Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

darkplacesI decided to check out Dark Places after loving Gone Girl and ended up loving it even more.

While I really enjoyed Gone Girl, I didn’t connect with its main characters the way I connected with Libby in Dark Places. Flynn’s characters are always deeply flawed, sometimes unlikable, which isn’t a bad thing and in fact is often what makes them interesting, but Gone Girl‘s Nick and Amy feel far removed from anyone I know in real life. Libby is not only easier to relate to, but her growth and development throughout the book are insanely well done.

In the beginning, she’s depressed and stagnant. She has floated through life aimlessly since she was seven, when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered by an unknown killer who may or may not have been her older brother. For the most part, she’s avoided thinking about it, but as the story progresses and she begins to examine that night more closely, she finally finds purpose in unraveling the mystery behind the killings.

I adored her relationship with Lyle, which serves as the catalyst for piecing the remains of her life back together after being shattered by her family’s deaths. (I recently learned that he’s going to be played by Nicholas Hoult in the upcoming movie adaption, which I think is a spot-on casting choice.) I like that their relationship remains platonic and open to interpretation. What Libby needs above all else is a friend, and Lyle provides that for her at a time when she’s desperate for it.

Bottom line: Dark Places is as dark and morbid as you’d expect from a Gillian Flynn novel but with ten times more heart.

Initial Thoughts on Kentucky Route Zero: Acts I and II

Kentucky Route Zero is simply gorgeous. Its art style caught me at first glance, and its abstract story kept me buried after delving into it, but the whole thing is just so gorgeous it nearly moves me to tears.

Created by two-man studio Cardboard Computer, Kentucky Route Zero is a “magical realist adventure game” that uses geometric shapes, soft lighting, and eerie music to create a nighttime otherworld. You play mostly as beleaguered truck driver Conway, who makes deliveries for an antique store and is having trouble finding the last address on his route. The further down the road you go, the more you realize the address is probably only a metaphor for the end of Conway’s journey, the actual destination of which is much more complicated.

In fact, everything you encounter in the game could be a metaphor and is open to interpretation. It’s up to you to piece together the bits of story you pick up as you go along, while circumstances can easily twist and change at any moment. To get wherever it is he’s going, Conway travels a strange underground highway known as Route Zero, where all he encounters is filled with mystery and tinged with Americana.

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Now Bob Will Always Be My Neighbor

If you’ve never played any of the Animal Crossing games before, I’ll attempt to explain them for you:

They’re made by Nintendo and have become an integral part of the company’s image. Not quite on the same level as Mario, but close.

You start out with an adorable character that represents you and looks something like this:


Your character then moves into a town, which looks something like this:


…but of course bigger and full of houses, shops, a river, a beach, bugs and fish you can catch, trees you can shake that will sometimes reward you with money or punish you by sending a swarm of bees after you, random holes you can fall into if you’re not careful, etc. You can name both your character and your town whatever you want. My character is always my real-life nickname, Lys, and my town is always Mirage.

You also have fellow villagers, which are all adorable animals that speak gibberish and ask you to do random tasks for them because they are so adorable why would you refuse?


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Blackwell: A Captivating Adventure

Point-and-click adventures were the bread and butter of my earliest gaming experiences. I spent plenty of time killing zombies in Resident Evil and breaking boxes in Crash Bandicoot, but I’ve always been a lover of stories first and foremost, and adventure games are all about a good narrative. You could almost get away with calling them interactive novels if it weren’t for the fact that those are completely different things. Wadjet Eye Games’ Blackwell series is one of the more compelling stories I’ve run across in an adventure game, taking me back to my childhood while tapping into the unavoidable existentialism of my adult life.

The Blackwell Bundle comprises four separate games: The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, The Blackwell Convergence, and The Blackwell Deception. They’re short on their own, but when played one after the other they feel like a full game, and it’s well worth it for the $14.99 price tag.

The overarching story’s main protagonist is Rosa Blackwell, who you take control of in all but Blackwell Unbound. Rosa is a writer living in New York City who discovers she’s also a Medium. She’s a kickass character, sharp and driven and brimming with sarcasm. She could be anyone at first glance, but she has a well of depth under the surface that’s impressive considering the modest length of these games.

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My Top 5 Atmospheric Video Games

Video games are increasingly tailored to keep players coming back for more, and not just when it comes to multiplayer. Single player games offer multiple campaigns, varying endings, or dynamic plots that adjust to your choices as you play. While those features make for an interesting experience, they won’t matter if the in-game world doesn’t take hold of us and refuse to let go. Since we’re human beings with those pesky things called feelings, a good atmosphere is vital to us—sometimes all it takes to make us want to stay in a game, even after we’ve explored every inch of its world.

