Music Monday: SongPop Review

Title: SongPop
Format: iOS
Developer: Fresh Planet

Think you know music? Put it to the test in the song trivia game SongPop. Players go head to head identifying the titles or artists from song clips. The more you play, the more songs you unlock—everything from standard genres of rock, pop, and rap to more specialized lists such as Ultimate 90s, industrial, and TV themes.

My Thoughts:
I’ve been playing this game for over two months and I’m completely addicted. A round only takes a couple minutes, perfect for sneaking in between activities, while waiting for something, or during TV commercials.
With most challenge games I’ve played, my friends or I get bored with them. SongPop, however, gives plenty to keep you playing. First, mastery of playlists takes quite a long time. Each time you earn a star, more songs are unlocked. Second, even if you lose, you earn a coin—winners get three. With those coins, you are able to purchase new genre playlists. Third, you can start matches with random players. So if your friends ditch out, you can still play.

I love that the playlist options aren’t only super mainstream options. I listen to a wide variety of music. When it’s only radio songs, I get bored. SongPop has lists for specific decades going all the way back to the 1950s, electronic and dance music, new wave, industrial, and tons more. Every so often there are free promotion playlists. For example, there was a free Pitch Perfect playlist when the film was released to theaters.

While I love the game, there have been a few annoyances. Sometimes the load times are long, and occasionally it will almost freeze on a load screen. Usually, I turn the screen off and come back a few minutes later. That works 90% of those situations. In the early days of my SongPop exploits, the music would infrequently not play while the challenge was in progress. Clearly, that makes it impossible. However, that hasn’t happened in ages—I assume one of the updates. Lastly, it will sometimes take two or three presses for the game to realize I’m hitting the button. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it can be the difference between winning and losing.

Despite the flaws, I am so addicted. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s free on the App Store. Do it. See if you get addicted too.

Find SongPop online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | App Store | Google Play

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

Title:  Pitch Perfect
Rated:  PG-13
Genre:  Comedy, musical
Director:  Jason Moore
Writers:  Kay Cannon (screenplay), Mickey Rapkin (book)
Stars:  Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Ben Platt, Adam DeVine, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins
Rating:  4 Stars

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an aspiring DJ who wants nothing more than to move to L.A. and start paying her dues. But her professor father is making her give college, and the college life, a shot, on-campus club required. Beca reluctantly joins the Barden Bellas, an all-girls a cappella singing group.

Barden Bella leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) is determined to make it to the finals using their signature methods:  perfect looks and a song repertoire of famous female hits. But after last year’s disastrous showing, the recruits are anything but perfect.

Can Beca remix Aubrey’s thoughts and tired playlist to beat the rival a cappella group, The Treble Makers?

Pitch Perfect TV spot

My Thoughts: 
I went into this film with low expectations. It looked like a Glee rehash, and I am no fan of Glee (though, some of their mash-ups are wonderful). Pitch Perfect just slaughtered those low expectations.

While the competition and romance plot lines are a bit clichéd, the actors make it fresh and entertaining. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Brittany Snow have some fantastic comedic lines. There’s also a great cameo from Christopher Mintz-Plasse, in which he pokes fun at Glee.

The soundtrack was also much better than I expected. I feared hearing all my least favorite pop songs that had been overplayed during the year or two before the film’s release. Granted, there was one of them—Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”—but for the most part, it was music I loved. When Yeasayer’s “Rome” came on, I froze in shock. Good thing there wasn’t any dialogue happening then. Other great tracks include “Chelsea Dagger” by The Fratellis, “No Diggity” by Blackstreet, “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, and “Don’t Move” by Phantogram.

Pitch Perfect music video: "Starships" performed by Mike Tompkins, Pitch Perfect cast, and fans

Pitch Perfect is a fun, comedic film. It has a heart, but never gets too serious with itself. I highly recommend it.

Find Pitch Perfect:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Redbox

Music Monday: My Least Favorite Christmas Songs

These are the songs I dread hearing every year. And yes, I heard them this season before writing this post, unfortunately.

1. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

First of all, her voice drives me up the wall. There are very few songs I like sung by children or with strong vibrato. This has both.

Then she knocks Tinker Toys. Nope. Not standing for that. I loved building toys, despite the fact I was terrible at building things.

Hippos also are not friendly creatures. The only hippos you should be asking for are Hungry Hungry Hippos, of the plastic variety.

2. The Christmas Shoes

This is the most depressing Christmas song.

Some people find it meaningful and beautiful. This is what I hear:
--They procrastinated on buying her a gift, so she might die before you get back
--Give me money!
--This has been a depressing holiday season. . . let’s spread it around!

In tracking down the above video, I just learned that it’s also a movie. I believe a movie or written story of this could be very moving or profound, but somehow I doubt it.

Here, listen to Patton Oswalt discussing why it’s so bothersome:

I stumbled upon this today and I can’t decide whether to hate it or love it.

This is a song from 2004 that sounds like stereotypical 90s Euro pop—weird, right? I cannot deny my love of the 90s Euro pop scene, but still, the lyrics are worse than most.

Help me decide!
Is this so bad it’s good, or just plain terrible?

Movie Review: Butter

Title:  Butter
Rated:  R
Genres:  Comedy, Satire
Director:  Jim Field Smith
Writer:  Jason A. Micallef
Stars:  Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Hugh Jackman
Rating:  4 Stars

After winning 15 years in a row, master butter carver Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) is forced to step down and let others have a shot at butter fame. Understanding this as a personal shot at the Pickler family status, his wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner) enters the refrigerated room and begins her butter quest.

