The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-12-15

Sunday Post

I didn’t give anything away this week. I need to fix that. Maybe next week.

SFRQ website buttonThis was a fun week. Lots of lovely speculative fiction, a bit of fantasy, a bit of paranormal, and some of my favorite sci-fi romance. Speaking of sci-fi romance, in case you missed it, I’m going to give another shout-out to the latest issue of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, which just came out on July 5. As usual, it is awesome, especially if you love SFR as I do. The opinion column on this year’s Hugo kerfuffle, and how the Hugo awards treat romance in general, was an interesting take on the ongoing controversy. It also made me wonder something – is SFRQ itself eligible for a Hugo next year, in one of the Fan Writing categories?

Next week I’ve got two books that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. First is Armada, the second book by Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One. Is Armada as awesome as RPO (squeed over, ahem, reviewed here)? And Last First Snow, the fourth book in Max Gladstone’s totally awesome Craft Sequence.

minion adorableSo far, it’s a lovely summer! Because…Minions!

Winner Announcements:

The winner of A New Hope by Robyn Carr is Maranda H.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or Book in the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop is Summer H.

inherit the stars by laurie a greenBlog Recap:

A- Review: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
B+ Review: Ink and Shadows by Rhys Ford
A- Review: Among Galactic Ruins by Anna Hackett
B+ Review: Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick
A+ Review: Inherit the Stars by Laurie A. Green
Stacking the Shelves (143)



armada by ernest clineComing Next Week:

Armada by Ernest Cline (review)
Last First Snow by Max Gladstone (review)
Space Cowboys & Indians by Lisa Medley (blog tour review)
The Widow’s Son by Thomas Shawver (blog tour review)
Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman (review)

Review: Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick

video game storytelling by evan skolnickFormat read: paperback provided by Blogging for Books
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: nonfiction, video games
Length: 208 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Date Released: December 2, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository


With increasingly sophisticated video games being consumed by an enthusiastic and expanding audience, the pressure is on game developers like never before to deliver exciting stories and engaging characters. With Video Game Storytelling, game writer and producer Evan Skolnick provides a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow guide to storytelling basics and how they can be applied at every stage of the development process—by all members of the team. This clear, concise reference pairs relevant examples from top games and other media with a breakdown of the key roles in game development, showing how a team’s shared understanding and application of core storytelling principles can deepen the player experience. Understanding story and why it matters is no longer just for writers or narrative designers. From team leadership to game design and beyond, Skolnick reveals how each member of the development team can do his or her part to help produce gripping, truly memorable narratives that will enhance gameplay and bring today’s savvy gamers back time and time again.

My Review:

I’ll be honest. I picked this book up from Blogging for Books because it would give me an excuse to talk about my favorite video games in a book review. How cool is that?

Dragon_Age_Inquisition_BoxArtAlso because I was going through my third or fourth play-through of Dragon Age: Inquisition at the time, and I was very interested in seeing some analysis that would help me crystallize my thoughts on why the damn thing was so good.

I’m playing DA:I again right now, so it seemed like the perfect time to get this book out of the TBR pile. And it was.

Video Game Storytelling is a book that breaks down the essential elements of telling a good story, any good story for any medium, and then shows how to apply and support those principles in the creation of one very specific storytelling medium – a video game.

After having read it, I suspect that the parts of the book that deal with the ins and outs of video game production show the way it should work in the ideal world, but very seldom does. I say very seldom does not because I have experience in the industry, but because I have a lot of experience as a player – and it’s pretty obvious from the outside looking in that storytelling usually takes a backseat to gee-whiz-bang special effects, often to the detriment of both. (For an example I give you the commentary on Final Fantasy XIII’s story versus the nearly universal praise of the storytelling in Final Fantasy X)

My interest in video games, especially console games, is in the story. When people ask why I play, or what is it that fascinates me about games, my answer is usually that “I love video games, when they’re good, because it is like being inside a story.” I’m not reading the story, I’m playing the story.

So the first half of Video Game Storytelling is the part that really grabbed me, because it is all about stories – what makes them work and what makes them fall flat on their virtual faces. I think that anyone who is interested in creating stories would find the author’s summary of the elements of good storytelling very helpful reading.

A lot of the emphasis is on “show, don’t tell.” The player, reader or viewer (this also applies to movies and TV, after all) is more engaged when the characters and the story show you what you need to know, instead of two talking heads or voice-over exposition. The examples given are cogent ones, and it articulates what feels right and what doesn’t.

