Tuesday 30 April 2019

Books Received in April, 2019

Sorry for the lack of reviews lately. I've been busy with non-fiction books and just finished rereading Medusa Uploaded so I can start Medusa in the Graveyard. I've also been going through my photos from Spain and hope to post about my trip next week.

Many thanks as always to the publishers that give me advance review copies.

The Master of Dreams by Mike Resnick - Unfortunately I started this one and quickly realized it wasn't for me. That happens a lot with urban fantasy. I still think the premise sounds cool.

Eddie Raven isn't quite sure what's happening to him--and he's in a race to find out before it kills him.
His adventures begin with a shooting in a very strange shop in Manhattan--but soon he finds himself the owner of a very familiar bar in Casablanca. By the time he adjusts to that reality, he's suddenly become one of several undersized people helping a young woman search for a wizard. And after confronting the wizard, he somehow finds himself in Camelot.
But as he rushes to solve the mystery of his many appearances, a larger threat looms. Because someone or something is stalking him through time and space with deadly intent....

Medusa in the Graveyard by Emily Devenport - Though this is out July 23rd, I've been looking forward to it since I first finished Medusa Uploaded, so it jumped to the top of my to read pile. I'm only a few chapters in but I'm loving it.

Oichi Angelis, former Worm, along with her fellow insurgents on the generation starship Olympia, head deeper into the Charon System for the planet called Graveyard.
Ancient, sentient, alien starships wait for them-three colossi so powerful they remain aware even in self-imposed sleep. The race that made the Three are dead, but Oichi's people were engineered with this ancient DNA.
A delegation from Olympia must journey to the heart of Graveyard and be judged by the Three. Before they're done, they will discover that weapons are the least of what the ships have to offer.

Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World Edited by Elizabeth Morrison with Larisa Grollemond - I love medieval bestiaries so I'm stoked to get to read this before it comes out on June 4th. I wish I could see the museum exhibit it accompanies.

A celebration of the visual contributions of the bestiary—one of the most popular types of illuminated books during the Middle Ages—and an exploration of its lasting legacy. Brimming with lively animals both real and fantastic, the bestiary was one of the great illuminated manuscript traditions of the Middle Ages. Encompassing imaginary creatures such as the unicorn, siren, and griffin; exotic beasts including the tiger, elephant, and ape; as well as animals native to Europe like the beaver, dog, and hedgehog, the bestiary is a vibrant testimony to the medieval understanding of animals and their role in the world. So iconic were the stories and images of the bestiary that its beasts essentially escaped from the pages, appearing in a wide variety of manuscripts and other objects, including tapestries, ivories, metalwork, and sculpture
With over 270 color illustrations and contributions by twenty-five leading scholars, this gorgeous volume explores the bestiary and its widespread influence on medieval art and culture as well as on modern and contemporary artists like Pablo Picasso and Damien Hirst.
Published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center May 14 to August 18, 2019.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Shout-Out: Inspection by Josh Malerman

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.

J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know—and all they are allowed to know.

But J suspects that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Manga Review: Heaven’s Design Team volume 1

Story by: Hebi-Zou and Tsuta Suzuki, Art by Tarako

Pros: great art, quirky characters, real creatures, examines why mythological creatures can’t exist

Cons: some adult humour

After God finished making the heavens and the earth, he needed creatures to populate it. He didn’t want to spend the time making all those creatures Himself, so He outsourced them. The team that got the job is pretty eclectic. One of them is so proud of the horse he made, that all his new designs incorporate them (hello pegasus and unicorn). Before designs can be approved however, they must pass the feasibility test by the team’s engineer to prove that they can actually survive on the planet.

This is a fun manga, with great black and white artwork and a quirky story. Each chapter ends with a page explaining the real creatures that inspired those approved in the story (and some of them are pretty weird). I love hearing the engineer explain why certain designs can’t work. I also loved seeing some of the designers fight, using evolution to create different versions of their creatures that can better compete for resources/survival.

It is a bit adult, in that one character constantly explains the, ahum, mating requirements of males, so this may not be appropriate for younger readers.

If you’re looking for a manga that’s fun and different, this fits that bill.

Thursday 18 April 2019

Shout-Out: The Soulstealers by Jacqueline Rohrbach

Arnaka Skytree grew up believing she was chosen to bring new magic to the world. As the heir to the cult of druids responsible for keeping their floating palace habitable for the wealthy aristocracy, she’s expected to wield her power as those before her did: by culling the souls of peasant women.

But when Arnaka learns more about the source of her magic, and that her best friend’s soul will be harvested, she embarks on a journey to end the barbarous practice and to restore a long-forgotten harmonious system of magic practiced by the original druids. Along the way, she discovers she’s not the only girl chosen to restore balance to their world—many others have powerful magic inside, and with them, she will tear the floating palace from the sky so everyone can live in the sun—out of the shadow of the eclipse.

