No Return Land by Jeff Storm (Determine Your Destiny #2)

No Return Land was the book I bought at Montreal Comiccon. The question is: how would it feel to feel like you are playing a video game while you read. You know, capture the feeling of being in control of your choices. When I met the author Jeff Storm at their booth, his enthusiasm for this idea sold me on it almost right away. Determine the Destiny series recently released its third book. I still need to read the first one since I decided to pick up this one. However, the stories are not linked together. Most of you are thinking Choose Your Own Adventure series right now (or if you are old enough to remember it like I was) but this has a little twist. Hear me out, okay?

No Return Land (Determine Your Destiny #2)
by: Jeff Storm

No Return Land

The deadly flooding of our planet… an evil lady with astounding mental powers… a desolated island faraway… an army of crazy fanatics… and YOU…
This time you must fight to determine our world’s destiny. Your decisions and exceptional skills will decide the fate of the Earth. Only YOU can succeed. Get ready to defend the lives of seven billion people and hang on to yours! – Goodreads

 Determine Your Destiny takes what we remember as Choose Your Own Adventure and adds in some gaming elements. It is also the reason why they were the only book showcased in the indie game zone at Montreal Comiccon. How do you make that happen, you ask? Every book starts with a different story. Before the book starts, the author makes sure we know what we are getting into by telling us how to read the book. Then he proceeds to tell us our character’s story, our mission, and what we are about to face. But, that still doesn’t make it a video game yet. What makes it filled with video game elements is that he presents our character with magical skills. There is a list of magical skills that we can choose from. In No Return Land, there are fifteen. Each with their own description so that we can weigh the pros and cons when we choose which five we want to accompany us on our mission. These skills come into play as you make choices. Having certain powers will grant an extra path you can take. You can see how this drew me to want to read this even if it is geared towards kids. But hey, I’m a gamer (officially since Game Warp started) so there’s this child in me that is reignited and this appeals to me even more.

No Return Land is the first book of the this series that I’ve read even if it is the second adventure. Right off the bat, it is definitely geared towards children because it feels like we are controlling the life of a skillful protagonist facing an enemy that might not be all that brutal in adult eyes but suffice for kids to really feel the danger and want to save the world. Our antagonist in this one is Zenkay who believes that technology is destroying the world because of something that happened to her so her goal is to give the world a reboot. The journey there is challenging. In my story, my character had the skills of Invisibility, Heavenly Shield, Eternal Breath, Tight Web and Laser Eyes. I feel like a superhero just saying those powers and I questioned at the beginning if they will all come to use as choices and they did. Effectively, when the choice was available, I’d choose using magical skills. However, even so, there are choices like Choose Your Own Adventure that is just simple choices and these sometimes are the tricky ones that can lead to death. I died probably a little over a handful of times and went back to backtrack and go down another path. Exploring those paths was what made this book even more fun to read.

No Return Land is a short and quick read. Flipping through them is easy as it is manages well to jump through the parts.  The story is simple and engaging. That particularly helps in feeling the need to make the right choice and weighing the options before choosing. Everyone can play a game or read a book but putting in elements of the best parts of both world into one is a truly fun, engaging and especially unique idea. I look forward to checking out the other two books in this series and whatever else comes up!

TV Binge: Autumn’s Concerto (Taiwan Drama Series, 2009)

Before I even became into any American series, my life for a good while was all about Taiwanese dramas. They are mostly called Idol Series. Let me tell you that I freaked out with excitement when I realized that Netflix now carries some of them. I’ve seen a few they have available but this one was the one that caught my eye because for those who don’t know, back in 2003-ish, a Japanese manga series was adapted into a TV series in Taiwan called Meteor Garden. That marked the rise of a group called F4 and within this group and possibly kind of the buffer member is a guy who can rap and sing and dance but he never really ever got the spotlight he deserved and that is Vanness Wu who is the main guy in this series, Autumn’s Concerto. As I was researching this before writing this post, I realized that it is one of the top Taiwanese dramas to air…

I’ll continue that thought right after a brief summary…

Autumn’s Concerto (2009)

Autumn's Concerto

Series Director: Wei-ling Chen

Cast: Vanness Wu, Ady An, Chris Wu, Benny Wen, Wei Ning Hsu

Mu-Cheng Liang has lived her life cautiously since her stepmother reluctantly takes her along and settles with a man who is far from perfect. Growing up, she’s learned to find the best ways to protect herself while keeping her own secrets. All this changes when she meets college rich playboy, Guang-xi Ren who also grew up with everything material but deep down lacks an emotional connection. They meet under the worst coincidences. Before long, Guang-xi realizes the seriousness and hell and Mu-Cheng is in and sees her authentic personality that others haven’t shown him and they fall in love. Unfortunately, he is plagued with a brain tumor that forces them apart. Not knowing what happened, they end up reuniting six years later but things are no longer the same, mostly because his past has been wiped from his memory.

