Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Video: Black Panther trailer

I'll admit that most of what I know about the Black Panther comes from the comic's intersection with X-Men 10 or so years ago. But this trailer looks incredible. I can't wait to see this film.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

History Book Review: African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia by Marilyn Heldman

Pros: deals with an under researched topic, lots of high quality images, excellent supporting information for catalogue items

Cons: parts are very dry and academic, a few catalogue items have no images, out of print

The book consists of the following chapters: 1) Introduction, 2) Dreaming of Jerusalem, 3) Ethiopia Revealed: Merchants, Travellers, and Scholars, 4) Church and State: 16th to 18th Centuries, 5) Ethiopic Literature, 6) Ethiopian Manuscripts and Paleography, 7) Linear Decoration in Ethiopian Manuscripts. 
After dealing with the background information, it continues with the Catalogue, consisting of 8) Maryam Seyon: Mary of Zion, 9) Aksumite Coinage, 10) the Heritage of Late Antiquity, 11) the Zagwe Dynasty: 1137-1270, 12) the Early Solomonic Period: 1270-1527, 13) the Late Solomaic Period: 1540-1769.

I found the introduction to be quite dry and academic. While the information was interesting, the delivery was such that I had trouble paying attention. This is followed by a section on Ethiopian contact with the outside world, that is, writings about Ethiopia by outsiders, which was quite interesting and engaging. Then follows several slightly more in depth chapters dealing with the Christian church in Ethiopia through the centuries. These give a bit more grounding in the monarchy and how it used the church to maintain cohesion and power. There’s a tiny bit of information on conflicts with Muslims and contact with Europe (and Jesuits) in later centuries. The chapters on literature and manuscripts were both very interesting. I was amazed by how many Ethiopian manuscripts have been preserved via microfilm and digitization, mainly by the HMML (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library). [If you’d like to see their collection, viewing manuscripts online requires a free account. Your application is reviewed by one of their librarians before being granted.] The final chapter before looking at the manuscripts themselves gives a cursory examination of harag decoration. Similar to Celtic knotwork in appearance, harag are “a type of illumination made of bands of colored lines interlaced in a geometrical pattern and used to frame the pages of Ethiopian manuscripts” (p.63). The artwork changed over the centuries.

The catalogue begins with a discussion of the importance of Mary, the mother of God, in Ethiopian devotion, and comprises numerous images of her. There are some comparison images that give local context for some of the elements (for example, a photo showing the entrance to a holy sanctuary with a checkered design around it that explains the checkered background for an icon of Mary). 

The second chapter of the catalogue goes over Aksumite coinage. I didn’t expect it to be as interesting as it was. It’s a great example of how historians must glean information from minimal sources. In this case, the Aksumite kingdom has left little trace, so much of what is known about their kings is due to their names on coins. The coins are shown to scale, which makes the images quite small and it’s sometimes hard to see details.

Most of the catalogue images are shown in colour on black backgrounds. The rest are inset with the descriptive text in black and white. In some cases more than one image of an object is used (both sides of a processional cross, several manuscript pages) but not always. With manuscripts, all of the miniatures are mentioned, even if only a few pages are displayed. Similarly, in cases where only one side of a double sided object is shown, the other side is described in the text. I love how some entries have supplementary images to help show how different aspects of art influence each other. Unfortunately, in a few cases images of the catalogue items themselves are omitted.

While there are a few things I disliked about this volume, on the whole it’s an exceptional collection of Ethiopian sacred artworks. It’s a real shame that this book, created for a specific exhibition, is now out of print, because it’s a much needed look at a rarely studied country. Ethiopia doesn’t get much mention in medieval (my focus) or other history textbooks, so this is a brilliant addition for anyone wanting to expand their understanding about the rich history and artistic traditions of this amazing country, if - like me - you can find it used.


Monday, 16 October 2017

2017 Sunburst Award Winners

Congratulations to this year's winners of the Sunburst Awards for excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic. The winner of each category is in bold, followed by the other nominees. This information comes from their press release.

Adult Fiction Award
Young Adult Fiction Award
Short Story Award
This year's jury consisted of: Nancy Baker, Michel Basilières, Rebecca Bradley, Dominick Grace, and Sean Moreland

Friday, 13 October 2017

Movie Review: Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon)

Directed by Fritz Lang, 1929

Pros: good science fiction

Cons: slow, overly expressive acting

Professor Manfeldt’s theory that mountains on the moon are made of gold prompts a group of powerful businessmen to hijack the moon mission planned by Wolf Helius.

This is a long (two hours and fifty minutes!) and slow moving film. The first hour deals with the theft of Helius’ plans and the insinuation of a new member on the mission. The flight to the moon is interesting, showing the first countdown to launch and a few scenes in zero gravity (while they show the need to hold on and a few people floating around, they didn’t have small items - like items in the mouse cage, aside from the mouse - float), as well as a two stage rocket. The scenes on the moon were entertaining, if in no way scientifically accurate.