But our young narrator and main character, Destiny (Yara Shahidi), becomes a sticker in Laura Pickler’s side. After being bounced between comically horrible foster families, Destiny finds a stable home with Ethan and Julie (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone). They encourage her to find a hobby she likes, which just so happens to be butter carving, something she is a bit of a prodigy at.
This butter battle boasts contenders from butter carving groupies, to a stripper (Olivia Wilde), to a good ol’ car salesmen (Hugh Jackman). Expect satire, manipulation, and farcical levels of competition.

My Thoughts: 
Set in Iowa, this quirky comedy takes full advantage of its Midwest setting. From the Iowa State Fair to the odd assortment of characters, the script felt genuinely Midwest to this Minnesotan. And while the accents weren’t perfect the whole time, I can tell you that my Minnesoooootan accent comes waves, so it didn’t particularly bother me.

You can't have a State Fair or butter carving competition without getting religious or polical

The casting decisions were great. Jennifer Garner plays the controlling wife in that wonderful way we’ve seen before (think of her character in Juno, but harden her heart a bit). Ty Burrell plays his fumbling dad routine with a little more seriousness injected. Olivia Wilde hits the mark as an extortionist stripper. Mostly the actors play variations on what I already knew them for, with the exception of Wilde and Hugh Jackman, both wonderful and surprising roles. This was also my introduction to Yara Shahidi, who did an excellent job portraying Destiny.

I recommend Butter to those looking for something quirky, as well as to fans of other Midwest comedies, such as Drop Dead Gorgeous, Juno, Fargo, and Grumpy Old Men.

Find Butter:
Facebook | Amazon | Redbox

Music Monday: The Faint Concert and Doomtree Blowout 8

Back to back concert nights! This is my heaven. Concerts are one of my favorite things, especially if they are at a small-ish venue—which they were! Both took place at the famous First Avenue.

The Faint: 12-13-12
The Nebraska electro-dance-rockers killed it, as they always do, while on tour for the deluxe release of their album Danse Macabre. It was a feast of thumping beats, heavy-hitting electronic sounds, and colored lights. I spent my evening in the pit. If you want a lot of movement and sweat, this is your place. Within two or three songs you could end up in every section of the pit. The movement is amazing—if you don’t mind relinquishing control, anyway. I ended up facing away from the stage several times, and it is almost impossible to hold your ground. I also walked away with quite the number of bruises. But don’t worry, everyone is nice. They’re sustained from bumping into each other. And those that fall get lifted back up immediately.

If you want to get a sneaky workout that doesn’t feel like work, definitely keep an eye out for their next tour.

Find The Faint online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

Doomtree Blowout 8: 12-14-12
Every December, the Doomtree crew gathers for a huge concert event, generally spanning several nights. This year was Friday through Sunday, a 21+ night, 18+ night, and an all ages night. Doomtree is comprised of my favorite rap/hip-hop artists, making this one of the easiest traditions to take part in. Even the act of purchasing tickets has become a staple, as the age restricted nights sell out super quick. Usually the place is packed by the time we arrive, but the rap concert gods smiled on us this year—we were right up front AND, more importantly, NO blizzard and NO freezing rain when we left. Two years ago, the Blowout coincided with Snowpocalypse. Let’s just say we never want to repeat that driving experience.

There was a lot of energy and camaraderie at the show. One of the highlights for me was hearing the song The Wren for the first time live. It’s a favorite that I’ve been waiting years to hear. Most of the night there was very little overall movement in the crowd. But then P.O.S. played “Get Down”. . . and everybody did.

Doomtree has a couple upcoming shows, and Dessa is about to head out on a US tour.  

You can find out more about the upcoming shows and everything Doomtree online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

Music Monday: The 6-ish Christmas songs I Can Still Listen To

I spent a fair amount of today running errands and Christmas shopping. You know what that means. . . I heard A LOT of Christmas music. I’ve been pretty burnt out on holiday music for the past few years. That’s partially from choir, where we started holiday music shortly after the school year began. And also, the fact that I knew several people that wanted to, in my opinion, overkill it.

So here are the songs and artists I can still enjoy this season.

1. “Last Christmas” – Wham

I love this song. It’s so perfectly 80s. This is the one Christmas song that I hope to hear when suffering through the overly decorated halls while shopping. Of course, this song isn’t full of cheer or have the classic Christmas feel, so I have yet to hear it while shopping.

2. Anything by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

These guys are legends. They gave the old repetitive tunes a rock makeover. And what can I say? I like my holiday cheer with a little edge. And 80’s rock metal hair. And a fiery light show.

3. “Carol of the Bells”

This is just one of those songs that I will always love. Though, I do love the wordless versions best.

4. “Celtic Carol” – Lindsey Stirling

I love Celtic influenced music. And if you haven’t heard of Lindsey Stirling, get on that. She’s a magnificent violinist. Plus, she makes violin dubstep. Need I say more?

5. “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

I honestly have no idea why I still like this song. It might have to do with the chord progressions, but I don’t know enough about music theory to pinpoint the exact draw. There hasn’t been a version that I haven’t liked. So enjoy this highly nontraditional version by Family Force 5.

And last, but not least. . .

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas

The classic Tim Burton musical, stop-animation, children’s film about Halloween and Christmas meeting. I listen to this soundtrack all year long. And we can thank the genius Danny Elfman for all those songs that perfectly capture the film. Here is the most Christmas-y of the bunch.

