Category: Four Star


So, guess who got hit with a fun little dose of anxiety about actually starting her new job back on Wednesday. It’s me. I spent so much time getting up and looking for things to do that I got just about nothing done. All the same though, I’m happy to share this one with you all. The nice folks at Tor Teen sent it to me ages ago and I’m finally talking about it. By an author I’ve reviewed several times before, Ann Aguirre, this is Heartwood Box. Enjoy!

Heartwood Box cover

Araceli Flores Harper’s parents sent her to live with her great aunt Ottillie for her own safety. On paper, the town is safer than nearly anywhere Araceli could possibly be. No crime. No outward threats. But people, her great uncle included, have been disappearing for years with no trace found. That’s concerning enough on its own. But between her new pen pal from World War 1 and the disappearance of her best friend Araceli will need to dig deep into the town’s mysteries for the truth regardless of the danger.

Ann Aguirre’s Heartwood Box does an interesting job of balancing the mystery of what causes the disappearances and Araceli’s attempts to figure them out and the sort of romance across time between Araceli and Oliver.

Aguirre is one of those authors that I adore with major exception to how she writes romance, Heartwood Box is a fascinating exception to that. Something, I think, about how she balances the romance against the plot and Araceli’s feelings about other characters. The plot is allowed to happen without being entirely devoured by the romance. As the plot gets more serious it feels like Araceli leans more heavily on the impossible romance with Oliver. And yet, the only thing that feels lost to the romance was the possible love triangle with the boy next door class clown, Logan, which did not feel like a loss at all given the characters involved.

It actually becomes difficult to talk more about the plot, beyond going over how it balances with the romance, without spoiling the climax. Which is a bit frustrating because the real mystery only kicks in later in the book, the first half or so of the story is introduction and lead up. And yet, it is introduction and lead up that is done well enough that I was almost disappointed when the end started getting closer. I was enjoying seeing Araceli trying to figure out how she was communicating with Oliver, seeing her finding out more about the town, even her interactions with Logan made for good character work and made him feel like more of a character than just the third wheel guy. The character work over all is good actually, I enjoyed reading the interactions between Araceli and her friends. I wanted to see more of them, more of their stories, it made for great side characters because they felt solid and like they had their own stories going on off page.

My problem, if I had a problem at all, with Heartwood Box is the ending. Trying not to go too far into it, it feels way beyond Araceli’s scope. By nature of the narrative and the book to that point, the reader has to stick with Araceli for the ending but then the things that happened seem vastly out of step with what both the reader and Araceli herself know and could expect. It leaves her feeling unmoored in a way that could easily have been the start of a completely different story. This is definitely a matter of necessity, again the reader has to stick with her or it would be way too jarring, but the difference has to be tremendous enough for the reader to get the sheer magnitude of how much changed from the comparatively small scope of Araceli’s life in this small town in New York. It is a trade off that I’m not entirely sure works, but acknowledge had to be made.

Which brings me to this, I liked Heartwood Box a great deal. It falls pretty far from my usual genre preferences but the characters were interesting and the mystery was well constructed enough that I got hooked. It reminded me of the parts of Ann Aguirre’s writing that I really enjoy and made me want to check out more of her YA works. So it earns a four out of five from me. If I felt more confident with the ending it would have gotten a five.

So, this was something I’ve been excited for for a good while. I’ve covered Cerberus’ #DICE4MASKS campaign before, because it still feels like a really awesome thing for them to be doing. Now these guys are randomized between something like a hundred different sets, so it’s pretty exciting to have gotten a color and style I like as much as I do these. All that said, let’s roll!

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I don’t generally bring much attention to the bag for things like this, but I liked the design and that the bags are meant to be reusable. They feel a little flimsy compared to the cloth ones I’m used to, but they reseal well and made it through shipping no problem.

We’re here for what’s in the bag though, so on to the dice. I do not know what this set is called, but I do know that I like the look of them.

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As ever, I am a fan of sparkly things, so the combination of green and silver foil glitter is much appreciated. There’s actually so much color from the glitter and enough of it that the clear acrylic takes on a pale green color as well, which is delightful for me. Plus, it manages this without feeling busy, which is also appreciated.

Part of that not feeling busy is probably down to the inking being in that nice contrasting gold. The inking itself is nicely clean. There weren’t any notable over fill places and the places where the inking is thin are uniformly down to being places where the glitter came through the acrylic. Those places aren’t noticeable from table distance though and the numbering seems to be the only place where the glitter has come through, so it isn’t a tremendous complaint.

