thrilled and overjoyed, as you are when you get a game you've really wanted to play and immediately popped it into my ps2 to give it a go. I was expecting something along the lines of Final Fantasy, at least and was completely confused and utterly disappointed when what I got was nothing like it. Not only was it nothing like Final Fantasy, it was nothing like any RPG I had seen before. I played for an hour or two, not understanding what was going on or why the game was so weird. I turned it off and haven't played it since.

That would've been all well and nice if not for the fact that I had known that I had begged my parents to buy it and they had spent a good chunk of money getting it for me in the hopes that it would make me happy. Of course my dad asked me if I liked it and I had to white lie something along the lines of "yeah it seems interesting" or whatever I might've said while silently hating myself for not loving it. If I had bought it myself I would've been the only one to suffer, but now I had fooled my parents into wasting money on that piece of crap for me, and that made me feel so awful.

Even more annoying is the fact that I've lost it since, and now I sit wanting to give it another go, thinking that I might enjoy it at this age. In the end that game will always be a bother for me, for the massive hopes I had for it, the massive let down it turned out to be, how it made me feel like I let my parents down and how it's gone now that I want to give it another chance. That game is one of those things on my mind when my brain feels like it wants to torment me about thinking about things that make me feel bad. I know it's just a game, but damn that damn game.