Wednesday 31 October 2018

Video: Honest Trailers - Batman The Animated Series

Screen Junkies has made an honest trailer for a fantastic cartoon. Most of what I know about Batman came from watching this show. I'm kind of surprised they didn't point out that Mark Hamill voiced the Joker.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Book Review: The Bone Mother by David Demchuk

Pros: delightfully creepy and/or unsettling vignettes, real photographs, fascinating mythologies

Con: no frame story to bring the disparate bits together

The publisher describes the book better than I can, so I’m using their synopsis here:

Three neighbouring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies:

• The Rusalka, the beautiful vengeful water spirit who lives in lakes and ponds and lures men and children to their deaths;

• The Vovkulaka, who changes from her human form into that of a wolf and hides with her kind deep in the densest forests;

• The Strigoi, a revenant who feasts on blood and twists the minds of those who love, serve and shelter him;

• The Dvoynik, an apparition that impersonates its victim and draws him into a web of evil in order to free itself;

• And the Bone Mother, a skeletal crone with iron teeth who lurks in her house in the heart of the woods, and cooks and eats those who fail her vexing challenges.

Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.

This is a collection of vignettes by people who have had supernatural experiences of some sort or are themselves supernatural creatures. Each story shows a snippet of life. There’s little description or detail, but it’s not required. I enjoyed piecing some of the stories together as the collection went on, though there’s no frame story giving them the feeling of being a cohesive whole. The publisher’s synopsis for the book is basically the frame story the book itself lacks and needs in order to give a sense of cohesion to the collection. I read this in ebook format and hadn’t read the synopsis in months, so wasn’t able to benefit from the information it gave. At the very least there should have been a wrap up story that tied things together better.

Most of the stories are fronted by a real photograph from the Costica Acsinte Archive. A few stories have hand drawn illustrations instead.

While I was familiar with a few of the creatures described, most of them were new and quite fascinating. It would have been cool to get more details about them, but again, the stories are more about ambiance and the feeling of dread than about describing things in detail. In this way, not knowing what the creatures were in some ways enhanced the horror based on the limited descriptions that were given.

Several of the stories are by people who grew up and lived in the three Eastern European villages, the rest are by their descendants. At least one story took place in Canada, and another in the United States.

On the whole I enjoyed the collection. A few of the stories were genuinely terrifying, while most were joyfully creepy. I would have liked a proper conclusion or frame story tying everything together better, but it’s definitely worth picking up.

Friday 26 October 2018

TV Show Review: Colony, Season 1

First aired: 2016

Pros: fascinating premise, interesting characters, difficult choices, fairly diverse supporting cast


No one was prepared for the Arrival, when aliens came and separated the US into small colonies. Now, dissidents are sent to the factories, never to be seen again. When Will Bowman’s attempt to cross into another colony to find his missing son fails, he’s forced to work for the occupation, hunting down a resistance group. He doesn’t realize his wife is part of that group, and he’s just become a huge source of inside information for them.

I love that the focus of the show is on a loving couple and their struggles to survive in this new and horrible world. They’re caring for their two children and both hurting from the fact that they are unable to even look for their missing third.

The show is full of difficult decisions, from finding insulin now that the aliens have decreed that  such medicines should no longer be made so only the strong survive, to who’s worth saving from a resistance standpoint.

Katie Bowman (Sarah Wayne Callies) has to be clever - and dishonest - in order to keep her husband from discovering she’s helping the resistance, which causes a lot of tension in the story, and in their relationship.

The supporting cast is excellent and wonderfully diverse. I was a bit sad that some characters disappear for a while as the focus remains firmly on the Bowman family, but it is nice seeing several POC actors in different roles.

Season 1 kept me guessing and I am really looking forward to jumping into season 2. 

Note, there are 3 seasons and the show has been cancelled.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Shout-Out: A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland

Arrested on accusations of witchcraft and treason, Chant finds himself trapped in a cold, filthy jail cell in a foreign land. With only his advocate, the unhelpful and uninterested Consanza, he quickly finds himself cast as a bargaining chip in a brewing battle between the five rulers of this small, backwards, and petty nation.

Or, at least, that's how he would tell the story.

In truth, Chant has little idea of what is happening outside the walls of his cell, but he must quickly start to unravel the puzzle of his imprisonment before they execute him for his alleged crimes. But Chant is no witch—he is a member of a rare and obscure order of wandering storytellers. With no country to call his home, and no people to claim as his own, all Chant has is his wits and his apprentice, a lad more interested in wooing handsome shepherds than learning the ways of the world.

And yet, he has one great power: his stories in the ears of the rulers determined to prosecute him for betraying a nation he knows next to nothing about. The tales he tells will topple the Queens of Nuryevet and just maybe, save his life.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Video: Weta Workshop Sculptor's Talbletop Miniature World

Adam Savage visits Weta Workshop sculptor Johnny Fraser-Allen’s tabletop model labyrinth, swamp, forest, and village. Each piece is modular and so can be moved and built up to create new configurations. The kickstarter campaign for the first set of miniatures, Hagglethorn Hollow, is up and almost over.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Pros: told through images and text, some tense moments, fun characters, fast read

Cons: most of the conflict is due to Hugo keeping secrets

Hugo Cabret lives in the Timekeeper’s room inside a Parisian train station. When an elderly toy maker catches him stealing a toy mouse, the man takes a notebook Hugo received from his deceased father. The notebook contains images of an automaton Hugo’s trying to fix, images that cause a startling reaction from the old man.