Autumn's Concerto

Autumn’s Concerto sounds super generic and for the most part, I’m an expert at these generic series. However, I can also see how this is done really well. Right from touching performances to great soundtrack to a decent pacing. I can argue that Autumn’s Concerto could easily cut a few episodes shorter but for what it is, it just turned me in a complete and utter mess. I mean, I was crying like crazy. I mean bawling! I haven’t felt so connected to characters that made me think about them non-stop even after I turned off the series or even now, a week or two after the series is done. I always say this about any romance movie or whatnot. There are lots of plots out there and in our minds, we’ve seen a lot of it. In fact, to make it feel realistic and make the characters connect and come to life, giving them a purpose of why they are important to the audience is the most important part.

For some of you who don’t know, whether its Korean or Hong Kong or Chinese or Taiwanese series, its not structured like American series. For the fact that we don’t usually have one episode a week (at least not in Hong Kong) but it also is a one “season” deal. We have one series and its a complete story, not like in North American or UK series where its one series over a ton of seasons. They aren’t asking to be renewed. They have one shot to leave that impression. Its what makes it important to make it worth the while to watch.

Autumn's concerto

For those who appreciate a good romance and even one that touches on a lot of deep issues like harassment and sexual predators, which is rarely touched on in these series, this one takes an interesting turn on it and this makes it unique while giving our characters depth as well. Vanness Wu deserves more roles. He is an outstanding actor and his Ren Guang-xi made me fall in love with him and then get frustrated at some of his decisions and just yearning for him to finally see the big picture. On the other hand, Ady An is also fantastic. I’ve actually never seen her in any other series so its my first experience with her and she is amazing. She captures the essence of pain and reluctance and independence and courage all at the same time. For once, this is a story about not a guy surrounded with two girls who are weak but rather they are both independent and different in how they love. Its not about choosing who is weaker and having to give up. The lesson at the end of the series (or as you learn throughout) is that everyone loves differently and will make decisions they find are sacrifices for the one they love. It takes courage to make those decisions and a lot of control and self-restraint to make these difficult choices when nothing seems like the right decision.

Its not all sad and everything. Actually, there are some really funny parts in the six years later bit which takes up a good 70% of the series. In the little village, it just makes for so much comedic moments along with some absolutely awkward ones as well. Not to mention, there’s a little boy, Xiao-le that is the best child actor ever. He just makes you want to cuddle him and has the best lines and delivers them so well that you just have to believe every word he says.

autumn's concerto

Aside from these main players, we have the supporting characters which don’t get enough screen time but still deliver fantastically. Playing a guy who has a huge love for Mu-Cheng, Tuo-Ye is Chris Wu who I’ve never seen before either but it seems like he is a big deal in Taiwan (or maybe the years after). I’m not sure because I just stepped back into this even if this series quite some time ago. However, the supporting female character is Tiffany Hsu/Wei Ning Hsu and I’ve seen her before. I think she is pretty good as well. And I can’t really go through this without talking about the older cast here who plays the parents and mentors. Especially the actress who plays Guang-xi’s mom who captures her uptight and strict role in such a convincing way.

I’m sure I’m not capturing how great this series is and sure, a lot of you probably won’t be appealed by it because it sounds absolutely cheesy. However, Autumn’s Concerto is one of the best Taiwanese series I’ve seen. Years ago, I’m not going to lie that I stopped watching Taiwanese series because I’ve grown a little sarcastic and cynical about the whole rinse and repeat thing. I knew I’d come back to it eventually. Who knew it would be for this one that I totally binge watched even when it made me cry a whole lot whether out of joy or sadness or frustration. It deserved every single tear. Right at this moment, as I’m writing this (just like the past week since I finished), I’ve been resisting the urge to start it up all over again. This love for something: I missed that feeling so much.

While you all are showing lots of love for Stranger Things, which I will see soon. I want to sit in this joy of finding a series that has reignited a feeling that I haven’t felt in a while. Getting back to my roots and actually realizing that I am still a romantic makes me so happy.

