Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Book Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Pros: interesting characters, quick paced, touching romance

Cons: limited worldbuilding

Red and Blue work for opposing sides of a war trying to make sure their particular futures come true. Their battles happen across the varieties of time and parallel universes. Their rivalry intensifies when Blue leaves Red a letter, beginning a correspondence that changes them both.

This is a longer novella, easily read in an afternoon. Which is good as it gets pretty intense towards the end and I’m not sure I could have put it down those last 50 pages.

The two protagonists were written by different authors, giving them distinct voices. The book follows the pattern of showing a scene from Red’s point of view, followed by a letter and the actions of a mysterious stranger, then shifts to Blue’s point of view and a letter she received. I was impressed by how much the characters changed over the course of the story given the brevity of the text.

With novellas I often feel the story could be fleshed out more, but this felt like the perfect length. The shortness even added to the tension.

The science is very hand-wavy so don’t expect the usual time travel rules to apply. The addition of multiple universes made me wonder how they could track the changes meant to bring about their futures, but none of that is explored or explained at all. The story is focused entirely on the two characters.

It’s a great, unique story.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Shout-Out: The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of superadvanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.

A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Movie Review: It Came From Outer Space (in 3D)

Directed by Jack Arnold, 1953

IMDb listing

Pros: excellent use of 3D technology, decent acting

Cons: slow moving,

Nobody believes amateur astronomer John Putnam when he claims to have seen an alien craft in the crater made by a falling meteor. But when strange things start happening he must prove it before it’s too late.

This is a 1950s made for 3D movie based on a Ray Bradbury short story.

Given the author of the source material it’s a bit surprising that the plot isn’t that great. It’s slow moving and the characters are kind of irritating - especially the sheriff who believes it’s his duty to look after his former boss’s adult daughter.

Barbara Rush does a decent job with the poor role she’s given of a woman who tags along with the protagonist and then gets kidnapped by aliens. She gets to scream 3 times, only one of which is warranted by the situation.

The alien looks suitably creepy if unconvincing as a natural creature. The xenophobia exhibited by the humans proves we’ve not advanced much, as aliens today would be met with the same desire to kill them on sight. I was impressed that the aliens realized this so quickly and so hid their true natures.

The 3D effects were excellent. There were foreground, middle ground and background elements to almost every frame. Rather than only a few shots of things hurling towards the viewer there were several, and the entire film felt like it was meant to be in 3D (which it was) rather than just a few scenes.

Can’t really recommend this one unless you’ve got a 3D TV to watch it on. And even then, it’s not a film I’ll watch again.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Shout-Out: Unraveling by Karen Lord

In this standalone fantasy novel by an award-winning author, the dark truth behind a string of unusual murders leads to an otherworldly exploration of spirits, myth, and memory, steeped in Caribbean storytelling.

Dr. Miranda Ecouvo, forensic therapist of the City, just helped put a serial killer behind bars. But she soon discovers that her investigation into seven unusual murders is not yet complete. A near-death experience throws her out of time and into a realm of labyrinths and spirits. There, she encounters brothers Chance and the Trickster, who have an otherworldly interest in the seemingly mundane crimes from her files.

It appears the true mastermind behind the murders is still on the loose, chasing a myth to achieve immortality. Together, Miranda, Chance, and the Trickster must travel through conjured mazes, following threads of memory to locate the shadowy killer. As they journey deeper, they discover even more questions that will take pain and patience to answer. What is the price of power? Where is the path to redemption? And how can they stop the man—or monster—who would kill the innocent to live forever?

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Books Received in June 2019

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for an advanced copy of this dystopian novel. I have a weird relationship with dystopian books in that intellectually I think I like them, but in practice I generally don't. I really enjoyed reading The Warehouse. The characters were really personable and it was a quick, compelling read. I'll be posting my review on its release date of August 20th.

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.
Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities.

But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering.

Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.

As the truth about Cloud unfolds, Zinnia must gamble everything on a desperate scheme—one that risks both their lives, even as it forces Paxton to question everything about the world he’s so carefully assembled here.

Together, they’ll learn just how far the company will go…to make the world a better place.

