Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Best Books I Read in 2015

While several of these books came out in 2015, a few were out earlier and one comes out in January. So here they are in the order I read them, my favourite books read in 2015.
---------------------------------------

The Martian by Andy Weir - No real surprise here.  It's such a fun book and the movie adaptation was great.  It was pretty refreshing seeing a science fiction man vs nature story.

The Skull Throne by Peter Brett - I LOVE the Demon War saga, and this book upped the ante.  Can't wait for the next book to come out.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - This book made dragons feel fresh again. Brilliant writing with a protagonist I really felt for.

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal - Another series I loved and am sad to see come to an end. This Regency/fantasy mash-up worked better than I would have expected. I'm curious to see what Kowal will write next.

Binary by Stephanie Saulter - The second book in the REvolution trilogy, both of which are excellent, thought provoking science fiction novels.

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias - a great first contact novel set deep within an alien ocean.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson - An absolutely brilliant debut about colonialism and what someone's willing to do - and give up - to achieve a goal.

Against a Brightening Sky by Jaime Lee Moyer - Third in a series set in 20th Century San Francisco, it combines fantasy elements and mysteries. Some great characters too.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett - The unexpected sequel to last year's brilliant City of Stairs is equally awesome.  It's out January 26th (so my review isn't up yet) and is definitely worth picking up.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear - A super fun steampunk romp with a wild West feel to it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Books Received in December 2015

My thanks as always to those who've sent me books this month.

Barsk by Lawrence Schoen - This book reminds me of the Uplift novels by David Brin (which I haven't read - yet)

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

The Witch Who Came In From the Cold: A Long Cold Winter by Max Gladstone and Lindsay Smith - I've already read this and my review will be going up soon.  It's a new Serial Box series
which starts January 16th.

The Cold War rages in the back rooms and dark alleys of 1970s Prague as spies and sorcerers cross murky lines to do battle for home and country. The fate of the East and the West hangs in the balance right along the Iron Curtain—and crackling beneath the surface of it all is a vein of magic, raw and waiting to be tapped.





Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey - This sounds like an interesting dark fantasy/urban fantasy debut, which comes out next June.

When her beloved grandmother dies suddenly, 22-year-old Lissa Nevsky is left with no choice but to take over her grandmother's magical position in their small folk community. That includes honoring a debt owed to the dangerous stranger who appears at Lissa's door.

Maksim Volkov needs magic to keep his brutal nature leashed, but he's already lost control once: his blood-borne lust for violence infects Nick Kaisaris, a charming slacker out celebrating the end of finals. Now Nick is somewhere else in Toronto, going slowly mad, and Maksim must find him before he hurts more people.

Lissa must uncover forbidden secrets and mend family rifts in order to prevent Maksim from hurting more people, including himself. If she fails, Maksim will have no choice but to destroy both himself and Nick.


The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson - I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, and the third is amazing so far (I'm half way through).  The books can be read independently, but you do lose out on the character building if you just right to this book.  There's also a spoiler for book one at the end of this synopsis.  Out January 26th.

The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Cool Christmas Presents

I had a wonderful Christmas, and I hope you all enjoyed or are enjoying your holidays.  I'm blessed with some family members as nerdy as me, and so got some really cool presents.

I LOVE my new kitty socks - especially the one breathing fire at a planet.  Who needs dragons? Well, I do, which is why I think my new dragon guarding its eggs cake pan is pretty amazing. Not sure how evenly the cake will cook (I've never used a shaped pan) or how I'm supposed to ice the cake, but I'm eager to find out. And last but not least, a pair of Schrodinger's cat earrings.  :D


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Shout-Out: Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

If you had one chance to change history...Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you kill?
It's the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be. Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.
Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century? 
And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

Friday, 25 December 2015

Video: The Night Before Catmas

If you haven't seen it yet, here's a cute video of a cat messing with someone's Christmas tree. :)  It's from the Cole and Marmalade youtube channel, which is filled with cat videos.  Enjoy.



If you're looking for something more relaxing, here's Lil Bub's Magical Yule Log video.  It's a cat in front of a fireplace.  For an hour.  If an hour isn't long enough, you can extend your watch with this video, or this one.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Shout-Out: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

I normally use these shout-out posts to spotlight newly released titles (or older titles I've recently become aware of), but with Christmas being tomorrow, I wanted to do something that dealt more closely with the holiday season.  And while I'm not sure if I'm still Christian, I love the pageantry surrounding Christmas.  And let's not forget that Christian began as a pagan celebration...

I love Hogfather and if you've never read Pratchett - or this particular book - you've been missing out. The story delves into some of the older, darker aspects of the holiday.


ITS THE NIGHT BEFORE HOGSWATCH. AND IT'S TOO QUIET.
Where is the big jolly fat man? Why is Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho? The darkest night of the year is getting a lot darker...

Susan the gothic governess has got to sort it out by morning, otherwise there won't be a morning. Ever again...

The 20th Discworld novel is a festive feast of darkness and Death (but with jolly robins and tinsel too).

As they say: You'd better watch out...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Video: The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-Earth Dance Battle

I know this made the rounds a few months back, but with the holidays here, and much merriment and dancing, it seems a good time to remember it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Book Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Pros: complex mystery, great characters, more mythology

Cons: didn’t touch on one of the unresolved plot points from the first book

The past year has brought economic trouble to the city of Elendil.  When a creature from mythology starts a series of terrorist attacks, targeting the governor, whom Marasi believes to be corrupt, Waxillium and Marasi become more and more convinced that these problems are related.  

Wax and Wayne make for a fun team.  Wax is driven, with a strong moral compass while Wayne has a crude sense of humour and loose beliefs with regards to ownership.  Their different abilities complement each other, making them powerful. Wayne’s ease with accents, dialects, and costumes gets a good workout. 

I found myself liking Steris more in this book, and wishing she had more page time.  While her relationship with Wax isn’t a love match, I do think they’re a couple that could work, given how things progress.  

I also like how Marasi is developing as a character.  She faces different kinds of challenges in this book and acquits herself well.   

While you don’t technically have to read Alloy of Law to understand and enjoy the events of this book, it does help.  Certain events have more weight if you know what’s happened, and you’ll have a sense of missing information during a few conversations (I ended up skimming the first book half way through this one to remind myself of what’s happened).  There’s also a lot more mythology in this book, making me want to read the original Mistborn trilogy.

I love how Allomancy and Feruchemy work and the skills the powers allow the characters to use.  This book also uses a third type of metal magic, which was cool to learn about.

I was somewhat surprised that one of the major unresolved plot points from the first book wasn’t really touched on or dealt with in this one.  I’m assuming it will come back in the third book.