I sure hope that I convinced a few of you to go check out some Taiwanese series, especially this one. However, even if you don’t, I’m still pretty happy that this series turned out so great and I’m excited to actually dig out some of those series I own and revisit a few.

Unboxing & Recap: Miss Fresh #3

This time’s order seems a little closer than normal. However, we have been incredibly busy of late and the last week’s meals also looked pretty interesting. Miss Fresh has some decent meal ideas and honestly, it is helping to learn something new.

Lets check it out!

Miss Fresh #3

miss fresh miss fresh

As usual, the package once opened! This time it looked amazingly simple. The packaging itself was done well also. It could do with less leafy salads. It took a pretty Asianesque cuisine turn.

The meals in this week’s box was:

Mahi Mahi with Thai Coconut Curry Sauce with Snap Peas and Ginger Salad

Miss Fresh

I don’t eat a lot of assortment of fishes usually except salmon. But mahi mahi was what caught my attention. The dish itself was easy to make. It just takes time to heat up the coconut milk. Also, note to self that the sauce itself was really spicy. I ended up having to rinse off the sauce for my own sake and still it still maintained some of the spiciness. However, it was tasty.

Crispy Chicken Wings with Chili-Lime Butter and Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Miss Fresh

This may very well be the highlight attraction of this box. In my mind, chicken and brussel sprouts cannot go wrong. And I wasn’t wrong. It was easy to make. The wings were crispy. Apparently the trick is the 5 minute broil at the end. I also learned how to make chili sauce (well, chili-lime butter), even if I didn’t end up using it . My stomach just doesn’t do well with. Although my husband did give it a shot and I believe he enjoyed it.

Pork Chops Saute with Peaches and Couscous

Miss Fresh

As we slowly trim out beef from our diet, pork chops have been a more frequent meat we eat. We make pork chops in many ways here and we actually have a few good recipes. A peach sauce of sorts is interesting and for the most part, it works well with the entire meal. I skipped out on couscous since I’m trying to live a gluten-free lifestyle. This meal is not bad.  The couscous is a bit bland and I think it makes for the pork chop and peach sauce which is pretty flavorful already.

Garlic Portobello and Kale Pizza

Miss Fresh

The last meal we put together is this pizza. Note that we had to use my lactose-free cheese to replace it and they only had the marble type at the grocery store that was priced relatively good. We are keeping the actually mozzarella cheese that came with it for my husband’s tortellini that he will make soon. I was a little iffy about how this would turn out. I actually didn’t even use all the kale leaves they gave us but it looks perfect. When I pulled it out of the oven, this was the dish that wowed me the most.

Impressions:

This week’s box was really good. Everything was at par with what I’d expect. There was less ingredients as a whole but the balance of having fish, chicken and pork was good along with a vegetarian meal thrown into the mix. It still has some issues with repeating certain vegetables but I feel like it isn’t a huge deal mostly because they are probably going with the seasonal vegetables and I can understand that. The recipes itself were pretty easy to put together. The key is to find what works for you. I cooked every meal in this box except for the pork chops which my husband helped me with and I think I’m getting better at it. Its nice also that some of the skills like making certain sauces or whatnot is skills that can be used even outside of these meals. Its not only a convenient service but an educational one as well.

Which meal do you like the most? Do you have any meal subscription service near you? Have you ever tried one?

Game Warp Podcast: Song of the Deep

Welcome to this month’s featured game review on Game Warp! We are catching up to the new releases this month and checking out recently released in July independent game, Song of the Deep. Song of the Deep is a huge reminder of Metroid with its gameplay mechanics but adds a compelling story about a little girl called Merryn whose father disappears and in her dreams, she sees him trapped underwater. Merryn finds pieces lying around to make a rickety submarine to go on an underwater journey. As she searches for her father, she also realizes that many of her father’s underwater fairy tales were actually true.

Join us as we take a look at Song of the Deep!

Have you played Song of the Deep? Is it something you’d play?

If you liked the episode, remember to check out some of the other episodes in the playlist. Also, subscribe and like! It’ll help us out a lot!

For up to date gaming news, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter @GameWarpPodcast

That Moment In Podcast: The Rock (1996)

It is vacation season over at That Moment In Podcast. Not the site! Its why we’ve taken a little break. We are back with a chat about The Rock. Not the actor but the 1996 Michael Bay action thriller starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. As usual, Melissa and David give their haiku and alliterations respectively. We also dive in questions we had before Melissa talks about The Moment in The Rock that is significant and why it is so. We also share some moments that caught our attention in any way.