The sets were pretty good. And while the rocket ship doesn’t look much like what actually took people to space (inside or outside), it’s a decent attempt at guessing the future.

As a silent film the actors made up for the lack of explanation through dialogue by using overly expressive hand and facial gestures. At times this worked, while at others the actions seemed to contradict the text cards.

The music on the Kino Classics edition was excellent and really heightened tension in some areas of the film.

I wasn’t really sold on the romance. Wolf Helius obviously likes Friede Velten and his jealousy over her choosing Hans Windegger makes him avoid their engagement party. There are hints that Friede likes Wolf more than Hans, though Hans is - at first - more inclined to let her follow her dreams. When Hans later falls apart, I didn’t like him as much, though I’m not sure Wolf fares much better with his stern demeanor.

 Given how little time is spent on the moon compared to the rest of the film, I’m surprised by the title. “Mission Moon” or some such (recognizing it would be in German) would have been more accurate. 


It’s a great film if you’re interested in the history of science fiction or silent films. It’s more involved than I’d expected, and kept my attention despite its length.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Shout-Out: The Last Amazon Kickstarter

I got an email about this kickstarter project for a near future post-apocalyptic photo realistic graphic novel. It's written by Jamison Stone and illustrated by David Granjo.

Synopsis:
In a near future, World War 3 lasted only three minutes. The world was ravaged by the fallout with two major opposing factions rising from the chaos: The Denver Denizens and The Azureus Islands.
Danni Winters was chosen to live on The Azureus Islands, a place advertised as the last oasis on our war torn planet. At first Danni was ecstatic about moving away from the troubles of the world, but she wasn’t selected by chance. Danni soon discovers she has mysterious powers and abilities which can tip the balance of power in this precarious post-apocalyptic world.
After a terrible event, Danni’s new life is destroyed, pushing her to use her newfound strength to face a brutal encounter with the “Amazons,” an army of killer robots created to not only protect Azureus Islands, but become the next generation of military force upon planet Earth. Only through determination, power, and trust in her new abilities will Danni have what it takes to uncover the truth of her past and defeat The Last Amazon.

You don't get the book until the $30 hardcover pledge (and oddly enough there's no PDF only tier).

There's more artwork and a video on the website if you're interested in learning more.


Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Video: Historical Body Mechanics: Walk Medieval

Roland Warzecha from the History Park Bärnau in Bavaria, Germany, talks about differences between how we walk now (with thick heeled shoes on paved roads) vs how people walked in the past (ball to heel in thin leather shoes). He also mentions what that means for posture.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review: The Core by Peter Brett

Pros: lots of action, character development, satisfying series ending

Cons: at a disadvantage if haven’t read the novellas

This is the fifth and final volume of the Demon Cycle. A lot has happened as Arlen and Jardir finally take their party down to the core. Their captured mind demon alerts them that the hive is close to swarm, but it’s too late for them to help their friends and loved ones who are about to be overrun at the new moon. All they can do as they journey below is hope they’ve prepared those they leave behind well enough to survive on their own.

There are a lot of point of view characters, some for the first time. This allows the reader to see events all over Thesa as the demons attack. And they attack hard. The book does a fantastic job of consolidating all of the people and places that have been visited in the series. 

Having said that, I was surprised that the people and events of some of the novellas were referenced without preamble. Derek from Brayan’s Gold shows up with no introduction and I’m assuming the novella Messenger’s Legacy (which I haven’t read) explains why Ragen and Elissa aren’t in Miln when The Core begins. While I felt Briar was properly introduced in The Skull Throne, when Regan and Elissa showed up it felt like I’d missed a chapter, as there’s no explanation of what they’ve been doing though there are a few cryptic hints that they were in Laktown looking for Briar. Once they were back in Miln I found their political situation quite interesting.

There is a lot of action both with the defenders up top and those penetrating the deeps. The battles are varied, as the mind demons fight dirty. Once or twice we’re shown the after effects of a scene rather than a scene itself, which lessened the impact of some tragedies. But on the whole it’s a whirlwind of battles intercut with preparations for surviving the next battle. 

I liked that Arlen and Jardir continue to develop as people. Seeing Jardir start to question his beliefs as he learns more about Kaji’s own descent while Arlen starts to realize there may in fact be a Creator after all, was kind of neat. I thought that the birth of Leesha’s child and the politics surrounding its identity were handled well.

There are a number of touching, heartfelt moments in the book. I particularly liked when Jardir says his goodbyes.

The final battle was hard fought and gave a very satisfying ending for the series.