Dragon_Age_Origins_coverBoth Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Age: Origins tell essentially the same story. The country is falling apart because the king is dead and the heir is lost, nonexistent or there is a question about who will rule. The difference is that FFXII used a ton of voice-over exposition to explain the political situation, while DA:O just had you see how screwed up things were by having your character experience it first-hand. It also helps that the lost heir in Dragon Age is a way more likable and sympathetic character than the one in FFXII. I often wanted to slap Ashe (in FFXII) in the face, where I usually wanted to give Alistair (in DA:O) a hug.

The author of Video Game Storytelling also makes a whole lot of salient points about reader/viewer/player expectations of character and story, and the ways that failing those expectations can “bounce” people off of a story in any medium.

One of the points that the author makes that definitely applies to any type of storytelling is that of making sure that all the characters, including the villains, have their own realistic (albeit wrong) motivations for what they do, and that every character’s motivation has to make sense from their point of view.

How many of us have either bounced off a piece of fiction, or critiqued it less than favorably, because the villains all seem like cookie-cutter evil? Being a member of the “Evil League of Evil” is not enough of a reason, by itself, for bad people to do bad things. They also can’t just be crazy, there still has to be some internal logic behind what they do.

Forces of nature, like a hurricane or a tornado, or the Blight (disease) in Dragon Age: Origins, don’t have their own motives, but the way that people react to them still does.

tolkien on fairy storiesJ.R.R. Tolkien, in On Fairy-Stories (published in 1939! and available in The Tolkien Reader) talks a great deal about the “willing suspension of disbelief” that a writer must necessarily create in his readers, and by extension viewers or players, in order to get them to invest in the secondary (imaginary) world that is created within the work.

That concept is explored in Video Game Storytelling quite a bit. The creator has to make the world of the game as internally consistent as possible to keep the player immersed in the story. It is also necessary for a game that the gameplay match the story being told. In other words, don’t give a pacifist character a gun and expect them to be the player-character in a first-person shooter without a lot of angst on somebody’s part.

The willing suspension of disbelief also applies to the things that characters say and do, and this applies in other types of fiction as well. How many books have you read where the author says that the main character is really smart, but in fact, they act like an idiot in at least one area of their lives without any believable explanation?

Things that don’t make sense, in any medium, bounce us out of the story.

One part of the analysis of storytelling that I really enjoyed was the explanation of the uses of coincidence and especially the deus ex machina ending. I always hate deus (dei?) ex machina whenever I spot them, so it was great to see someone teaching writing explain how and why they are bad to people who will go on to write hopefully better stories without them.

In short, while the description or prescription, of the ways that creating and preserving the narrative elements should be integrated into a game design will be fascinating to a gamer, the first half of the book, the parts about how storytelling works (and doesn’t) make excellent reading for any storyteller in any medium.

Reality Rating B+: Because the writer is writing nonfiction rather than his usual fiction, occasionally the prose in this book comes off a little wooden. The author is here forced to tell more than show, where the contents of this book are normally presented in an interactive workshop.

I kept wanting to talk back to the book, to discuss why my particular favorite games worked, and where they fit into the various scenarios of storytelling.

For anyone who is thinking about reading the book for its storytelling pointers (which I recommend) it is very accessible to a non-gamer. The storytelling examples are taken from the first Star Wars movie, and that is such a classic that most people are guaranteed to have seen it – possibly more than once.

Star Wars is also a great story for discussing the use of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, otherwise known as the Hero’s Journey. Lucas has stated that he drew on Campbell extensively in the creation of Luke Skywalker and his quest. (I’ve even seen a museum exhibit that shows how this worked, and it was awesome.)

After reading this book, I was left thinking about some of my favorite games, and better able to articulate why they worked, and especially why they worked for me. They are all games where either the player invests themselves in a character and experiences the story seemingly first-hand (Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: Inquisition) or where the player feels for the experience that the characters are going through in the story (Final Fantasy X). These are all games where the story rules the game, and the player experiences it. Yes, there is fighting and monsters to kill and occasionally silly quests to undertake, but the story is paramount. And it is such a good story that I’m willing to play it, to be in it and feel it, over and over again.

The author of Video Game Storytelling explains that one of the driving forces in a good game is making the player feel the emotions that the game creators want you to feel. For those games, it worked for me.

Now I have an even clearer picture why.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-5-15

Sunday Post

Happy day after the 4th to everyone in the U.S. It’s been a marvelous three-day weekend here. I hope that everyone has made the most of it!

