Tuesday 31 May 2016

Books Received in May 2016

Many thanks to the publishers who gave me access to the following advance reader copies.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman - Out June 14th, I've already finished this book and will be posting my review of it soon.  It's a fun steampunk mystery on the hunt for special books.

One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen. 
London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...

The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan - This book sounds really interesting.   Out July 5th.

Throughout the vast lands controlled by the Ironship Trading Syndicate, nothing is more prized than the blood of drakes. Harvested from captive or hunted Reds, Greens, Blues and Blacks, it can be distilled into elixirs that bestow fearsome powers on the rare men and women known as the Blood-blessed.
But not many know the truth: that the lines of drakes are weakening. If they fail, war with the neighbouring Corvantine Empire will follow swiftly. The Syndicate’s last hope resides in whispers of the existence of another breed of drake, far more powerful than the rest, and the few who have been chosen by fate to seek it.
Claydon Torcreek is a petty thief and an unregistered Blood-blessed who finds himself pressed into service by the Protectorate and sent to wild, uncharted lands in search of a creature he believes is little more than legend. Lizanne Lethridge is a formidable spy and assassin facing gravest danger on an espionage mission deep into the heart of enemy territory. And Corrick Hilemore is the second lieutenant of an Ironship cruiser whose pursuit of ruthless brigands leads him to a far greater threat at the edge of the world.
As lives and empires clash and intertwine, as the unknown and the known collide, all three must fight to turn the tide of a coming war, or drown in its wake.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Shout-Out: Dark Run by Mike Brooks

In this debut space epic, a crew of thieves and con artists take on a job that could pay off a lot of debts in a corrupt galaxy where life is cheap and criminals are the best people in it.
The Keiko is a ship of smugglers, soldiers of fortune, and adventurers travelling Earth’s colony planets searching for the next job. And they never talk about their past—until now.
Captain Ichabod Drift is being blackmailed. He has to deliver a special cargo to Earth, and no one can know they’re there. It’s what they call a dark run…And it may be their last.

Friday 27 May 2016

Book Art Project part 3

You can read parts 1 and 2 to see how I got to this point in my art project.

With the pages glued together it was time to start painting.  I used black acrylic paint and did a fairly good covering.  I wanted to leave a hint of book, so the page edges aren't completely black.  For the covers - since it's glossy paper - I used a layer of gesso as primer before painting over it.

I added some brown (twice) trying to get some contrast but you can't really see it.  I was afraid of messing the project up and I really liked the black (think of watching a Bob Ross painting video where he makes a change and it looks horrible until he does something else that makes it look wonderful.  I was afraid I'd be stuck in the horrible phase and so was afraid of doing things that might make it look even better if done correctly).

I realized that the joined pages at the bottom still wouldn't give my figures much standing room (even assuming the base of the cut out sections were properly flat - which they weren't - so I cut out a rounded piece of cardboard and glued it on as a platform.

I ended up going back in with some pink glow in the dark paint as a kind of cave luminescence.  I'm not sure I'm happy with that...

For the cover/spine, I wanted to build the book up to look like a mountain, so I added several layers of hot glue.  Turns out it takes a lot of hot glue to do that, so I didn't do as much of that as I'd planned. I'm deluding myself into thinking it looks a bit like Devil's Tower.  :)  Paint worked on the glue better than I'd expected.

I used a matte acrylic sealant on the project before adding the final touches.  I used reindeer moss for the grass.  I left some space open as the figures don't stand that well on the moss.  Around the moss I glued down some twigs from a bush outside that looked tree like.  I'd intended to add some leaves (I bought flocking powder which hasn't arrived yet), but decided that with the black desolate landscape dead trees would look more authentic, so left them as is.

And here you have it.  My finished book art sculpture/D&D figure display stand.

The pewter figures are D&D miniatures I bought a LONG time ago.  The mythological creatures are soft plastic that I bought as a set at Michaels - unicorn, pegasus, several dragons.  I have permanent plans for some of them.  I also have plans to make one or two more of these stands.  I want one that isn't painted, that shows off more text and has a less square display box, and one that uses more colour, where I do add blossoms or leaves to the trees, flowers, etc.

