Thursday, 26 November 2020

Shout-Out: Curling Vines & Crimson Trades by Kellie Doherty

In this queer adult fantasy novel, rare goods trader Orenda just wants to live a simple life, but when her wife gets kidnapped, she has to complete some nearly impossible tasks and trades in order to get her back. The problem is, her friend also has a list, and her final job is to kill Orenda.

This is book 2 of a 5 book series and releases November 30th. Book 1, Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties, is available now.

Friday, 20 November 2020

Shout-Out: Half Life by Lillian Clark

There aren't enough hours in the day for Lucille--perfectionist, overachiever--to do everything she has to do, and there certainly aren't enough hours to hang out with friends, fall in love, get in trouble--all the teenage things she knows she should want to be doing instead of preparing for a flawless future. So when she sees an ad for Life2: Do more. Be more, she's intrigued.

The company is looking for beta testers to enroll in an experimental clone program, and in the aftermath of a series of disappointments, Lucille is feeling reckless enough to jump in. At first, it's perfect: her clone, Lucy, is exactly what she needed to make her life manageable and have time for a social life. But it doesn't take long for Lucy to become more Lucy and less Lucille, and Lucille is forced to stop looking at Lucy as a reflection and start seeing her as a window--a glimpse at someone else living her own life, but better. Lucy does what she really wants to, not what she thinks she should want to, and Lucille is left wondering how much she was even a part of the perfect life she'd constructed for herself. Lucille wanted Lucy to help her relationships with everyone else, but how can she do that without first rectifying her relationship with herself?

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

History Book Review: The Book of Sainte Foy Translated by Pamela Sheingorn

This is a translation of the various works associated with Sainte Foy (Sancta Fidis/Saint Faith) written in the 11th & 12th centuries for the Monastery of St Foy at Conques, in the Rouergue region of Southern France. These consist of the Passion of St Foy, four books of miracles performed by St Foy plus some miracles that appear in singular manuscripts but not in others, the Translation of Sainte Foy (ie, the movement of her body/bones from Agen where she was martyred to Conques), and the Song of Sainte Foy (translated by Robert L. A. Clark).

The introduction, while short, gives a historical overview of the foundation of Conques and why they needed a saint’s body as well as the politics and social conditions during which these works were written. It helps the reader put the stories into the proper context. Especially important here is the distinction that early Christian theologians made “…between the veneration that the saints deserved as channels through which God’s grace could flow to humankind and the adoration reserved for God alone…” (p. 3). Without understanding that miracles were believed to be performed by God’s power through the saints, the miracles performed by St Foy look like idol worship, similar to what the Roman pagans practiced.

The translations are all in clear, readable English. There are profuse notes regarding translation and content that are worth referring to often. The stories are varied and quite entertaining. The author of the first two books of stories is an erudite cleric who occasionally devolves into diatribes about how people should have more belief in the stories he’s telling.

While some of the miracles seem to have physical explanations (the translator points some of these out) others do not, and must be taken on faith (pun intended). So much of religion is based on believing without proof, and books like these must have given comfort to those with disabilities and illnesses that they too were deserving of a cure.

The book uses a lot more classical (ie pagan) allusions than I expected. After reading this I read Writing Faith by Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, which goes into great detail what we can discern about the authorship and writings of the miracle stories. They point out that classical allusions were a way of proving one’s erudition. They also point out that the stories follow many tropes and cannot therefore be taken at face value as being informative of life at the time.

It’s an interesting work.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Book Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

Pros: interesting worldbuilding, fast paced, great evil entity

Cons: somewhat cliche detective pair

Agents Hamed and Onsi from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, are sent to investigate a haunting at the Ministry of Transportation. But budget concerns make dealing with the entity harder than expected.

The book is set in an alternate 1910s Egypt during suffragette protests. I liked how the fight for women’s ability to vote was tied into the rest of the story. Though it’s a novella, there’s a wealth of detail making Cairo come alive. I loved the diversity of the city, its people, food, and clothing. I loved the included - historically accurate - references to ancient and medieval documents regarding the paranormal.

The evil entity they’re dealing with wasn’t one I’ve heard of so I found it interesting - and creepy.

I found Hamed a boring protagonist. He’s not quite the stereotypical detective with a new recruit, but he’s close. I found the female characters significantly more engaging and would have liked seeing more of them and their points of view.

It’s an engaging and entertaining story that had me looking for other stories and books by Clark, including the story alluded to regarding Fatma’s assignment at the end of this one.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Book Review: Dead Moon by Peter Clines

Pros: lots of twists, some tense scenes


Cali Washington took the job as caretaker (burying the dead) on the moon to get away from her failed dreams. A month in, a meteor hits and suddenly thousands of dead start to rise. She and her co-workers must figure out what’s going on as they try to survive.

