Friday, 15 October 2021

Shout-Out: Winders by Ryan O'Nan

In this stunning debut by actor and screenwriter Ryan O'Nan (Skins, Marvel's Legion, Queen of the South), time itself can be wound back like a clock. The power of Winding can fix mistakes and prevent disasters. Or, in the wrong hands, it can be used as a weapon against the world...

Juniper Trask is a prodigy, raised under the Council's strict Code, which allows Winders to exist in secret among average humans. After the shocking murder of her mentor, she is chosen to take his seat on the Council. But as Juniper settles into her new role, cracks of dissension are forming around her, and she uncovers the dark truth behind their power. Juniper has just become a pawn in a game no one knows is being played, and as she begins to question the Code for the first time, her life spirals into a world of danger.

Charlie Ryan always knew he was different, ever since he saved his mother from a horrible car wreck that no one but him remembers. After meeting a mysterious man who claims he has the same ability, Charlie leaves home to chase him for answers. But the world Charlie's stepped into is more dangerous than he could have imagined. Charlie's powers are special, and there are those who would kill to get their hands on him.

Now, Juniper and Charlie need each other if they are going to survive the future--no matter which future that may be...

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Book Review: No Way by S. J. Morden

Note: This is book 2 of the series, therefore the review contains spoilers for book 1 (you can read my review of One Way here.)

Pros: gets you quickly up to speed with regards to the events of book 1, interesting characters, some ethical dilemmas, hard SF, variety of conflicts


After building the base on Mars and surviving XOs attempted assassinations, Frank cuts at deal with the company to impersonate Lance Brack and help the NASA astronauts arriving in a few months with their mission. But XO has others secrets on Mars, and they intend to keep their malfeasance unknown on Earth.

No Way picks up immediately after the end of One Way. If it’s been a while since you read the first book, the author does an excellent job of reminding you of the ending and the more important elements within the first few chapters of book two.

Frank is a sympathetic protagonist despite his past. He faces a lot of ethical dilemmas before the NASA crew arrive, and a few more afterwards. The crew themselves face some tough decisions later in the book.

I appreciated that the conflict was a mix of man vs nature, man vs himself, and man vs man. The book is well paced, with sections where things are going well followed by tense chapters where things go very wrong.

Descriptions of life on Mars circle around the constant danger, the monotonous scenery, and the utter excitement of being on an alien planet. While I personally can’t vouch for the scientific accuracy of everything that happens, the author is a rocket scientist with degrees in geology and planetary geophysics.

There is some thematic overlap with The Martian, though the tone here is more serious. If you like survival stories, or Mars, this is a fantastic book.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Books Received in September 2021

 Many thanks to TOR Books for the following title.

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott - I have heard amazing things about Kate Elliott's work but have somehow never read her. So I'm really looking forward to this book, which releases in January, 2022.

They choose their laws to secure their power.

Fellion is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.

Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.

But Fellion has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Popin' Cookin' Sushi

 It's been a few years since I did one of these Japanese Popin' Cookin' candy kits. This is the sushi one, which is quite simple in comparison with other kits I've done (I didn't have to look up the instructions in English!). 

The kit comes with a tray for making the shaped pieces (with textured bottoms so the pieces look 'real'). There's a dropper for the caviar, a mixing spoon, and the different flavoured gelatins.

You basically fill the compartments with water up to the line and then add the correct gelatin (my Japanese is still good enough for me to read the package names). The hardest part was stretching out the nori/seaweed base for that sushi piece as it broke and didn't want to hold together. I enjoyed making the little caviar balls, picking up mix from compartment A and dropping it into B where it stayed separated out.