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In hand, they feel as nice as any other standard set of acrylic dice could be expected to. Again, there aren’t any strange places from the glitter coming through. They don’t seem to have favorite sides, so it can be assumed that they’re acceptably random for game night.

I like this set of dice. They’re a nice color combination and read easily, even in the comparative low light I’m in now. I do have that quibble about the foil peaking through in the numbers, which loses it some, but the numbers are deeply cut enough that it doesn’t effect the feel of the dice in hand. Plus, I like that I felt like I’d done something nice ordering these guys. I give this set a four out of five.

As to what kind of character I would use them for. I think I’m going to use them for my upcoming tiefling bard. The sparklies are a nice tie in for bardish flamboyance, while the green ties in nicely with the earth and flower tones I want to use for her dice.

Postponing this helped a lot, though I wish I hadn’t needed to. Things to work on for next week, right? Let’s get to the book though, here’s Claire O’Dell’s A Study in Honor. Enjoy!

A Study in Honor cover

Doctor Janet Watson lost her arm while working desperately to save injured soldiers on the front lines, ending her career both military and as a surgeon. Given honorable discharge and a partly functional mechanical prosthetic, she’s returned to Washington DC to find her way back to a normal life despite the political upheaval of the New Civil War and her own PTSD. Normal means a place to live, a more functional prosthetic, and a job. Normal means just about anything except Sara Holmes and the many many secrets she brings with her. Normal means that her patients should not be dying under suspicious circumstances, their records deleted within the day. Normal might mean having to work with her evasive and teasing roommate to follow the trail of suspicious deaths into something deeply dangerous, all in the name of justice.

I do not know what I expected when picking up Clair O’Dell’s A Study in Honor. The idea of a cyberpunk mystery using new versions of known characters appealed, though ultimately there is not much cyberpunk to it and the mystery is slow to arrive.

That is actually my biggest complaint about A Study in Honor, it is incredibly slow starting up. The first third or so of the book feels as long or longer than the entire rest of it. It has all of the introduction to the second Civil War, why it happened and how it is effecting things. It has Watson’s thoughts on the candidates for the upcoming presidential election and the promise and failings of the current president. It has Watson falling down a depression hole and just going through the motions of life for a time until the monotony of it is broken by a run in with an old army buddy and her introduction to Sara Holmes. All of this is important background, but it drags on and on. The official blurb does not really help this, given that it covers most of the book, which could easily make the slow start feel even more so. The plot really only starts after Watson has moved into apartment 2B and been given reason to suspect that Holmes is more than she seems.

Holmes herself feels like an oddity. Simultaneously charming and infuriating, Holmes spends much of the early book seemingly toying with Watson by playing a game of questions and half truths. She has some really concerning behavior at one point, it gets explained later in the book but still feels really off from a character Watson and the reader are meant to come to trust. There really never is a point where it feels like the reader could catch up to her even if the reader has figured out what will happen on their own. Her seemingly endless wealth of information and resources just puts her so far outside of what Watson could know that it feels in places like she is being dragged along by some force of nature as Sara Holmes jumps from clue to unknown clue, hauling the plot along with her.

All this feels far more negative than I entirely mean for it to. The plot is familiar enough to figure out what will happen and roughly in what order. The characters of Dr. Janet Watson and Sara Holmes are well written and consistent, Watson perhaps more so since she is the reader’s view into all of this. The background conflict of the New Civil War has far reaching consequences, both serving as the inciting incident for Watson’s return to Washington, DC as well as touching most every major plot point. It feels like a big dangerous thing rather than serving as an excuse for Watson to have been injured and honorably discharged from the army and then just dropped.

Overall, I enjoyed A Study in Honor and I look forward to the follow up, I also appreciate though that A Study in Honor feels like a complete story on its own. I would read more of O’Dell’s writing. So, while it loses a little bit for me due to how slow it starts, I give A Study in Honor a four out of five.

 

Alpha Dice Set

I missed the first round of Dice Envy’s Alpha dice set, so it was a long wait to see if they would be remade. This being Dice Envy’s first Kickstarter set it seemed likely that it would happen eventually, especially in light of the company’s anti-FOMO stance. The wait was worth it I think. Let’s roll!

