D listens to “impulse” (Spoiler Alert: This book has trigger words, proceed with caution!)

impulsebooktitle

Hello readers,

I finished listening to impulse, a teen book, a few weeks ago. I have a short review up on Goodreads.com, but I decided to gather my thoughts before I really committed anything to my blog. Before I go into any details about impulse, I want to first warn my readers and any potential readers of this book that impulse consists of many trigger words for PTSD-type situations. There is rape, drug use, suicide, and other topics covered in this book. While I wouldn’t have an issue recommending this book to teens, this is a read that I wouldn’t suggest for any person that suffers from PTSD or similar psychological issues. There were a few moments in this book that made me cringe and flashback to some pretty crazy moments in my life, so don’t say I didn’t give you a fair warning! I will put my general impressions first, then I will move into spoiler country.

What’s Written on the Inside Flap

Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act — suicide.

Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade.

Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills.

And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.

In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun — and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other’s help, they can find their way to a better life — but only if they’re strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.

impulse is crafted from the points of view of these three young adults. Each of them face their own demons while staying in Aspen Springs. In the book, the prose is written to resemble freestyle poetry. While aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and easy to read, it causes some readers confusion.

Each character is written in mostly the same voice and the author switches between the three characters without giving any obvious indication that she has switched. One moment you are reading Conner’s thoughts and he might seem like he is talking about how his childhood sucked due to drugs — woah, Conner never did drugs! While its obvious in that example that the subject is Tony, in the book the reader may have to go back a few pages to see where the transition happened.

The book can be poetic.

The book can be poetic. Sometimes.

Luckily for me, I listened to the audiobook for most of the story. The audiobook has three different actors voicing each role, and 2/3 of them are very great in their roles. The voice which bothered me the most, due to sounding like her mouth was full of spit, was Vanessa. This is not really a slight against the actor who portrayed Vanessa, but rather a vocal pet peeve of mine. I also thought her impressions of the other characters was way off, but it was hard to tell if she was supposed to be acting as them or simply acting like Vanessa trying to imitate other people. Out of the three, Conner’s actor was by far the best. His portrayal was the most subtle and he even made the female lines he spoke engaging rather than offensive.

The book, overall, was alright. Its nothing to write home to mom about, but it is definitely worth a read. Just don’t pick it up while sad! Its no bueno for a blue day.

Spoilers start here!

As most readers can guess, impulse does have a love triangle of sorts, though the triangle in impulse is very strange and off putting. Tony is gay… or is he? Conner is attracted to Vanessa and vice verse, but Vanessa ends up with Tony instead. This shift occurs almost in mid sentence. I had to listen to a previous track just to catch why Vanessa was suddenly canoodling with Tony instead. What’s worse is that she hooks up with Tony after she and Conner share a lusty moment. I thought that I had missed an entire disc, but no, it was just a very sudden occurrence.

A tiny nitpick of mine in terms of Tony’s character is how he goes from gay > bi > straight. It isn’t necessarily that I am against someone adapting to their sexuality. I have no doubts that some teens think they are gay when they really aren’t. I just contest with the idea that Tony’s gay lifestyle led him to where he ended up today. He mentions in the book that his ‘lifestyle’ choice has hurt him and others in his life. On that same note, Tony did have a gay surrogate dad, but I am still not impressed with how quickly Tony shifted from gay > straight and that the novel offers no real insight on the reasons a gay teen might want to off himself in the modern world.

Another nitpick of mine is that these characters only seem to care about each other and themselves; meanwhile, they are constantly calling the other Aspen Springs patients lame things such as “freaks.” At first, it just seemed as a mechanism for the teens to cope with their situation until they were suddenly attracted to one another. On top of that, Vanessa is very much a Mary Sue of sorts. She’s beautiful, she’s artistic, and she’s got a tragic past! While I could see the ugliness in her soul, it seems somewhat clear to me that I am not supposed to view her in such a negative light. The character is hard to like and the hardened part of me wants to shout “tough shit” at all her excuses for being the way she is outside of the acceptable ones, such as being bipolar.