Friday, 6 October 2017

Nuit Blanche 2017

In addition to the Netflix Red Forest installation, here are some other things my husband and I saw at this year's Nuit Blanche in Toronto. This year's theme was "Many Possible Futures" so there was a definite SF twist to some of the exhibits.

The first one we went to was the Nature Deficit Disorder Clinic. After meeting with reception we got to look at the various posters explaining the dangers of this future where interacting with nature is at a destructive minimum. Brought into the first treatment room, we watched a short video that led to us deciding if we were best served by interacting with a tree, water, or rock. We could see other treatment rooms where some people were given a second 'treatment' with those items, but were told we didn't require immediate treatment and were sent on our way.


On the left is  Manitowapow,
speaking to the moon, an exhibit with dome tents lit up with nature scenes instide.

On the right is Laxa’ine’ gigukwdzikasi’ gigukwas Hayałiligase’, The Many Large Houses of the Ghosts, a light display on Old City Hall's clock tower.
At City Hall we found the Hendrick's Gin hot air balloon, giving rides to people who won golden tickets. This is where we lined up for 2+ hours for the Red Forest, after which we didn't feel much like waiting in another line. Which is why I only have an outside photo of the Monument to the Century of Revolution - an installation made up of several shipping crates that discussed specific revolutions as well as aspects of revolution (printing flyers, feminism, prisons, etc). 


The final installation we saw was Photon Gallery 3.0. 

There were several cool things to see here, like an audio modulated gas fire display (more base = higher fire).


Nuit Blanche: Photon Gallery 3.0 fire from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

They also had a strobe powered falling water display.

Nuit Blanche: Photon Gallery 3.0 water from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

And this really cool artwork by Alex Poutiainen.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Shout-Out: The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out.

Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.
Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.
It’s a midwinter night’s enchantment as Livy, the only one untainted by a spell, sets out to save them on a dangerous magical path of her own.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Waiting for The Core

I spent all of September rereading Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle. That's four books of demon awesome. I planned my reading so that I would finish just before book five, The Core, came out on October 3rd.

On September 26th I got a shipping notification from Indigo saying my pre-ordered book was on its way. I was half way through The Skull Throne, so it was perfect. I'd get the book a bit early and be able to start reading it on Monday (I don't generally read on the weekends and I wanted a good stretch of uninterrupted time to read this).

Three days passed and the book, which started out in Toronto, which is where I live, hadn't been scanned at the Toronto depot yet or arrived at my home. Strange... Friday night I finally see an update. My package was scanned at the depot in Richmond, British Columbia. I live in Ontario. For some reason my package was sent to the other side of the country.

At this point I realize that if I'd just gone to a store to buy the book I'd have it already and my pre-order started to feel like a teasing punishment.

In order to send in a service ticket with Canada Post to figure out why my package was sent on a scenic detour, I needed the sender's postal code. So I called Indigo customer service where I was told they couldn't give out that information (really not sure why). The lady looked at the shipping info and was just as confused as I was as to why my package had been sent to BC. So she told me she could ship a replacement copy if I wanted (with the understanding that if both showed up I'd return one to a a store). I said sure, and she shipped copy 2.

Copy 2 was picked up on October 2nd, to be delivered on the 3rd. Yesterday I waited at home for my package. Usually my Indigo packages are just left at the door so I figured I'd have to wait for regular delivery, which comes around 4:30. Just after that I check the mail and find a pick-up slip for getting my package at a local post office on the 4th after 1pm. The mailman didn't even try to deliver the package, which it seems requires a signature (it was sent by a more expensive means than the other one) (ETA Got a message saying it's on its way to the post office today, so it may not have even been in the postal van).

Now, I know packages arrive at the post office the night the notices go out, so I tried calling in the evening on the off hope that it had been scanned there already. But I was told that their system was down and they couldn't do anything until tomorrow when their tech person could come and fix the problem.

So here we are, October 4th. Copy 1 is set to arrive today (will probably be left at my door), while I'm hoping to collect copy 2 at the post office just after 1pm. With any luck a few hours from now I'll be happily reading The Core. Assuming nothing else goes wrong...

Update:

At 1:30 I walked to the post office to learn that they'd JUST gotten their system running again. I handed in the notice and gave an approximate package size and the worker found it lickety split! I am now going to sit down and read this beautiful book (I mean, what a cover! I love that there's a second image under the dust jacket).


And at 2:30 copy 1 arrived at my door.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Book Review: The Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais

Pros: adorable wolf, pretty artwork 

Cons: some scary images 

A little wolf cub is given a rabbit to bring to his ailing grandmother and warned away from an area of the forest where humans live. But little wolves, like little girls, don’t always follow instructions.