This is an engaging horror story that takes an interesting premise and runs with it. I was impressed with the number of twists the story had, as the characters learn more of what they’re up against. This isn’t a simple zombie story.

You’re introduced to characters in small batches so it’s easy to keep everyone straight. Lots of people die, which keeps the tension high as each encounter could be your favourite character’s last.

It’s a quick read, that isn’t overly gross or terrifying. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The Phantom of the Opera: The Graphic Novel - Script, art, and letters by Varga Tomi

Pros: expressive artwork, faithful adaptation


Christine Daae’s astounds the Paris opera house with her voice despite having no teacher. Even her old childhood friend Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, is entranced. But she has a secret teacher, the opera ghost that’s terrorizing the theatre. The ghost is a jealous master, who demands Christine’s affections for himself.

This is an adaptation of the novel by Gaston Leroux. If you’re only familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical there are a fair number of differences. The general story is the same and Tomi’s adaptation hits all the necessary beats.

The art, though not my preferred style, fits the subject matter. The colours are subdued with a lot of dark shadows. Faces are very expressive. The author apparently did research for the book in Paris, and illustration of the opera house that begins chapter one is magnificent in its photo realism. The costumes and opera house are lavishly detailed. The ghost looks suitably horrifying with his red eyes and missing nose. The illustrations really bring home the horror of Christine’s position.

It’s a faithful adaptation of a great book.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Vintage Story: a Minecraft style survival game

 A few weeks ago my husband and I started playing Vintage Story, a video game that looks like Minecraft, and plays in a similar style, but which emphasizes the survival aspects. There's a limited lore implying a previous society collapsed (you find ruins of it all over with storage vessels containing some supplies and on rare occasions scrolls containing bits of story). 

The main enemy are called drifters, which come in different varieties, and every now and then there are 'temporal storms' which causes your screen to darken, the visuals to waver, and drifters to teleport in around you. The game also has animals that will kill or damage you (namely wolves, but boars and rams can do some major damage too). Staying underground too long causes the gear at the bottom of the screen to turn left. Apparently bad things happen if the greenish colour disappears (I know you start fading in and out but we haven't let it go out completely yet).

Survival is the real test though. The game requires you to progress through the ages of man, starting at the stone age - knapping stone and flint tools to get meat and wood. You find seeds via storage vessels and wild crops. Then you can start farming. You originally harvest ores from the surface and have to find coal or create charcoal to smelt the ores (burning plain wood can't get hot enough) so you can mine. Making a windmill helps with the smelting, but takes time as you need a lot of flax fibers to make the cloth for the sails.

My husband deals with most of the mining, metal working and building. I tend to do more of the animal husbandry (we've got bees, pigs, and chickens), farming, and cooking.

The game makers are very friendly towards moders, which is great as we had to modify a few of the metrics. We've slowed the hunger rate (it starts unreasonably high) and added a keep inventory feature when you die (I die a lot so this would have earned a rage quit from me otherwise). We've also got a mod that allows for chiseled features, which is how my husband made the exquisite balcony on the house.

The game goes through the 4 seasons in a condensed year, which is cool as the colours of trees and plants change in autumn, getting more faded and white entering winter with the lakes freezing over, then to green, and finally a burst of variety for summer.

I took some screenshots so you can see our farm. This is the back of the house. We have 2 ponds. Below the windmill are my leather tanning and food preservation barrels. 

The front of the house. I built my farm onto a lake so I wouldn't have to worry as much about watering it. Off to the right, just out of view, is my apiary, also on the lake. Make sure to fence off your farm as the bunnies will eat your crops otherwise (and the 2 high fence areas are because we found out in winter the snow makes the ground high enough for bunnies to jump over a 1 high fence). 
A close-up of us on the balcony! You don't get to fully customize your characters - there are only a few model options. 

While trying to find salt for food preservation (found in deserts WAY to the south, like a real world hour's worth of walking to the south) we found jungle trees. I brought home some saplings, vines and flowers to create a little oasis near our farm. This shows the full play screen (the green gear, inventory, map and stats are from the basic game, the upper weather/time chart is an added mod, though the time can be accessed by hitting 'c'). 
My jungle without the extra info, and a wolf that tried (and failed) to eat me.

Like Minecraft it's an open world building game/adventure. It's a massive time sink (so keep that in mind) but also a lot of fun. The game costs 15 Euro and is available on PC, Linux (with some fiddling - check out their system requirements for info), and Mac (though apparently they won't be updating Mac OS after 2020).