I’ve actually lived in a hard situation and suffered from crippling depression/suicidal tendencies, so perhaps its simply that I am not actually the target audience for this book. The characters don’t really show signs of strength and instead come off as one-note characters other than Conner. Conner was written in a way where the reader can actually sense things getting worse for him. I think if Conner had been the sole voice of the story… I would have liked it a lot better.

D reviews Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (1-10)

Hello readers!

I finally did it! I finished the original Neil Gaiman boxset, Sandman. It was an endeavor I started in August of 2012 and I am glad I finished its ‘original’ run. Of course, there are several side comics and two new(ish) volumes that weren’t counted toward in most of the boxsets, but I have finished the major players and I am free. It took me so long since the series aren’t necessarily just about Dream, the Sandman himself, no… its a series of stories about stories that sometimes have stories in them…

Dream is the King of Dreams and stories. His story is made up of other characters who have their own stories to tell… sometimes characters in their stories have stories that they share with the person who is currently telling the story… There is an Inception joke here somewhere…

Some of the stories presented were a lot to take in or had concepts that I couldn’t understand without having to stop to think about it first. Some of the stories were really easy to digest. Most of the stories were very engaging and I found myself wishing to hear more about the characters, but other stories were things I simply skimmed, because the characters weren’t interesting at all.

Its hard to recommend Sandman to any particular group of readers, whether they are Neil Gaiman fans, Graphic Novel fans, or otherwise… Your mileage may vary as to whether you find it to be a high work of art or a pretentious bore. The only advice I can offer anyone when it comes to trying on Sandman is to read it slowly, read it with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to take notes on the different characters you will meet during its course. There were more than a few times I had totally forgotten a character from a previous issue and had to figure out which story they came from.

Another hardship readers might find is the inconsistency of the art and character design since each section of every volume is drawn by different illustrators. You might find some art styles you love and others which you loathe. In terms of art, I think the first volume has possibly the worst art while the nineth volume had really easy to see art… of course, that is all personal preference! The best advice I can give about how to handle the shifting art style is to take it in as being apart of the stories being told. The art usually seems to reflect an element of the story. For character designs, its best to remember what individual characters look like in general, since there were a few characters I couldn’t recognize without a lot of context, such as their names.

These are all the same character, Rose Walker. As you can see... they only "kind of" look alike.

These are all the same character, Rose Walker. As you can see… they only “kind of” look alike.

Sandman is an adventure worth trying despite its varying levels of accessibility. While I may not have liked a couple of the stories and artists, I really enjoyed the series overall and found myself tearing up more than one time. Its definitely a crazy ride!

D preps for D&D NEXT (Spoiler Alert: I don’t like 3.5e)

Hello readers,

Some of you might be aware that Dungeons and Dragons has been playtesting their next edition. Its called NEXT, but most players have been calling it 5e. It originally came out last year for beta-testing and they still have no tentative release date. The goal of NEXT is to bring in new players as well as see if they can grab hesitant players such as myself.

For those of you that do not know, Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game in which there is a Dungeon Master (DM) that sets the narrative for players to explore. A typical game of D&D consists of characters killing monsters or running errands for gold and loot, but unlike MMOs, they allow the players to shape their environment and live out their fantasies. I’ve always been drawn to D&D, but I have not always had excellent experiences with it. Luckily for me, I joined a group made up of people I know. I have a way better feeling about this attempt to be apart of a gaming group.

We have decided to use NEXT/5e as our set of rules and so far it has been incredibly easy to work with. We had a test run last month and built our own characters on May 3rd. From previous experience, 3.5e took FOREVER to get anything done. I felt like we were constantly looking up rules, stats, and it just made the game seem like it was more time spent arguing what would make sense over actual gameplay. Character creation for 3.5e, for me, was kind of complicated and came off a bit cluttered. 5e is pretty simplified and character creation was not confusing at all. I will walk through what I prepared as my character for 5e and I will do my best to explain things along the way. I will be leaving some information out since it might not be pertinent to the character I have created, but I would be open to answering questions! There will be a link to the playtest materials at the end of the page.

