Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Book Review: The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Pros: lots of intrigue, thought provoking, nuanced

Cons:

I’m using the publisher’s synopsis as there’s so much going on I can’t come up with a better one. You can read my reviews of The Traitor Baru Cormorant and The Monster Baru Cormorant by clicking the titles.

The hunt is over. After fifteen years of lies and sacrifice, Baru Cormorant has the power to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest that she pretends to serve. The secret society called the Cancrioth is real, and Baru is among them.

But the Cancrioth's weapon cannot distinguish the guilty from the innocent. If it escapes quarantine, the ancient hemorrhagic plague called the Kettling will kill hundreds of millions...not just in Falcrest, but all across the world. History will end in a black bloodstain.

Is that justice? Is this really what Tain Hu hoped for when she sacrificed herself?

Baru's enemies close in from all sides. Baru's own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path—a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world's riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize.

If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.

This is the third book in the Masquerade series, with a 4th book on the way. If you haven’t read the previous two books recently, it’s worth doing a reread as there’s so much nuance that you’ll be lost if you don’t remember the details of all that’s happened.

The book is told from several points of view including: Baru, Xate Yawa, Aminata, and Svir. There are scenes set in the ‘now’, contrasted with a direct continuation of the events from book 2 as well as scenes set 23 years prior, continuing Tau-indi’s story of when Cosgrad and Farrier stayed with the Mbo princes.

It’s not a quick read. There’s so much going on and so much nuance that I often had to stop to process what the characters were doing and what that might mean for their future. It’s easy to fall into Baru’s trap of forgetting there are other players on the board when she acts. Each time I assumed things would go the way she’d foreseen because she’s a savant, but everyone in the story has their own motivations and few align with hers, so there’s generally a mess of consequences you don’t expect.

It’s a book filled with hard truths about colonialism, racism, sexism, and what people and nations will do to gain power over others, and what they’ll do to keep that power. As such, it’s very thought provoking, forcing you to see people and ideas from varied perspectives. In several instances the author uses reversed language to get these ideas across, so ’matronize’ instead of ‘patronize’, ‘anti-mannist’ instead of ‘feminist’, etc.

I was surprised that I still found Baru a sympathetic and likeable character after all she’s done. I still want her to succeed. With all the horrors going on (and there are a lot of them) there’s still a sense of hope to the story, that in the end things just might work out the way Baru wants. I even started to like Yawa, which was kind of a shock given her previous actions. I really enjoyed seeing Tau-indi’s growth, overcoming what happened to them at the end of the last book. It felt like the various characters were all growing as people, learning more about the world and themselves and really taking a look a the world they were making and deciding if their choices had helped or not.

While this isn’t the series end, this book does tie up several plot threads into a satisfying climax. I can’t wait for the final book to wrap up all the remaining loose ends.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Movie Review: The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し)

Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, 2002

IMDb listing


When Haru saves a cat from being run over, she’s unprepared for the cat kingdom’s attempts to make her happy, which include kidnapping her and bringing her to their world.


This is a Studio Ghibli film that I first saw in theatre when it came out in Japan. It didn’t have English subtitles and my Japanese wasn’t that great so I’ve always kind of wondered what was really going on in the film. Well, it’s currently on Netflix so I watched it with my husband.


I warned him that it’s not a particularly good film, it’s just batsh*t crazy. And having watched it and fully understood the plot, I stand by that statement.


Haru is a typical teen, unsatisfied with how her life’s going. The boy she likes is dating someone else and she’s not sure what she wants to do with her life. Still, she’s not particularly keen on what the cats are doing. They don’t understand the human world and so give the gifts of mice and catnip. 


As expected from a Ghibli film, the artwork is cute and stylistic. The kingdom cats stand on their hind feet with their paws down in an adorable and strange way. I still found some parts laugh out loud funny (the entertainment at the feast in the cat kingdom is fantastically weird and by far my favourite part of the film). It’s short enough that the rather thin plot doesn’t seem overplayed. The soundtrack is fantastic, with some great instrumental pieces contrasted with the cat kingdom's use of a modified Japanese court music. (Japanese court music uses a lot of what Westerners would call discordant - or minor - notes. It's... unique and really fits the film with its otherworldly quality.) I especially love the end credit song.


Not worth multiple viewings, it is a fun romp that will leave you feeling uplifted. Indeed, if you need something fluffy to distract you from the pandemic horrors we’re currently living with, this is a great choice.


Thursday, 30 July 2020

Shout-Out: Auxiliary: London 2039 by Jon Richter

The silicon revolution left Dremmler behind but a good detective is never obsolete.

London is quiet in 2039—thanks to the machines. People stay indoors, communicating through high-tech glasses and gorging on simulated reality while 3D printers and scuttling robots cater to their every whim. Mammoth corporations wage war for dominance in a world where human augmentation blurs the line between flesh and steel.