I’m not sure how to describe the artwork. It looks like watercolours, with most pages having a slight fantasy look to them. There’s lush greenery of the forest and strangely stylistic birds and bunnies. The wolves walk upright and have adorable cloaks. The wolf cub himself often poses in ways that show both attitude and emotion. The guard looks rather terrifying and there are a few scarier images though it’s on par with other fairytales in this respect.

I liked the little wolf a lot. While he’s portrayed as arrogant, he’s pretty typical of a child who wants to show some independence but isn’t quite as aware of the dangers of the world as he’d like to appear. He also faces some consequences for actions he chooses and has a dreadful moment when he’s done something bad and is worried his family will hate him for it. I felt for the little guy.

The story is very much in line with other fairytales. Obviously this one draws upon Little Red Riding Hood, but includes some innovations to the story. You can draw several messages from it or read it for fun. 


As an adult I enjoyed this and I suspect children will too.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Nuit Blanche 2017: Stranger Things "Red Forest" Installation

Last night Toronto had its all night modern art celebration, Nuit Blanche. As part of the event, Netflix set up a Stranger Things interactive installation of the upside down called Red Forest. My husband and I showed up about an hour into the program only to find a huge line - that got longer as we stood in it. We thought it might take 1-1 1/2 hours to get to the front, but we ended up in line for over 2 hours.

Towards the front we started seeing people wearing haz mat suits - which they then handed out to us (we got to keep them). This is when the exhibit got my heart pounding. Trying to stand and put this thing on was funny, but being in costume made it feel more sinister and real. This increased the closer we got to the exhibit proper.


Finally it was our turn! The exhibit was built in an underpass bridge between two buildings. There were three paths, one lit up blue in the middle with reds ones to either side. Hidden in the trees were bicycles, maple sap buckets and other oddities. Around the bases of the trees were a number of eggo waffles. 








Here's a short video I took walking around. All in all it was a really cool installation. Not sure I'd have stood in line knowing how long it would finally take, but it was a lot of fun once we were there. I'll upload some photos of the other exhibits we saw later this week.


Nuit Blanche 2017: Red Forest from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Books Received in September 2017

Many thanks to the publishers and authors who send me books for review. I can't review everything, but I try. ;)

Playing to the Gods by Melanie Rawn - This is the final book in the Glass Thorn series. I've not read this series yet, though with several other series ended, I may finally have the time.

The boys are at the top of their theatrical game. Their only real competition for the hearts and gold of the public are the Shadowshapers. Nevertheless, the past years of financial struggle, since their manager proved to have been embezzling, have taken a toll on the group's creativity.
A shocking event brings all that to an end and brings Touchstone back together to create a play that will rattle the ceilings and shatter all the glass in palaces and theaters alike. An ancient conflict will come to a violent conclusion on stage, and all the gods will be watching.






Valiant Dust by Richard Baker - This sounds really interesting, so I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

In a stylish, smart, new military science fiction series, Richard Baker begins the adventures of Sikander North in an era of great interstellar colonial powers. Valiant Dust combines the intrigues of interstellar colonial diplomacy with explosive military action.

Sikander Singh North has always had it easy-until he joined the crew of the Aquilan Commonwealth starship CSS Hector. As the ship's new gunnery officer and only Kashmiri, he must constantly prove himself better than his Aquilan crewmates, even if he has to use his fists. When the Hector is called to help with a planetary uprising, he'll have to earn his unit's respect, find who's arming the rebels, and deal with the headstrong daughter of the colonial ruler-all while dodging bullets.
Sikander's military career is off to an explosive start-but only if he and CSS Hector can survive his first mission.

Hymn by Ken Scholes - This is the final volume of the Psalms of Isaac, which I've been rereading in preparation for the finale. I'll have reviews of the last 2 books coming before the release of Hymn on December 5th.
Now the struggle between the Andro-Francine Order of the Named Lands and the Y'Zirite Empire has reached a terrible turning point. Believing that his son is dead, Rudolfo has pretended to join with the triumphant Y'zirite forces-but his plan is to destroy them all with a poison that is targeted only to the enemy.

In Y'Zir, Rudolfo's wife Jin Li Tam is fighting a war with her own father which will bring that Empire to ruin.

And on the Moon, Neb, revealed as one of the Younger Gods, takes the power of the Last Home Temple for his own.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Shout-Out: Warcross by Marie Lu


For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.
Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Video: The IT Department

I really enjoyed the 80s IT movie and want to see the new one (at home, not in theatre. I don't think I could handle screaming and jumping in fear in front of strangers).

Some of the responses to the new film, specifically the purposeful confusion of the word 'it' and I.T. are a lot of fun.

This photo of an I.T. Crowd actor in the sewers a la Pennywise just cracks me up (via GEEK Magazine's facebook page), as does James Corden's The IT Department video.


