Sunday, 15 January 2017

Shout-Out: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Couthurst

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile kingdoms. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a land where magic is forbidden.
Now Denna has to learn the ways of her new kingdom while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine, sister of her betrothed.
When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, they discover there is more to one another than they thought—and soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.
But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Movie Review: Seventh Seal

Directed by: Ingmar Bergman,1957

Pros: effective use of lighting, realistic medieval depictions

Cons: boring at times, the squire threatens a woman into joining him

A knight, returned home from the crusades, plays chess with the personification of Death to give himself time to find out if God is real. On his way home he passes through villages terrified of the plague.

This is a black and white film that looks absolutely stunning. Bergman made great use of light and darkness to create different atmospheres during the film. The scene with the flagellants is disturbing, while scenes with the actors Jof and Mia are full of hope and love. I loved Death’s design, the white face with a black cape and gloves. It evokes a skull without the gothic overtones and thus avoids feeling overdramatic. Instead, the human face seems terrifying, as we see throughout the film how humans treat each other in the face of death.

The acting was quite good, and the costumes looked amazing. I’d argue the historical accuracy of this film is better than most of what’s made nowadays, despite our better understanding of the medieval period. 

For the most part I liked the squire, but there’s one scene where he helps a woman and then basically forces her to come with him because he ‘saved her life’. That’s not to say it isn’t a realistic scene, it just made me like the squire a whole lot less.

The opening is a bit slow and a few parts seemed to meander, but on the whole it was a good movie.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Shout-Out: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.
But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Video: So You Want To Be Batman

This looks like a new series by Cracked. I thought this was pretty good and am curious to see who else they do.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Book Review: Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Pros: great characters, interesting premise, thought provoking 


It’s 1876 and the City of Futurity is close to its fifth and final year of existence, when the mirror, the portal that connects it to an alternate world’s future, will close. The city is a tourist attraction for people on both sides of the portal, though information and technology is carefully controlled on the past side. Jesse Cullum is a local man, hired on as security. When he prevents an assassination, he’s promoted to help with an investigation with a 21st Century woman.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this. The book takes place entirely in the past, though there are a few conversations that mention the future. The interesting thing for me were the moments when the past and present collided in terms of societal and cultural norms. There is ‘historical’ language, that is to say, some offensive terms are used, in context, and often called out by the future characters. I loved that the author kept Jesse mentally commenting that he didn’t understand what his partner, Elizabeth, is talking about. In the same vein, I also appreciated the occasional reminders of some fundamental differences between the future and the past, the dangers of childbirth being one, and how Elizabeth often forgot about or overlooked these differences.

A few scenes are from alternate points of view, but the majority of the book follows Jesse, who’s had quite an interesting life. His amiable personality and quiet confidence makes him a fun character to follow, even as the story goes through two transitions. Each part gives a more comprehensive look at how the future and past have affected each other, while the third has quite a bit of action compared to the other two parts, as you finally learn more about Jesse’s past in San Francisco.

Elizabeth was a former soldier and Jesse’s observations about how she differs from the women of his time are great. 

Several scenes make you think - some about how things used to be and others about how things are now. The ending especially asks some hard questions about the decisions people make and the consequences others face because of them. The book doesn’t answer any of the ethical questions that come up, but they’d be interesting to discuss.

I really enjoyed this. I suspect a deeper knowledge of the period might have increased my enjoyment, knowing some of the events being discussed and how the presence of the futurists changed things, but as someone who knows very little about the USA during the late 1800s, I found the depiction of life fascinating.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Reading Resolutions for 2017

I wasn't going to do any reading resolutions this year. When I did my blog stats and saw what I'd read, it didn't seem like my resolutions were helping. I've also been inundated with negative 'resolution' videos lately, about how they always fail.

Then I saw this post by Tobias Buckell about bullet journaling and suddenly I wanted to make resolutions again. But I didn't want to make sweeping resolutions that I couldn't achieve or that wouldn't survive contact with the real world. I wanted to make small, defined resolutions that would effect my life in concrete ways so that at the end of the year I would see actual results. I wanted little check boxes I could tick off every day to show accomplishment (I'm an 'achiever'. To me, lists and check boxes are really important and I feel somehow a failure if I don't get to tick things off in those boxes).

So my resolutions look different this year.

I started out by making a chart:

It's not all filled out here, but I did fill it all out in my notebook. 

I then made a concrete list - with check boxes - for the specific books and types of books I want to have read by the end of the year. My goal is to read 40 books, which is clearly doable. Of those, 5 will be history books (and I've picked out which ones I'm going to read). I've got spaces for 10 books published in 2017, several of which have already been filled in (these are books I desperately want to read, and some books I've requested from publishers. I may not get those books, so this list may change, but my intent here is to give myself a physical representation of what I have the physical time for. Once that column is full, I cannot accept new reading requests without bumping another book off my list (at the end of the year if my list is done, I can add a few extra titles. But I have a habit of taking on too many requests and so not getting through the books I otherwise plan to).

As with previous years, my biggest concern is clearing some backlog books. I have 10 older titles from my shelves. I'm starting with books I've bought that I haven't had time to read but really really want to. These books have been bumped off my reading pile for years. That stops this year. I've also got 5 'older titles' listed. These are from my husband's shelves and tend more towards classic SF. I've filled that list so I don't need to think about which book to pick - which can get daunting, and is part of why there are so many I haven't read (that and time - never enough time).

One of my categories is to read 5 diverse books. I'm hoping to get more than that, so it's a fluid list in terms of number. I already have two in other lists. I was having a bit of trouble coming up with possible diverse books so I went on Goodreads and looked through a few of those lists. I came up with the following:  
I'd forgotten how many great books I still want to read (many of which I own) fall under the 'diverse' umbrella. I'm trying for more 'own voices' books here. I don't think reading 5 will be a problem. Deciding which one to read first though...

I'm also planning to read 10 graphic novels and 5 magazines. I keep getting magazines and story collections in kickstarter campaigns and ebook bundles. This year I plan on reading a few of them. I'm hoping to read more than 5, but we'll see. Stories take longer to review, so I don't do as many of them.

The following pages have my yearly goals written concisely, followed by what I have to do each month and each day in order to meet my goals.

I've got more medieval posts planned. I wasn't able to do many last year, and I'm planning to do one plant and one saint post a month this year. 

I also think the key to making resolutions/goals stick is to check in once a month and see if you're on track. It's something I haven't really done before, so I want to keep myself focused this year. I also want to be flexible with my time. If I don't have time for a book, I'll throw in a graphic novel or movie for review. 

So, what resolutions have you made this year? 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Blog Stats for 2016

It's the start of a new year so once again I'm looking over what I accomplished last year.

Due to a large family project that took up a lot of my time and an exercise program I undertook so I could walk the Inca trail, I only managed to read 44 books (down from 53 in 2015).

Of those 44 books, one was an autobiography, one was general fiction, one was history, and one was about linguistics.  The rest broke down as follows:

science fiction = 21 (5 of which were YA)
fantasy = 10 (2 YA)
urban fantasy = 7
horror = 2

I also read two graphic novels.

My male to female ratio was 21:19, so pretty even.

In terms of diversity, I read 4 'own voices' books and 4 books where the character was POC or disabled, etc. but as far as I'm aware the author wasn't.

This was my best year for urban fantasy for quite some time. I loved the originality of the books that came out this year and hope to see more of it going forward.

I'm doing a separate post on my reading resolutions for this year, which will go live tomorrow.