And at the center of it all lurks The Imagination Machine: the hyper-advanced, omnipresent AI that drives our cars, flies our planes, cooks our food, and plans our lives. Servile, patient, tireless … TIM has everything humanity requires. Everything except a soul.

Through this silicon jungle prowls Carl Dremmler, police detective—one of the few professions better suited to meat than machine. His latest case: a grisly murder seemingly perpetrated by the victim’s boyfriend. Dremmler’s boss wants a quick end to the case, but the tech-wary detective can’t help but believe the accused’s bizarre story: that his robotic arm committed the heinous crime, not him. An advanced prosthetic, controlled by a chip in his skull.

A chip controlled by TIM.

Dremmler smells blood: the seeds of a conspiracy that could burn London to ash unless he exposes the truth. His investigation pits him against desperate criminals, scheming businesswomen, deadly automatons—and the nightmares of his own past. And when Dremmler finds himself questioning even TIM’s inscrutable motives, he’s forced to stare into the blank soul of the machine.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Books Received in July, 2020

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster's Saga imprint for sending me the following:

Savage Legion by Matt Wallace - Sounds like my kind of fantasy.

They call them Savages. Brutal. Efficient. Expendable.
The empire relies on them. The Savages are the greatest weapon they ever developed. Culled from the streets of their cities, they take the ones no one will miss and throw them, by the thousands, at the empire’s enemies. If they live, they fight again. If they die, there are always more to take their place.
Evie is not a Savage. She’s a warrior with a mission: to find the man she once loved, the man who holds the key to exposing the secret of the Savage Legion and ending the mass conscription of the empire’s poor and wretched.
But to find him, she must become one of them, to be marked in her blood, to fight in their wars, and to find her purpose. Evie will die a Savage if she has to, but not before showing the world who she really is and what the Savage Legion can really do.

Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters by Keith Ammann - This is a follow-up to Ammann's The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters. Though I know the principles, I've never actually played D&D.

In his first book, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing (based on his popular blog), Keith Ammann unleashed upon the D&D world a wave of clever, highly evolved monster tactics. Now it’s only fair that he gives players the tools they need to fight back…and prevail!
An introduction to combat tactics for fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons players, Live to Tell the Tale evens the score. It examines the fundamentals of D&D battles: combat roles, party composition, attacking combos, advantage and disadvantage, Stealth and Perception, and more…including the ever-important consideration of how to run away!
Don’t worry about creating a mathematically perfect character from square one. Survival isn’t about stats—it’s about behavior! With four turn-by-turn, roll-by-roll, blow-by-blow sample battles, Live to Tell the Tale breaks down how to make the best choices for your cherished characters so that they can survive their adventures, retire upon their accumulated riches, and tell stories about the old days that nobody will ever believe.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Book Review: The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Pros: interesting characters, quite scary and intense

Cons: uncomfortable race relations

Sixteen year old Immanuelle Moore is the daughter of a black man from the Outskirts, who burned on a pyre for having relations with her mother. Her mother was a white bride of the Prophet, who went mad after seeing her lover die. Raised as a good believer in the Holy Scriptures, she doesn’t understand why the Darkwood, home of the witches who once terrorized Bethel, calls to her so strongly. When she finally succumbs to that call, she unwittingly unleashes a series of curses on her home.

Immanuelle is a great protagonist, conflicted in her beliefs and desires. She’s strong willed and passionate. Her terror of the witches and determination to end the curses were palpable. I loved the slow burn romance with Ezra.

The world itself was terrifying for a liberal reader. Bethel is a closed community with very strict religious rules and no recourse against the hidden evils Immanuelle discovers taking place within the church: abuse of power - physical and sexual - and the subjugation of women.

The division between the villages of the ‘holy’ white congregation and the shanty towns on the Outskirts of the black former refugees was stark and left me feeling uncomfortable. I would have thought that with the conversion of the refugees, more intermingling would have occurred. The fact that Lilith, the head witch, was a black woman also left me feeling unsettled as it seems to continue this ‘black is evil, white is good’ theme, which is clearly undercut by the churches’ abuses on one hand but not really by anything on the other. Yes, Immanuelle fought against the witches, but as she was from the village and not the Outskirts it didn’t feel like she broke that aphorism. Nor does Vera, as it’s unclear if she ever practiced witchcraft or simply used protective sigils.

The horror elements are very terrifying. There’s a lot of blood and the story centres on events in womens’ lives that feature blood. The witches are evil and things get so grim I had to take breaks when reading this. Descriptions aren’t overly graphic, so though the imagery can be intense, it never feels gratuitous.

The writing is quite lyrical, which brings the world to life and really drives home the terror.

On the whole this is a fantastic story, provided you can handle a horror novel right now.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Video: Hildegard von Blingin'

Saw this recently and just had to share it. Hildegard von Blingin's youtube channel is pretty new but their song rewritings, turning modern pop songs into medieval lays, is awesome.