Alpha 1

I like the starkness of the black and white on the Alpha dice. The movement lines on most of the numbers offer a dramatic flair while the high numbers on most of the dice have what looks like targeting sights, which feels excellent on nat 20s as a nice bit of extra confirmation. I would have liked to see the same pattern on the d10 and percent dice, while they still look cool the lack of the sights on the high numbers makes them feel a little less than the other dice. Even the d4, something that cannot follow the pattern due to its shape, had the pattern adjusted to make it work better there.

Alpha 2

The inking on these is interesting, the numbers and pattern have been filled until they’re level with the rest of the die rather than the engraved numbers having been painted. This results in the dice being texturally interesting. The filling should be level, but there are places on many of the dice that it either sank in or was gouged out a bit somewhere along the lines. It winds up being a bit frustrating because I’m not sure how to fix it.

They do, as expected, roll well though. The d6 seems to have a little bit of a preference for its 3 side, but it is the only one and the preference is minor enough that I don’t think it would effect things to terribly much. The filled in inking does not seem to have any effect on the way the dice feel when rolling them, so they still feel quite nice to roll.

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I do feel like the Alpha dice set was worth the waiting for the restock. I like them quite a bit and find the pattern fun but not overly busy. They do lose a point with me for the issues with the inking, more because of how hard it would be for fix than just for the issues existing. So, Dice Envy’s Alpha set gets a four out of five from me, I’m left looking forward to the Omega set arriving on the website.

This is a bit of an odd set to decide what sort of character I would use them for. I definitely want to use them in Starfinder, Pathfinder’s science fiction sibling game, but I’m not certain which class I would go for, probably an android mechanic or technomancer. I might come back to this after DMing a game or two.

Eggbite

I’m late on this one. It’s been an odd day and it feels like I’ve simultaneously done nothing and all the things. Mondays, right? These guys are Dice Envy’s Eggbite dice. Let’s roll!

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I think I initially wanted to check out the Eggbite set because they didn’t look like anything else I have right now. The pictures are, as ever, a case where my camera does not do the color of these dice justice. The yellow of them is sharp and vibrant and stands out so well with both the white bits and the inking. That very clear delineation of the opaque white and the clear yellow is delightful and gives the dice a very clean blend of colors. It’s bright and happy looking.

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I think the use of blue for the inking is pretty brilliant. The blue used is a nice bright color so it fits the dice even as the contrast with the yellow makes them easier to read. I did not notice any thin spots or spill over on the inking. this set turned out really well there.

There were a couple faces on the d4 that seemed over sanded. The numbers were fully filled in with ink, the engraving was just super shallow and worn partially away. It didn’t make the die unreadable and it doesn’t seem to have greatly effected the balance on the die, it just doesn’t look as nice as the other dice. These being acrylic dice, the balance seems fine on all of them. There were no visible bubbles and the did not seem to have any preferred sides.

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I really like the Eggbite set. It’s bright and fun and I more than kind of want to either chew on the dice or go make scrambled eggs from playing around with them for the review. They do lose a point for the over sanding. While it is not going to greatly effect my using the set, since it’s on the d4, it is a technical issue that the manufacturers should have been keeping a better eye on and I don’t trust that it hasn’t effected other dice in less harmless ways. So the Eggbite set gets a four out of five from me.

I also know exactly the character I want to use them for. I’ve got a catfolk baker turned adventurer fighter planned up for the next time we run Pathfinder, Gib Baguul. The colors and name just make these feel like they’ll be a fantastic fit for one of the sets I use for her. Planning out the sets I want to use for her just gets me more excited to play her later on, so she’ll probably crop up here again.

Ca$h Monet

Another week, another round of talking about dice. This one is Dice Envy’s super sparkly Ca$h Monet, the dice with a truly terrible, truly delightful pun for a name. Let’s roll!

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Right, so the obvious first thing about these dice is their colors. The colors are rich and bold and shot through on every layer with micro glitter. This is a set where the d6 having a vastly different color balance doesn’t make it feel out of place with the others because they all have fairly broad varieties of color balancing. Also because the use of three colors makes for really nifty effects so, for me, it feels less like it’s out of place for the set.

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The inking is interesting here. It’s a sort of creamy gold, with sparkles through out but the color muted. It winds up being nicely visible against all the other colors, even the yellow, while not being quite so stark as having them just inked in white would be. There were a few places that were under filled or over filled. Nothing that made the dice hard to read, but it did make some of the sides look a little ragged. This is the one place where that creamy gold isn’t great, if it weren’t for the non-standard color it would be an easy fix. As is, it would take a lot of tinkering to match it.