What holiday songs do you love? Or hate?

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Title:  Rise of the Guardians
Rated:  PG
Genres:  Family, Adventure, Fantasy, Animated
Director:  Peter Ramsey
Production Company:  Dreamworks Animation
Writers:  David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), William Joyce (book)
Stars:  Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law
Rating:  4 Stars

When the evil Pitch, aka Boogie Man, begins to attack the children of Earth, the Immortal Guardians must fight back to protect their innocence. Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Sandman use their unique abilities to preserve the children’s belief. The Man in the Moon appoints Jack Frost as the newest Guardian. But will his mischievous ways do more harm than good? Can they stop Pitch from starting a reign of fear?

My Thoughts:
On the surface, this is a children’s fantasy adventure film. But there is plenty for adults to love too. Classic characters are revamped. Santa, who goes by North, is given traits of Eastern European/Russian warriors. The Easter Bunny is Australian, complete with boomerangs. The Tooth Fairy is a cross between fairy and hummingbird. The Sandman is made of glittering golden dust and communicates by dust images rather than words. And then we have Jack Frost, a mischievous kid who just wants to play with other kids. All of these clashing personalities adds up to a lot of unexpected humor and action.

This is also a story of finding out who you are. “What’s your center?” as North asks Jack. In the beginning, he doesn’t know; Jack can’t even remember his childhood. But his quest of discovery ultimately helps him in the battle with Pitch.

Dreamworks Animation does a fantastic job as well. The animation is gorgeous and covers wildly different scenes. From stark arctic landscapes to the lush underground warren. The best animation for me was the dream dust and the nightmare dust, especially when they competed.

I only wished that the end battle was a little longer with more action. The end becomes less about the Guardians, and more about the children. There’s nothing wrong with that in general, but I felt they pulled back on what I was there to see—which was the battle between Pitch and The Immortal Guardians.

I should also note that this isn’t really a Christmas film. It is set around Easter, albeit a snowy Easter. And Jack Frost tends to make the landscape a bit icy and snowy. So if you’re hoping for a Christmas movie, that just happens to have other mythical characters, that’s not what you’re getting. Think of this as more of a superhero movie, like an Avengers filled with childhood myths rather than comic book heroes.

High recommendations for fans of Dreamworks Animation, animated adventures, reimagined fairytales/myths, and kid’s movies that appeal to all ages.

Find Rise of the Guardians 
Online | IMDB 

Don’t forget to check out the book it’s based on!
The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce

What did you think of Rise of the Guardians?

Music Monday: AWOLNATION’s Sail and Alien Abduction?

First off, let me introduce Music Mondays. This is where I will talk about concerts, songs, albums, and general music things. I may even throw in some playlists from time to time.

Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s get down to my current song obsession:  “Sail” by AWOLNATION from the album Megalithic Symphony.

First off, I could listen to the instrumental of this ALL DAY! It’s the perfect chill electronic with a little kick to the beat that would fit in with most of my daily happenings.

Aaron Bruno’s vocals sound a tad bit like a scratchy yelling. With another singer, it could’ve been terrible, but with Bruno, I don’t even want to imagine a ‘softer’ vocal experience. So much emotion comes through that harshness.

©Red Bull Records

The music video reflects the darker tones of the lyrics and droning electronic sound in the background. Bruno’s character is paranoid and trying to escape from. . . something. From the green light, which I can only assume is some sort of biometric scanner, the floating lights in the sky, and Bruno’s eventual ascension into the sky, I call aliens.

But the white sky lights look like football field lights. So, who knows, maybe they’re just the stereotypical mean jocks playing a terrible trick on a mentally unstable man. I mean, that green light could totally be from one of those fancy electronics I remember Sharper Image having a decade ago.

Seeing how AWOLNATION also has this mockumentary and trailer for the fictional Lost Signal that uses the song in the background as well as some commonalities to the music video. . . it’s probably aliens.

©Red Bull Records

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube
Buy “Sail” or the entire Megalithic Symphony album
iTunes | Amazon | Amazon MP3 | AWOL’s Online Store

Your verdict? Do you like the song? Are the video’s villains aliens or mean and tricky humans?

App Review: Smule Magic Piano

Title: Smule Magic Piano
Format: iOS
Developer: Smule, inc

Ever wished you could play the piano? Well Smule’s got you covered. With Magic Piano, users can play songs by tapping the on-screen lights. Choose anything from Beethoven’s Für Elise, to Coldplay’s Clocks, to the Legend of Zelda themes song. User’s can also share their renditions with the Magic Piano community, as well as listen to those of other user’s.

My Thoughts:
Like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Magic Piano simplifies a musical instrument for us who are less musically inclined. In this app, as long as you are somewhat in rhythm and in the vicinity of the dot, you’re doing fine. And even the dot proximity can be turned off so that you can hit anywhere on the screen.
I find the experience rather relaxing. I enjoy rhythm and music games, and my usual fair are much more difficult. So I can zone out while I play this and still unlock achievements.

However, I have run into a couple glitches. About every other time the achievement/goal box pops up, it doesn’t go away and the close box button doesn’t work. The only way I found to get rid of it is to close the program. The other has to do with not counting songs towards an achievement. That being said, the app has been out for less than a month on the iPhone.

Some great things: a weekly free song, ability to earn “Smoola” (the in-game currency) through simple tasks, like watching an ad, and Solo mode, where you can create your own freestyle music.

