Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Not a Review: From Age to Age by Edward Foley

This isn't a proper review because I only had time to read select chapters of interest.

When I did my degree in medieval studies I learned about languages, manuscripts, church architecture, drama, literature and philosophy. It shocks me now that not one professor suggested learning about Catholicism and how the church's liturgy affected architecture, etc. The first inkling I had that I'd missed something massively important was during my graduation mass (the first time I attended mass), and so many things suddenly clicked. Recently I've been trying to plug that gap in my knowledge and came across From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist.

The book has an introduction followed by 7 chapters: 
1. Emerging Christianity: The First Century
2. The Domestic Church: 100-313
3. The Rise of the Roman Church: 313-750
4. Frankish Domination: 750-1073
5. The Prelude to Reform: 1073-1517
6. Revolt, Reform and Rigidity: 1517-1903
7. The Return to Change: 1903 and Beyond
The book concludes with a glossary and bibliography.

Within each chapter the author subdivides the information into categories for architecture, music, books, and vessels for administering the Eucharist.

The book explained terms I've seen for years without properly understanding them (for specific books and liturgical vessels in particular), as well as giving some indications as to how the space in a church was used over time (the development of the choir, the slow exclusion of the congregation from singing/participating).

If you don't know the difference between a missal and a breviary, or what a pyx is, this is an easy to read primer that covers the whole of Catholicism. It doesn't go into a lot of detail, but it gives a good foundation.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Books Received in July 2022

Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me an advance copy of:

Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton - This is the follow-up to Mickey7, which I really enjoyed. I'm curious to see where the series goes.

Edward Ashton's Antimatter Blues is the thrilling follow up to Mickey7 in which an expendable heads out to explore new terrain for human habitation.

Summer has come to Niflheim. The lichens are growing, the six-winged bat-things are chirping, and much to his own surprise, Mickey Barnes is still alive—that last part thanks almost entirely to the fact that Commander Marshall believes that the colony’s creeper neighbors are holding an antimatter bomb, and that Mickey is the only one who’s keeping them from using it. Mickey’s just another colonist now. Instead of cleaning out the reactor core, he spends his time these days cleaning out the rabbit hutches. It’s not a bad life.

It’s not going to last.

It may be sunny now, but winter is coming. The antimatter that fuels the colony is running low, and Marshall wants his bomb back. If Mickey agrees to retrieve it, he’ll be giving up the only thing that’s kept his head off of the chopping block. If he refuses, he might doom the entire colony. Meanwhile, the creepers have their own worries, and they’re not going to surrender the bomb without getting something in return. Once again, Mickey finds the fate of two species resting in his hands. If something goes wrong this time, though, he won’t be coming back.

Out March 14, 2023

Friday, 29 July 2022

Shout-Out: Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty


Bled dry by violent confrontations with the Magadhan Empire, the Mathuran Republic simmers on the brink of oblivion. The Republic’s Leaders, Krishna and Satyabhama, have put their plans in motion within and beyond its blood-soaked borders, to protect it from annihilation. But they will soon discover that neither gold nor alliances last forever.

They are, however, not the only players in this game.

Mati, Pirate-Princess of Kalinga, must mend her ways if she is to be a good wife. But old habits die hard, especially when one habitually uses murder to settle scores. Karna, the gifted son of a lowborn charioteer, hopes to bury his brutal past, but finds that life is not generous in offering second chances. The crippled hero-turned-torturer Shakuni struggles in the maze of daggers, that is politics, leaving little time for him to plot the revenge he craves.

Alongside a cast of sinister queens, naive kings, pious assassins and predatory priests, these dubious heroes will converge where the Son of Darkness is prophesied to rise and break the World, even as forgotten Gods prepare to play their hand.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Book Review: The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World by Virginia Postrel

The book consists of seven chapters with a preface and afterward. Each chapter deals with a particular part of fabric production: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, Consumers, and Innovators. Each chapter starts in ancient times and ends in modern ones, showing how things have changed over time.

Fabric is one of those things that is so ubiquitous and important for life, and yet is also so ordinary and cheap nowadays that we simply forget about it. The book emphasizes that for most of human history fabric was at the forefront of thought. The amount of time and effort that’s gone into clothing and cloth for other purposes (sails, table coverings, curtains, blankets, etc.) is astronomical.

