Thursday 31 January 2019

Shout-Out: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…
Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.
Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.
Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.
Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.
A uniquely emotional genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then captures the perfect balance of heart, playfulness, and imagination, offering an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most.

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Video: Anime Crimes Division

This a series RocketJump did with CrunchyRoll and now has 2 seasons. It's a buddy cop show that takes place in a world where people have self divided based on their TV preferences. There are a lot of anime and obsessed fan (otaku) references

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Movie Review: Bird Box

Directed by Susanne Bier, 2018

Pros: great acting, tense moments

Cons: some difficulties glossed over

When unknown entities start appearing, those who see them turn violent and kill themselves. Amid the mayhem this causes, a small group of people, including the pregnant but distant Malorie, hole up in a large house.

The film combines aspects of zombie horror with apocalyptic infection films. If you liked 28 Days Later, this is for you. There are some great tense scenes and while the film doesn’t dwell on it, there is the question of whether it’s worth helping others if there’s a risk you - and/or others - will die doing it.

The actors are great. John Malkovich plays the paranoid a-hole white man, who, while I didn’t like, I could at least understand the motivations for. Sandra Bullock did a brilliant job as Malorie. But for me the standout was Trevante Rhodes as Tom, who kept the idea alive that life isn’t meant to be endured, it’s meant to be lived. The film made me tear up a few times, which showed the actors did a great job of making me sympathize with their characters.

There were a few difficulties the movie hinted at and then completely glossed over. Like how the group loaded groceries into the car and what happened on the boat at night (did they sleep on the water or pull over to the side)?

There’s a little gore but it’s mostly a psychological horror movie. It’s a Netflix original, so if you’ve got the service, it’s worth checking out.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Shout-Out: Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler

In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka enforces the will of her criminal masters with the power of Melos, the Well of Combat. The money she collects goes to keep her little sister living in comfort, far from the bloody streets they grew up on.

When Isoka's magic is discovered by the government, she's arrested and brought to the Emperor's spymaster, who sends her on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.

On board Soliton, nothing is as simple as it seems. Isoka tries to get close to the ship's mysterious captain, but to do it she must become part of the brutal crew and join their endless battles against twisted creatures. She doesn't expect to have to contend with feelings for a charismatic fighter who shares her combat magic, or for a fearless princess who wields an even darker power.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Great Courses Review: History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad

Taught by Professor Joyce Salisbury

This is a Great Courses lecture series on Spain. It consists of 24 thirty minute lectures starting in the stone age and ending with the modern era. I borrowed the DVDs from my local library and binge watched them in a week.

This is an excellent course and gives you not only a grounding in Spain’s history but a lot of interesting background information as well. The lecture on Christianity explained some of the councils that codified the teachings of the Catholic church as well as some of the beliefs deemed heretical. The lecture on Visigoths drew upon that knowledge as their king followed the teachings of one of the heretical leaders. The lecture on Islam went over it’s origins and how the religion spread before examining the Muslim conquest of Spain. I was hoping for a similar deep dive into Judaism, but the lecture on Sephardic Jews was specific to their actions in Spain with only a little bit about how the destruction of the Temple in Roman times contributed to their diaspora. The lecture on Gitanos was fascinating, as I knew very little about them and their history (and the professor discussed terminology and explained that this particular group prefers the term to being called Roma).

There were a few instances where I’d have liked more information. While Maimonides was briefly mentioned, there was no time to explain why he’s considered such an important Jewish philosopher or what his teachings were. Similarly the Inquisition only got a few brief mentions.

I had originally planned to skip some of the lectures but watched them all as the story was so fascinating I didn’t want to miss anything. The professor had a great voice that was easy to listen to and showed her own excitement for the subject matter.

I do wish there were a pronunciation guide for Spanish, as it took me a few lectures to figure out some of the words (for example, Galicia was pronounced Galithia, which made me wonder if the provinces changed names at some point). While many names were shown on the screen, there were times when this did not happen (as with Galicia). More maps as graphics would have been helpful too.  

On the whole if you want to learn the basics - and then some - of Spain’s history, this is an excellent resource.

As a tie in for fantasy worldbuilding, Spain has been conquered and reconquered so many times (Romans, Suevi/Vandals/Alani, Visigoths, Muslims, Christians) and its culture shows that. It’s fascinating seeing how each group ruled and what impact that had on the people, with their mixture of tolerance at some times and expulsions and persecutions at others. The history also shows how important geography is with regards to warfare. Some mountain peoples were never conquered, the Pyrenees was a natural barrier to the north (though it didn’t stop a few invading armies), while the close proximity to Africa allowed the Muslims to head north in their push for expansion. The country had a lot of trade - within the Mediterranean, and when the ‘new world’ was ‘discovered’ across the Atlantic as well. 