This is a fun book and while the ending isn’t a cliffhanger, it is designed to have you reaching for the next book, The Bands of Mourning, which luckily comes out in January. 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Shout-Out: Warrior Women Edited by Paula Guran

Two dozen stories of women warriors form this epic anthology of stories about those forced to fight, those who chose to fight regardless of odds, those who ran from their destiny as warriors, and those who will end war at any cost.

In Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “The Sea Troll’s Daughter,” the titular daughter of a fearsome beast reluctantly confronts the woman who slew her father. In Carrie Vaughn’s nonspeculative “The Girls from Avenger,” a WWII pilot tries to determine the cause of her friend’s mysterious crash. An immortal wandering warrior meets an immortal prisoner in George R.R. Martin’s hopeful but bleak “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr.” Spaceship captain Tory Sabin must battle bureaucracy and physics to locate a missing friend in “The Application of Hope” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

The warriors include girls as well as grown women: young Thien Bao is offered the chance to end a cataclysmic war at an unimaginable cost in Aliette de Bodard’s “The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile,” and a girl who discovers her father is a “monster” grows into a woman who tries to save others from his fate in Ken Liu’s “In the Loop.”

Each story contains strength and compassion, even when the personal cost is high. The depictions of battle and trauma are rarely graphic, but they’re as hard-hitting as the subject demands. This is a truly impressive accomplishment for Guran and her contributors.
Table of contents

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Shout-Out: Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

The Nebula Award–winning author of the Alex Benedict novels and the Priscilla Hutchins novels returns to the world of Ancient Shores in a startling and majestic epic.

A working stargate dating back more than ten thousand years has been discovered in North Dakota, on a Sioux reservation near Devils Lake. Travel through the gate currently leads to three equally mysterious destinations: (1) an apparently empty garden world, quickly dubbed Eden; (2) a strange maze of underground passageways; or (3) a space station with a view of a galaxy that appears to be the Milky Way.

The race to explore and claim the stargate quickly escalates, and those involved divide into opposing camps who view the teleportation technology either as an unprecedented opportunity for scientific research or a disastrous threat to national—if not planetary—security. In the middle of the maelstrom stands Sioux chairman James Walker. One thing is for certain: Questions about what the stargate means for humanity’s role in the galaxy cannot be ignored.

Especially since travel through the stargate isn’t necessarily only one way...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Video: Star Wars The Force Awakens Acapella Medley

Jimmy Fallon and The Roots do an acapella medley for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with some of the stars of the upcoming film.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Pros: great world-building, fun characters, interesting plot  

Cons: some crude language

Karen Memery works as a ‘seamstress’ in Madame Damnable’s Hotel Mon Cherie.  When two women knock on their door running from one of Peter Bantle’s cribs by the pier, Karen stands up to him and the roughs who’ve come to take the women back.  Bantle’s got a special machine and he’s running for mayor, and things in Rapid City start to go downhill fast for the ‘seamstresses’, especially when U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves rolls into town, looking for a killer.

You get a wonderful first chapter explaining how Karen’s a ‘seamstress’ and a seamstress, making her own dresses for her, ahem, actual work.  You also get a great introduction to her co-workers and the environment they work in vs environments other ‘seamstresses’ have to work in.  So when a ‘seamstress’ from a much worse environment show up, you’re already sympathetic towards her.

The world is basically a decent sized town in the wild west, if the wild west had dirigibles and other steampunk accoutrements - like a souped up Singer sewing machine that straps on.  There’s also a wide variety of characters, from the black marshal (patterned off of a real man), a lot of spunky women (not all of whom are white), some Russians, a native man, and others.  The cast makes the city feel real - and remembers the history of the Western coast, with China towns, escaped slaves, indentured servants, and more.   

Bear’s prose is fun, seeing through Karen’s eyes, though it takes some getting used to as the grammar’s atrocious.  There’s a lot of period - and character - appropriate terms (including derogatory terms for people of other races/nationalities) and swearing, which some may find offensive. 

The plot rambles a bit, as Karen isn’t always at the centre of things, but is quite interesting and coalesces in a series of fights that make for an exciting climax.


This is an excellent book.  Highly recommended.

Friday, 11 December 2015

X-Men Apocalypse Movie Trailer

I've really enjoyed the rebooted X-Men movies and this trailer for Apocalypse looks incredible.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Shout-Out: Ignite the Shadows by Ingrid Seymour

Sixteen-year-old Marci Guerrero is one of the best teen hackers in Seattle. However, she’d give up all her talents to know she isn’t crazy.

Marci feels possessed by shadowy spectres that take control of her body and make her do crazy things. While spying on the clandestine group known as IgNiTe, she is confronted by their mysterious leader, James McCray. His presence stirs the spectres inside her brain into a maddening frenzy. Her symptoms and ability to control them don’t go unnoticed by James, who soon recruits her. As IgNiTe reveals its secrets, Marci starts to realise that half the world’s population is infected with sentient parasites, which are attacking and eventually supplanting the human brain.

Now Marci wishes she was crazy, because this truth is far worse . . .






Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Audiobook Review: Out of Tune Edited by Jonathan Maberry

This is a short story collection of horror and dark fantasy tales based on old ballads.  The audio book is narrated by Peter Bishop and Lesley Ann Fogle.  Each story is followed by a short commentary on the folklore associated with the ballad by Nancy Keim Comley.

I found Mr. Bishop’s narration pleasant to listen to, while his voices didn’t change much from the narration.  Ms. Fogle’s voice was too monotone for my tastes, though after a few minutes I was generally enthralled by the story and it didn’t bother me anymore.  I loved her character voices, which were excellently done.

I didn’t find any of the stories particularly scary, though some were creepy and unsettling.  Familiarity with the ballads increased my enjoyment of the stories.  Having said that, I didn’t feel any detriment when I wasn’t familiar with the ballads, and in a few cases I’m sure it helped with suspense.

The stories are all excellent quality, though individual tastes may have you disagreeing with my ratings.

***** “Wendy, Darling” by Christopher Golden
This story combines a ballad theme about mothers with Peter Pan as Wendy prepares for her wedding. - I wasn’t familiar with the ballad theme this riffed off of, so it was delightfully creepy learning Wendy’s secret and the truth of the Lost Boys.

**** “Sweet William’s Ghost” by David Liss
A woman cheats on her fiancee and comes to regret it. - The story is told from the lover’s point of view and he’s quite a piece of work.  There’s black humour in his beliefs about women, though his sentiments and swearing may offend.

**** “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair” by Del Howison
A man must make a difficult decision when the daughter he wanted so badly turns out to be as prophecised. - While I would have liked more background information on the wife, I found this story quite creepy with a horrifying ending. 

***“John Wayne’s Dream” by Gary Braunbeck
The unnamed narrator arrives for their AA meeting only to find it cancelled and a special concert being shown instead. - The story is slow as it mixes what’s happening in the present with flash backs of the protagonist’s childhood.  I’m not a fan of cowboys or ‘real men’ rhetoric, and while the story shows their potentially caustic nature, it wasn’t a story I particularly liked. 