A combination of things can add up to a good atmosphere, but ultimately it’s what initially pulls you in. It answers the question of whether you want to explore a game’s world, and it’s absolutely crucial to that oft-cited feature that’s imperative for most of us: immersion. The feeling I get from being in a game will determine how absorbed I am by it and how much I’ll want to stay that way.

Merriam-Webster defines atmosphere as follows:

a :  the overall aesthetic effect of a work of art

b :  an intriguing or singular tone, effect, or appeal

Taking the definition into account, it’s important to note that atmosphere is also somewhat subjective. Different aesthetics will appeal to different people, so for that reason, this list is a personal one. Below are a few games that kept me lost in their “overall aesthetic” along with my attempts to figure out why.

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Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Please Ignore Vera DietzThere are two things a book can possess that are guaranteed to pull me in:

1. A first-person narrative with a believable voice.

Vera Dietz is the best YA main character I’ve met in a while. She might just be my all-time favorite. She’s independent and sharp and complicated and a genuinely good person. She loses perspective and makes some bad decisions, mostly involving vodka, but underneath it all is a teenage girl who’s dealing with some heavy stuff and trying her best to keep going in spite of it. Her best friend Charlie is dead, and she’s left to cope with her complicated feelings for him, which often seesaw between love and hate, and the secrets she holds about his death.

Plus, she loves animals, she listens to Sam Cooke and Al Green, and she shops for back-to-school clothes at Goodwill. Those little details serve her character so well and make her even more real, and they make me want to hang out with her. She could really use a good friend.

2. Little quirks thrown in that help set the book apart from others I’ve read.

There are several of these:

  • Vera’s vocabulary words
  • Ken Dietz’ flow charts
  • Different character perspectives
  • Hilarious chapter titles
  • Zen quotes
  • Charlie’s napkin writings

All of these details add spice to the story, enhancing an already rich and engaging book.

Other things I loved:

  • Ken Dietz, Vera’s father. He’s dealing with some complex emotions too while trying to raise a grieving teenage daughter on his own, and you get to explore his thoughts and struggles in chapters written from his perspective. The way his relationship with Vera develops throughout the book is realistic and super sweet, putting him right up there with Keith Mars in the pantheon of awesome single dads.
  • Alternating past and present tense. The book switches between present events and flashbacks that serve as clues to Vera and Charlie’s complicated relationship and everything that led to his death. It seems like it could get confusing, but it never does. Everything flows so well.
  • A satisfying ending, despite some loose ends. Things that need to be dealt with are dealt with appropriately, and some details are left open to interpretation, but it leaves you contemplating them rather than feeling annoyed that they’re not resolved. It’s like we are Vera and Ken and the town. Sometimes we don’t have the answers to everything, so we’re left wondering about them instead, imagining how they could have been or how we wish they were. That’s real life, and that’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

Bottom line: A.S. King effortlessly combines quirk and realism into a gut-wrenching story about dealing with loss.


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

GileadGilead is a difficult book to define. I’m not a religious person, and so I appreciate that the current of Christianity running beneath the book never fully rises to the surface, but it’s always there. It is, after all, about a man who spent his life as a minister, and it’s undeniably spiritual, but what it celebrates is not religion or God but the human desire and definition for happiness. It doesn’t have a traditional narrative, but it doesn’t need one. In a series of letters to his son, John Ames writes down his thoughts and meditations. We’re privy to his difficulties and regrets, but ultimately, Gilead is a celebration of life.

Within that celebration, Gilead is a deep, moving reflection on family and the importance of being there for your child, in some form if being there physically is not always possible. It’s the story of John Ames’s life and his father’s and his grandfather’s. It’s a message about acceptance and unconditional love.

Gilead has a distinctly melancholy feel throughout. From the beginning, you know the narrator is going to die, but it’s conversely hopeful and optimistic. Despite everything Ames has been through, including a long period of “darkness” that he alludes to several times, he remains appreciative of the life he was given. He regrets that he’s dying because he genuinely loves life, and he loves all the simple things and moments that make life what it is.

As I mentioned, there isn’t really a defined narrative in Gilead. It reads like you would expect a man on the brink of death’s journal to read, more like a stream of consciousness than a series of events, although the arrival of his son adds more layers to his thoughts and how he records them. Ames shares everything, from simple musings to deep-rooted fears, the joys of his past and worries about his departure from his beloved world. I feel like a better person for reading them.

Bottom line: Gilead is a deep, meditative book about the human condition. It’s probably not suited to those who prefer a more action-driven plot, but it’s filled with valuable insights.