Be sure to stick to the end to see which film Melissa challenges David to find the moment in!

I’m not sure if I mentioned it last time but That Moment In Podcast is now available in Soundcloud, iTunes and we also have it in video on Youtube!

Thanks for listening! Hope you enjoyed!🙂

Netflix A-Z: How I Live Now (2013)

Next up in the Netflix us How I Live Now! I have been meaning to watch this since its release. I am a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan. I have yet to see a movie I dislike of hers. I am hoping to catch Brooklyn soon. With this indie focus on this round, this was the obvious choice.

Lets check it out!

How I Live Now (2013)

How I Live Now

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Harley Bird, Anna Chancellor, Danny McEvoy

An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her.-IMDB

How I Live Now is a good indie drama. The standout is the attention it takes to build its characters, particularly Saoirse Ronan’s Daisy. Her character is one with a lot of inner conflict and as the world embarks on the brink of World War 3, her control is lost as she finds someone worth her distraction and worth her fight and focus. In comparison, many other characters don’t have as much with the exception of her little cousin, Piper. This aspect of relationships is where it gets a little blurry. What is acceptable, is her love interest her cousin, her mother’s sister’s son? That had me a little confused but quickly pushed it aside.

How I Live Now

The setting of How I Live Now is also quite good. While it takes us in an indie drama and adds in a young adult romance, it is more of a coming of age story for Daisy as she learns what is worth her time and embraces what she wants for herself and how she wants to live. Hence the title. At the beginning, we follow Daisy gain a fondness and break out of her control and focus on whatever it is that fleets through her mind. It is carefree until it isn’t. How I Live Now puts in a fictional situation (because it is World War 3) of living in the times of war that makes it desperate and escalates the danger and obstacles. The war aspect is also treated in extremes especially in various scenes. There is a dramatic take (as it should be) when approaching the effects of war as the country salvages what they can and it never draws out what is actually going on but definitely highlights on turmoil.

How I Live Now

We can however take some of the blurry plotlines as perhaps a lost in translation deal. How I Live Now is adapted from a novel of the same name. While I haven’t read the novel yet, it does beg the question as to whether the scenario itself was half hidden or that some issues were not highlighted, leaving questions like what is the actual relationship between Daisy and her cousins, especially the love of her life Eddie. There are questions as to why the war all started and why there seems a division between the military and perhaps rogue gangs that took advantage of the turmoil. There was a questions as to what happened to Daisy and why she has all those thoughts in her head. There are a lot of questions that could be answered and perhaps if it was all added into an 100 minutes movie, it would make it convoluted. However, there is a part of me that felt like something wasn’t complete at the end. And perhaps that the focus wasn’t built enough for us to care about some of the younger cast in order to feel for them when they were all split apart.

how i live now

Regardless of its minor flaws, How I Live Now is a good independent drama. One that takes a different approach to young love in a brutal near-future setting when the world is collapsing at the brink of war. It is a coming of age story for Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding performance as Daisy as she finds her focus and hope for things that truly matter to her and turn them into a motivation. Its her choice how to live as her world falls apart and slowly comes back together. A very good message portrayed in a pretty effective way with some great performances: How I Live Now is worth a watch, especially if you are like me and adore Saoirse Ronan.

Have you seen How I Live Now?

Next up is I selection! Any guesses?

Opinion Battles Round 17 Favourite Time Travel Movie

Round 17 of Opinion Battles is here! This time we’re talking about our Favorite Time Travel Movie! I’m pretty sure I know which is going to win this time around but hey, I like to be different. There’s been quite a few time travel movies recently that is pretty good. The one that has been on my mind whenever we talk about this subgenre is Source Code.

Head over to Movie Reviews 101 to check out all the selections and drop a vote on the one you like!

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Round 17

Favourite Time Travel Movie

Time Travel movies have people talking for years to come after seeing them with people discussing the ideas of time travel, the good, the bad or the side effects and while it was The Time Machine that really put the genre on the map we have seen people take a fresh approach to the genre for years now. We have come together to give what should be a wonderful amount of time travel films to see which most people consider the best.

If you want to take part in the next opinion battles the subject is favourite Zombie movie you will need to have your choice by 3rd September 2016 and email your choices to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.uk

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Back to the Futureback

Back to the Future is on the list of films I will be showing my children…

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