The book begins with the idea that modern people look at ancient art dealing with women and see a spindle and think, ah, this is a domestic scene. But we forget that the spindle as a means of turning fibres into thread was the start of production, necessary for the home, yes, but also an important industry. Millions of women over the course of history have spun thread and made cloth, whether of flax, cotton, wool, or silk. It was constant work because cloth is always needed. The book also shows how spinning thread was undervalued, partly because it was women’s work, but also because the higher the cost of thread, the higher the cost of cloth. We do the same thing today, keeping the final cost of clothing low so the rich can buy a lot of it, even if that means exploiting the workers who sew the cloth into clothing.

My interests are in ancient and medieval history so I didn’t expect the modern sections to interest me, but they were also fascinating. Learning about how cotton plants were cross bread and a fluke mutation created the cotton plants bred today was neat.

This is an excellent book dealing with a topic that affects everyone, but to which we give entirely too little thought.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Shout-Out: Classic Monsters Unleashed edited by James Aquilone

Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau, the Headless Horseman, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Wicked Witch of the West--they're all here, in this collection of horror short stories that reimagine, subvert, and pay homage to our favorite monsters and creatures.

Written by the biggest names in the genre--including Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, Owl Goingback, Richard Christian Matheson, Seanan McGuire, Maurice Broaddus, Dacre Stoker, Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Tim Waggoner, John Palisano, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lucy A. Snyder, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rena Mason, and Monique Snyman.

And monstrously illustrated by Colton Worley and Mister Sam Shearon.

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Book Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

Pros: interesting retelling of several fairy tales, compelling characters, good worldbuilding, fun romance

Cons: constant tension, repetitive danger

Redarys is the second daughter born to Valleyda’s royal family. The first daughter is for the throne, the second is for the wolf. After she enters the Wilderwood Red discovers the stories she’s grown up with are mostly true but that the Wolf is not the monster she expected. Her twin sister Neverah resolves to bring Red back, not realizing that destroying the forest will destroy her sister and unleash the monstrous shadows it holds captive.

Though the title and cover make it seem like a retelling of Red Riding Hood, the book is actually more Beauty and the Beast. It’s a very loose adaptation with a lot of unexpected twists and a larger underlying plot.

The worldbuilding was good, with several nations and mentions of trade and religion. The Wilderwood was interesting in how it trapped people inside and how it interacted with the Wolves.

I loved the slow building romance between Red and Eammon. It felt very organic, and though I did wish they were more open with each other their various traumas made it hard for them to trust and risk losing what they’d gained. Their interludes created some needed breaks to the tense atmosphere.

The story doesn’t slowly build tension, every time something bad happens it’s an immediate 10 on the tension scale. I found the book somewhat exhausting as a result of it’s flipping between 0 and 10 so often and had to read the book in bits and pieces.

The dangers were fairly repetitive with the Wolves dealing with the same things over and over again.

The ending paves the way for the sequel with some major events still needing resolution.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Book Review: A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook, and Conjure by Emma Kay

The book starts with an introduction that lists herbs for various purposes and then takes you on a brief world history tour of herbalism, starting with the Greeks and Chinese. Throughout the book examples of how various herbs are used are employed from sources from multiple countries.

There are three chapters. Chapter 1 goes over specific British herbalists, followed by information on those who worked in adjacent fields (sellers, hospitals, gardens, illustrators). Chapter 2 deals with magic and medicine, giving individual A-Z lists for both topics. Each listing mentions an anecdote or usage from a historic source. The book isn’t being comprehensive, there are only a few usages per herb, but it’s a great compilation that’s enlightening without being boring. Chapter 3 is on how herbs have been used in cooking. Here the author translates a number of interesting recipes. Be aware, with a few exceptions these are direct historical translations, meaning there are no measurements, so unless you’re used to using old cookbooks or are a trained chef, you’ll have a lot of experimentation ahead of you if you decide to make one of these recipes. The recipes are organized by topic, with most of them employing multiple herbs.

I was impressed with the breadth of sources Kay used. I learned about quite a few interesting British and medieval herbals (some of which you can find online as they are out of copyright), as well as herbs and herbals from other countries (including Nigeria, Japan, and the Aztec empire). I was impressed by the number of countries with written herbals predating the modern period, and with the author’s including recipes and herbal usages from so many of them.

The book ends with substantial notes and a bibliography.

There are a decent number of black and white photographs to accompany the text.

The text often jumps from one herb or topic to another with little to no transition, which I found delightful as it maintained interest when reading the book in its entirety, though some might find it disorienting.

This is a great book. It tackles a broad topic and has done an excellent job of maintaining interest while being enlightening. Even if you’ve read several books on herbs and herbals you’ll find something new here.

Out in the UK on June 30th, later (different sites show different release dates) in other countries.