Set in the confines of a corporate panopticon that’s at once brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, The Warehouse is a near-future thriller about what happens when Big Brother meets Big Business--and who will pay the ultimate price.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Pros: brilliant world-building, interesting characters, challenging plot, thought provoking

Cons:

Dietz joins the Tene-Silvia Corporate Corps after the Blink wanting to be a hero, wanting to make the Martians pay. But military life is hard and the combat drops that break soldiers down into light molecules to transport them to mission locations… change some of them. Dietz doesn’t always land at the right location, or with the right people. Dietz’s jumps also reveal that the war isn’t what they’ve been told. Can one be a hero if no one knows what’s right anymore?

This is an absolutely brilliant novel and I can understand why Hurley had such trouble writing it. There were times as a reader that I got confused as to when Dietz was in the timeline, I can only imagine how difficult it was as the author keeping who knew what, when, straight.

The world-building it top notch. This is a future where mega corporations rule and there are layers of citizenship. Dietz began life as a ghoul, living outside the corporation, living off of refuse, and gained residency status through their parents. But full citizenship requires service. Throughout the book you see how ingrained the idea of earning citizenship is held by full citizens, even those born into it who did nothing to earn their place. There’s a lot of thought provoking commentary here.

The characters are great. I loved that the first person perspective cloaked Dietz’s gender (until the end, when you learn their first name), and that the protagonists all seem to be fairly fluid in their sexualities (or at least, fairly open about their partners). Dietz starts off as hot-headed, stubborn, and not the smartest in the group, but is forced to learn - and learn fast - when things get tough.

It’s a brilliant fast paced novel that will keep you on your toes.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Shout-Out: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Book Review: New Worlds, Year Two: More Essays on the Art of Worldbuilding by Marie Brennan

Pros: short essays are easy to read, covers a wide variety of topics

Cons: short essays don’t go into much detail

This is the second book of essays compiled from Brennan’s Patreon. There’s an introduction, 52 themed essays and an afterward. The themes from this book encompass weaponry, honor, cosmetics, clothing, wedding customs, literacy, time keeping, religious practices, superstitions, and some general worldbuilding tips.

I loved that there were a variety of topics, broken down into more specific essays. Each essay is only a few pages long so you can easy read one in a few minutes. Brennan gives several examples per essay showing how cultures differ, so as to get the reader thinking of applications beyond the common. The downside here is each essay is very basic and is more of a way to get you thinking about applications than showing you how to apply each aspect to your own world.

As with the first book, it’s a great collection and points out a lot of worthwhile tidbits for making your fictional worlds feel more lived in.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Shout-Out: Green Valley by Louis Greenberg

Chilling near-future SF for fans of Black Mirror and True Detective.

When Lucie Sterling's niece is abducted, she knows it won't be easy to find answers. Stanton is no ordinary city: invasive digital technology has been banned, by public vote. No surveillance state, no shadowy companies holding databases of information on private citizens, no phones tracking their every move.

Only one place stays firmly anchored in the bad old ways, in a huge bunker across town: Green Valley, where the inhabitants have retreated into the comfort of full-time virtual reality--personae non gratae to the outside world. And it's inside Green Valley, beyond the ideal virtual world it presents, that Lucie will have to go to find her missing niece.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Physiologus: A Medieval Book of Nature Lore Translated by Michael Curley

Pros: excellent introduction, full translation, lots of end notes

Cons: some quotes left untranslated

Translated in 1979 and reissued in 2009, this was the first full English translation of the Greek manuscript, Physiologus. The manuscript took stories of animals and gave them Christian allegorical meanings. These stories were used in later bestiary collections and by encyclopedists - with and without their allegories - greatly influencing the medieval mind.

The book begins with an introduction that gives background on the Physiologus and the questions surrounding when it was written and who it was written by. It is then followed by translations of the 51 chapters, most of which deal with animals though there are also a few plants and stones.

The information in the introduction is fantastic and really helps you place the Physiologus in history while not being too academic and dry. My only complain here - and also with the notes at the back of the volume - is that neither Greek nor Latin quotations are translated for those who can’t read them.

The manuscript itself is rather dry. More time is given to the moral than to describing the animal. If you’re unfamiliar with these types of works, you’ll be confused by a lot of the ‘natural’ behaviours described. Very little of this is true animal behaviours. Consider them more morality tales like Aesop’s fables rather than a treatise on natural history. However, remember that as many of the animals described were not native to the lands where the tales became popular, they did influence beliefs in mythological creatures and many in the past believed the stories depicted actual animal behaviours.