Not sure what the various fruity flavours were, but they worked well together and tasted really good. Even the 'soy sauce' was nice. The inner packaging has mini plates you can cut out for presentation, but I've got an actual Japanese plate for that.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Book Review: The Offset by Calder Szewczak

Pros: intense worldbuilding, interesting characters

Cons: abrupt ending, several unanswered questions

Miri is angry at the selfishness of her parents who brought her into a dying world, especially Professor Jac Boltanski, “humanity’s last hope”. She always knew Jac would be her offset, the parent chosen to die for the sin of procreating when their child turns 18. And Miri’s 18th birthday is two days away. She’s home again after running away 2 years ago, and no longer sure she’s making the right choice.

Meanwhile Jac has discovered a problem with her project and travels to a lab far from home, knowing her time is short.

The book is short and to the point, focusing on the characters and the world they inhabit. It’s told from the points of view of Miri and her mothers, Jac and Alix. Miri is angry and lashes out, but has also been through a lot of challenges, so you understand at least part of where she’s coming from. Jac’s focus on work is admirable considering she’s trying to undo climate change, but it’s clear she missed out on a lot of family stuff because of it. I really liked Alix and felt she got a rough deal. I felt sorry for her not having her wife around for their last few days together.

The worldbuilding was excellent and intense, with so much of society broken down but the acknowledgement that the rich will still get the best food, care, and opportunities. I appreciated that the authors (writing duo Emma Szweczak and Natasha Calder) show us how the poor and the rich lived, and how easy it is to take certain things in life for granted when you’ve known nothing else.

The anti-natalists are terrifying, but also somewhat sympathetic. In a world where overpopulation has caused so many problems it’s easy to see how so many people would advocate against procreation and create the offset. This is brought to a head when the characters visit a ReproViolence clinic and it becomes clear that the offset isn’t the only violence surrounding procreation.

The story is compelling and I found it hard to put the book down. Chapters are short so it’s easy to squeeze a couple in.

I found the ending rather abrupt, expecting to see more of how things worked after Jac learned what was happening with her project. There were a number of questions I wanted to see resolved that were left hanging. The authors have expressed that this may be the first of a series, so here’s hoping there are more books.

The Offset was an interesting read. The premise reminded me of Unwind by Neal Shusterman, bleak but with a hint of hope.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Book Review: Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Pros: interesting characters, lots of conflicting motivations, challenging heist


Ryia, The Butcher of Carrowwick, has been hunted by the Guildmaster of Thamorr for years. As the muscle for Callum Clem, leader of the Saints in the slums of Carrowwick, she has a fairly safe home. But when the opportunity comes to rob the Guildmaster and remove him as a threat she jumps at the chance. But this is a mission requiring a team, and though her teammates are mostly Saints, they’ve each got their own plans for how this mission will end.

The author does an excellent job of setting up the main characters. It makes the opening feel a little slow, but the payoff comes quickly when you understand who the heist team members are and the conflicting motivations that drive them. It’s the motivations that make this book compelling, knowing that they all want to double cross each other, but for different reasons. You know - early on - that things are going to go poorly, and it’s a wild ride seeing just how everything falls out in the end.

The characters are quite interesting with different reasons why they’re working for Callum Clem. I especially enjoyed seeing Ryia, The Butcher of Carrowwick, develop a conscience.

The adepts and their telepathic/telekinetic magic is handled well, kept in a fair bit of mystery. The crew mainly uses their own form of magic, sleight of hand and make-up to achieve their ends.

After the opening chapters the book is very fast paced, with plans and counter-plans, fights and derring do. If you like grimdark fantasy but with a more upbeat feel, this is a great book.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Shout-Out: Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux

In this claustrophobic science fiction thriller, a woman begins to doubt her own sanity and reality itself when she undergoes a dangerous experiment.

The Ganymede facility is a fresh start. At least that's what Senna tells herself when she arrives to take part in a cutting-edge scientific treatment in which participants have traumatic memories erased.

And Senna has reasons for wanting to escape her past.

But almost as soon as the treatment begins, Senna finds more than just her traumatic memories disappearing. She hardly recognizes her new life or herself. Even though the cure might justify the side effects of the process, Senna knows that something isn't right. As the side effects worsen, she will need to band together with the other participants to unravel the mystery of her present and save her future.