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika vol 4: La Dama de la Muerte by Joe Benitez and M. M. Chen

Illustrated by Joe Benitez and Martin Montiel

Pros: gorgeous artwork, touching story

Cons: makes the locals look ignorant

Mourning the death of a friend, Lady Mechanika makes her way to Mexico, where she’s coerced into joining the Day of the Dead festivities.

This graphic novel gathers a 3 issue storyline.

As with the previous volumes the artwork is simply gorgeous. I love the costumes and make-up associated with the festival. There are some beautiful double page spreads.

I enjoyed the story, though it does depend on the ‘superstitious natives are easily duped’ trope and it’s not particularly original. I found the opening beautiful and sad, despite the positive message of the festival. 

I was confused by who Dallas was. He isn’t mentioned in the earlier volumes nor was there a flashback explaining how he died or any explanation of why Mechanika felt responsible for his death.


Despite a few minor issues, I love this series. Each volume stands alone and uses unique new locations and outfits. The artwork really is worth it.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Toronto's New Curiosity Shop: Curiosa

In August I saw an article posted on facebook about a new 'Harry Potter inspired store' opening in Toronto: Curiosa. It's in Parkdale, an area of the city I don't normally go to, but I was heading to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), which just happened to be in walking distance.

Curiosa isn't a Harry Potter store, a fact that seems to be disappointing some visitors according to a post by management on their facebook page (at the time I'm writing this, the post I'm referring to is pinned to the top of their facebook page).

I almost didn't go to the store. While I am a Harry Potter fan, I don't need any more stuff for the franchise. But I started looking more closely at the photos online about the store and noticed a nocturnal postcard in the same set as the working astrolabe postcard I got in Spain a decade ago. Since I was going to be nearby anyway, I decided to go for a look. (And my apologies for the poor photo quality/blurriness. I had my small, not very good camera with me.)

Turns out my biggest regret of going to the store was in not giving myself enough time there to properly enjoy the experience. I only had about 30 minutes to look around. I walked in and the place was amazing. I'd heard about the guilded ceiling and the amazing displays (cauldrons being 'magically' stirred), but I hadn't anticipated the number of pure curiosities there would be.
More importantly, while I hoped they might have metal antique replicas, I hadn't seen any photos that included them, so I was ecstatic when I spotted this display case:
Now, I have wanted a real replica astrolabe for years. You can buy them online, but they're quite expensive with expensive shipping costs. This store carries not one but three astrolabes (two sizes with latin text, one with arabic text). There are some compasses, an armillary sphere, norturnal, and more. The store also carries quill pens, sealing wax, notebooks, games, and all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

I left the store with this gem and the knowledge that I've got to go back at some point for a longer visit:
 I originally set the astrolabe aside for a Christmas present, but decided that it was dumb to have it boxed for the next few months when I can just repackage it when the time comes. In the meantime, here's my alchemy table, now with working brass astrolabe.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Shout-Out: Iraq + 100 Edited by Hassan Blasim


A groundbreaking anthology of science fiction from Iraq that will challenge your perception of what it means to be "The Other".
"History is a hostage, but it will bite through the gag you tie around its mouth, bite through and still be heard."-Operation Daniel
In a calm and serene world, one has the luxury of imagining what the future might look like.
Now try to imagine that future when your way of life has been devastated by forces beyond your control.
Iraq + 100 poses a question to Iraqi writers (those who still live in that nation, and those who have joined the worldwide diaspora): What might your home country look like in the year 2103, a century after a disastrous foreign invasion?
Using science fiction, allegory, and magical realism to challenge the perception of what it means to be "The Other", this groundbreaking anthology edited by Hassan Blasim contains stories that are heartbreakingly surreal, and yet utterly recognizable to the human experience. Though born out of exhaustion, fear, and despair, these stories are also fueled by themes of love, family, and endurance, and woven through with a delicate thread of hope for the future.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Video: The Survivor

Got an email about this short film by Saga Flight Entertainment. It's a post-apocalyptic story of a boy who's sent by his abusive step-father to get supplies and medicine for his sick mother.

The production values are quite good though the acting's not the best.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Book Review: Antiphon by Ken Scholes

Pros: fascinating characters, lots of intrigue, several secrets are revealed

Cons: very slow moving

Antiphon begins six months after Canticle ends. When an attack rocks the confidence of Rudolfo to keep his lands safe, he and Jin Li Tam make a difficult decision. Winteria’s still stunned by the revelations of the last book and wonders if there’s any hope of returning her people to their former faith in their home-seeking. Neb discovers blood magicked runners in the wastes who don’t die after three days and tries to find out who they are. Meanwhile, the Antiphon requires and answer, and the metal men search for it in many places.

This is a fascinating series, with a lot of intrigue. Each book uncovers more layers underpinning the desolation of Windwir. There are plots upon plots and secrets within secrets. And just when you think you’ve gotten to the bottom of one mystery you discover there’s an entirely new side to it that reframes what you know.