Ability Scores, Race, & Class

First, I decided on being a druid that heals at range and her name will be Diyaa. Druids are restricted to simple weapons (boo) and I wanted to be a badass with a bow, a martial weapon, so I chose to be a Wood Elf to gain access to Longbows. Picking Druid and Wood Elf told me I could add +2 to my Wisdom score since Druid can add + 1 to either Constitution or Wisdom and Wood Elf adds + 1 to Wisdom. We used the point buy system to determine our initial ability scores. I decided to leave Strength at 8, but boosted the rest of my scores to at least 12 with 15 Wisdom. My final ability scores look like this:

abilityscore

They might not be the best scores, but I my main focus on stats will be Wisdom (healing and intuition), Intelligence (knowledge checks), and Charisma (gathering information and persuasion). Since I am a Wood Elf, it means I gain:

  • Low-Light Vision (I can see pretty well at night)
  • Keen Sense (Advantage on Wisdom spot and listen checks)
  • Free Spirit (Immune to charm and sleep effects)
  • Trance (Instead of sleeping, I can rest for 4 hours in a trance and its equal to a full night’s sleep)
  • Fleet Foot (I can move 5 ft more)
  • Mask of the Wild (I can attempt to hide even when I don’t have much cover)
  • Weapon Proficiency in short swords, long swords, shortbows, and longbows
  • Languages I speak and read both Elvish and Common

As a Druid, I have the ability to cast Druid spells that I prepare or cantrips. I decided to be in the Circle of the Oak to have better spellcasting abilities. Cantrips are spells you can cast repeatedly for free in 5e. Other spells have limits on how many times you can cast them per day. In 5e, you prepare spells, but you can cast any of them repeatedly based on how many level one spells you can cast in general. For example, I only have 2 spells I can cast per day, but I may cast any of the 3 spells I have prepared. When you cast a spell to damage a creature, that creature has to make a saving throw of some sort against your DC. What that means is if they need to make a Constitution saving throw, they roll a d20 and add their Constitution Modifier to the result. What they roll needs to be higher than your Save DC. Druid Save DC has this equation: 10 + Wisdom Modifier + Spell Bonus, so my equation comes out like this: 10 + 3 + 1 = 14.

My cantrips are:

  • Druidcraft (I can create little illusionary effects, such as critters or voices for about a minute)
  • Fire Seeds (I throw 2 burning seeds with a range of 50 ft. Target makes a Dexterity saving throw and if they fail they take 2 Fire Damage)
  • Read Magic (I can decipher discrete magical inscriptions on objects)

My level one spells are:spellbook

  • Cure Wounds (At 25 ft range, I can either cure a creature for 1d8+4 or damage an undead for basically a ton of damage at 4d8 on a failed Constitution save and half that on a successful one)
  • Entangle (At 50 ft in a 5 ft radius, I can deal 3d6 piercing damage on a failed Constitution save and half that on a successful one. It creates difficult terrain in a 20 ft cloud for 1 minute)
  • Thunderwave (Each creature in a 15 ft cone in front of me must make a Dexterity save, if they fail they take 3d8 thunder damage and are pushed 15 ft away. On a successful save, they take half that damage with no push)

The playtest character sheet doesn’t have room for all of these notes, so I have a notebook that I will be using to both keep track of the story and have a quick reference to my spells and feats.

Skills, Background, & Equipment

In 5e, players starting at level 1 may chose 4 skills. Those skills are considered trained skills which means whenever the character rolls for one of those skills they add 1d6 to the initial 1d20. What this means is: I can roll a spot (Wisdom) check even if I don’t have it trained, which is 1d20 + 3 (my Wisdom modifier). Since I am an Elf, I have the Advantage on those kinds of checks, which means I can roll 2d20 and keep whichever one rolls better. That means if I roll 2d20 and the results are a 1 and a 20, I can choose to take the 20. If I have spot check trained, then I add a 1d6, so the overall calculation looks like this: Adv(2d20 )+ 1d6 +3. Similar to Advantage, Disadvantage has the player roll 2d20 and take the worse of the two results, so I would have to take the 1 if I was actually Disadvantaged in spot. There is also Contest, which allows to creatures to compete toward the same goal with just a 1d20 + modifiers, but that won’t come into play for Character Creation. It seems confusing to read, but if you try it out its actually quite easy to understand.