**** “Bedlam” by Gregory Frost
Tom, captain of The Bedlam, journeys home with his crew to find the woman he loves but hasn’t seen in years. - This story changes part way through, making it feel like two stories.  While the change took me a moment to comprehend, it made the story something other than a prose retelling of the ballad it’s inspired by.  

**** “Awake” by Jack Ketchum
A jazz musician struggles with a respiratory disease and marital problems. - It starts slow and ends dark.

*****“John Henry, the Steel Drivin’ Man” by Jeff Strand
The bigger and bigger exploits of John Henry are told. - This story’s a lot of fun.  I was left thinking that the few hints you get of the narrator’s story sound creepily interesting and might make a great story too.

**** “Fish Out of Water” by Keith R. A. Decandido
A dive tour operator helps find a missing vessel that reported seeing a mermaid before losing contact. - This is a short story featuring Cassie Zukav, a character Decandido has written about several times.  No knowledge of the other stories is necessary to understand this tale as everything is explained, though some mention is given to previous events.  In addition to mermaids, expect some Norse characters.

**** “Making Music” by Kelley Armstrong
A female lyrics writer gets a commission to write for a famous musician. - An entertaining story with a great ending.

***** “Tam Lane” by Lisa Morton
A young architect in training’s father buys an old haunted house she greatly admires, where she has an unusual encounter. - Knowing the ballad this was based on meant I could better appreciate the ways the author subverted the story.

***** “John Barleycorn Must Die” by Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte
A recovered alcoholic is sent to do an interview with three sisters who have started their own brewery. - Highly descriptive writing.  While it’s easy to figure out where the story’s ultimately going, it’s interesting seeing the protagonist struggle with his own demons first.

***** “In Arkham Town, Where I was Bound” by Nancy Holder
Edgar Allen Poe visits some rich ‘relatives’ in hopes of some money or a loan to help with food and medicine for his dying wife. - A sad story of love, trust and betrayal.

**** “Driving Jenny Home” by Seanan McGuire
Lee has trouble letting go of her dead girlfriend. - Another sad story, this time one of grieving.

**** “Hollow is the Heart” by Simon R. Green

A reporter is trying to get his job back by writing a story about a local legend.  The hollow women are mysterious women who prey on unattached men. - A few things about the story were predictable, but it’s well told and the hollow women legend is quite interesting.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Shout-Out: Thirst: Blood of My Blood by R. P. Channing

~ Kira Sutherland ~
After a near fatal accident (and getting cheated on by her 'boyfriend'), and beating up the lead cheerleader (with whom the boyfriend cheated...), and being labeled as having 'issues' in her school because she, uhm, sees ghosts, Kira is left with two choices:

1. Continue her 'therapy' (where she's told the ghost is a hallucination and also gets her legs ogled too often...)

Or

2. Go to Starkfield Academy, a boarding school for "Crazies and Convicts" (as the social media sites call them.)
She chooses the latter...
~ Cory Rand ~
Cory Rand has not had an easy life. His mother died in a car accident when he was twelve, and so did his mother's best friend...sort of. You see, Janice made a promise to take care of Cory just before she died, and so she lingers. Undead. A ghost that watches out for him.
Brought up in an abusive home, Cory quickly falls into a life of disreputable behavior. After his third offense (which was prompted by a girl, as usual - he has a weakness) he's left with two choices:

1. Be tried as an adult and share a cell with a guy named Bubba (he thinks...)

Or

2. Go to Starkfield Academy, which Cory is pretty sure is run by vampires. But, hey, at least he'll get an education.
He chooses the latter...

It's at Starkfield that Kira meets Cory Rand, a boy with an insatiable Rage who sees ghosts, too. As well as other things, other things from his past, things that confuse him, things like fire and witches and demons.

Things he's always ignored.

Until now.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Shout-Out: Cooking for Geeks 2nd Edition

A few years ago I reviewed a fascinating book on the science behind cooking, Cooking for Geeks. On October 29th a second edition of the book was released.  It's got 150 new pages and a complete rewrite of the rest of the book.  It now has more than 100 recipes, more than 20 interviews with chefs, writers and researchers, sidebars with information, and labs for parents to do experiments with their kids.

The first edition had a lot of interesting information and a humorous tone to it. And some interesting recipes. I still remember the watermelon, red onion and feta cheese salad recipe I made following a section on taste combinations. I also learned what the difference between baking soda and baking powder is, how cake flour differs from all-purpose flour, why it's important to let roasted meats sit a few minutes before slicing them up, how to take the sting out of red onions, and more.

'Tis the season for gift giving, and if you know a geek who likes science, likes to cook or needs to learn how, this is a great idea.

Why, exactly, do we cook the way we do? Are you curious about the science behind what happens to food as it cooks? Are you the innovative type, used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Do you want to learn to how to become a better cook?

Cooking for Geeks is more than just a cookbook. Author and cooking geek Jeff Potter helps you apply curiosity, inspiration, and invention to the food you prepare. Why do we bake some things at 350°F / 175°C and others at 375°F / 190°C? Why is medium-rare steak so popular? And just how quickly does a pizza cook if you "overclock" an oven to 1,000°F / 540°C? This expanded new edition provides in-depth answers, and lets you experiment with several labs and more than 100 recipes--from the sweet (a patent-violating chocolate chip cookie) to the savory (pulled pork under pressure).
When you step into the kitchen, you're unwittingly turned into a physicist and a chemist. This excellent and intriguing resource is for inquisitive people who want to increase their knowledge and ability to cook.
  • Discover what type of cook you are and learn how to think about flavor
  • Understand how protein denaturation, Maillard reactions, caramelization, and other reactions impact the foods we cook
  • Gain firsthand insights from interviews with researchers, food scientists, knife experts, chefs, and writers--including science enthusiast Adam Savage, chef Jaques Pépin, and chemist Hervé This

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Books Received in November, 2015

My thanks, as always, to the publishers who have sent me books this month.

Solar Express by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. - This sounds like a fascinating SF novel.

You can't militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth's surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the "Solar Express" before it perhaps destroys itself.

Leading the way for the North American Union is Alayna's friend, Captain Christopher Tavoian, one of the first shuttle pilots to be trained for combat in space. But, as the alien craft gets closer to its destination, it begins to alter the surface of the sun in strange new ways, ways that could lead Alayna to revolutionary discoveries-provided Chris can prevent war from breaking out as he navigates among the escalating tensions between nations.

Out of Tune by Jonathan Maberry, Ed. (audiobook) - I'm halfway through this anthology based around old ballads.  The stories so far have all been of high quality.