The book follows Hugo as he tries to get the notebook back and interacts with the man and his goddaughter, Isabelle. There are old movies, magic, clocks, thefts, and lies. The best part of the book is that the movies and automata discussed are all real.

This is a fun - and fast - read. Some sections are told through full page illustrations rather than text, giving the book the feeling of a movie. The immediacy of the action and Hugo’s point of view narrative enhance that feeling.

There are some tense moments, especially towards the end of the book.

While I can understand Hugo’s fear of being taken from his current home and his fear of what would happen to him, it has to be said that most of the problems he encounters throughout the book are due to his inability to trust others, even after they’ve been proved trustworthy and his compulsive need to keep secrets. Things would have resolved much faster had he told Georges why the notebook was so important to him.

Though it’s a thick book (due to the images) it really is an easy read, perfect for readers of all ages.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Shout-Out: Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire's capital--her fate to be burned alive for the entertainment of the masses. For the last five years, one small village's tithe has been the same woman. Gilene's sacrifice protects all the other young women of her village, and her secret to staying alive lies with the magic only she possesses.

But this year is different.

Azarion, the Empire's most famous gladiator, has somehow seen through her illusion--and is set on blackmailing Gilene into using her abilities to help him escape his life of slavery. Unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.

To protect her family and village, she will abandon everything to return to the Empire--and burn once more.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Video: Tasting Astronaut Food

Tested posted a video about tasting astronaut food a few years back. Most of the video is a short history of how astronaut food has developed over time, from tubes and cubes to the current use of tins (Russian) and MRE style bags (US).

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Book Review: Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

Pros: fun characters, great romance

Cons: minor issues

Aliza Bentaine’s life at Merybourne Manor changes when gryphons invade the nearby wood and kill her youngest sister. It changes again when the Riders they hired to hunt the gryphons show up and include the handsome but arrogant Alastair Daired. But more than gryphons stalk the land, and other mysteries darken Aliza’s world.

This is a close retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in a world where monsters roam and dragons fly. There’s no recycled dialogue and the motivations for why characters act as they do have been adjusted to fit the realities of this world. I found that Aliza’s reasons for disliking Daired were more substantial here, making their eventual reconciliation a bit harder to accept. The ending has several major deviations from the source material, which I enjoyed. I especially liked that Gwyn (Charlotte in the original)’s marriage is for different, more mysterious reasons and that their marriage seems better matched. I did wish the mystery regarding her father had received more of a resolution though.

The addition of a wide variety of monsters was fabulous. I didn’t always know what creatures were, but it was fun seeing new and lesser used beings intermixed with the more familiar gnomes, wyverns, and dragons. The use of monster heartstones as engagement/wedding tokens was interesting. I also liked that different creatures spoke different languages, and not all humans understood all languages. 

If you like Jane Austen and fantasy, it’s a fun retelling.

Friday 12 October 2018

Sometimes you just need a break

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. It wasn’t intentional. We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving on Sunday and my husband was home Monday, which meant I did my grocery shopping Tuesday morning and then I had a dentist appointment Wednesday morning… It was Thursday before I even noticed I hadn’t posted anything this week.

I’ve also been feeling a bit of burnout. I haven’t read a book in the past few weeks. I’m half way through rereading one but can’t seem to get into it this time (too many other things going on in my life that need immediate attention). Yesterday I started a new book that’s interesting but… 

I'm planning some trips for next year and in addition to the research required for that, there's also a lot of non-fiction I want to read in preparation.

While movie reviews are an easy way to generate content, sometimes it's nice to watch stuff just for fun. I like writing reviews, but it's work and knowing you're going to review it makes it less relaxing. I've been watching more TV shows lately than movies as well (Colony, Caprica, Legion). While I may review the seasons, I have to finish one first.

I am not a gamer. I have played games but they’re often stressful for me as I’m not particularly good at them (and yes, I tried for several months one year to improve my skills before realizing I was wasting my time). I enjoy watching my husband play games with interesting stories or gorgeous worlds (Silent Hill, Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed). When he insisted I play the first level of a new game he’d bought, Nier: Automata, neither of us thought I’d continue without him. I’m part way through the 3rd main story and it’s fascinating. I will note that I am playing on easy mode - I’d have rage quit that first level otherwise. The last time I got into a game like this (playing it on my own) it was Minecraft. So far I’ve played over 60 hours in the past 3 weeks. Which tells you where my reading time has gone.

Anyway, this post is just to say sorry for missing my regularly scheduled content. Guess I just needed a break.