The book includes black and white woodcut images from the 1587 G. Ponce de Leon edition of the book. I had expected there to be an image per chapter but there were only 21 images in total and a few of the listings had more than one image (the serpent has a series of 4 images).

If you’re interested in medieval thought and art, the bestiary by way of the Physiologus was hugely influential. This book is a glimpse into the medieval mind, both with regards to how they saw the natural world and how they believed the natural and spiritual worlds overlapped.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Book Review: The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Pros: great fight scenes, real consequences, long odds

Cons:

The displaced villagers of Lutet now face the full wrath of the Order. They realize they need walls to protect them and decide to take over the nearby town of Lyse.

Picking up immediately where The Armored Saint left off, Queen of Crows starts with an ambush and ends with a siege.

There’s a good amount of fighting and some real internal conflicts for the villagers in general and Heloise in particular. They suffer real losses (again) in this book.

I enjoyed learning more about the travelling people and seeing their knife dancing and magic.

The first book was so good I was a little concerned this one wouldn’t hold up, but the author nailed the ending. I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Book Review: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole


Pros: feisty protagonist, interesting world-building

Cons:

Sixteen year old Heloise Factor’s world is upended when she and her father encounter members of the Order on the road. The Sojourner and his Pilgrims dragged the bodies of two female magicians behind their horses. Thus the Order keeps the people safe from the legions of Hell, which magicians unwittingly loose in their pride. But the Order has little consideration for the peasantry that feed them, and Heloise discovers that her fear must contend with anger at the mistreatment she and her father receive.

This character driven story is told from Heloise’s point of view as she learns that the world can be a terrifying place and that those who profess to do good are sometimes the most horrible. She’s a headstrong girl who can’t watch injustice without acting. This gets her - and others - into a lot of trouble. She’s also slowly discovering that she’s into girls, in a world where that’s not an acceptable option. There were a few moments where I wanted to yell at her for making poor decisions, but I can’t deny that Cole accurately tapped into a teen girl’s psyche, showing her fear, rage, and passion in equal measure.

The setting is medieval inspired with some minor steampunk style engines thrown in. I loved that there were quotations from various books of holy writ as well as her father’s journal from when he was in the war to give the narrative some historical grounding.

It’s very much a novel about family and what people will do for those they love. It’s also about communities that stick together, even when things get tough.

There’s a scene reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and it’s just as uncomfortable to read. It also contains the sole scene of graphic, somewhat gory, violence in the book. There’s a brilliant fight scene at the end that’s brutal, but not gory.

This is a quick read that really grips you (I missed a subway stop reading it).



Note: If you liked this but want a fantasy novel with an older heroine, pick up Armed In Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Books Received in May, 2019

As always, many thanks to the publishers who sent me books this month.

Lady Mechanika, Vol 5: La Belle Dame Sans Merci by M. M. Chen and Joe Benitez - I absolutely love the artwork in this series and the Victorian steampunk aesthetic.  I've reviewed it here.

Lady Mechanika's investigation into her forgotten past is overshadowed by concern for her associate Mr. Lewis when he becomes enamored of a beautiful and enigmatic young widow, whose own past seems disturbingly linked to the untimely deaths of several creative geniuses. Will Mr. Lewis be next?











New Worlds, Year 2: More Essays on the Art of Worldbuilding by Marie Brennan - This is the second collection of essays for Brennan's patreon worldbuilding perk. I read last year's ebook and they're great. Each one's short but goes over a good amount of information. I'm part way through this one and enjoying it.

Explore a world of your own . . .
Science fiction and fantasy are renowned for immersing their readers in rich, inventive settings. In this follow-up to the collection NEW WORLDS, YEAR ONE, award-winning fantasy author Marie Brennan guides you through new aspects of worldbuilding and how they can generate stories. From beauty to books, from tattoos to taboos, these essays delve into the complexity of different cultures, both real and imaginary, and provide invaluable advice on crafting a world of your very own.
This volume collects essays from the second year of the New Worlds Patreon.