Out of Tune is calling. A song half-heard. The murmur of a voice singing in the dark. There it is again...a few words set to an old melody filled with mystery, heartbreak and horror. Out of Tune gathers a collection of original dark fantasy tales inspired by folk ballads. Here you'll find stories of strange creatures and strangers humans, treachery and love, murder and monsters. Out of Tune brings together some of today's most talented writers and sets them loose in that swirling darkness at the edge of town.
NY Times bestselling author and editor Jonathan Maberry unleashes his own brand of dark forces with a line-up of bestsellers and award winners. Kelley Armstrong, Jack Ketchum, Simon R. Green, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Golden, David Liss, Gregory Frost, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Jeff Strand, Lisa Morton, Jeff Mariotte & Marsheila Rockwell, Nancy Holder, Del Howison, and Gary Braunbeck. With commentary on each source ballad by folklorist Nancy Keim Comley. Now get ready to dance to the music of the night.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson - I really enjoyed The Allow of Law and am looking forward to jumping into this book.  The third book in the series, The Bands of Mourning, is out January 26th.

With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.

The trilogy's heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are "twinborn," meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.

Shadows of Self shows Mistborn's society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.

This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial's progress in its tracks.

Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they've been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

Air and Darkness by David Drake - I can't believe I haven't heard of this series before now.  It's the fourth and final book in a fantasy retelling of Roman events and sounds awesome.  I've heard you can read these as stand alones, but I'll want to start with the first book, The Legions of Fire.

Air and Darkness, an intriguing and fantastic adventure, is both an independent novel and the gripping conclusion of the Books of the Elements, a four-volume set of fantasies set in Carce, an analog of ancient Rome by David Drake. Here the stakes are raised from the previous novels in an ultimate conflict between the forces of logic and reason and the forces of magic and the supernatural. During the extraordinary time in which this story is set, the supernatural is dominant. The story is an immensely complex journey of adventure through real and magical places.

Corylus, a soldier, emerges as one of the most compelling heroic figures in contemporary fantasy. Battling magicians, spirits, gods, and forces from supernatural realities, Corylus and his companions from the family of the nobleman Saxa-especially Saxa's impressive wife Hedia, and his friend (and Saxa's son) Varus-must face constant deadly and soul-destroying dangers, climaxing in a final battle not between good and evil but in defense of logic and reality.

Mystic by Jason Denzel - I reviewed this book yesterday.  It has some great world-building and a protagonist who realizes having friendly support is important.

I called to the Myst, and it sent us you.
For hundreds of years, high-born nobles have competed for the chance to learn of the Myst. Powerful, revered, and often reclusive, Mystics have the unique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society. Such has always been the tradition-until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, low-born teenager, as a candidate.

Commoners have never been welcomed among the select few given the opportunity to rise beyond even the highest nobility. So when Pomella chooses to accept the summons and journey to Kelt Apar, she knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship.

Breaking both law and tradition, Pomella undergoes three trials against the other candidates to prove her worthiness. As the trials unfold, Pomella navigates a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal, unaware that ruthless conspirators intend to make her suffer for having the audacity to seek to unravel the secrets of the Myst.

Wheel of Time Companion by Robert Jordan, Harriet McDougal, Alan Romanczuk and Maria Simons - I read the first 5 or 6 books years ago, and should really read the rest. This looks like an excellent resource if you can't remember who side characters are or want more information about people, places and things.

Since its debut in 1990, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan has captivated millions of readers around the globe with its scope, originality, and compelling characters. Over the course of fifteen books and millions of words, the world that Jordan created grew in depth and complexity. However, only a fraction of what Jordan imagined ended up on the page, the rest going into his personal files.
Now The Wheel of Time Companion sheds light on some of the most intriguing aspects of the world, including biographies and motivations of many characters that never made it into the books, but helped bring Jordan's world to life.
Included in the volume in an A-to-Z format are:
An entry for each named character
An inclusive dictionary of the Old Tongue
New maps of the Last Battle
New portraits of many characters
Histories and customs of the nations of the world
The strength level of many channelers
Descriptions of the flora and fauna unique to the world
And much more!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Book Review: Mystic by Jason Denzel

Pros: fun protagonists, good world-building, interesting plot

Cons: immersion broken at times

Pomella AnDone is astonished when she’s invited by the new High Mystic to compete for an apprenticeship.  Though Pomella has a book with mystic symbols and songs from her grandmhathir, and has always been able to see wispy animal shapes no one else can, she never dreamed that a commoner would be allowed to apprentice.  Defying her Baron, her fathir, and custom, she sets out.  Pomella wants to start her new life by leaving her old life behind but her potential beau Sim, follows after, wanting to make sure she gets to the meeting place safely.  And others aren’t keen on a commoner rising above her station.

It took me a little while to get into the story.  While I appreciated the attempt at making some words sound ‘fantasy’, I kept tripping over ‘fathir’ and ‘grandmhathir’.  There were also a few early scenes that bumped me out of the story - particularly when Pomella starts reading her grandmhathir’s book in the rain - and the book somehow doesn’t suffer any damage (nor does it suffer much damage after being left out in the elements - open - for 2 days).  I also had a few issues with light sources that other readers probably won’t notice or care about.  In one scene Sim tries to pass time by reading - under a wagon, when the sky’s dark with clouds, with no candle or other named light source - and yet he’s able to see the colour of the ink on the page.

Those minor nitpicks aside, this is an enjoyable book.  A lot of effort was put into the world-building.  My favourite aspect was the wide variety of world - and character - appropriate exclamations and expressions.  Sim, an apprentice blacksmith, uses a few that reference metal-working.  It was also cool to see sumptuary style laws in place, stating what people of different classes were allowed to do, along with specific written languages for each class.  The multi-racial make-up of the continent vs the island where the book takes place, was also cool to see.

Pomella, as a sixteen year old, isn’t sure what she wants out of life, and so questions her decisions often.  She’s feisty but she also realizes she can’t do everything on her own.  In one scene that made me want to cheer are these sentences; “Now, faced with the first Trial, she needed someone.  Not because she couldn’t succeed by herself, but because the thought of being in this alone made her sick” (p122).  Too many books assume that for a protagonist to be strong they have to do everything alone.  But they ignore the reality that friendship is important, and we all need help and support to achieve our dreams.

The plot is interesting, and the ending is quite exciting.  I really enjoyed how things pan out.  While it wasn’t a perfect book, it was a good debut.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Shout-Out: The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar's ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar's legacy. As civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may shape the course of history.

Juba, Numidian prince and adopted brother of Octavian, has embarked on a ruthless quest for the Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of the gods-or the one God. Driven by vengeance, Juba has already attained the fabled Trident of Poseidon, which may also be the staff once wielded by Moses. Now he will stop at nothing to obtain the other Shards, even if it means burning the entire world to the ground.

Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Fewer Friday Posts

I just want to apologize for the reduced content on the site at the moment.  I've had several time consuming projects to complete.  It's at the point where I've been struggling to get books read each week so I can post reviews on Tuesdays.  As a result, I've have reduced content on Fridays because I haven't had time to put together the more comprehensive posts I prefer to use for Fridays.  I suspect this will continue through to the new year, though I'll try to post a few good articles or fun filler content as my schedule eases up.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Shout-Out: Skyborn by David Dalglish

Six islands float high above the Endless Ocean, where humanity's final remnants are locked in brutal civil war.
Their parents slain in battle, twins Kael and Brenna Skyborn are training to be Seraphim, elite soldiers of aerial combat who wield elements of ice, fire, stone and lightning.

When the invasion comes, they will take to the skies, and claim their vengeance.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Video: Civil War Trailer

If you haven't seen it yet, the trailer for the next Captain America movie, Civil War, has dropped. And it looks goooood.  I was never a fan of Cap in the comics (I was more of an X-Men rather than Avengers girl), but I love what the films have done with his character.




Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Book Review: First Lensman by E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith

Pros: interesting plot

Cons: often problematic portrayal of women, surprisingly violent good guys 

Note: The edition I’m quoting is the Science Fiction Book Club Chronicles of the Lensmen Vol. 1, which includes Triplanetary, First Lensman, and Galactic PatrolFirst Lensman starts on page 241. 

Virgil Samms has an idea to create a Galactic Patrol that will monitor the galaxy and keep it safe.  When he and several of his men are given Lenses by the alien Arisians, which allows them to speak mind to mind and read the worthiness of others, he knows the time for his Patrol has come.  But first he must confront the corrupt politics of North America, space pirates and a powerful illegal drug. 

This novel has ADHD.  It can’t decide what it wants to do so it does a bit of everything.  First published in 1950, it’s the second novel in the Lensmen Chronicles.  The story jumps from storyline to storyline, character to character.  While Samms and his friend Rod Kinnison are the main players, their children and several peers are also important.  Be prepared for some interesting leaps of logic that lead to actualities (basically if one of the good guys things something may have happened, it has).  

The book starts slowly, with a chapter of backstory on the two alien races that manipulated things in the first novel, Triplanetary.  The further into the book I got, the less certain things bothered me and the more I was able to enjoy the story.  Things get more action oriented and fast paced later on as well.  When several Lensmen go undercover to discover the full operation of the drug trade, I found myself engrossed.  The final chapters, regarding the US election, were also highly entertaining.

There were a lot of things earlier on in the book that made those chapters challenging for me to get through.  The treatment of Jill Samms was a big one.  I was somewhat horrified by how she and Jack Kinnison treat each other when we first meet them.  They’re casually cruel to each other, constantly threatening to physically beat the other in some way or another.  For example, Jack, tells to a friend who’s shown interest in Jill, “You won’t fall for her either, Mase; you’ll want to pull one of her legs off and beat the rest of her to death with it inside of a week…” (p258).  Jill’s no pushover and gives as good as she gets.  When Jack gets mad at her for not playing her best in a tennis match she tells him, “I’d like to smash this racket over your head!” (p257).  She also accuses him of liking women who are, “little, cuddly baby-talkers, who pretend to be utterly spineless and completely brainless…” (p259).  I was overjoyed when she was considered Lensman material by her male peers - and crushed (not to mention peeved) when it was revealed you had to be male to use the devices.  Her acceptance of the idea Lenses can’t be used by women and subsequent trash talk about the one woman in the future who’d be able to wear the device was rage inducing.  “I gather that she is going to be some kind of a freak.  She’ll have to be, practically, because of the sex-based fundamental nature of the Lens.” (p279).

Jack isn’t the only Kinnison who threatens to beat Jill.  His father mentions a potential spanking several times, something that seems highly inappropriate from the father of her friend.  A similar thing happened between a different Lensman and his wife, that I wasn’t quite sure how to take.  Costigan had just gotten back from a long assignment and told his wife he’d be working late again.  She quips that she’s just happy he’s back.  “Costigan looked at her, decided she was taking him for a ride, and smacked her a couple of times where it would do the most good.  He then kissed her thoroughly and left.” (p.449-450)  I’m not sure if this is meant to show Costigan beating his wife, or merely giving her a playful swat for her cheeky answer.  The tone of the scene makes me think it’s a joke, but if so, it’s a creepy joke that wouldn’t be allowed today.

Yet, throughout the book Jill is portrayed as a strong woman - wearing revealing clothing and not taking any gruff from the men.  It also becomes clear as the book goes on that she’d have done well to have a Lens.  On more than one occasion she has urgent information to impart to the lensmen and has to hope one of them contacts her so she can share it.  I did appreciate that she had a roll in the book that went beyond love interest or disappointed potential Lensman.  Though the book’s use of the term psychology seems to imply things the modern term doesn’t.  She’s able to read people’s intentions by touching them (based on the patterns and speed of their blood flow, which she’s apparently learned to feel through clothing and skin using minimal contact).  Like many things in the book this isn’t particularly well explained.

The book has some other jabs a women, like Rod Kinnison’s complaint that he, “stood by, as innocent as a three-year-old girl baby,” (p319) when something bad almost happened.  I’m not sure how a 3 year old boy would have reacted differently, or less obliviously than a girl of that age.  So it’s a bizarre comment.

All of the alien races, even allies, are described as monstrous, horrible to look at and in most cases, with none worthy to wield Lenses.

I was left questioning how good the ‘good guys’ were when you get the Second Lensman saying things like, “In emergencies, it is of course permissible to kill a few dozen innocent bystanders.  In such a crowd as this though [rich politicians], it is much better technique to kill only the one you are aiming at.” (p305).  Though the Lensmen do have a strange sense of chivalry that doesn’t allow them to kill women, even if those women are dangerous and could pose a future threat to them.

The author uses some weird expressions, like ‘developing a mouse under his eye’ (for black eye) and ‘popping off’.  Some of the words and expressions were easier to figure out from context than others, like Mase calling Jill ‘a regular twelve-nineteen!’.  I’m not sure if some (or all) of these are 50s terms, or if he made them all up.

There’s also lots of techno babble, some with definitions, some without.  A detet, for example, is the distance at which spaceships can detect each other.  Battle scenes were full of made up words, with sentences like this: “All of the Patrol ships had, of course, the standard equipment of so-called “violet,” “green,” and “red” fields, as well as duodecaplylatomate and ordinary atomic bombs, dirigible torpedoes and transporters, slicers, polycyclic drills, and so on;” (pp466-467).  Some of the sentences were really cringeworthy.

The end result is that the story is worth reading, but remember when this was written and accept that it has some problematic elements. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Shout-Out: The Dark North

This is a kickstarter project that recently met its funding goals.  There's still 11 days left on the campaign, if you're interested.