Overall, a very entertaining app for music lovers. I recommend it, with the cautionary statement towards glitches, but I’ll assume those will be taken care of with updates.

Now, enjoy Smule’s video of a small rodent playing Magic Piano on the iPhone against a cat on the iPad.

Find Smule online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube | Google+

What do you think of Smule’s Magic Piano? Or Buddy vs. Penny? Tell me in the comments below.

Movie Review: The Campaign

Title:  The Campaign
Rated:  R
Genre:  Comedy
Director:  Jay Roach
Writers:  Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Stars:  Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd
Rating:  3.5 Stars

When four-term Congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) makes a political faux pas, the rich Motch brothers (Lithgow and Aykroyd) see an opportunity to fund a rival politician that will allow their shady business practices. Who do they choose? None other than Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), the oddball son of a local politico legend. As election day closes in, campaign tactics get more outlandish with each candidate fighting for the top of the polls.

My Thoughts:
The Campaign
does its best at political satire without actually getting very political. The main focus, instead, is placed with the characters and outrageous media scandals. We see everything from manufactured public images and attack ads to sex scandals and baby punching. Some of the gags hit close to reality, while others push farcical.

While I love Ferrell and Galifianakis, my favorite was Dylan McDermott, who plays Huggins’ evil-ish campaign manager. He creepily appears behind candidates, is foul-mouthed, and a super jerk. Next to the happy-go-lucky Huggins family, he becomes a hysterical opposing force.

McDermott being all evil ninja in the backseat

From the ads and my favorability towards the cast, I expected The Candidate to be full of strong laughs. However, I found it to be a more subtle amusement for me. There are a few lowball laughs, but most of the funny parts didn’t even get a chuckle from me. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, which I did. It just wasn’t as funny as I expected.

That being the case, I would still highly recommend this film to fans of Ferrell and Galifianakis. Both play their typical roles to their strengths. Just don’t expect it to be the best you’ve seen from either of these actors.

What did you think of The Campaign? Tell me in the comments below.

Blog Tour, Review & Giveaway: Shift by M.R. Merrick

Title:  Shift, Protector Series #2

Author:  M.R. Merrick

Rating:  4.5 Stars

Genre:  YA Fantasy

After the devastating end of battle in Exiled, Chase is left recovering, both physically and mentally, with a family he barely knows. His powers are growing faster than he can control. His enemies keep trying to pulverize him. And Chase has no idea how to stop the demon-god Ithreal’s rising. On top of that, a demon inside Rayna is trying to shred her from the inside.

Chase must decide what’s more important—stopping those from raising Ithreal, or saving his friends and family.

My Thoughts: 
Holy non-stop action, Batman! Shift packs an impressive number of fights and full-blown battles—with both enemies and demons within. With the characters in constant danger, it was difficult to put down—and only happened because I had to go to work.

Every aspect of the novel received more depth—the characters, environment, powers/abilities, The Circle, gods, and demons. I loved seeing the different ways the elemental powers were utilized in battle. The characters don’t rely on a couple different tactics, but are able to use multiple offensive and defensive moves. It’s also great to see the struggle that Chase, Rayna, and Willie have because of power.

I’m glad to say that the writing and dialogue is fantastic! The first book had its rough patches, but this one was smooth. The characters reacted naturally and their words felt genuine.

I was also happy to see a couple of my predictions from Exiled come to fruition, but in unexpected ways. So, even if you think you’ve got it all figured out, be prepared to stay on the edge of your seat!

Still not convinced to read the Protector Series?
Find my review of Exiled (Protector #1) here. And check out an excerpt from book #1 in the scroll box below.

I’d had several jobs in the past year. This one I’d managed to keep for a few months. Most of my employers frowned on me coming to work with cuts and bruises all the time. It made for “poor presentation,” they’d say. I was thankful it hadn’t interfered with this job, yet.

I finished up my shift and had started my walk home from the burger joint when I felt it. A hunter doesn’t mistake the feeling that demons are around. It moves down your spine and chills your bones. Feeling it proved I was indeed a hunter, even without an element.

The August air was warm for the late hour, and a thick layer of sweat made my white shirt cling to me. I stopped and unzipped my duffle bag, locating the silver dagger inside. Silver was great no matter what you were fighting; it could do serious damage to anything of the Underworld.

The tingle shot down my spine again. If I focused, I could feel each hair on my neck rise. I saw a blur of movement across the street and watched it disappear into a shadowy alley. I moved across the street in a low crouch, resting my weight on the balls of my feet. I slowed my breathing and pulled the dagger from my bag before I slipped around the corner.

My senses were alive and strained to see movement, or hear the sound of feet shuffling against loose rocks. As a hunter, I could see well in the dark, though the only light came from a single flickering street lamp.

I was almost to the end of the alley when it hit. I couldn’t tell what “it” was, but it struck my back and launched me forward. My feet tumbled over my head and my back smashed hard into the concrete wall at the end of the alley. Hands grabbed me and lifted me to my feet, dragging me a few steps before throwing me back the other way. I flew through the air, hit the ground and rolled out into the street.

I used my momentum and came up on one knee to recover. My back burned where pavement had grated the skin off, but I pushed the pain aside as the figure stalked towards me.

“Your death will bring me great glory, hunter. Killing the son of Riley Williams will make me a legend among the Underworld,” the low voice gloated.

“That’s really great, good luck with that,” I said.