The characters are all great. Winters grows a lot in this book, coming more into her own as she questions how to best help her people. It’s sad - but understandable - what happens with Rudolfo. It was great seeing Vlad Li Tam with an intrigue not worked through his children. 

It was nice getting some answers to questions, even if there may still be hidden nuances and twists to those story threads. I’d love to learn more of the history that’s been hinted at with Whym and the wizards. I happened upon a short story Scholes wrote about the love affair between Francisco and a mysterious woman (A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon), which factors into this novel nicely (you can read it on Tor.com’s website).

The book is very slow moving with characters mostly getting from point A to point B, both in terms of location as well as with understanding of the underlying purposes of what’s been happening these past two years since Windwir fell.


I am very interested in seeing where things go from here. The book left several characters in fascinating places.

Friday, 15 September 2017

The Joy of Rereading Books

When I was a teen and really got into reading fantasy, I loved to reread books. Every time a new book came out in a series I’d reread all the previous titles first. There are some books I read so often I can still remember everything that happens in vivid detail. I used to know characters like they were real world friends.

When I started reviewing books the amount of time I had for rereading got smaller. By this time I was working in the fiction section of the World’s Biggest Bookstore and had a better idea of just how many books there are that I’ve never read - with more and more coming out every year. Suddenly instead of rereading books I was just skimming them. Often I’d only skim the parts of books that I enjoyed the most - parts that made me laugh or cry. More recently I don’t even have time to do that.

For the past few years I’ve been posting 1 review a week on my blog, which means I have to read faster than life sometimes allows. In other words, I don’t have time to reread anything, and often don’t have time to skim before reading a sequel (if the book was very complex I’ll make time for a skim just so I’m not lost in the sequel). I’ve got a file on my computer with summaries I’ve started making for series books so I can just read my summary and jump into the sequel.

I’ve busted by butt reading this year so that I’d have a buffer of prepared reviews for this month. I’ve blocked off the entire month of September to reread Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle books. I’ve only read each book once, and that when they came out, so it’s been 9 years since I read The Warded Man. Book 5 comes out in October, and I’m currently on book 2, hoping to finish the fourth by The Core’s release date.

It’s weird rereading these after so much time. There are aspects of character that I don’t remember or that I’d modified in my mind. When I first read the books I liked Jardir, whereas now I can see what a dangerously extreme person he is. Part of this is likely due to my own growth as a person these last years, better able to recognize the evils of the world. But it’s a bit saddening, having to recognize that my friends have changed, that they’re not quite who I thought they were. It’s also neat, because while I remember the larger events, I don’t remember them with 100% accuracy, and some things I don’t remember at all. 

I love immersing myself in the world. It’s been so long since I’ve read several books in the same world at the same time. It’s great seeing characters grow as people across books. I really miss this, reconnecting with old ‘friends’. It’s like a homecoming. I may need to do this more often. :)


Do you like rereading books? 

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Shout-Out: Odd & True by Cat Winters

Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.
In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Video: Halo Top - Eat the Ice Cream

I don't normally post ads here, but Halo Top's Ice Cream commercial is terrifyingly good.




Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Book Review: Broadcast by Liam Brown

Pros: terrifying yet plausible premise

Cons: things go predictably badly

Vlogger David Callow meets with the creator of OptimiZer, Xan Brinkley, and is offered the staring role in a new entertainment program. The show is called MindCast and will broadcast what David’s thinking, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

David is a fairly apathetic character when the book starts. He doesn’t really care about anything other than the number of views and likes his videos get, barely paying attention during the meeting that changes his life. He’s not particularly satisfied with the way his life is going, though he projects an image for his fans of a life that is fun and glamorous. So it’s interesting seeing him come to a slow realization of what having his thoughts projected to the world means with regards to his privacy, his safety, and his sense of self.

I was shocked by how few questions David had about the program. While he doesn’t seem to care about his privacy in general, he never asks how things like going to the bathroom or having sex would be dealt with. David is oblivious to the potential downfalls of having everyone able to see his thoughts at all times, so the conversations that point out how this technology can be used or abused are interesting. Even more interesting are the early unexpected side-effects, some of which I hadn’t considered.

While the main plot of the book is fairly predictable, the book’s premise, that some people can be so enamoured of themselves that they’ll give up all privacy in return for fame, is believable. And the results of such an act, are as horrific as you can imagine. You feel a real sense of dread as the book progresses, for a variety of reasons.


It’s a fairly short book and is an entertaining cautionary story.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Forest House DIY Mini Dollhouse Kit

This is a kit I bought and put together sometime last year. I've bought a few more of them and really enjoy the work. Depending on the kit they take a few days to do, with all of the furniture and whatnot being built by you. The instructions for this one were in Chinese, but there were photos explaining what to do.