The Dark North is a coffee table art book telling five myths illustrated by 100 original paintings by five Scandinavian illustrators/artists: Peter Bergting, Henrik Pettersson, Joakim Ericsson, Lukas Thelin, and Magnus "Mojo" Olsson.

Here's some of the interior artwork for the book.

It looks like a beautiful book for dark fantasy lovers.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Video: Texas Chainsaw B&B

Barely Productions (formerly Barely Political) posted this for Halloween, and I thought it was great.  I forgot to post it then, so I'm posting it now. :)  It is based on a horror movie, so expect some... unsavory moments.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Book Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Pros: fast paced, shows results of addiction and mental illness, interesting story

Cons: surprised Seivarden kept her position

New problems regarding the undergarden on Athoek Station and Queter’s interrogation on the planet occupy Breq, fleet captain, commander of Mercy of Kalr, last ancillary of Justice of Toren, One Esk Nineteen.  When she gets word of four ships entering the system she suspects they’ve been sent by the enemy version of the Radchaai’s split ruler, Anaander Mianaai.

Picking up immediately where Ancillary Sword left off, this book begins with Breq trying to clean-up the loose ends of the previous book.  When the enemy ships arrive in the system, things heat up fast, with several desperate plots to even the odds and take out this clone of the Lord of the Radch.

While the opening’s a bit slow, reminding you of the events of the previous book, things pick up quickly and propel you through the rest of the story.  It’s a fast read.

I was impressed that the author dealt with more repercussions of Seivarden’s addiction and depression and the results of Tisarwat’s manipulations.  It’s great to see a book show that traumas leave scars that take years to heal, and that someone can have good and bad times, depending on circumstances.  Having said that, I’m surprised Seivarden was able to keep her position, considering the breakdown she has.  It’s obvious she’s not capable of dealing with the pressures of command.


While this book can’t wrap up everything going on in the universe, it does give a sense of resolution for the primary characters of the series.   

Monday, 16 November 2015

Shout-Out: Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond + Book Launch

In Paris, James Bond meets his match over appetizers and cocktails—with an aperitif of industrial espionage and chilly sadism. Off the coast of Australia, he learns about a whole new level of betrayal under the scorching light of a ball of thunder. In Siberia, he dreams of endless carnage while his fate is decided by one of his most cunning enemies and perhaps the greatest of his many loves.

And in Canada, James Bond finds freedom.

In January 2015, the world’s most famous secret agent entered the public domain in Canada—one of the few remaining countries in the world that subscribe to the Berne Convention and allow copyright to extend not 70 but just 50 years past the death of the work’s creator. Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, lives in this shadow space of copyright law: a collection of 19 new, exciting, transformative James Bond stories by a diverse crew of 21st-century authors.

Collected herein are new stories about Secret Agent 007, as the late Ian Fleming imagined and described him: a psychically wounded veteran of the Second World War and soldier of the Cold War, who treated his accumulated injuries with sex, alcohol, nicotine, and adrenaline. He was a good lover but a terrible prospect.

He was James Bond.

And in Licence Expired, James Bond is back.

Licence Expired is a collection of 19 short stories edited by Madeline Ashby and David Nickle.  And if you're in the Toronto area, ChiDunnit and ChiZine Publications are having a launch party for the book tomorrow.  From their facebook page:

ChiDunnit and ChiZine Publications are thrilled to invite you to the launch party for LICENCE EXPIRED: THE UNAUTHORIZED JAMES BOND at 7:30pm on Tuesday, November 17 at Pravda Vodka House (44 Wellington St. East). Costumes and Bond-themed dress is highly encouraged, and there will be prizes for the best costumes.

Come try our signature Bond cocktail, and don't forget to ask for your martini shaken, not stirred. And yes, there will be food.
Editors and authors will be there for readings and book signings.
Prizes and surpises are coming from our generous friends at Grand Touring Automobiles (Aston-Martin), Surmesur, Doll Factory by Damzels, BMB Image Consulting, B's Truly Couture Cupcakes, DJ Wondah (Gorilla Beats), Bakka-Phoenix Books, Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, and Bicycle Playing Cards. Thank you to all our sponsors!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Shout-Out: A Princess of the Chameln by Cherry Wilder

When her royal parents are killed during a coup, Princess Aidris Am Firn of the Chameln flees for her life. Constantly on the run from unseen enemies of the crown, she poses as a commoner and joins a cadre of women warriors so she can fight those who assassinated her parents and continue to hunt her. While cultivating allies, Aidris learns that two pretenders have ascended to the dual thrones of Chameln. Having discovered their true queen is still alive, counselors from Chameln rally to her side and convince the queen that the time has come for her to reclaim her birthright. But before she can do this, she must discover who her enemy really is, lest the unknown assassins strike her down too.




Note: This is an ebook reprint, out November 17th.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Review: The Great Courses: Dante’s Divine Comedy

Professors: William Cook and Ronald Herzman

The professors work in tandem to impart their extensive knowledge of the Divine Comedy.  The set consists of 24 lectures, with four lectures of set up (one going over editions, one on Dante the poet and two on his literary influences), seven on Inferno, five on Purgatory, and seven on Paradiso.

Given the complexity of the poem, the lectures focus more on the skills you need to puzzle out the meanings of the various cantos on your own.  In some cases they show you how to read the poem so that you get the most out of it.  For some of the most important and/or difficult cantos, they look in more depth, sometimes spending the entire lecture on one or two cantos.

There’s a lot more regional politics in the poem than I expected, and the poem itself is much more interconnected and complex than I understood.  This is a series to watch, and rewatch, numerous times - before, during and after you read them poem - so you can get the most out of the poem and better understand what Dante was saying.


I started reading Inferno before I watched the first lectures and was amazed at how much I missed, even with the fantastic end notes of the translation I used.  There’s just so much there. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Shout-Out: Planetfall by Emma Newman



Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Video: You Suck at Cooking - Grilled Cheese

Not the usual kind of video I post here, but I saw one of these on facebook a while back and watched a bunch of them.  This one shows 2 'robot' hands cooking a grilled cheese sandwich.  There's some swearing.  If you like this, then check out 7 ways to chop an onion as well.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Book Review: Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry

Pros: interesting characters, beautiful writing, heartwrenching story

Cons: will make you cry - a lot

When Sally, aka Monkey, was killed on the animal rescue farm where she was living with her daughter, she expected that to be the end of her story.  But the ongoing stories of her estranged sister, curious niece, brother-in-law she was in love with, and catatonic daughter, prevent her from leaving.

Set in South Africa, the book has some speculative elements (the spirit watching over its family and the Sangoma that lives next door), but is essentially a story about family and dealing with loss.  Sally’s spirit follows several characters, allowing you to really get to know them.  The family dynamics become more clear as time goes on, and you see how mistakes of the past compound and form emotional trials in the present.  It’s also highly effective that a lot of the story is told from the perspective of the 11 year old niece, who doesn’t know what the word ‘genocide’ means and has to look it up on her brother’s computer and whose curiosity and nosiness subsequently gains her knowledge she’s not ready for.