Thursday 26 May 2016

Shout-Out: Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Kreuger

College grad Bailey Chen has all of the usual new-adult demons: no cash, no job offers, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend still around when she moves back home. But her demons become a lot more literal when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders. It turns out supernatural creatures are stalking the streets of Chicago, and they can be hunted only with the help of magically mixed cocktails: vodka grants super-strength, whiskey offers the power of telekinesis, and tequila lets its drinker fire blasts of elemental energy. But will these supernatural powers be enough for Bailey and a ragtag band of mixologists to halt a mysterious rash of gruesome deaths? Includes 13 cocktail recipes from an ancient book of cocktail lore.

The Quirk Books site has an excerpt if you're interested in reading a sample.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Video: Minecraft Exploding Creeper Candy

I really enjoy Screen Team's Cosplay Kitchen. Here's one of their older episodes for all the Minecraft fans out there. :)

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Pros: brilliant characters, great premise

Cons: underdeveloped, mystery’s fairly easy to solve

Seventeen year old Nancy is starting at a new boarding school. But this isn’t just any school, it’s a school for kids who have found doorways to other worlds, kids who can’t forget their experiences and adventures and who want to return to their real homes in those worlds. And one of them is willing to kill to find their doorway.

I loved the premise of this novella, that kids who went to other worlds (fairylands, underworlds, nonsense realms, etc.) would come back changed, and would want to return to those places. I also liked how their parents weren’t too happy with the changes, and how society viewed their ‘odd’ stories, assuming mental illness.

The characters were fantastic. What a fun bunch of misfits. You’re told that a particular type of person finds these doorways, and that shows in how these youths act. They tend to be older than their years, speaking with a refreshing frankness. They’re a diverse bunch with several sexualities and genders represented. Having an asexual protagonist was neat, as it’s a perspective not generally used.

While interesting, the murder mystery is fairly easy to solve. And the shortness of the book meant that things wrapped up pretty quickly.

I really enjoyed this story. It was a fast read, and while I’d have loved for it to be a full length novel, the author made some great observations about humanity.


I was left confused as to why the killer started murdering people when they did. I’d assumed it would have something to do with Nancy’s arrival - that she had a part the killer needed or something. But no, there appeared to be no reason why they waited so long to start their spree.

Sunday 22 May 2016

Shout-Out: It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble

In 1916, Emma O’Neill is frozen in time. After sampling an experimental polio vaccine brewed on a remote island off St. Augustine, Florida, she and her family stop aging—as do the Ryans, her family’s business partners. In a way, this suits Emma fine because she’s in love with Charlie Ryan. Being seventeen forever with him is a dream. But soon a group of religious fanatics, the Church of Light, takes note. Drinking the elixir has made the O’Neills and Ryans impervious to aging, but not to murder—Emma and Charlie are the only ones who escape with their lives.
On the run, Emma is tragically separated from Charlie. For the next hundred years, she plays a cat-and-mouse game with the founding members of the Church of Light and their descendants. Over the years, a series of murders—whose victims all bear more than a passing resemblance to her—indicate that her enemies are closing in. Yet as the danger grows, so does Emma’s hope for finding the boy she’s certain is still out there . . .

Friday 20 May 2016

Book Art Project part 2

This is part two of my book sculpture project. You can read about how I started it here.

After misting the pages to fan them out, the time came to cut into the book.  It's surprisingly easy to slice out parts of pages - once you get over the horror of defacing a book.  I wanted the cut out part to resemble a cave, so I did a square cut out, leaving rock projections from the ceiling and not being that carful about the cuts on the sides. I did try to keep the bottom level, as I wanted figures to be able to stand there once the project was finished.

Each knife cut went through about 10 pages, and to get good dimension you want to do the same cut a few times before going to something a bit different.

The next step was gluing the pages. I held the book so it fanned in a way that looked good and gave some space for the figures to stand, then used a paint brush to brush a heavy coat of white school glue over the pages. I used a heat gun to help the glue dry faster, being careful not to hold it too close to the pages (as they'll burn/brown if you do). I did this to the top and bottom, leaving the sides free.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Shout-Out: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love in this haunting debut novel from “a remarkable young writer” (Neil Gaiman).