This kit includes pieces to build a gift box, which I choose not to do. Here's a photo of what comes with the kit (including bits of wood, grass, cloth, plastic flowers, etc).


Some of the built pieces for scale.

The finished front & back.

It comes with 3 LEDs, which make it look cool in the dark.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Shout-Out: Just Off the Path by Weston Sullivan

Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better. 
Years later, Rapunzel’s guards knock at his door, and they say the words he hoped that he would never hear: Gothel has escaped. As he and Gretel take refuge inside Rapunzel’s castle in the eastern capitol of Hildebrand, Hansel is thrust back into everything he never wanted in the first place: his lies, his legend, and his lust. In the wake of it all, he knows that Gothel has escaped to finish what she started. She is out to make sure that the Sleeping Beauty never wakes, and that Grimm suffocates under her blanket of thorn and vine. In order to find Gothel and save the kingdom, Hansel and Gretel must look for fact in a land of fairy-tale by following a trail of grisly murders, a girl in a red cape, and a powerful little man who can’t stand the sound of his own name. 
As they search for answers, Hansel finds that he isn’t the only liar in Grimm, and that there may be a traitor among them of royal proportion.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Video: Altered book Alchemist's Workshop

I recently started a shadow box alchemy display and in searching for images and inspiration for it stumbled across this amazing blog: Artfully Musing. Laura Carson is an amazing artist and has a number of videos explaining how to recreate her works, including this altered book alchemist's workshop (the website has a list of supplies she used, though some of the items don't seem to be stocked by the store she mentions anymore). It's cool seeing how she takes different beads and bits and pieces and turns them into amazing things.


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by S. A. Corey

Pros: brilliant world-building, great characters, lots of plot twists, excellent pacing

Cons: 

James Holden is the XO of the ice harvester Canterbury. When the Cant encounters a distress beacon, they’re the closest ship and must send aid. Holden’s sent with a five man crew to check out the damaged ship. But something’s not right and things for Holden start to go very, very wrong. 

Miller is a cop on the asteroid Ceres. He’s given an off the book ‘kidnap’ job to send the daughter of a rich magnate home.  He becomes more invested in the case than he should, and uncovers more than he was supposed to. 

First off, if - like me - you’ve seen the show and were wondering if it’s worth reading the book, the answer is yes. It covers the entire first season (from the POVs mentioned above) and a fair bit of the second, but there’s enough new information, nuance, and divergence to keep you entertained. Most importantly, the pacing of the book is brilliant. While not all of the reveals will be a surprise, the novel propels you forward into the next crisis. 

The novel is told from two points of view. The opposing chapters help ramp up the tension as you’re often given hints that something has happened but switch POV to find out what that thing is.

The world building is brilliant. I love that belters shrug with their hands, because you can’t see shoulders move in a space suit. I loved the (unfortunate) realism of racism between belters, Earthers, and Martians. There’s a lot of nuance with language - how it’s changed and melded by having people from all over Earth living in close quarters outside of Earth. The fact that there’s low-brow belter slang and Martian accents was great. The physics were real, aside from the drive that makes interplanetary travel possible (which, while not currently real, is plausible). 

I found that some of the motivations and actions made more sense in the book than they did on the TV show (as much as I LOVE the show). It was nice seeing more nuance with character development and gaining a better grasp of who everyone is.

The characters were great. Holden can be a little to ‘righteous’ at times, but he firmly believes he’s in the right. I did like some of his interactions with Miller, where he’s forced to realize that his POV isn’t necessarily the right one and that the world isn’t as black and white as he seems to believe. The Rosi’s crew works together well. Naomi’s brilliant! I love her smarts, her intuition, her observations, her skill. I was impressed with how concentrating profanity to Amos’s character worked in terms of releasing tension and creating some comic relief. I’m not usually a fan of swearing but this was well handled.

I found the romance sub-plot slow moving enough to feel realistic. It was great when the couple finally got together.

I had high expectations going into this book and it exceeded them. If you like hard science fiction and space mysteries, this is for you.  

Friday, 1 September 2017

Review schedule for the rest of the year

I'll be taking a break from reviewing for September, as I'll be rereading Peter Brett's Demon Cycle books in preparation for the final book of the series, The Core's October release. You'll still be getting weekly reviews as I've been in reading overdrive the past few months preparing for this.

After the Demon Cycle books I've also been rereading and then reading the Psalms of Isaac novels by Ken Scholes, the final book of which (Hymn) drops early December. Expect to see reviews of books 3 & 4 probably spaced out in October and/or November.

I have a long (and growing) list of books I'd like to read before the end of the year, though reality states I won't be able to get to them all, especially with all of the other non-reading/blogging projects I'm working on.