This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone - I enjoyed Gladstone's Craft Sequence novels (though I still have to read the last 2 - there's just not enough time!) and am really excited about this collaboration.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Book Review: Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World Edited by Elizabeth Morrison with Larisa Grollemond

Pros: lots of gorgeous full colour illustrations, essays on a variety of topics, thorough discussion on the evolution of bestiaries

Cons: some of the essays are dense

This is the guide that accompanies the exhibition “Book of Beasts” at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit runs from May 14th to August 18th.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one is an introduction plus images and text for the 15 best known bestiary animals. Part two: Exploring the Bestiary is subdivided into The Bestiary in form and function (consisting of 6 essays and the first 28 catalogue listings) and The Bestiary Reimagined (two essays and 5 listings). Part three: Beyond the Bestiary is again subdivided, with catalogue listings after each essay. It’s sections are: Church and Court (3 essays) and Bestiaries and Natural History (4 essays). The epilogue is followed by the final catalogue listings and four appendices.

I found the first few essays of part 2 boring due to their dry and somewhat dense prose. There’s a fair amount of repetition in that most of these essays opened with similar background paragraphs on Bestiaries and their origins in the Greek book Physiologus. For me, the most interesting essay of this section was “Accommodating Antlers, Making Room for Hedgehogs, and Other Problems of Page Design in the Medieval Bestiary”. It was interesting learning how scribes and illustrators may have been working from different manuscripts and so their work didn’t always line up.

The later essays were much more interesting, both in style an content. There’s less minutiae about the manuscripts making them more accessible and I enjoyed learning new things about how bestiaries influenced other forms of art like maps and sculptures. I also appreciated that there were separate essays on Jewish and Muslim uses of animals in manuscripts. Those essays all felt too short, given the amount of information being discussed.

I liked that there are occasional ‘notes to the reader’ explaining some of the terms so that even those who haven’t studied manuscripts can understand the more scholarly language used. The notes for catalogue listings generally mentioned if a manuscript has been fully or partially digitized and is available online for further study. Unfortunately these notes are in such small text I’m afraid some readers will miss this information.

Catalogue images are all reproduced in colour and there was a good variety. I loved seeing the evolution of the genre and how the stories were reinterpreted in later works. I was surprised that some of the images were duplicated though. A page would be used to illustrate an essay and than that same page would be one of the images used to illustrated the catalogue listing for that manuscript. Given the fact that each manuscript only got one or two images, I would have expected different pages to be used each time in order to maximize the number of different images shown.

If you’re new to bestiaries this is an excellent primer, though you’ll have to work a bit to understand some of the terms. For those with some knowledge, it will increase it and suggest other works to examine. If you’re well versed in the subject the later essays don’t go far enough to suggest new avenues of study, though the earlier ones do an excellent job of showing what scholarship has been done and what still needs examination.

This looks like an excellent exhibit and I wish I could attend and see all of these manuscripts and artworks in person.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Video: Super-Hero-Bowl!

Ever wanted to see all your favourite superheroes battle it out to see who's the best? Toon Sandwich (part of ArtSpear Entertainment) has you covered.



Part 2, the Super-Villain-Bowl, is also fantastic.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Book Review: Vessel by Lisa Nichols

Pros: great depiction of trauma, compelling story, interesting characters

Cons: not sure I believe the ending

Acting Commander Catherine Wells is the sole survivor of the presumed lost Sagittarius mission to TRAPPIST-1f, a planetary system on the other side of a warp hole. Her sudden return to Earth means NASA can better prepare the soon to depart Sagittarius II crew. Or it would, if she could remember what happened on the alien planet.

This is a quick read. The characters are all interesting, with the majority of the story focusing on Catherine returning to a husband and daughter who believed she was dead the past 6 years. There’s a lot for the book to unpack and the author does an excellent job of showing Catherine’s trauma regarding memory loss, extreme isolation for an extended period of time, survivor’s guilt for being the only member of her crew to survive, as well as the guilt over having been away from her family for so long.

The current memory lapses she has makes for a compelling storyline and I found myself rushing ahead to find out what was going on. I loved the periodic flashbacks to what happened on the Sagittarius I mission.

Once I found out what was happening some of that compulsion to finish the book dissipated. The closer the book got to the ending the less I believed how the higher ups at NASA were acting. The final acts of the protagonists seemed highly implausible and I had trouble believing NASA would go along with it considering the cost and time involved in implementing their plan.

On the whole it was an entertaining read, with some interesting twists though a somewhat unsatisfying ending.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Shout-Out: Donovan Series by W. Michael Gear

Book three of W. Michael Gear's Donovan series is now out and the series sounds fascinating.