Since I am rolling a healer, I decided to focus my skills on being knowledgeable about nature and magic. I also want my character to be a little intuitive and able to receive information by talking to NPCs. In 5e you are not restricted to what skills you can take, so I chose to take:

  • Recall Nature Lore (Intelligence) I have advantage since I am a druid
  • Recall Magical Lore (Intelligence) Any healer worth their salt should know about different hexes, curses, and spells
  • Sense Motive (Wisdom) My character is an observant person, a “people studier”, so I can catch on to people’s natures
  • Gather Rumors (Charisma) My character enjoys talking with people and can sometimes learn things from them

Usually, in 5e, it seems you will pick a background first and then it will assign you the 4 skills, but we decided to mix and match our backgrounds and skills. Backgrounds are there to offer players: skills, a trait, and half of the starting equipment if you chose to take it (you must take the other half from your class). Traits are kind of nifty since they allow all characters to have some kind of input to the Role Play part of the game. For example, the Fighter class is mostly just about brawling and before did not bring too much to the Role Play other than having low intelligence and charisma stats (depending, but most seem built that way). Now, a Fighter can chose to take the Temple Services trait and gain the ability to go to the temple of their chosen religion/god and be able to: ask priests, acolytes, and other members for help/information, heal yourself and your companions for free, and receive religious services. Thus, your fighter can be a Templar if you chose and actually contribute to the Role Play and not just combat. Its a great way to help you construct a background for your character.   I chose the Sage trait.

trait

There are feats in 5e, but they are completely optional unlike previous editions. Our group decided we wanted to have ALL THE THINGS, so for my feat I chose Herbalism. Herbalism lets me spend an hour to create up to 3 items (Antitoxin, Healer’s Kit, and Potion of Healing). I must have  the necessary material components in order to create them, components such as: herbs, vials, cloth, etc. I can also identify poisonous herbs.

For equipment, I did decide on taking the recommended starting items for Druids and Sages, but I did decide to change it up just a bit. I had 70~ gold plus some items from the set I didn’t necessarily want (such as a spear!), so I decided to gain a fishing tackle box (as a method of providing food) and a Longbow. Now I only have 17 gp, 12 sp, and 8 cp leftover, but I feel better about my starting equipment:

  • Robe
  • 10 Candles
  • Code Ring I haven’t decided what its for yet
  • Nature Tome The DM will assign a DC to the Tome. If I would have to make a DC check about something the Tome covers, if the DC is the same as the Tome’s, then I can succeed a check with it
  • Ink, Ink Pen, and 10 sheets of paper
  • Leather Armor Adds 11 to my armor class
  • Shield I won’t be using it for right now, but kept it just in case
  • Longbow 1d8 piercing damage!
  • Adventurer’s Kit Has a backpack, a healer’s kit (20 uses), 10 torches, 10 days of rations, a waterskin, and 50 ft of rope
  • Sprig of Mistletoe Apparently it can be used as a Druid Focus, but I honestly don’t know what that means for this edition since it had no entry anywhere other than in the Druid starting equip list
  • Fishing Tackle Box Has the fishing rod, lures, and lines

With that, my character is complete. I left out some details, like how fast she can walk and her measurements, but those things are easy to look up for yourselves! I had a lot of fun setting up my character and I hope I have  a lot of fun playing her. The last thing I need to do is give her a back story. I already had one in mind as I made her, so here it is:

Wood Elf Druid taken from http://dustin.wikidot.com/

Diyaa grew up in a small, secluded village by a river. While Wood Elves typically are weary of other races, Diyaa’s family moved into the human dominated village nonetheless. Her father and mother were Druids that acted as soothsayers and healers in the town, able to cure just about any ailment that came their way. One day they died of some mysterious illness that even Diyaa’s grandmother couldn’t stop. With only the notation that it was Magical in essence, Diyaa decided that in order to become a great healer she must learn all she can about healing, both natural and magical. Leaving her grandmother behind to tend to the village needs, Diyaa set off on a journey of discovery with a slight hope that she might recognize the cause of her parents’ untimely deaths.