He smiled and the fangs that slid down from his gums were long and sharp. His pale skin started to thin as the vampire changed into his demon form.

Milky skin faded into transparent flesh, revealing the moving muscles beneath. Veins ran black through the vampire’s face and limbs, pushing against the thinning clear skin. Strange muscles in his hands pushed bony talons out over his finger nails, and the whites of his eyes disappeared, filling with an inky blackness. The dark orbs stared at me as his fanged mouth curled into a smile, and in a blur he sprang forward, talons swinging.

I ducked as they sliced through the air over my head. I brought the knife up into his stomach and twisted the blade before I pulled it out. Blood spilled onto the ground, but I knew the wound wasn’t enough to kill him. Cut off his head or pierce his black heart – those were my options. I could light him on fire, but I was fresh out of matches.

I brought my foot up and kicked the vampire back to give myself some room. I steadied myself, waiting for him to charge, but his body jerked and the point of a silver blade appeared in his chest before he could move.

The vamp’s body went limp and collapsed, then exploded in a flash of orange light. It burned away into a cloud of ash and littered the pavement, revealing the girl – of all things – who had beaten me to the kill.

Raven hair spilled over her pale shoulders with hints of red highlighting the occasional strand. A tight leather top revealed a sliver of toned stomach and a tease of cleavage. Black pants hugged her hips and long slender legs and met knee-high boots. Her skin glistened in the light, but the most noticeable of her features were her eyes.

Bright green orbs sparkled with an odd glow: demon’s eyes. They had the slit pupils of a cat that I’d never seen on anything other than a house pet or a shifter in animal form. I slipped back into fight mode. I’d never watched one demon kill another, but I suppose for the fame of killing me, why not?

I lunged and threw a punch at her face, but she dodged it with ease.

“You almost messed up my kill,” she snarled, and I had barely enough time to dodge her powerful kick.

“Your kill? You stole it from me!” I swung my fist and hit her stomach. She bent over, winded, before she stepped back and caught her breath, regaining her stance and composure.

“Stole it? Please, I’d been tracking him for blocks.” She spun and caught my chin with the heel of her boot, snapping my head to the side. I rubbed my jaw where she’d hit me and smiled.

“Well then, I guess it’s a good thing I was here to slow him down. Who knows if you would have been able to catch him?”

She moved in for another kick but I was ready. I grabbed her foot and pushed her back. She fell to the ground but quickly came to her feet. “I would have gotten him just fine on my own. Hunting is an art. It would’ve gone on as long as I deemed necessary.”

“Call it hunting if you want, but a filthy demon killing her own kind is still just that: a filthy demon.” I could tell I’d offended her even before she hit me.

My eyes watered when her fist smashed into my nose and her foot connected with my stomach in quick succession. I jerked back to avoid the knee that flew towards my face and pushed it to the side, but she was already moving towards me. Her hands hit my chest hard and I soared through the air for a long moment before I hit the ground. I felt a sharp pain shoot up through my spine and I could hear her laughter as I struggled to my feet.

“I have to admit I expected more from you, Chase, being the infamous son of Riley Williams and all.”

I gripped my dagger until my knuckles turned white and spoke through gritted teeth. “I’ll try not to disappoint.”

My fist hit her jawbone and made a loud crack. I came back with my other hand and wrapped it around her throat. I stepped into the movement and threw her forward in a burst of hunter’s strength. She slammed into the ground but recovered faster than I anticipated. Before I could brace myself she was on top of me.

I pulled her body down and we rolled over each other against the cold concrete until I was on top. I kept a handful of her hair wound tight in my fist and pushed my blade against her throat. “More what you expected?”

“Not really.” She smirked.

I felt the point of a knife pushing against my stomach. Before I could react, a commanding male voice came from behind us.

“Enough!” it boomed.

I didn’t take the knife or my eyes off the demon beneath me.

“But we were just starting to have fun,” she complained. The smile on her face was anything but threatening. If this was her idea of fun, I didn’t want to know what she considered boring.

“Rayna, enough,” the man repeated.

She sighed, sticking out her bottom lip in a pout before the knife left my skin. “Truce?” she said with an innocent face.

“Not a chance,” I replied, pushing the knife harder against her throat.

I was pulled away from Rayna and pressed against a wall, thick hands around my throat. I raised my blade but my opponent blocked and twisted my arm at an awkward angle. The man ripped the blade from my hand and I squirmed.

“Calm down, Chase. We are not here to hurt you,” the voice said. A complete shadow hung around the figure, moving as he moved.

“So she attacked me for fun?” I snapped.

“If we wanted you dead, you would be,” he said, releasing his grip, and I fell to the sidewalk. He stepped back slowly and the shadow peeled itself from his body. As it faded, it revealed a large man whose magic I’d never sensed before.

“If you don’t want to kill me, what do you want?” I asked.

The man reached forward, a large dark arm holding out my dagger. I wrapped my hand around it in confusion. The contrast of our skin was drastic; my pale flesh glowed against his midnight color and the size of his hand alone made me feel small.

“What Rayna told you was true. We were tracking the vampire, not you. Although I’m happy to finally meet you, I’d imagined this moment under different circumstances,” he said.

“There are ways to meet people besides attacking them.”

“I agree. You must forgive us; Rayna is quick to lash out when insulted.” My eyes met his and I couldn’t read his expression. I knew I hadn’t been polite, but I wasn’t about to apologize to a demon. “You know, your father would not have hesitated to kill her, no matter his position.”

