Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Fantasy Music by Ravnskjold

Looking for some great fantasy inspired music for a D&D campaign or simply to listen to? I stumbled across a cool youtube site a few days ago. Ian Ravnskjold puts out copyright-safe music he has written and performed that you can listen to on youtube or purchase rights to use on your own project via his Patreon page. 

He's got harp music, Viking, Celtic, pirate, stuff for if you're in a library, tavern, a hidden fairy village, etc. There are some videos that are single songs, and other with several hours of really pretty music.

 

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Movie Review: The Batman

Directed by Matt Reeves, 2022
IMDB listing

Pros: clever plot, interesting characters, Batman is a detective, good special effects and cinematography

Cons: Cat Woman’s knit mask wasn’t the best costume design choice, some overly heavy gothic architecture

As the Gotham PD celebrate their biggest bust, taking down a drug kingpin, a series of murders by ‘the Riddler’ forces Batman to investigate corruption in the city.

I’ll admit, when I heard they were making another Batman film, I thought ‘why?’. It feels like Batman’s been done to death at this point. Similarly the casting seemed bizarre, though I hadn’t seen the actors in much. But let me tell you, this is an incredible film. This feels very much like an old comic book Batman, when he was a detective, rather than a superhero.

This is a believable, gritty, corrupt Gotham where Batman has been operating for 2 years. He has no extreme equipment beyond a souped up car. It was awesome seeing him solve puzzles and try to figure out what’s going on.

The Riddler has always been one of my favourite Batman villains, and he’s portrayed brilliantly here. The plot is clever and the puzzles complex. I loved that all of the characters had real motivations and their own goals for their actions. That includes the Penguin and Cat Woman. I’ve always thought that superhero films do themselves a disservice by trying to shoehorn in too many bad guys. It works here because there are no long backstory sequences. The characters are just living their lives in the city.

Robert Pattinson is an excellent Batman. He’s clearly been through trauma. I appreciated the personal growth he goes through during the film and the revelation about being The Batman he makes at the end.

There are some great action sequences and some amazing cinematography.

While I can understand why they used it (it’s something a real person could easily get a hold of) Cat Woman’s knit hat/mask combo looked odd with her leather catsuit. I also wasn’t a fan of the rather over the top gothic flourishes in Bruce’s house/apartment? (Wayne manor? it kind of looked like he lived in the office tower so I wasn’t quite sure where this was). The architectural details made doorways weirdly narrow and looked so impractical and out of place.

The film ends with a message of hope that’s been missing from other recent DC movies. Yes, there are still problems, but they can be fixed if people work for the common good.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to like a Batman film more than The Dark Knight, but this has done it. It’s excellent, go see it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Book Review: Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Pros: light romance, fun magic, interesting world

Cons: some readers might be put off that certain matters are skirted over

Marra’s older sister is married to the prince of their larger neighbouring kingdom. After a death and some unpleasant revelations, Marra is determined to save her sister, like a hero in the stories she read as a child. But how does one become a hero, and how do you kill a prince?

The opening of this book grabbed me by the throat and immediately pulled me into its world. Though the plot has some unpleasant elements the book on the whole is surprisingly upbeat. I loved the subtle humour, especially when the romance thread entered.

Marra doesn’t do politics well, which is a problem for a princess. It was nice seeing her build a group of friends who helped with her quest. They’re a quirky bunch and a lot of fun to read about. I loved Kingfisher’s take on the godmother mythos.

The magic is never explained and appears in various guises. There’s a goblin market, a woman who can talk to the dead, and Marra is able to complete two impossible fairytale quests.

I needed a lighthearted read so I appreciated that the book glossed over the disturbing elements of child death and physical abuse. Some readers might be put off the fact that the author doesn’t show the full fallout of these impactful events. I had the impression Marra was supposed to be neurodivergent, and so she doesn’t pick up on things the way others do. As the point of view character, this colours how the reader sees the world as well.

I found the story quick moving and compelling. This is an uplifting book with an excellent wrap-up that leaves you feeling content with the world.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Shout-Out: Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.


The world is suffering an infertility crisis, the last natural birth was over twenty years ago and now the only way to conceive is through a painful fertility treatment. Any children born are strictly monitored, and if you are deemed an unfit parent then your child is extracted. After witnessing so many struggling to conceive – and then keep – their babies, Kit thought she didn’t want children. But then she meets Thomas and they have a baby girl, Mimi. Soon the small mistakes build up and suddenly Kit is faced with the possibility of losing her daughter, and she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Book Review: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Pros: fascinating magic and mythology, interesting characters, great world-building

Cons:

Miscellaneous ‘Lanie’ Stones is the first necromancer born in over 100 years in the city of Liriat. Her family has been the right hands of the ruling Brackenwild family since the founding, acting as royal executioners and assassins. Which makes Lanie’s allergy to violence a challenge to manage. So she’s raised by the family’s revenant, Goody Graves. After a series of events leaves her older, sadistic sister Nita in charge, Lanie’s life changes. As she grows both in wisdom and power, Lanie struggles to live up to the expectations of the past and forge her own future.

Lanie is a wonderful character, surprisingly kind and loving despite her limited human contact and dysfunctional home life. Necromancy is usually depicted as evil and gross, so seeing Lanie’s pure joy in her power and love of the creatures she reanimates is nice to see. I also loved this depiction of the goddess of death.

The larger cast is a mix of nice and terrible characters. Nita is simply horrifying, willing to use her power of fascination to force people to do her will. I had real sympathy for Mak and the abuses he suffers. Canon Lir was intriguing, and the friends Lanie makes later in the book were a lot of fun to hang out with.

The world-building was great, with several distinct cultures represented. I was impressed with the depth of detail given to each culture, making them feel very real.

The story is slow moving at times, giving you the chance to really get to know the characters and world.

The ending left me feeling melancholic. This is the first book in a trilogy so while a few story threads are tied up, there are some major threads left unresolved. It’s an ending that I had to sit with for a few hours to better understand and appreciate.

It’s a great book that does some unique things.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Book Review: Amazing Gardens of the World: Spectacular Classic and Contemporary Gardens by Vivienne Hambly

Pros: lots of gorgeous photos, showcases a large number of gardens

Cons:

This is a gorgeous book. The photos are large and plentiful, with a wide variety of shots. The book covers gardens from around the globe with chapters on Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, and North and South America. Each chapter and the book itself get a single page introduction.

Most gardens get 1-2 photos, with a few getting as many as 7. Each garden has a short description explaining when it was planted/cultivated and, if known, who designed it.

The chapter on Africa and the Middle East is quite short, as there apparently aren’t that many large scale ornamental gardens there. But the photos of the gardens included are magnificent.

I got a digital copy, so I can’t judge the paper quality.

If you like gardens or need a book to help calm your mind with beautiful imagery, this is a good choice.

Out April 12th.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Books Received in March 2022

 Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for the following advance reader copy.

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah - This is the kind of YA book that catches my eye. Great cover and interesting, Hunger Games style premise. Out September 6th.


Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Fable, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl's chance to change it all.

 

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers—the ruling elite, have indentured Koral's family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others—if they're lucky—survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against competitors—including her ex-boyfriend—who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. As a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose—her life or her sister's—before the whole island burns.