Book 1: Outpost


Donovan is a world of remarkable wealth, a habitable paradise of a planet. It sounds like a dream come true. But Donovan's wealth comes at a price.
When the ship Turalon arrives in orbit, Supervisor Kalico Aguila discovers a failing colony, its government overthrown and the few remaining colonists now gone wild. Donovan offers the chance of a lifetime, one that could leave her the most powerful woman in the solar system. Or dead.
Planetside, Talina Perez is one of three rulers of the Port Authority colony—the only law left in the one remaining town on Donovan. With the Corporate ship demanding answers about the things she's done in the name of survival, Perez could lose everything, including her life.
For Dan Wirth, Donovan is a last chance. A psychopath with a death sentence looming over his head, he can't wait to set foot on Port Authority. He will make one desperate play to grab a piece of the action—no matter who he has to corrupt, murder, or destroy.
Captain Max Taggart has been The Corporation's "go-to" guy when it comes to brutal enforcement. As the situation in Port Authority deteriorates, he'll be faced with tough choices to control the wild Donovanians. Only Talina Perez stands in his way.
Just as matters spiral out of control, a ghost ship, the Freelander, appears in orbit. Missing for two years, she arrives with a crew dead of old age, and reeks of a bizarre death-cult ritual that deters any ship from attempting a return journey. And in the meantime, a brutal killer is stalking all of them, for Donovan plays its own complex and deadly game. The secrets of which are hidden in Talina Perez's very blood.

Book 2: Abandoned


Supervisor Kalico Aguila has bet everything on a fragile settlement far south of Port Authority. There, she has carved a farm and mine out of wilderness. But Donovan is closing in. When conditions couldn't get worse, a murderous peril descends out of Donovan's sky--one that will leave Kalico bleeding and shattered.
Talina Perez gambles her life and reputation in a bid to atone for ruthlessly murdering a woman's husband years ago. Ironically, saving Dya Simonov may save them all.
Lieutenant Deb Spiro is losing it, and by killing a little girl's pet alien, she may have precipitated disaster for all. In the end, the only hope will lie with a "lost" colony, and the alien-infested reflexes possessed by Security Officer Talina Perez.
On Donovan, only human beings are more terrifying than the wildlife.

Book 3: Pariah


Corporate assassin Tamarland Benteen's last hope is the survey ship Vixen. With a load of scientists aboard under the supervision of Dr. Dortmund Weisbacher, Vixen is tasked with the first comprehensive survey of the newly discovered planet called Donovan. Given that back in Solar System, Boardmember Radcek would have Benteen's brain dissected, he's particularly motivated to make his escape.
The transition that should have taken Vixen years is instantaneous. Worse, a space ship is already orbiting Donovan, and, impossibly, human settlements have been established on the planet. For Dortmund Weisbacher, this is a violation of the most basic conservation tenets. Donovan is an ecological disaster.
Down on Donovan, Talina Perez takes refuge in the ruins of Mundo Base with the wild child, Kylee Simonov. But the quetzals are playing their own deadly game: one that forces Talina and Kylee to flee farther into the wilderness. Too bad they're stuck with Dortmund Weisbacher in the process.
Back in Port Authority, Dan Wirth discovers that he's not the meanest or deadliest man on the planet. Tamarland Benteen is making his play for control of PA. And in the final struggle, if Benteen can't have it, he'll destroy it all.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika Vol 5: La Belle Dame Sans Merci by M. M. Chen and Joe Benitez

Pros: gorgeous artwork, interesting story, great costumes

Cons: depressing ending

Lady Mechanika’s quest to discover her past is sidetracked when Mr Lewis’s depression suddenly dissipates and he announces his engagement to a mysterious woman.

This volume collects the three comics that make up this storyline. It references some of the earlier volumes, but as situations and people are given enough reference, you can follow along even if you haven’t read those.

As with the other volumes, the artwork is gorgeous with some great steampunk costumes and a Victorian style setting. There are a few fight scenes with good action and a new female bad guy.