“Congratulations, you’ve discovered I’m not my father. What the hell would you know about him anyways?”

He turned his head to the side and as the light hit his neck it revealed a tattoo. It was the one every hunter received after their ceremony. The one I never got.

The tattoo made me realize why he could bend the shadows; he was an air elemental and a powerful one at that. I had heard stories of hunters being able to work with shadows, but I’d never seen it done firsthand.

I looked him over, not sure what to think of a hunter working with a demon. He was taller than me by an inch, around six-foot three. His head was smooth shaven, though there was a small patch of hair under his lower lip. His skin seemed like a smooth dark chocolate. His body was large and square, broad shoulders making him a massive column of strength and power. He filled out a sharp black suit jacket and wore black loafers, leaving the only color on him a flash of bright blue dress shirt.

“You’re a hunter.”

“Once upon a time, yes I was.”

He broke eye contact and cleared his throat, extending his massive hand towards me. “Look at my manners. Let me introduce myself. I am Marcus Starkraven.”

My eyebrows shot up; I knew that name! “You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Is that what you heard?”

“You used to hunt with my father.”

He nodded slightly, but otherwise ignored the comment. “You already met Rayna,” he said, taking his unshaken hand back.

I looked at Rayna and got caught in the depths of her green, slit eyes.

“What are you doing with a demon?” I said, spitting out the last word like a curse.

“How’s your nose?” Rayna asked.

I touched it and looked at the blood on my fingers. “Lucky shot.”

She chuckled and stepped towards me. “Care to go again?” Marcus put an arm in front of her.

“Not what we’re doing right now,” he said.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“She is my student. And my friend.”

I couldn’t respond. I didn’t believe it. A hunter being friends with a demon was unfathomable.

“I would have thought, being out in the real world, you’d have come to understand, Chase. Some Underworlders don’t fit the Circle’s black and white image of good and evil,” he said.

“The only Underworlders I’ve come across have tried to kill me.”

“Your name is feared by many in the Underworld. Your father has created quite the reputation for himself, so they fear you as well,” Marcus said.

I smirked. “As they should.”

He shook his head. “That wasn’t a compliment.

M.R. Merrick is a Canadian writer and author of The Protector Series, a Young Adult mash-up between Urban and Epic Fantasy. Having never traveled, he adventures to far off lands through his imagination and in between cups of coffee. As a music lover and proud breakfast enthusiast, he’s usually found at the computer between a pair of headphones and in front of a large bowl of cereal.

Find M.R. Merrick online:

Giveaway 3 signed copies of SHIFT


All you need to do is fill out the Rafflecpter below!
Ends Dec 3rd

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have you read Shift yet? What did you think? Tell me in the comments below. 

Game Review: Girls Like Robots

Title:  Girls Like Robots
Type:  iPhone
Genre:  Puzzle
Creators:  Adult Swim and Popcannibal
Rating:  4.5 Stars

Girls like robots. Robots like girls. Nerds like girls and robots. Robots are nerd neutral. Girls hate robots. It’s simple, right?

In Girls Like Robots, players must use the simple list of relationship preferences while arranging characters in order to fill a happiness meter. Or an un-happiness meter, depending on the level.

The gameplay starts simple with the aforementioned girls, robots, and nerds being placed on grids. The game is kept interesting with various goals, including deflecting giant bugs. Things get tricky when cows, pie, fish, and fire are added. A couple levels kept me scratching my head for a while, and I had to revisit the final stage a few times.

As the player progresses through the three acts, a cute story of love and an epic showdown to save the world are revealed—all to an upbeat folk soundtrack by Peacemeal String Band, complete with banjo action!

Even when players cannot find the best puzzle answer to make each and every little square character happy, they can still beat it., since happiness has never been black and white. But the happier the characters are, the more bonuses the player receives—which unlock bonus games.

I loved this charming game and give it high recommendations for all ages. My biggest complaint was the inability to undo the final move in a stage, BUT Popcannibal listened to its players and fixed it! I am overjoyed when developers implement good player suggestions. Just another reason to like the game and creators.

Don’t forget to check out Adult Swim’s website for more games and their TV schedule. And Popcannibal’s website for more Girls Like Robots information and screenshots.

What do you think about Girls Like Robots? Tell me in the comments below.

Book Review: Exiled by M.R. Merrick

ExiledTitle:  Exiled, Protector Series #1

Author:  M.R. Merrick

Rating:  3.75 Stars

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Synopsis:  Chase Williams was raised as part of the Circle, a group of supernaturally gifted demon hunters. On his fifteenth birthday, Chase entered the ceremony to claim his elemental power and join his father in protecting the innocent from demons, but his power never came.

Disgracing the Circle and his father, Chase is exiled to live among the mortals, where demons continually attack him and his hunter affiliation. After a run-in with an ex-hunter working with a witch and a terrified demon being ruthlessly attacked by hunters, Chase begins to question his former home and their intentions.

Once Chase learns about a plan to unlock a portal and bring stronger demons to the human world, he must put aside his prejudices and work with the demons he was raised to hate in order to save the innocent people of Earth.

My Thoughts:  This is one of those books I didn’t want to put down. On the first page we find Chase in mid-battle with a demon. And our protagonist finds himself in fight after fight. The action is definitely the strength of Exiled.

I highly enjoyed the different creatures as well. Merrick gives us some traditional monsters, ones that feel almost forgotten from old lore, those with a slight twist, and completely new creatures (at least, ones I’ve never heard of).