As usual, the Ca$h Monet dice feel nice in hand and roll well. I did not get these tested as thoroughly as I would have liked, but I did not notice any instances of them tending towards a favorite side. They’re pretty standard with regards to rolling.

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Which brings us to this bit. I really love the look of this set and the idea of the glittery muted gold inking is really cool. Unfortunately, I think it might be the very same glittery element that made the inking here a little rough and the fiddly nature of mixing up my own paints to match what’s already there makes it a difficult fix. That brings the set down more than a little for me because I like the colors together, but I really don’t like the unevenness of it. And that leaves the Ca$h Monet dice set with a four out of five. Perfectly usable, just not as well finished as they could be.

As to what kind of character I would use these for, I’m not sure. Almost definitely a spell caster of some sort, but then I sort of lose steam. A fae blooded sorcerer or a warlock with a fae patron could work well, I think.

Monday again, and that means I get to talk about dice. This set has a kind of funky name and a gloriously glimery aesthetic, it’s Dice Envy’s Happy Birthday, Katie! dice set. Enjoy!

Happy Birthday Katie 1

My adoration of sparkly things is, at this point, well beyond well documented. I like dice with colorful glitter in them. I like dice with nifty inclusions in them. I like dice with interesting color combinations. These have all of the above. The Happy Birthday, Katie! dice set are split between one side that has clear blue acrylic and star shaped confetti and the other side that is absolutely packed with purple micro glitter. The pairing really shouldn’t work together, but the effect is really fun.

The inking is, per standard, well done. I didn’t see any thin parts or over filled places and the silver ink is readily visible regardless of which side of the dice comes up.

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Rolling the dice feels nice. There don’t seem to be any places where the confetti sticks out. Despite having what seems like two very different sets of inclusions, none of the dice in my set have major bubbles visible. The d10 did have a few very small ones, but that does not seem to have effected how it rolls just based on my testing. None of the other dice showed favorite sides either.

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Which brings me to this bit.This is a dice set that makes me think about the Jem and the Holograms comics and the fun of sharing terrible 80’s video clips with my friends. It’s bright and happy looking and rolls well. The part of me that says good enough is good enough gives the Happy Birthday, Katie! dice set a five out of five. But, given that there were bubbles on the d10, regardless of how minor, I’m going to bump it down to a four out of five and suggest giving your set a look over and a few test rolls for these.

As to what sort of character I would use these for, I’m split between wanting to just roll up one of the Holograms as a bard and wanting to use the incredibly sparkly dice for just the dourest basic fighter I can work up. The more I think the more I lean towards the bard, never played one before so I might as well give it a try.

Vibe Check Dice

I am later on this than I would have liked to be. Things have been wild recently and I do not know when they will slow down. But I’m doing what I can as I can. Today though, I’m here to talk about dice. Specifically Dice Envy’s Vibe Check dice because I like sparkly things. Also, Dice Envy has a coupon active right now, FEBRUARYCURSE, that will net you 25% off your next order. But on to the dice!

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So, Vibe Check is definitely a set of dice where what you get can vary greatly from the display set pictured on the site. The set there has a much more even split of the sparkly peach color and the yellow-green. This is, for people who are me, kind of a cool example of how the acrylic pouring process works. But I also think that the colors work much better either blended more evenly or dominated by the sparkles. That said, I am certain that if my set had been mostly the yellow-green with a largely peachy d20 I would be saying the same thing in reverse.

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As ever, I am a massive fan of sparkly things and the peach works really nicely here. Also, while the gold ink does work better with the peach it is nicely visible on the yellow-green as well. That isn’t as obvious as I would like in these pictures, but it is nicely visible. No obvious thin spots. Just all around well inked.

The Vibe Check dice set also, as expected for acrylic dice, feel nice in the hand and roll well. There don’t seem to be any bubbles in my set, since the dice don’t seem to have favorite sides. Yeah, just in general these are enjoyable to roll.

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I am at a bit of a stand still on how to rate this set. With exception to the d20 having such a wildly different blend of the two colors I really like the look of the Vibe Check set that I got. It isn’t quite what was advertised, but that is somewhat to be expected when a set is a blend of two acrylics. That’s the thing I keep coming back to. I think this set, rather than the Vibe Check dice as a whole, gets a four out of five from me. If Dice Envy added these to the al a carte dice and I was able to order a d20 that might better match the rest of the set it would probably bump up to a full five out of five. I’ll just have to wait and see on that though.