I am really excited about this character and I hope I got some people excited about playing D&D 5e. I will try to post more about the system in action when we convene to play on May 24th. I will give my impressions of the ease/difficulty of the system and whether or not the Skill Dice, Advantage/Disadvantage, and Contest additions add or detract from the gameplay.

If you are interested in D&D 5e, the playtest is free! You can gather a group of friends, go to roll20.net, or join meetup.com to find groups online or offline. D&D 5e, according to my DM and a lot of people on the forums, seems to be compatible with ANY campaign setting and most other rule books. I would be happy to hear about other people’s experiences so feel free to leave a comment below!

Have a great day!

D

D listens to His Dark Materials! A series written by Philip Pullman. (Spoiler Alert: Bears are badass!)

Hello readers!

There will be spoilers!

I recently finished listening to all the  Listening Library/Random House Audio audiobooks in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. In order the books are: The Golden CompassThe Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. While do enjoy reading, I found that I really enjoy listening to audiobooks in the car. I make about a 30 minute commute to work, so it helps me stay sane! I also detest the radio, so I don’t feel like I am wandering around stations.

The first thing I want to say about this series, in terms of audiobooks, is that it is read by a FULL CAST. That is something awesome! It means that each character has their own voice. At first I was worried I wouldn’t recall anything about the books specifically, but since the voice acting was superb I can recall even the slightest details about a character’s mannerism or feeling. The narrative itself was read by Philip Pullman, the author. You can tell from the get-go that he is very enthusiastic about the story and he really breathes life into parts of the book that, when I read it, seemed dull.

The stories conveyed in this book are nearly timeless and the protagonists feel like they could be real people. Lyra Belacqua, the main protagonist in The Golden Compass, is a willful child that prefers telling tall tales over the truth. Her companion, a daemon that all humans have in her world, is Pantalaimon; he is quick to warn her about all the negatives of her plans. They make a fantastic duo for the first book, but sadly their relationship seems to be put aside in The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass unless the plot calls for it. Will Perry is the protagonist introduced in the 2nd and 3rd novel. Will is a very strong, young boy who has been forced to go up because of his mother’s possible schizophrenic condition. He can be considered the main protagonist of The Subtle Knife and shares the lead protagonist role with Lyra for most of The Amber Spyglass

The voices for Lyra and Will were very solid. For whatever reasons, Will’s VA was changed for the last book to an older sounding boy. While the guy reading Will’s parts in TAS was very convincing, it was hard imagining him as a 13 year old boy. The rest of the cast, especially Lee Scoresby, were voiced very well. My one issue is that some of the men sounded the same, particularly Father Coram and Sir Charles. They were voiced by two different men, yet I would somehow confuse one for another until the context settled in.

As stated earlier, Lyra is the central figure of the first book, but goes from lead protagonist to being an “object” that Will wants to protect. When I say “object,” I don’t mean that she is being treated like an inanimate object, but rather, she is the object to Will’s subject. While the text/voice is in 3rd person omniscient, the narrator seems to focus on Will’s thoughts and feelings more often than Lyra’s once he is introduced. Lyra, in fact, spends a great deal of time in slumber while Will tries to rescue her in The Amber Spyglass. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something that bothered me simply because I was under the impression that Lyra would remain as the main protagonist throughout.

As an atheist, I found the anti-religious themes in His Dark Materials a bit too unsettling. While I am not an advocate for or against religion, I thought the story did not represent enough sides to the theme. While there are likable Angels and some lower religious folk, any person actively associated with the church of Lyra’s world was written as a monster. I have no problems with questioning the authority of church hierarchy, but Pullman did a disservice by painting all the members of various church groups as villains. I think he missed an opportunity to explore characters that would love to change the church from the inside and help create the Republic of Heaven as Lord Asriel started.

Despite my complaints, the story was intriguing enough for me to keep listening. The conviction in the voices of the many actors grasped my attention and didn’t let go until the very end. The series is worth a read/listen if only for the unique way Lyra’s destiny plays out towards the end.