Exiled does have its rough spots though. Much of the early dialogue feels forced and a little awkward. Description is also a little on the sparse side in the early pages. But as the novel progresses, the descriptions get better and the dialogue seems to flow a bit more naturally—though, not completely yet. With the improvement visible in the novel, I have no doubt that the sequel, Shift,  will show even more improvements in these areas.

I was also able to figure out what the Circle was after fairly early in the novel, and couldn’t figure out why the other characters couldn’t see it—especially since much of the clues were done in dialogue. One character has suspicions, but again, why not act on them in some way?

MRMerrickOverall, I had a blast reading Exiled. It was an action-filled fantasy that I devoured in about a day. If action and demon fighting sounds interesting to, go check it out!

Find M.R. Merrick online:
Website| Twitter | Facebook

What are your thoughts on Exiled? Tell me in the comments below!

In My Mailbox (IMM) #2

It’s been a looooooong couple of weeks for me filled with a never ending sickness. I seriously slept more than 70 hours one week. As someone who doesn’t sleep much, or particularly enjoy a long sleep, it has been disturbing.

Luckily I received some goodies in the mail to cheer me up!

First, the brand new P.O.S. album titled We Don’t Even Live Here.

P.O.S. is one of my favorite rappers and part of my favorite rap/hip-hop collective, Doomtree. I highly recommend all of these extremely talented artists.

Originally P.O.S. had been scheduled for a national tour, but because of health issues he’s had to cancel. You can learn more about the situation and how to help over on Doomtree’s website.

Even though you might not be able to see him in concert soon, you can still enjoy the video for “Get Down” (NSFW with all the cursing, but you should probably blast it when you get home).

My second package was a result of Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow's Read. Back in 2010, Gaiman proposed that each person give/lend/share a scary book on Halloween. This book could go to a friend, family member, or stranger. It doesn’t matter! As long as you share.

I happened to be the winner of an All Hallow’s Read giveaway. The Girl Who Loved Zombies sent me I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I enjoyed the film, so I have high hopes for the novel. The rumors (they'll stay that way until I read the book) that they are massively different just makes it all the more exciting.

What did you get this week? Have you also fallen victim to illness as the temperatures slip toward winter?

Movie Review: Detention


Title:  Detention
Rated:  R
Genres:  Comedy, Horror, Sci-fi
Director:  Joseph Kahn
Writers:  Joseph Kahn, Mark Palermo
Stars:  Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke, Dane Cook
Rating:  4 Stars

Synopsis from Redbox:
17-year-old Riley Jones must survive her final year of high school. The problem is that she has been sentenced to detention on the night of her prom, her friends are apparently being murdered by the fictional villain of a horror film series, and worst of all, the boy with whom she's in love is infatuated with her biggest rival. It becomes a race against time to save the world as she knows it.

My Thoughts:

Based on this description, I was expecting a B-horror movie. Detention turned out to be so much better than that expectation.

Detention is a meta-tribute to teen comedy and horror films, as well as the 90s. There are clear references to The Breakfast Club, Scream, The Fly, Freaky Friday and so many more. I love when films (or any media) lovingly, and jokingly, reference other things. It gives the film another layer, and a game I can play during a second (or third, or fourth) viewing.

Detention texting

Not only does Detention make tribute to previous films, it also captures the quick, ADHD nature of today’s youth. Characters spew rapid-fire references and quips as the story careens at texting speeds. While I enjoyed this for the most part, sometimes things moved a little too fast to catch everything.

Overall I found Detention to be hilarious and not scary at all. I will definitely be purchasing this film and watching it several more times. However, I find it difficult to recommend to a general audience. Detention is destined to become a cult film. I know many people will tire of the references. Others will despise the overall attitude and ridiculousness. And some people are looking for another Josh Hutcherson movie—which this is much different from his previous work. If you enjoy comedy-horror benders, or cult films, I give a tentative recommendation.

What were your thoughts on Detention? What do you think of cross-genre films? Let me know in the comments below.

Event: Maggie Stiefvater Signing

Maggie Stiefvater telling stories
A slightly blurry photo of Stiefvater in full storyteller mode
Even though I haven’t read any of Maggie Stiefvater’s books (yet), I would definitely see her in person again. Here’s why:

The first part of her signing at Red Balloon Bookshop was like a one woman show. Stiefvater began with stories, not surprising for someone who writes for a living. But her stories didn’t come from behind a table or droned out because it’s the nth time repeated. She was animated. Using the entire space, Stiefvater played the roles of herself, her agent, her sister, a flight attendant, and others as they appeared throughout the stories. I was chuckling along with the other audience members as ‘killer goats’ and other completely logical yet ridiculous things surfaced.

After she told her stories and answered audience questions, there was a raffle for a Stiefvater original colored pencil drawing that was featured in the book trailer for The Raven Boys. As someone who only recognized Stiefvater’s name and a couple of book titles, it was neat to find out that she was also an accomplished artist (as well as bagpipe player). It was even better to find out that her drawing was the prize of the raffle and not the typical ‘this is a copy of what I’m currently promoting.’ And can you guess who won?

Stiefvater colored pencil drawing
My pretty raffle swag

Stiefvater kept her humor throughout the signing as well. She chatted and took pictures with her fans. She was unperturbed by the few of us who hadn’t read her books yet, chatting with us as much as her diehard fans. Seeing her in person and interacting with her has made me excited to read The Raven Boys and Lament.