All of which means I'm unlikely to accept any new review requests until next year.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Books Received in August, 2017

Many thanks as always to the publishers who sent me books or ok'd requests on Netgalley for review titles.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Written and Illustrated by Bradley Schenck - I've already reviewed this book and thought it was a lot of fun.

ROCKETS. ROBOTS. DEATH RAYS. MAD SCIENCE. THE FUTURE THAT NEVER WAS IS BACK.

If Fritz Lang's Metropolis somehow mated with Futurama, their mutant offspring might well be Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Inspired by the future imagined in the 1939 World Fair, this hilarious, beautifully illustrated adventure by writer and artist Bradley W. Schenck is utterly unlike anything else in science fiction: a gonzo, totally bonkers, gut-busting look at the World of Tomorrow, populated with dashing, bubble-helmeted heroes, faithful robot sidekicks, mad scientists, plucky rocket engineers, sassy switchboard operators, space pirates, and much, much more-enhanced throughout by two dozen astonishing illustrations.
After a surprise efficiency review, the switchboard operators of Retropolis are replaced by a mysterious system beyond their comprehension. Dash Kent, freelance adventurer and apartment manager, is hired to get to the bottom of it, and discovers that the replacement switchboard is only one element of a plan concocted by an insane civil engineer: a plan so vast that it reaches from Retropolis to the Moon. And no one-not the Space Patrol, nor the Fraternal League of Robotic Persons, nor the mad scientists of Experimental Research District, nor even the priests of the Temple of the Spider God, will know what hit them.

Twelve Days by Steven Barnes - This sounds really interesting.

Around the world, leaders and notorious criminals alike are mysteriously dying. A terrorist group promises a series of deaths within two months. And against the backdrop of the apocalypse, the lives of a small shattered family and a broken soldier are transformed in the bustling city of Atlanta.
Olympia Dorsey is a journalist and mother, with a cynical teenage daughter and an autistic son named Hannibal, all trying to heal from a personal tragedy. Across the street, Ex-Special Forces soldier Terry Nicolas and his wartime unit have reunited Stateside to carry out a risky heist that will not only right a terrible injustice, but also set them up for life-at the cost of their honor. Terry and the family's visit to an unusual martial arts exhibition brings them into contact with Madame Gupta, a teacher of singular skill who offers not just a way for Terry to tap into mastery beyond his dreams, but also for Hannibal to transcend the limits of his condition. But to see these promises realized, Terry will need to betray those with whom he fought and bled.
Meanwhile, as the death toll gains momentum and society itself teeters on the edge of collapse, Olympia's fragile clan is placed in jeopardy, and Terry comes to understand the terrible price he must pay to prevent catastrophe.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - I'm almost finished reading this and have enjoyed it a lot. It's out in October.

Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society in hopes of landing a suitable husband. But Antonina is telekinetic, and strange events in her past have made her the subject of malicious gossip and hardly a sought-after bride. Now, under the tutelage of her cousin's wife, she is finally ready to shed the past and learn the proper ways of society.
Antonina, who prefers her family's country home to the glamorous ballrooms of the wealthy, finds it increasingly difficult to conform to society's ideals for women, especially when she falls under the spell of the dazzling telekinetic performer Hector Auvray. As their romance blossoms, and he teaches her how to hone and control her telekinetic gift, she can't help but feel a marriage proposal is imminent.
Little does Antonina know that Hector and those closest to her are hiding a devastating secret that will crush her world and force her to confront who she really is and what she's willing to sacrifice.

Broadcast by Liam Brown -  I've read this already and will be posting my review of it soon. It's an interesting cautionary tale.

Inception meets Black Mirror for the YouTube generation. The idea behind MindCast is simple. We insert a small chip into your skull and then every thought, every feeling, every memory is streamed live, twenty-four hours a day. Trust me - within a few months you'll be the most talked about person on the planet. When David Callow is offered the lead role in a revolutionary new online show, he snatches at the opportunity. Rapidly becoming a viral sensation, David is propelled to stratospheric levels of celebrity. However, he soon realises the downside of sharing every secret with the world. A prisoner to both his fame and his own thoughts, David seeks to have the chip removed, only to discover the chilling secret lurking at the heart of MindCast, and the terrifying ambition the show's creator has for him.



Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais - Also out in October, this is a children's picture book with a different take on the Little Red Riding Hood story.

Lose yourself in in the dark forests of Amélie Fléchais' spectacular artwork. A young wolf, on a journey to bring his grandmother a rabbit, is charmed by the nice little girl who offers to help him.but nice is not the same as good. A haunting fairy tale for children and adults alike.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Shout-Out: Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

London, April 1812. On the eve of 18-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall's presentation to the Queen, one of her family's housemaids disappears--and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?