Speaking of the Fourth, there is still time to enter the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop for a chance at either a $10 Gift Card or a book of your choice up to the same amount. The freedom to add something new to your TBR stack awaits you!

Looking ahead to this week’s reviews it looks like speculative fiction week at Reading Reality. And speaking of speculative fiction, the latest issue of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly came out today, with all new reviews, new short fiction and terrific discussions of the genre we (I’m one of the reviewers) all love, SFR. Check out the new issue and be amazed!

freedom-to-read-giveaway-hop1-237x300Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 book of the winner’s choice in the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop
A New Hope by Robyn Carr
5 copies of A Sword for His Lady by Mary Wine

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Ruthless by John Rector is Jo J.
The winner of their choice of a $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Favorite Heroines Giveaway Hop is Anne

new hope by robyn carrBlog Recap:

B Review: Phoenix Inheritance by Corrina Lawson
B+ Review: A New Hope by Robyn Carr + Giveaway
B Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop
B Review: A Sword For His Lady by Mary Wine + Giveaway
B- Review: Duke City Desperado by Max Austin
Stacking the Shelves (142)


ink and shadows by rhys fordComing Next Week:

Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (blog tour review)
Ink and Shadows by Rhys Ford (review)
Among Galactic Ruins by Anna Hackett (review)
Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick (review)
Inherit the Stars by Laurie A. Green (review)

Favorite Heroines Giveaway Hop

favorite heroines

The Favorite Heroines Giveaway Hop is organized by The Herd Hops and hosted by Herding Cats & Burning Soup.

What makes a heroine? There are all sorts of ways to be a heroine. There are warrior heroines and princess heroines (sometimes those two things are combined) but there are also plenty of other ways.

In fantasy there is always the option of the wizard/sorceress/enchantress heroine. You know, someone who can light lamps with the flick of her fingers – or set the entire world on fire.

Contemporary stories also provide different ways to be a heroine – women can save lives through medicine or crime-fighting (or fire-fighting). Or they can just be the heroine for their own families or neighborhoods.

fellowship of the ring by tolkien old paperbackWhen I first read The Lord of the Rings, I was in grade school. I remember being annoyed because there were no women on that epic quest. I wanted there to be someone I could identify with in that motley crew. At the time, I was particularly wishing for a female wizard, but I could be flexible about it.

It’s 40 years later, and I’m still pissed that there was no kick-ass warrior woman on that journey.

On the other hand, I think that Harry Potter (and Ron Weasley) would have died an ignominious death early in The Sorceror’s Stone without Hermione. And I know I’m not the only one who thinks that. (But why she ended up with Ron I’ll never understand.)

talon of the hawk by jeffe kennedyJeffe Kennedy’s recent Twelve Kingdoms series features three different types of heroines – the oldest sister is the warrior princess, the middle sister is the magic practitioner, and the youngest sister becomes a goddess avatar. But they are all active heroines with agency. They also do a kick-ass job of showcasing the power of sisterhood.

I play videogames, and the Dragon Age series also contains a terrific group of different types of active and action heroines as well as allowing the player to choose the sex, race and job classification of their player/character hero or heroine. There is a scene early in Dragon Age: Inquisition where Cassandra, the warrior woman and Leliana, the spymistress, turn over the reins of power in a very public ceremony. When the player is female, the scene of two powerful women handing over those reins of power to a third equally powerful woman gives me chills every single time. (If you are curious, the sequence of events is captured in this Youtube vid)

And now it’s time for you to tell everyone who your favorite heroine (of any kind) is. Answer the question in the rafflecopter for your chance at either a $10 Gift Card or a book of your choice ($10 or under) from The Book Depository.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
There are plenty of other terrific prizes at the other stops on the hop. Check them out! 

Stacking the Shelves (129)

Stacking the Shelves

Today is the 4th anniversary of Reading Reality. 2011 seems like a LONG time ago. The official celebration (and giveaway) will be on Monday, April 6. I’m starting to measure my life in when we moved and where we were when “X” happened. When I started Reading Reality, we were living in Gainesville, FL. After that, we moved here to Atlanta. and moved again within Atlanta. Then Seattle, and we moved again in Seattle. Now we’re back in Atlanta. That’s a lot of moves to end up back in the same place. We often drive by that second place we lived in when we were here before. It’s hard to resist the impulse to turn in!

On the bookish front, Humble Bundle is currently offering a science fiction bundle that is pretty awesome. Check it out!