Maggie Stiefvater
Photograph: Robert Severi

If you have the opportunity to attend a Maggie Stiefvater signing, do it. Even if you haven’t read her books, she’s highly entertaining. This was a great way to spend an evening.

Find Maggie Stiefvater online: 
| Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Have you been to a signing? What was your experience? Tell me in the comments below!

Book Review: The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by TimBurton

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories
Title:  The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

Author:  Tim Burton

Rating:  4 Stars

Genre:  Illustrated poetry

From Amazon:
From breathtaking stop-action animation to bittersweet modern fairy tales, filmmaker Tim Burton has become known for his unique visual brilliance -- witty and macabre at once. Now he gives birth to a cast of gruesomely sympathetic children -- misunderstood outcasts who struggle to find love and belonging in their cruel, cruel worlds. His lovingly lurid illustrations evoke both the sweetness and the tragedy of these dark yet simple beings -- hopeful, hapless heroes who appeal to the ugly outsider in all of us, and let us laugh at a world we have long left behind (mostly anyway).

My Thoughts:  I love Tim Burton’s distinctive style. And this has been the case for . . . always. I grew up with The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands. He was definitely one of my introductions to the odd. The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories (MDOB+) sits squarely in the odd and stylized world of his creation. One look at an illustration and you know it’s by Tim Burton. There are very few modern artists I can pick out that easily.

The illustrated stories (Or poems? They’re kind of both.) are very reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas--not in content, but in the simplistic rhyming and unique turn of phrase. The cast of children in MDOB+ often suffer because of a small twist. For example, Staring Girl needs to rest her eyes. That’s not done by napping, but by them jumping out of her skull and lounging by a pool. In these instances I kept returning to the “Town Meeting Song,” where sleigh becomes slay, and Santa Claus becomes Sandy Claws, a “big red lobster man. “ These ‘misunderstandings’ are fun and interesting, especially since they seem like such logical mistakes. It makes me wonder what similar misunderstandings I made as a child not yet fully versed in the language.
Character Toys
Tragic characters in all their plastic glory

The images are what make this book so great. Without them, the poems lose a lot of their charm. If the poems were as wonderful as the drawings, MDOB+ could have easily captured all 5 stars in a review. But with some feeling too short, or a little incomplete, I must give it 4 stars.

Tim Burton
Photograph:  Patrick Rideaux/Rex Features

Find Tim Burton online:
Website | IMDB


Do you like Tim Burton’s visual perspective? What’s your favorite Tim Burton work? Let me know in the comments below!

Game Review: Amateur Surgeon Hospital

Title:  Amateur Surgeon Hospital

Type:  Facebook Social

Creator:  Adult Swim and Mediatonic

Rating:  3 Stars

Once upon a time, Adult Swim created a game called Amateur Surgeon. In this game, players perform back-alley-esque surgery with pizza cutters and lighters in an illegal hospital. The premise and stylization brought me in. However, I found it difficult to perform some of the tasks using my laptop’s trackpad and abandoned my surgeon’s post (because, really, I was not buying a mouse for one casual online game).

A few years (and sequels) later, Adult Swim releases Amateur Surgeon Hospital on Facebook. In this iteration, the player is managing the hospital, as well as performing surgery. This includes everything from hiring scummy staff to building rooms to the decorating scheme. I figured I would give it a shot, since the simple Facebook games have been manageable with the trackpad (and I have since invested in a mouse, if the difficulty persisted).

For the first two weeks, this game is enjoyable. There are a variety of interestingly designed characters, as well as items for the hospital. I found the surgery easier than before, but whether that is true to gameplay or me getting better at computer games is uncertain. Players can only perform as much surgery as their blood bar permits, so the rest of the game is time management and layout. It’s easy to set up a hospital shift and let the staff handle the patients while players are away. This also allows the blood bar to fill, vending machines to collect coins, and machines to produce materials.

There are some problems I’ve experienced, though. When I leave the game with a shift in progress, the money earned is usually less than if it is up in my browser, and occasionally, I have reopened the game where the staff has cured zero patients and earned zero coins. I’ve also noticed the tendency of higher level patients flooding in before I have unlocked the rooms they need in order to be cured, which, if lines are too long, will make the curable patients leave in a huff.

The biggest issues for me are the repetition and necessity of neighbor activity and real money. I am into the third week of play and right now all of my quests are curing 50 patients, of several different types. That will take several shifts and a few days at least. I am also getting to the point where I need diamonds, instead of coins, to purchase items. There are a couple ways to get diamonds. Completing certain quests will give you one diamond, but at this point, they are few and far between. Second, players can buy them with Facebook credits, which cost real money. I am not giving Facebook my credit card or Paypal information. Lastly, you can earn diamonds through the loyalty card—where players earn coins, and eventually diamonds, for logging in each day. Otherwise, you can ask a friend to send the needed items to you, but I cannot allow myself to annoy everyone like that.

So I am rapidly approaching the point in which I will be unable to progress--unless Adult Swim allows me to buy diamonds with in-game coins. That would be fantastic. But even if I stop at that point, it was fun while it lasted. Amateur Surgeon Hospital is a decent casual game to kill a bubble of free time too small for anything immersive.

Some people use tongs for cooking. I use them like MacGyver. . . to save lives!

Don’t forget to check out Adult Swim online for more casual online games and their TV lineup.

What casual games do you play? Tell me in the comments!