Friday 5 October 2018

Stamps: Ceskoslovensko Icons

Visiting Peru a few years back it was fascinating seeing how they interpreted the Christian saints with regards to religious icons. While a lot of the elements carried over, there were definite adjustments to the figures. It's equally clear looking at Roman Catholic images of saints that their style of art differs from that of, say, Byzantine icons. Even the Czechoslovakian stamps above have their own style to them. I'm currently researching Ethiopia and its Christian history, and again, there's a very distinct style of art (which changes over the years).

Fantasy worlds tend to have different foods and clothing and customs between actual races (humans, dwarves, elves). Sometimes there are more than one sub-race (wood elves vs high elves) who also dress and act differently. But you don't always see that kind of variant between humans. Yes, humans from different continents and countries could be varied, but what about regional differences? People living by the coast will have a different diet from those living in deep forests and those in larger cities.

Religious differences in practice and art is something else that's often missed, even though the church militant comes up a lot. Where are the different militant orders? Where are the arguments over doctrine, the heretics who've been cast out for various practices? Where are the iconoclasts whitewashing church walls to get rid of icons even as others paint gorgeous frescoes of their god(s)?

There are a lot of opportunities for conflict here.

Thursday 4 October 2018

Shout-Out: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa are the Boneless Mercies-girls hired to kill quickly, quietly, and mercifully. But Frey is weary of the death trade and, having been raised on the heroic sagas of her people, dreams of a bigger life.

When she hears of an unstoppable monster ravaging a nearby town, Frey decides this is the Mercies' one chance out. The fame and fortune of bringing down such a beast would ensure a new future for all the Mercies. In fact, her actions may change the story arc of women everywhere.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Books Received in September 2018

Many thanks as always to the publishers who sent me books this month.

Girl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black - Seeing as Halloween's coming, it's the perfect time to pick up a gothic novel.

In Girl at the Grave, debut author Teri Bailey Black unearths the long-buried secrets of a small 1850s New England town in this richly atmospheric Gothic tale of murder, guilt, redemption, and finding love where least expected.
A mother hanged for murder.
A daughter left to pick up the pieces of their crumbling estate.
Can she clear her family's name if it means facing her own dark past?
Valentine has spent years trying to outrun her mother's legacy. But small towns have long memories, and when a new string of murders occurs, all signs point to the daughter of a murderer.
Only one person believes Valentine is innocent-Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed all those years ago. Valentine vows to find the real killer, but when she finally uncovers the horrifying truth, she must choose to face her own dark secrets, even if it means losing Rowan in the end.

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence Schoen - This is a sequel to Barsk: the Elephants' Graveyard, which I heard very good things about.

Pizlo, the lonely young outcast and physically-challenged Fant, is now a teenager. He still believes he hears voices from the planet's moons, imparting secret knowledge to him alone. And so embarks on a dangerous voyage to learn the truth behind the messages. His quest will catapult him offworld for second time in his short life, and reveal things the galaxy isn't yet ready to know.
Elsewhere, Barsk's Senator Jorl, who can speak with the dead, navigates galactic politics as Barsk's unwelcome representative, and digs even deeper into the past than ever before to discover new truths of his own.

The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell - Sounds like a fantastic SF survival story.

Brilliant engineer Marcus Flynn has been sentenced to 11-H37 alongside the galaxy's most dangerous criminals. A hard labor prison planet better known as the Razor, where life expectancy is short and all roads are dead ends.
At least until the Lost Prophet goes active.
In a few hours, prison guards and staff are evacuated, the prisoners are left to die, and dark mysteries begin to surface.
Only Flynn has the skills and knowledge to unravel them, but he will have to rely on the most unlikely of allies--killers, assassins, pirates and smugglers. If they can survive each other they just might survive the Razor.and claim it for their own.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Book Review: Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang

Pros: fast paced, protagonist is ‘good at math’, interesting characters


When Cas Russell takes the job to ‘retrieve’ Courtney Polk from a drug cartel, she assumes it will be a simple job. Because she’s VERY good at math, able to calculate vectors on the fly, making her dangerous in a fight. But she didn’t expect her mentor Rio to be working for the cartel. And when the woman who hired her turns out to be more than she seemed, Cas discovers she’s become a target of a mysterious organization, one with people who also have super powers.

This is a fast paced read that took me two days to get through. There are so many twists that it was hard to put down.

It’s an interesting cast of characters, as none of them are really ‘nice’ people. They’ve each got their good and bad qualities. Cas is a morally grey individual, who has no problem killing but also has some lines she won’t cross. Despite being a psychopath I mostly liked Rio. There’s a Dexter feel to him, as a man who’s using his baser urges for what he perceives is good. Arthur Tresting balances Rio on Cas’s other side, being mostly moral, but willing to bend the law when necessary and pretending he doesn’t know about or see most of Cas’s casual crimes.

I loved that Cas’s ‘superpower’ is that she’s just REALLY good at math. Like, so good she can do multiple calculations at once and so dodge bullets and make fancy trick kicks to take out opponents. The fight scenes are surprisingly entertaining.

I thought the rabbit hole of secret organizations was handled well, as was all the self doubt brought on by Dawna’s influence.

I really enjoyed the book.