I found myself conflicted by the depression plotline. On the one hand I think the team did a great job of showing that it can take a long time for people who have suffered lost to recover. On the other hand, Lady Mechanika seems to have reached a point where she’s tired of Mr Lewis’s grief and just wants him to go back to being her occasional sidekick. I could actually understand his choice for marriage at the end of the volume and felt that Lady Mechanika took something from him and then left him alone to deal with the fallout at a point when he clearly needs intervention. The idea that he’ll just recover on his own - given enough time - is unfortunately rarely true in real life, and it would have been nice to see this acknowledged in the comic, maybe by sending him to a convalescent home or giving him a pet to care for (it’s possible this will be addressed in the next issue). But that last page with him is very depressing to read.

On the whole though, I thought it was a great volume.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Spain part 4: Madrid

We didn’t have much time in Madrid. We finally got to see the tropical garden at Atocha train station (our 3rd time there). We spent several hours at the archaeology museum, which has a reproduction of part of the Altamira prehistoric cave paintings and the original Visigothic crowns (reproductions are at the Visigothic museum in Toledo). 




We took a stroll through El Retiro park in the evening.


Our last full day in Spain, we wandered the city, seeing some of its old squares, the palace gardens, and the Temple of Debod, an actual ancient Egyptian temple saved from destruction when the Aswan dam was created.




I visited a lot of smaller museums and churches and took TONS of pictures. If you're interested in hearing about some of those, or the larger sites in more detail, tell me and I'll do some deep dive posts.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Spain part 3: Toledo

I fell in love with Toledo when I was there in 2008. It’s a city on the hill, bordered on three sides by a river, and the fourth by a major highway. I wandered around for hours, happily getting lost. It was the end of my 3 week trip and I just couldn’t bring myself to see any of the major sights. So I knew I had to return. 

Toledo is a wonderful city, with its narrow streets and alleys, stairwells, old buildings, churches and museums every 2 feet. There are a number of gates still standing from when it was a Muslim city, as well as some rare remnants from its days as the Visigothic capital. It’s the perfect place to buy a sword or expensive knife, and monastic houses still make and sell sweets, including marzipan (almond paste). Marzipan can be made into sculptures that once graced medieval dessert tables, but now advertise for shops. 




A common way to enter the city is over the Alcantara bridge and gate, which funnels you through a switchback that was the first line of defence against attackers. 



The Jewish quarter has the remaining 2 synagogues in Spain, one of which is now part of the Sephardic museum (pictured below), the other was transformed into a Christian church and is now a museum. 


There’s also a Mosque that was converted into a church. The apse (rounded end) was added later, but the gorgeous ceiling and pillars are original. 



The Visigothic museum, housed in the painted San Roman church was worth a couple of hours. 


And the night views, both within and outside the city are incredible. The churches and castle are lit up and it looks awesome.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Spain part 2: Cordoba

Our second stop was Cordoba. There was enough I wanted to see there that I didn’t want to do it as a day trip from Sevilla. Which turned out to be a good thing, as during the day Cordoba is PACKED with tourists. But at night and in the morning, the old Jewish quarter is blissfully empty. 



The synagogue - recently reopened after renovations - was gorgeous. It's one of 3 medieval synagogues remaining in Spain. It's remarkable that any of them survived, considering the forced conversion and then expulsion of Jews in 1492. It was packed when I was there during the day, so I stopped by in the evening and again the next morning to get more photos. Here’s the east wall (where the holy items would have been stored). 


I went to the Mesquita - the Visigothic church location upon which a Mosque was built, which was then turned into a Cathedral, twice. Once in the morning during the free hour before the service starts, and later in the day during the paid tourist time. Tour groups aren’t allowed in during the free opening time so I thought it would be quieter, but there were still a lot of tourists. I also climbed the bell tower (you need a timed ticket for this, as they only allow groups of 20 to go up every half hour) so I could get photos of the building from above. 



Cordoba’s Jewish quarter is known for its whitewashed walls and flower pots, especially calle de las flores (street of flowers). We were there too early for the patio festival, but we got to see the Posada del Potro, an old inn that’s been converted into a flamenco museum. There were a lot of beautiful open patios attached to restaurants, often with live entertainment in the evening. The quarter is sectioned off by a wall, parts of which still stand. 





At night we saw the Roman bridge and cathedral lit up. The next morning we had the traditional Spanish breakfast: churros con chocolat. The hot chocolate is quite thick, half way to being pudding, and really sticks to the churros. Soooo gooooooood.....