The writing is beautifully descriptive, with a lot of sensory information telling you how things look, smell and feel.  The metaphors used are unique, but work within the context of the story.  For example, “The morning sun beats through the muslin blinds of the bedroom window, making the room look as if it’s been pumped full of golden gas”.

The ending, where you finally learn the extent of what happened at the farm when Sally dies, is gut-wrenching, but don’t think that’s the only sad part of the book.  Books have made me cry in the past - for a chapter or two, when a character I loved died or something else irrevocably sad happened to them, but I haven’t cried this hard in years.  From the first few pages this book grabbed my heart strings and then kept pulling them over and over again.

I loved the portrayal of the Sangoma and how her story was resolved.  I’m less sure about the massacre and the ‘black men are coming with machetes’ message of the main story.  I don’t know enough about South Africa to know if this is still a modern fear or if the book plays on a remembrance of apartheid (which, though it feels like it happened a long time ago really didn’t).  But the book was written by a South African woman.


I loved this book.  I loved the descriptive language.  I loved the characters.  I loved the setting.  If you’re looking for something different, give this a try.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Books Received in October 2015

My apologies for being late with this post.  It's been a busy month and I have to admit I forgot about it.  But I greatly appreciate the books I'm sent.

Against A Brightening Sky by Jaime Lee Moyer - This is the third, and for now final, volume of Moyer's Delia Martin books.  I love the setting (1910s San Francisco), the protagonists, and the mysteries the stories resolve around.  You can read my reviews of all three, Delia's Shadow, A Barricade in Hell, and Against a Brightening Sky.

By 1919 the Great War has ended, peace talks are under way in Paris, and the world has been forever changed. Delia Martin, apprentice practitioner of magical arts, and her husband, Police Captain Gabriel Ryan, face the greatest challenge of their lives when fragments from the war descend on San Francisco.

As Delia prepares to meet friends at a St. Patrick's Day parade, the strange ghost of a European princess appears in her mirror. Her pleasant outing becomes a nightmare as the ghost reappears moments after a riot starts, warning her as a rooftop gunman begins shooting into the crowd. Delia rushes to get her friends to safety, and Gabe struggles to stop the killing-and to save himself.

Delia and Gabe realize all the chaos and bloodshed had one purpose-to flush Alina from hiding, a young woman with no memory of anything but her name.

As Delia works to discover how the princess ghost's secrets connect to this mysterious young woman, and Gabe tracks a ruthless killer around his city, they find all the answers hinge on two questions: Who is Alina...and why can't she remember?

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett - I absolutely loved City of Stairs.  So I'm overjoyed Bennett has written another book in that world.

A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.

Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.

So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.

At least, it makes the perfect cover story.

The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world--or destroy it.

The trouble is that this old soldier isn't sure she's still got what it takes to be the hero.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Shout-Out: Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight

Two siblings.
Outcasts for life.... together.
What could possibly go wrong?


Vocho and Kacha are champion duelists: a brother and sister known for the finest swordplay in the city of Reyes. Or at least they used to be-until they were thrown out of the Duelist's Guild.

As a last resort, they turn reluctant highwaymen. But when they pick the wrong carriage to rob, their simple plans to win back fame and fortune go south fast.

After barely besting three armed men and a powerful magician, Vocho and Kacha make off with an immense locked chest. But the contents will bring them much more than they've bargained for when they find themselves embroiled in a dangerous plot to return an angry king to power....

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Video: Authors Reading Mean Reviews

Open Road Media filmed some of their authors reading negative reviews of their books.  It's easy to forget at times that someone spent hours and hours and hours working on the novel you didn't like. And not all books fit all tastes.  That book you hated, could be someone else's favourite.  Sometimes a book you couldn't stand at one point in life becomes a treasure if you read it again later on. Similarly, a book you used to love can, on rereading it, turn out to not be so great after all.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Book Review: 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad, Translated by Tara Chace

Pros: some tense scenes, hard SF, tense climax 

Cons: confusing ending, lots of unanswered questions including some contradictions 

In an attempt to raise funds for another manned mission to the moon in order to investigate strange occurrences recorded there from the 1970s, NASA holds a contest for three teenagers to win a place on the trip.

Mia is a Norwegian singer in a band she hopes will make it big.  She has no interest in the moon.  Nor does Midori, a clothes loving Japanese girl.  Antoine signs up for the contest so he can get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as he can.  None of them know what awaits them on the moon.

While the teens get a lot of pages devoted to them, I never connected with them or felt they developed much as characters.  Perhaps that’s because I’m no longer a teen, though I did understand and sympathize with their problems (parents, relationships, trying to find yourself).  It seemed that some important things were left out of the story, like why Simone broke up with Antoine.  While I didn’t find the kids irritating, I also didn’t find them so interesting I wanted to spend the first half of the book learning about them.  I wanted them to get to the moon faster - and the action there to be more drawn out and suspenseful.

The adults get very little introduction, so when things start happening the action slowed while some backstory was quickly doled out.  The horror elements, when they showed up, were quick and brutal with little opportunity to build tension.  The climax was quite tense though, which I appreciated.

I found the ending very confusing, with several plot holes exposed.  More on this in the spoiler section.

The story used actual science (astronaut training, takes four days to get to the moon, the signal code used).

It was a quick read, even if the ending left me with more questions than I started with.  Ultimately I found the book unsatisfying.







*** SPOILERS ***

I’m basically asking a bunch of questions I would love answers to.  It is a horror novel, and there doesn’t necessarily need to be logic to a horror story (especially a SF one where the bad guys aren’t human), but it is nice when a story makes sense and this one left me seriously scratching my head over several things.





The report at the end explains that Mia’s body is on the moon, which means she wasn’t on the capsule at all (she either died outside DARLAH 2, or she died at DARLAH 1 and her body was moved - like those of others - to that location).  So were two dopplegangers fighting over the escape capsule?  Are the dopplegangers unaware of what they are?  Similarly, we’re told the NASA people didn’t find anyone in the capsule when they recovered it, yet the news story clearly states they found a survivor.  Was this an error or was there a second doppleganger (one in the capsule and one outside)?  

How did Coleman not notice the black in Midori’s eyes as he explained what the dopplegangers were?  And why was he the only crew member who knew about the dopplegangers?  I thought their part of the mission was to set up equipment to conduct research on them.  Or were they just setting up preliminary stuff for the second mission’s team to work with?

Did the dopplegangers send the second signal?  If so, were they trying to get to earth?  They seemed pretty adamant on the moon that no one leave, but were quite happy to start taking people over once they arrived on earth.