What would you sacrifice for everything you ever dreamed of?

Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Video: Pharaoh's Serpent Demonstration

This is a demonstration of a chemical reaction I found on Nile Red's site, and it's pretty awesome.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Book Review: Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

Pros: wonderful world-building, great characters, some humour

Cons: some unpleasant descriptions

When the fairies vanished other hominid species moved into their home on the floating island of Eden and started mining the dust they left behind.  Though the dust isn’t as potent as what the fairies once used, it can cure minor ailments, and the hominids and animalia in the city below are hooked.

Henry Whelp is the son of a convicted drug runner and murderer.  Though he’s a good kid, a bad decision lands him at the St Remus Home for Wayward Youth, and another reason society still fears and distrusts wolves.  But Henry uncovers a mystery that involves his dad, the missing fairies, and the dust that’s becoming more and more potent.

It was really cool reading a fairytale story from the point of view of one of the talking/evolved animals.  In the stories these are either the bad guys (like the wolf), guides to human protagonists (ravens & foxes), or creatures drafted into the magic (mice, birds).  So it was an interesting perspective, as the humanoid characters mostly look down on the animalia.

As with most books that riff on fairy tales, part of the fun is figuring out what characters come from what stories.  There’s little mystery here if you’ve read the brothers Grimm, though I’ll have to look up the story of the girl without hands.  The characters are cleverly used, particularly Detective White, referencing their fairytale backgrounds without being limited to their origin stories.

The world is wonderful and feels real, what with its racism, drug problems, corruption, and more.  Henry encounters several people from different walks of life, giving a decent overview of the lower city.

While the book isn’t funny - in fact, it’s quite dark - there were a few lines, particularly in the scenes with Siobhan’s granny, that made me laugh out loud.   

Some of the descriptions got a little… gross.  There’s a lot of spit and drool, disgusting smells, some blood and violence, and a torture scene.  But that’s a pretty minor issue.  

On the whole I really enjoyed this book and found it quite unique in its treatment of the stories and characters.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Shout-Out: Alternate by Ernie Luis

In 2020, Greyson Tolbert's daughter died at eight years old.

In 2030, he became the most lethal assassin for The Watchtower, a secret organization that uses time travel as a means to bend reality in their favor. If he works for them long enough, he'll get to go back and save his daughter. Or so they say...

Now, after a fellow assassin goes rogue, Greyson learns the truth behind The Watchtower, all its dirty secrets, and all the promises they've failed to keep. With the timelines hanging in the balance, Greyson must choose between saving the past, or saving the future.

Friday 13 May 2016

Book Art Project part 1

When I was in Paris last summer, I came across a booth selling the most amazing book sculptures. Unfortunately the photo I took didn't turn out and the business card I grabbed was for the other person sharing the booth space so I can't give proper credit for this art project idea or show you what it was supposed to look like.

Anyway, the artist carved books into fantasy landscapes which became stands for D&D figures. I've tried to find the original artist online without any luck, so if my project reminds you of something, please pass their name/website along so I can see if it's a match.

I realized that I'm a crafty person and I have a lot of books I have to dispose of (Advance Reader Copies aren't meant to be passed on or sold, so I typically tear them apart and recycle them).  So I thought I'd give making one of these landscape books a try.

I watched a few online videos, but they weren't really doing what I wanted to do, and some required specialized that I don't have.  So I did a test book, seeing how easy or hard it was to use an exacto knife to cut pages out of a book, how to fan the pages to make a stand for figures, and how to actually keep the book pages in place.

My test book worked out better than I'd hoped, so I moved on to making an actual book sculpture. I've blurred some of the text so it's harder to recognize the book I used - you have no idea how hard actually cutting into a book was for me - and I'd feel terrible for the author to know how I maimed their baby.