I think this book might have kicked off my recent reading streak. I enjoyed it a great deal and very much appreciate Entangled Teen’s providing me with a copy for review. Here’s Pintip Dunn’s Malice. Enjoy!

Malice cover

In a shattering flash of electricity Alice was visited by a voice claiming to be from the future. A voice that would go on to inform her that one of the students at her school is the creator of a virus that, in her time, has killed all but a third of the human population. A voice that charges her with finding out who this person is and stopping them before it is too late. But the voice’s orders often feel contradictory or nonsensical and Alice finds herself questioning if following its orders is really the best way to save the future. Is there anything that she can do to save the future outside of the voice’s orders? And why is it so insistent that she avoid one specific boy?

There is a lot to recommend Pintip Dunn’s Malice. The concept is interesting, the idea of a sort of indirect time travel and the implications of that fascinate me. So does the way the story was laid out, with Alice being pulled in different directions by the voice and her own feelings and fears, but it does so while laying out a solid path to who the virus maker might be and building layers of characterization for most of the cast.

The characters for the most part felt like characters. They felt like they existed for more reasons that to support the romance sub plot between Alice and Bandit and, more importantly, most of them felt like they could have been the protagonists of the book if it had been written from a different angle. Even the nameless background students feel like they could have been characters. Alice notes people interacting in the background as part of describing her surroundings. The only real exceptions here have their reasons for being comparatively out of focus, though there were a couple of characters that I found myself wishing we had seen more of.

The plot is well laid out, a reader can pretty easily catch on to where things are going. Though enough unexpected happens that the book never gets boring. Even the romance subplot is well done, it feels like Alice is actually getting to know Bandit rather than just them suddenly being in love. It fits well with the plot too, supporting and complementing it rather well.

One of the only things I have a real complaint with is how the confrontation with the virus maker was handled. It felt rushed in an odd way, almost like Dunn only had so many pages she was allowed and was running out of them. There was all this set up baked in for the virus maker, right up to the climax where the virus maker sounded both heartbreakingly young and so far gone that it sort of made the rest of the ending not work for me. It was not the worst ending that I have ever read by any means, but I would have liked for it to have been given a little more space to settle in.

I had a lot of fun with Malice. There were moments when I wanted Alice to go ahead and figure out what was going on so that we could get into the fighting back part. There were moments where something clicked and I just knew where things were moving. It was a book that I was willing to go with the flow on and see how things fell into place. The writing was well plotted and, while Malice is vehemently a standalone book, I find myself looking forward to what Dunn writes next. So, this earns a four out of five from me.

 

Vespertine Dice

Got a lot of excitement tonight, I’ve been given a coupon code by Dice Envy to share with you all. It’ll get you free shipping on your order, just type in Tympest10 at checkout. I suggest checking out the Vespertine dice that are featured here but they have a lot of sets to check out. Regardless, enjoy!

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I am, as ever, a fan of interesting dice so a set of smokey grey dice with sparkly gold flake and micro glitter sprinkled through is definitely a set that I wanted to check out. The balance of the grey and gold are really nice together and the purple micro glitter complements both well. On the sides with a great deal  of gold flake the darker purple inking stands out well and looks really nice. It’s all together a nice looking set of dice.

There is a bit of an issue with visibility on the set though. With the acrylic and the inking both being as dark as they are, especially when set on a table, and the visual confusion caused by the gold flake and micro glitter they are a bit difficult to read at any distance.

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Now before I go too far with the inking, it is well done. There weren’t any thin spots that I saw or places where the paint went over the edges of the numbers. The color itself is quite nice and, as much as I love the purple used for it, I think I want to try re-inking them in a lighter shade of it. Save the overall aesthetic but also increase the readability.

As can be expected of acrylic dice these feel nice in hand and roll well. Despite the gold flake inclusions there do not seem to be any bubbles in my set. They seem well balanced, none of the dice have favorite numbers as far as I’ve seen.

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It’s really easy to think of this as a sort of sister set to the Celestine dice I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Both feature a clear colored resin and gold flake as major parts of the design, and of course that means that both have the same visibility issue in common. That’s a pretty easy fix though and one that I’m excited to try out. Plus I really enjoy the aesthetic of the set and have found myself using them for my online game regardless of readability. So, all told the Vespertine dice set earns a four out of five from me.