For Review:
Deadly Election (Flavia Albia #3) by Lindsey Davis
The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw
Dissident (Bellator #1) by Cecilia London
Finding Mr. Right Now (Salt Box #1) by Meg Benjamin
The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig
The State of Play edited by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Purchased from Amazon:
The Atrocity Archives (Laundry Files #1) by Charles Stross
Crushed (City of Eldrich #2) by Laura Kirwan
The Fire Seer and Her Quradum (Coalition of Mages #2) by Amy Raby
Impervious (City of Eldrich #1) by Laura Kirwan
Target of the Heart (Night Stalkers) by M.L. Buchman

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Stacking the Shelves

This week, I received a LOT of books for contests that I’m judging, and not much else. Except the second book in Robin York’s awesome Caroline & West series, which I’ve been stalking NetGalley for. I can’t wait!

For Review:
Country Roads (Whisper Horse #2) by Nancy Herkness
Harder (Caroline & West #2) by Robin York
A Heat of the Moment Thing by Maggie Le Page
Island Healing (St. Anne’s Island #1) by Virginia McCullough
Leave the Lights On by Karen Stivali
Southern Fried Blues (The Officers’ Ex-Wives Club #1) by Jamie Farrell
The Spiritglass Charade (Stoker & Holmes #2) by Colleen Gleason
That Summer by Lauren Willig
Training Travis by Cathleen Tully

Dragon Age: The Masked Empire (Dragon Age #4) by Patrick Weekes

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-23-14

Sunday Post

This was an interesting week at chez Reading Reality. Actually, last weekend was way more interesting.

FFX-X-2_HD_Remaster_NA_CoverCass was here in Seattle last weekend, so we got to write our dual review of Dancing with Dragons while sitting together. Doing it in the same place doubles both the time it takes and the snark produced! We had way too much fun.

But this week has also been the week that my favorite video game ever was re-released on HD. Once my copy of Final Fantasy X arrived, I didn’t get a lot done except play–right up until the PS3 totally died. Then it was back to the books!


Current Giveaways:

leprechaun blog hop$10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card in the Leaping Leprechauns & Frolicking Fairies Blog Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card from Victoria Pinder
$25 Gift Card, preview copies of Virna DePaul’s new titles courtesy of Romance at Random

Winner Announcements:

Paperback copy of Retribution by Anderson Harp won by Jo J.
Ebook copy of Good Together by CJ Carmichael won by Shamara C.
Ebook copy of Slam Dance with the Devil by Nico Rosso won by Erin F.

concealed in death by jd robbBlog Recap:

Leaping Leprechauns & Frolicking Fairies – The All Things Irish Blog Hop
B+ Review: Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb
C, C+ Dual Review: Dancing with Dragons by Lorenda Christensen
Turned Blog Hop
B- Review: The Zoastra Affair by Victoria Pinder + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (81)


Murder of CrowsComing Next Week:

A Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop (review by Cass)
The Accident by Chris Pavone (blog tour review and giveaway)
Turned by Virna DePaul (review)
The Cottage on Juniper Ridge by Sheila Roberts (blog tour review)
Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews (review)

Stacking the Shelves (44)

Stacking the Shelves

Doctor Who Who-ology by Mark CavanThis year is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Two of the review books are part of the 50th anniversary collection from BBC Books. It was kind of a thrill to get the Royal Mail package from England this week.

It had an extra surprise inside. Doctor Who: Who-ology, The Official Miscellany by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright. It’s kind of a dictionary of Doctor Who. For a fan, it’s pure gold, but I can’t imagine reviewing it. Still, it’s a glorious prezzie and I can’t resist opening it every few minutes just for kicks.

Stacking the shelves Reading Reality May 11 2013

For Review:
Any Other Name (Split Worlds #2) by Emma Newman
The Apple Orchard (Bella Vista #1) by Susan Wiggs
Chasing Mrs. Right (Come Undone #2) by Katee Robert
The Clockwork Scarab (Stoker & Holmes #1) by Colleen Gleason
Dangerous Curves Ahead (Perfect Fit #1) by Sugar Jamison
Desire by Design by Paula Altenburg
Doctor Who: Festival of Death (Past Doctor Adventures #35) by Jonathan Morris
Doctor Who: Ten Little Aliens (Past Doctor Adventures #54) by Stephen Cole
Flirting With Disaster (Camelot #3) by Ruthie Knox
From This Moment On (Sullivans #2) by Bella Andre
Gaming for Keeps by Seleste DeLaney
Hearts in Darkness (Nikki & Michael #2) by Keri Arthur
Hellhound by Kaylie Austen
Home to Whiskey Creek (Whiskey Creek #4) by Brenda Novak
How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9) by Louise Penny
The Look of Love (Sullivans #1) by Bella Andre
Love Me (Take A Chance #2) by Diane Alberts
The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter (Phaeton Black #3) by Jillian Stone
Mist by Susan Krinard
The Newcomer (Thunder Point #2) by Robyn Carr
The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy Slipcased Edition by Yoshitaka Amano
Stranded With a Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #1) by Jessica Clare