Step one was to make the book the right size for my project. I wanted something shorter but thick, and so decided to use a mass market paperback.  The book was too tall for what I wanted, so I took a hack saw and sawed about an inch off the top.  While not terrible difficult, this was a bit time consuming.  It also created a ragged edge, and got less straight as I got closer to the loose ends of the book.  I decided to make this work for me, creating a bit of a peaked mountain look instead of going with my original ideas, which was to sand the paper even.

Once I had the book the size I wanted, I fanned the book while liberally spritzing it with water and then let it dry.  I did this several times, over several days, fanning the pages a lot so it would build in volume.

When the book was puffed up enough, I went on to the next phase: cutting it up. I'll show what that looked like next week.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Shout-Out: The Catalyst by Helena Coggan

Rose Elmsworth has a secret. For eighteen years, the world has been divided into the magically Gifted and the non-magical Ashkind, but Rose's identity is far more dangerous. At fifteen, she has earned herself a place alongside her father in the Department, a brutal law-enforcement organization run by the Gifted to control the Ashkind. But now an old enemy is threatening to start a catastrophic war, and Rose faces a challenging test of her loyalties. How much does she really know about her father's past? How far is the Department willing to go to keep the peace? And, if the time comes, will Rose choose to protect her secret, or the people she loves?

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Book Review: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Pros: absolutely brilliant, intricate world-building, fascinating interconnected politics, reads on many levels, thought-provoking, challenges ideas of gender and sexuality, later revelations force you to reevaluate earlier scenes

Cons: opening is VERY confusing, some uncomfortable scenes, frustrating at times

Too Like the Lightning is the first book of the Terra Ignota duology.  The second half, Seven Surrenders, comes out in December.  The two books together are a historical account of 7 days that lead to an event that changes the world, as written by Mycroft Canner, an eye witness to many of the events, as well as instrumental to a lot of vitally important background activities.  The year of interest is 2454.  Though the current world doesn’t use gendered pronouns and raises all as equals, Mycroft uses antiquated words for this account.  Religions shows up too, though the Church Wars have made all proselytising, churches, and cults illegal.   Mycroft is a Servicer, available to anyone who needs a servant, though most often seen helping those in high offices, to atone for the crimes he committed 13 years prior.  He starts his great work by explaining the meeting between the sensayer Carlysle and Bridger, a 13 year old boy, who for his own safety Mycroft has kept hidden.  A boy who can perform miracles.

The book starts with a title page explaining the permissions obtained so that the book could be published, as well as the various content ratings the book received.  While these names and institutions don’t mean much to the reader at the beginning, they set the tone for a book with fully immersive world-building.  I spent the first half of the book trying to piece together the meanings of positions and terms, placing characters into their political groups, and feeling quite lost by the sheer mass of things that are left unexplained.  While Mycroft does give occasional asides for the reader, these are asides for readers of his present, for whom the events being relayed are past, and for whom the terms that I questioned aren’t unfamiliar.

The brilliance of the book starts in the second half when the occasional philosophical asides start to be reflected in the plot through the actions of the characters.  It’s here that you start to understand that the book isn’t a straight narrative, that you’re meant to examine the different layers of text and subtext in order to piece together what’s actually going on.  For example, Mycroft doesn’t always gender people properly.  It’s frustrating as a reader, but there is a reason for this, which comes up later in the book.  Similarly, some scenes are disturbing to read, not because they’re graphic, but because they pair eroticism and terror, something most people don’t equate.  This again is done for a reason that the book eventually reveals.  So many later revelations make you reevaluate what you understood from the first half of the book.  Sometimes more than once.

The world-building is exquisite.  It’s completely alien to our current political situation, and yet is something one could imagine coming to pass given the circumstances the characters face.  The politics are fascinating, with level upon level of competition and alliance. 

There are a lot of characters to remember, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight.  I do recommend, however, bookmarking the seven-ten list when it’s revealed, as you’ll be referring to it several times as more people are introduced and the political situations become clearer.  In fact, I haven’t bookmarked and highlighted so much text since university.  This is the kind of book I would have loved to have a professor explain the intricacies of, and then write an essay on.  

I almost put this book down on several occasions.  It can be that frustrating and confusing at times.  But the pay-off when you start understanding what’s going on, with all its layers and complexity, is definitely worth the effort.  I cannot wait for the next book to come out. 