Thursday 17 January 2019

Shout-Out: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Rick Riordan Presents Yoon Ha Lee's space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you'd never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min's mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times.

Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She's counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min's quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

This sci-fi adventure with the underpinnings of Korean mythology will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination.

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Book Review: Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman

Pros: detailed examination of the subject matter, lots of minor details

Cons: could have used more maps

After the introduction the book has eight chapters and a conclusion. The chapters are: 
Spices and Medieval Cuisine 
Medicine: Spices as Drugs 
The Odors of Paradise 
Trade and Prices
Scarcity, Abundance, and Profit
“That Damned Pepper”: Spices and Moral Danger
Searching for the Realms of Spices
Finding the Realms of Spices: Portugal and Spain

The book is fantastic. It examines spices as food enhancements, medicine, trade items from exotic locales, and more. I loved that the author often made asides that filled in information of what was happening in other parts of the world so as to better understand Europe’s place in it. 

I especially loved learning about the myths and legends surrounding India and Asia, and the snakes that guard the pepper plants and diamonds.  

I find it fascinating the amount of spices used in the middle ages, especially in food, compared to today. Some of the combinations seem so bizarre I want to try them, just to see what they were like. Did they know something we’ve forgotten about spice blends?

The book has a few black and white illustrations and maps, but given the subject matter, more would have been appreciated.

If you’re interested in spices and/or the middle ages, this is a worthwhile read.

Friday 11 January 2019

It's Time for some Changes

For the past few years I’ve been trying to cut down the number of novels I review so that I have more time for other things. But reading is easy - if time consuming - and so in the quest for endless content I’ve tended to read more and my other hobbies and interests have suffered.

I no longer have time to read a book (or more) a week if I want to accomplish the other things I keep pushing off. So I’ve decided that I will no longer be blogging 4 times a week. I want to get back into medieval studies research. I want more time for craft projects. 

Instead of my rather rigid structure of the past few years, this year I want to try a more fluid posting schedule. I’ll post once to three times a week. It may be a novel review, it may be a movie review, it may be something cool I’ve come across on youtube. I don’t want blogging to feel like an obligation or a job. I want to feel more excited about the content I post while reclaiming more of my time for things other than reading (or other than reading SF/F). I want to be able to read more short story collections (because I do individual story reviews these take me forever to do and I have a backlog of kickstarter collections I’d really like to read). I want to read more history and art books. I still want to read SF/F, but I don’t want them to be the priority such that I don’t feel like I can read a non genre fiction book (I haven’t read a Regency or Victorian book since I started blogging). I’d like to be able to reread the occasional book without fear that I’m losing out on content by reading a book I’ve already reviewed. And then there’s the piles and piles of unread books on my shelves (and floor) I’ve been very slowly chipping away at. Sometimes I start several books before finding one I want to finish. And I desperately need to free up some shelf space.

I will no longer be accepting any review requests, nor will I be replying to requests I'm sent. As part of this effort, I also plan on requesting fewer books from Netgalley, etc.

I’d still like to do a shout-out post once a week, so there’s at least one scheduled item (and there are so many amazing books coming out this year!). Aside from that, I’m currently researching medieval Spain and later this year I’ll be delving more into the history of Ethiopia. So you can expect history and art book reviews that reflect those interests. 

This is a science fiction and fantasy blog, so there will still be sff content. It’s just going to be more varied and interspersed with more non-fiction.

I’ll probably leave Tuesdays (publication day) for reviews and maybe Thursdays for shout-out posts. If I do an extra post it’ll be on Wednesday or Friday. But we’ll see. For now, I want to have space to experiment.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Blog Stats for 2018

I managed to read a book a week for most of 2018. I did hit a few periods of burnout when I needed some time off - though for most of these I had reviews queued up or was able to squeeze in a graphic novel review so it wasn't apparent.

In total I read 49 items, which included 4 graphic novels, 1 book on writing and 2 history books. I read 23 science fiction novels (including 3 YA), and 14 fantasy novels (also including 3 YA). I read only 3 urban fantasy novels (my least favourite subgenre) and 2 horror novels.

Of the novels, 17 were by men and 25 by women, and I managed 10 books by non-white or LGBTQ authors.

I'm quite happy with the number of books I read, though it meant I had very little time for other things. As mentioned, I also hit burnout a few times, because I was forcing myself to read at such a fast pace.

Normally I'd including my reading resolutions for the new year in this post, but I've been thinking about it a lot and change is coming to the blog this year. Depending on how things go these changes may become permanent or will only affect 2019. I'll be doing a post on my plans that later this week.