Who sent the warnings to the teens before their trip?  I thought it was the dopplegangers warning them not to come, but if they didn’t want them to come that badly, why send the signal that encouraged NASA’s mission in the first place?  Unless the messages came from different sources.


I find it odd that no one at NASA questioned whether DARLAH 2 would still work and its supplies be adequate.  Even without human interaction or wind, etc. other things could have gone wrong in the 40 years it was dormant.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Shout-Out: Solar Express by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

You can't militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth's surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the "Solar Express" before it perhaps destroys itself.

Leading the way for the North American Union is Alayna's friend, Captain Christopher Tavoian, one of the first shuttle pilots to be trained for combat in space. But, as the alien craft gets closer to its destination, it begins to alter the surface of the sun in strange new ways, ways that could lead Alayna to revolutionary discoveries-provided Chris can prevent war from breaking out as he navigates among the escalating tensions between nations.
A few years back Tor partnered with NASA to create a series of books that focused on concepts that were important to the current and future work of the space agency.  Solar Express is one of those NASA-Inspired Works of Fiction (NIWoF).

Out November 3rd.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

One Lovely Blog Award: 7 Interesting Facts About Me

I was given a One Lovely Blog Award by S. C. Flynn.  It's one of the awards that goes around the internet as half introduction, half chain letter (where you nominate other blogs to do the same).  This one asks the recipient to tell 7 interesting facts about themselves.  While there are rules to do so, I won't be passing this on.

So, here are 7 - hopefully - interesting facts about me.

1. I taught English as a foreign language in Japan for 2 years at a private conversation school.  The school I worked for encouraged us to hang out with our (mostly) adult students, so I got to know a lot about Japan, Japanese culture, and interesting places to visit.  I lived several hours North of Tokyo, so I got to see a lot of areas most tourists don't generally go.

2. When I came back from Japan I used some of the money I saved to travel around Europe for 4 months.  I used it as a research trip to supplement my medieval studies BA.  I saw an amazing number of castles and cathedrals, gardens and towns.

3. I've completed 2 novels that aren't worth publishing, but which taught me a lot about the craft of writing and the dedication and drive necessary to be an author.  I spend my time reading, rather than writing nowadays.  It's much easier.

4. I was lucky enough to work Ad Astra (a small Toronto sf conference that's focused on the art and business of writing) the year Terry Brooks was a guest of honour.  He's the author that got me hooked on fantasy and I had the privilege of selling him a copy of his own Elfstones of Shannara.

5. I started interviewing authors for displays at the bookstore (and then published them on this blog) to show customers how much time and effort went into writing a book.  The Canadian dollar was high at the time and we were getting a lot of complaints about the high cost of books in Canada when compared with their US prices (both of which are printed on the backs of the books).  Things got so bad I actually had one customer throw books at me when I was working cash.  Aren't people wonderful?

6. I love travelling and have an ever expanding list of places I want to visit.  I love learning about new cultures and trying new foods.

7. My non SF/Fantasy hobbies include photography, cooking, and making my own greeting cards.  I was pretty crafty/artsy as a kid.  I taught myself how to draw, but need a model to do it well (aside from faces).  My hobbies are all time consuming, so I don't get to do as much artsy stuff as I'd like especially since I started reviewing a book a week for this blog.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Happy Halloween!

Wishing you all a safe and fun All Hallow's Eve.


Friday, 30 October 2015

Movie Review: Attack on Titan Parts 1 & 2

Directed by: Shinji Higuchi, 2015

Pros: excellent special effects, horrifically creepy titans, some interesting characters, learn origin of titans, thought provoking 

Cons: unnecessarily excessive shaky cam, LOTS of blood and gore, some caricature characters, ending has a confusion of action

It’s been a hundred years since the three circles of walls were built to keep the man eating titans out.  Some inhabitants are starting to question the necessity of the walls and even in the titans are real.  Suddenly the titans breach the wall and the horrifying reality of the titans is revealed.

I went into the film knowing nothing more than what the trailers said about it.  I haven’t read the manga or watched the anime.  So this review will only reference the film and won’t contain any comparisons between the stories across media (except to say that the people in costume in the row in front of us mentioned that the character Levi isn’t in the film).

There is a lot of blood in this film.  Now, that’s not surprising given the premise of man eating monsters, but there was a LOT of blood, and dismembered body parts, and people being crushed (sometimes with ridiculous ease and a giant explosion of blood).  The first half of the first film is especially horrific, as the titans wade through a town, killing indiscriminately.  The rest of the film, while still bloody, isn’t quite so bad.  

There’s also a lot of shaky cam.  While a few scenes benefitted from the effect - like the introduction
of the titans when the ground starts to shake - it’s often entirely unnecessary - like during the animated historical briefing title sequence.  As with the blood, it’s especially noticeable in the first part, though that could be because I was used to it by the time the second part started.

The special effects were, on the whole, amazing.  The design for the titans was awesome, though the first titan you see (the one on the poster above) isn’t representative of what titans look like en mass.  That titan looks like muscle on a skeleton with smoke coming out of the joints, while regular titans are gigantic humans with extra long mouths and offset features, like eyes too far apart.  They’re creepy and - at times - hilarious in a horrible kind of way, though some also look kind of goofy.  The end result is very creepy, especially as they’re tearing people apart and/or eating them whole.

You’re slowly introduced to three characters who play important roles in the fill, Eren (Haruma Miura), Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara) and Armin (Kanata Hongo, who was also in the live action Gantz movie).  You’re given more information about them and their motivations than you are for the characters you meet in a more rushed way later.  In fact, later in the film you meet so many new characters it’s a challenge keeping them all straight and I didn’t remember more than one or two of their names afterwards.  

A few of the characters are basically caricatures and are clearly carried over from the manga.   Hange, a woman obsessed with titans and weapons is the best example of this.  She’s played mostly for comedic effect, but her actions seem starkly out of place given the grave nature of what’s happening in the film.

The teenage girls in the row behind us found one scene late in the first part that made them titter and laugh.  It’s a short scene and not graphic.

While I thought the ‘flying’ weapon get up was cool - and looked amazing when really skilled people, like Captain Shikishima used it - but recognized that it wouldn’t actually work in real life.  It propels you too quickly, there isn’t always something to hook into, and on the whole would be impossible to learn how to use effectively without killing yourself in the process (or the first time you tried to use it in battle).  But it does look cool on screen. 

I was really happy that part 2 of the film explains the origins of the titans.  And while the film didn’t answer every question, it did answer the major ones.  My husband found the ending a bit overdone in terms of the variety of action and character inclusion, though it was quite exciting to watch. 

The film does raise some questions about how people use fear to control others, whether rebellions are good or worse than the regimes they’re trying to replace, the nature of humanity, the uses of science, the desire for freedom, etc.  I love it when I spend the next day trying to parse what I’ve seen.

It’s not a film I feel I need to own, but it was an interesting story and I’m glad I saw it.