Friday 6 May 2016

Farewell SF Signal - You Will Be Missed

It was with shock and extreme sadness that I read the news yesterday that SF Signal is shutting down. It's hard saying goodbye to something that's had a lot of influence on you.  I've been frequenting that site for years, and was privileged to be a contributor.

Running a blog is a lot of work. It's not easy coming up with content ideas, and the best posts tend to be time consuming to produce. I can only imagine how much harder it is for aggregate sites, with numerous articles to edit and schedule, etc.

SF Signal did amazing work and covered a wide variety of topics. I'll miss their Mind Melds, the link posts, the monthly what's coming out posts, and so much more.

Thank you for 12 years of effort. You will be missed.

Thursday 5 May 2016

Shout-Out: Outriders by Jay Posey

Captain Lincoln Suh died on a Wednesday. And things only got harder from there.

Snatched out of special operations and thrown headfirst into a secretive new unit, Lincoln finds himself as the team leader for the 519th Applied Intelligence Group, better known as the Outriders. And his first day on the job brings a mission with the highest possible stakes.

A dangerously cunning woman who most assuredly should be dead has seemingly returned. And her plans aren’t just devastating, they might be unstoppable.

How do you defeat a hidden enemy when you can’t let them know they’ve been discovered?

You send in the Outriders.

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Book Review: The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood

Pros: great characters, interesting plot, immersive storytelling


Maia’s always wanted her own bonded dragon to raise, and this year’s larger than usual clutches have given her hope that her time has come. But a northern aerie has been decimated by the Harodh and their unnatural horrors, its qits killed or taken, and the Dragonry’s needs for new dragons to fight the menace trump a young woman’s. 

The appearance of the fabled Summer Dragon, witnessed by Maia and her brother, puts them at the center of a power struggle between their aerie, the Dragonry, and the Temple. Because Maia’s getting her dragon this year, one way or another. 

With the exception of two prequel scenes, the novel’s told from Maia’s point of view.  Maia’s a fascinating character.  She wants a lot from life but she’s willing to put the work and effort into earning things for herself.  She courageous in the face of horrors, and determined to do what’s right.  She’s a character who speaks her mind and tells truths the adults around her are too tactful, or scared, to say.

There are a fair number of twists to the plot, especially towards the end of the book.  The pacing is great, with some time to get to know the principle characters followed by several tense chapters, then some down time to learn about new characters before things get tense and dangerous again.

The storytelling is descriptive enough to draw a picture of the location and action, but not so detailed so as to bog down the narrative.  When the action is on, reading this is more like watching a film, incredibly immersive.

I loved learning about dragon raising and riding.  Lockwood introduced the necessary terms along with their meanings so there’s no sense of feeling lost, unaware of what’s going on.  There’s also no unnecessary exposition.  We learn with Maia and the qits.

The focus of the book is on a fairly small area.  There’s a map that shows the wider world, and a few times events happening elsewhere are recounted.  People and dragons with various colourations are mentioned, along with which geographic area they come from.  The religion is cribbed from aspects of Christianity, though it’s not a direct representation.  

There’s an overwhelming sense of hope in this book - that hard work, courage, and determination can overcome all obstacles.  This made it feel like the fantasy novels that came out in the 80s, rather than the grim dark currently popular.  It’s got a freshness to it that I enjoyed.  Having said that, there are some very dark moments and I could not believe some of the revelations. 

Todd Lockwood is one of the best fantasy artists ever, so it should come as no surprise that he’s drawn his own cover, map, aerie schematic, and section illustrations.  The interior artwork is all black and white sketches, but they are gorgeous.

The only negative I found, is that while I got to know the protagonists really well, I didn’t feel much connection to the supporting cast.  One character in particular I would have liked to know more about, and events with them during the climax didn’t hit me with the emotional punch they might have, had that connection been deeper. 

I’ve long admired Lockwood’s artwork and now I admire his impressive writing skills too.  This is a fantastic debut, one that’s perfect as an introduction to the genre as well as for long time dragon lovers.