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.