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse #13) by Charlaine Harris
Delicate Freakn’ Flower (Freakn’ Shifters #1) by Eve Langlais

Borrowed from the Library:
Good Man Friday (Benjamin January #12) by Barbara Hambly

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Stacking the Shelves

This is two-weeks’ worth of shelf-stacking. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Again.

However, a quite possibly germane post appeared this week at All About Romance titled Hoarders: The TBR Episode? While I can cheerfully say that I do not have 600 print books in my house labelled “TBR”, I have to confess that I do have about 200. And the low number isn’t because I’ve restrained myself, it’s because I switched to ebooks over two years ago, so I have lots of TBR ebooks, they just don’t take up nearly as much space!

Stacking the shelves April 13 2013

For Review: (ebooks unless noted)
Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio #7) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
The Brazen Amazon (Alliance of the Amazons #3) by Sandy James
Frat Boy & Toppy (Theta Alpha Gamma #1) by Anne Tenino
Hair of the Dog by Kelli Scott
Hers for the Holidays (The Berringers #2) by Samantha Hunter (print)
How Beauty Loved the Beast (Tales of the Underlight #3) by Jax Garren
Living Dangerously (Adrenaline Highs #4) by Dee J. Adams
Long Simmering Spring (Star Harbor #3) by Elisabeth Barrett
Lover Undercover by Samanthe Beck
The Original 1982 by Lori Carson
Outcast Prince (Court of Annwyn #1) by Shona Husk
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Private Practice by Samanthe Beck
Real Men Don’t Quit (Real Men #2) by Coleen Kwan
Rules of Entanglement (Fighting for Love #2) by Gina L. Maxwell
SEAL of Honor (HORNET #1) by Tonya Burrows
Shadow People (Peter Warlock #2) by James Swain
Wounded Angel (Earth Angels #3) by Stacy Gail

Picked up at Norwescon: (all print)
Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Purchased: (all print and all graphic novels)
Dragon Age by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
Dragon Age: The Silent Grove by David Gaider, Alexander Freed and Chad Hardin
Dragon Age: Those Who Speak by David Gaider, Alexander Freed and Chad Hardin

Borrowed from the Library: (print)
The Devil’s Armor (A Novel of the Bronze Knight #2) by John Marco

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Stacking the ShelvesI don’t say this nearly often enough, but Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews to share the books that you are adding to your shelves, whether that add is physical or virtual.

This seems to have been a week when I added way too many of both types! Every book I picked or got sent seemed to be part of a series. So, instead of “just saying no”, I borrowed the earlier (or later) books in the series from the library. Working in a library seems to make me even more susceptible to the siren song of “read me, read me”.

At least I didn’t compound the problem further by buying some, too. (That’ll probably be next week’s sin)

Reading Reality stacking the shelves March 9 2013

For Review: (all ebooks)
Bone Quill (Hollow Earth #2) by John and Carole E. Barrowman
Caged Warrior (Dragon Kings #1) by Lindsey Piper
Dark Wolf (Spirit Wild #1) by Kate Douglas
Death Takes a Holiday (F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad Investigation #3) by Jennifer Harlow
Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, Volume 1 by David Gaider and others
I Kissed a Dog (Werewolves of the West #1) by Carol Van Atta
Lucky Like Us (Hunted #2) by Jennifer Ryan
Mindlink by Kat Cantrell
Saved by the Rancher (Hunted #1) by Jennifer Ryan
A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
Stealing Home (Diamonds and Dugouts #1) by Jennifer Seasons
Wool by Hugh Howey

Borrowed from the Library: (all print)
Enchanting the Beast (Relics of Merlin #3) by Kathryne Kennedy
Immortally Embraced (Monster M*A*S*H #2) by Angie Fox
Mind Over Monsters (F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad Investigation #1) by Jennifer Harlow
Quincannon (John Quincannon #1) by Bill Pronzini
Quincannon’s Game (John Quincannon #3) by Bill Pronzini
To Catch a Vampire (F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad Investigation #2) by Jennifer Harlow