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Book Review: Torn by Rowenna Miller

Pros: complex protagonist, slow moving romance, political commentary


Sophie Balstrade’s unique skill of sewing charms into garments has given her shop steady business, but she’s hoping to catch the eye of noble ladies. She’s overjoyed to receive a commission from Viola Snowmont as well as an invitation to the lady’s salon, both of which propel her into a higher class of clientele and a potential love affair. But her brother’s a leader in the Laborer’s League, and as tensions build among the disaffected lower classes, she finds herself torn between his goals and her own. When he disappears, she’s blackmailed into helping the League by doing something against her moral code - sew a cursed object.

I really enjoyed this book. While I wouldn’t say it’s cribbed from the French Revolution, the salons, the court fashions, the presence of guns and the social tensions did remind me of that period of history.

I loved Sophie, especially the fact that she actually works at her shop and when she takes time off she either has to make up the work later or rearrange the schedule so everything is done on time. I appreciated that she had goals and that she’d considered the consequences of marriage (her husband and his family would gain control of her shop) and decided it wasn’t for her.

The romance thread was slow paced, which I appreciated. The couple actually talked about the realities of their situation and acknowledged that due to their stations things could only go so far. 

The magic - attaching charms via thread into garments - was very original. Sophie has to learn how to do curses and there's a physical cost to her for doing them. 

There was just enough of the politics to keep things interesting without slowing the pacing. Through Sophie we see that the nobility have duties to perform and that their lives aren’t all given to leisure, while the workers have legitimate grievances.

This is a fun read and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Fantasy art: Crisco's glow in the dark paintings

I saw one of Crisco's painting videos on facebook and had to share his stuff. He paints scenes and then adds a glow in the dark element to them. Check out his youtube channel for more videos.

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Busy Busy

I recently got back from a vacation (aka medieval research trip) to Spain, hence all of the reviews the last few months about Spanish history. I'm in the process of going through the 7000+ photos I took (many MANY duplicates that need deleting) and getting back into the swing of life. I wasn't able to read on the trip so I'm afraid I won't have a book review until next week after I've finished Torn by Rowena Miller (which is fantastic so far, sort of a fantasy version of the French Revolution).

I'm hoping to do some posts about some of the stuff I saw. This was my second trip to Spain, which is a gorgeous country with a lot of great churches and castles. Last time I did the north (Camino to Santiago de Compostela) and the Alhambra in Granada. I went to Toledo but was too tired to do more than wander the medieval streets (which I LOVED). This time I did Seville, Cordoba, Toledo (to actually see the sights), and Madrid. I learned a fair bit about Jewish and Muslim customs so I could better appreciate the architecture of the 3 synagogues I visited and the mosques turned churches after the reconquest. Did a TON of walking and decided the replacement insoles I got for my running shoes were garbage. My feet hurt every night. Worth it though considering everything I was able to see. Looking into buying new insoles right now.

My next vacation/research trip is to Ethiopia, which has some amazing rock hewn churches and liturgical manuscripts. I expect to spend the next month or two finishing off my Spanish research and compiling what I did on that trip before turning to researching Ethiopia and early Christian (and probably Jewish) history.

Thursday 4 April 2019

Shout-Out: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Daily Life During The Spanish Inquisition by James Anderson

Pros: lots of details about daily life, some quoted stories

Cons: few images, dense prose, broad overview that glossed over many subjects

This is a non-fiction book consisting of a chronology followed by 17 chapters, two appendices and a glossary of terms. The chapters are: Early Modern Spain, Political Setting, Social Setting, The Church, The Inquisition, Jews and Conversos, Muslims and Moriscos, The Court, Urban Life, Rural Life, Family Life, Clothes and Fashions, Food, Arts and Entertainment, Military Life, Education, and Health and Medicine.

The book covers roughly 400 years during which the Spanish inquisition was run, meaning there was a lot of variance not only from region to region, between cities and rural villages, but also from one century to the next. The book does a remarkable job of squashing a lot of information into a fairly short space, but this means many sections have limited information and little nuance.

The first few chapters set the scene for the inquisition but they paint a remarkably bleak picture of Spain. Only one chapter dealt with the inquisition directly, which was a surprise given that’s the subject matter. In a few areas the author quoted longer first person accounts, which I loved and would have liked more of. Oddly there was little quoted with regards to court cases or notes from inquisitorial trials though these records exist.

There were some black and white illustrations, many hand drawn but a few from historical records. They didn’t really add much.

The breadth of information here is impressive. You do come out of the book feeling like you know what life was like during the period. This is a great resource for authors looking to add minor details to historical fiction. Given it’s strange juxtaposition of giving a lot of minor details in a broad overview, this is a poor choice for learning about the inquisition itself, but a great book for learning what life was like during the years the inquisition operated.