Friday, 10 July 2020

StoryBundle's World SF 3 bundle

StoryBundle is doing their third World SF bundle. These are pay what you want ebooks (with a minimum payment of $15 if you want to unlock the bonus books) that are DRM free.

There are some interesting sounding titles in this offering. Click on the link above to see their site (where if you click on the covers you'll see a synopsis of each book).


Thursday, 9 July 2020

Shout-Out: Only Love is Deathless by Sita Bethel

Sreka’s younger brother, Dobrina, is in love. The only problem is that the law forbids him from courting until Sreka is married. Sreka hires the local adventurer, Košmar, to marry him so Dobrina can wed his love.
Even if he has to sleep on the couch, instead of with the crown prince on their farce wedding bed, Košmar will get to live like a king for a year. And once Dobrina is married, Sreka will quietly divorce him and send him on his way with gold for his services.
Nothing says destined romance like a battle with a dragon, so Sreka and Košmar stage their first public encounter to fool the royal court. However, as fate would have it, the dragon that was supposed to be as fake as their love is real.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Pros: lots of twists, great characters, interesting magic system

Cons:

Three years have passed since the events at the Mountain. Orso, Berenice, Sancia and Gregor have created a library for scrivers in Foundryside. But after celebrating a major acquisition, Valeria, the hierophantic construct, warns them that Crasedes Magnus, first hierophant, is being reborn. The gang jumps into action, using their various skills to stop the most powerful entity in existence from enacting his plan.

This is a real rollercoaster of a read. There are so many twists as the group faces off against several powerful enemies. I was really shocked by some of things that happened.

The characters were great and felt fully developed. Berenice and Sancia have such a loving relationship. While it was unfortunate seeing Gregor’s pain, I appreciated that his unresolved trauma was dealt with.

The author continues to do interesting things with the unique magic system. I loved seeing the various ways twinning could be used.

This book didn’t wrap us as nicely as the previous one, nor does it end on a similar positive note. While it’s not exactly a cliffhanger, it will leave you wishing the third book in the series was already out.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Books Received in June 2020

Many thanks to Ace and Saga Press for sending me the following debut novels for review.

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell - Sounds like it uses an interesting form of magic and has a lot of political intrigue.

In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.
Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.
In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.
What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson - Given 2020 this may be too dark for me at the moment, but it sure sounds awesome.

A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet's word is law, Immanuelle Moore's very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.


The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones - When I heard about this book a few months ago I was told it was a psychological horror. Consider me intrigued.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Some Dark Fantasy Book Recommendations Without Sexual Assaults

Around the time grimdark emerged as its own genre I was getting tired of traditional fantasy tropes and wanted something new. It seemed perfect timing. I read Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy and it so expertly reverted the fantasy tropes I was familiar with that I loved them.

Something strange happened after that though. Other books I picked up seemed to be less a clever conversation with the past and more just a glorification of abuse and violence. Suddenly fantasy books didn't leave me feeling better about myself and the world, they made my escape from the real world into a hellscape of rape and gratuitous violence. So I stopped reading grimdark. I also started and stopped reading urban fantasy (for several reasons but the standard list of things that started happening to all the protagonist - lost memory, got raped - was a deciding factor) and started reading more science fiction.

I've hit a point in my life where I'm not willing to finish a book I'm not enjoying, and with a few exceptions I now stop reading if there's a rape scene or if there are no redeeming protagonists. If I don't want to main characters to succeed in their goals...

So here's a list of books that have darker themes but (as far as I can remember - PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I'M MISREMEMBERING) do NOT have rape scenes. They do have other violence and can be really intense at times (I often need to break up series so I don't get too depressed reading some of this stuff), but there are no sexual assaults.

I haven't been reading as much fiction lately, and dark fantasy isn't my favourite, so this will be a short list. If you've got others, please leave a comment as I'm always looking for good, rape free fantasy.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickenson - I just finished reading the first 3 of an incomplete 4 book series about a woman whose island was colonized by a major empire, destroying their way of life. Baru determines to join the Empire and destroy it from within. There is betrayal, rebellion, colonization, mutilation, and more.

Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield - Set in an alternate medieval Belgium, a woman must find her undead husband to secure her daughter's inheritance. There's war, a hellmouth, and women doing what they must to survive.

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Steveley - The first book in a completed trilogy (there's also a standalone, Skullsworn, set in the same world and focused on an assassin/priestess). The Emperor has died and his three unprepared children must deal with the fallout. Contains assassins, eagle mounts, subtle magic, armies, fanatical priests, etc.

City of Stairs* by Robert Jackson Bennett - I'm currently reading a different series of his, but I think City of Stairs is the grittier book. There are hints of assault (ie, it's known assault happens in this world) but there are no on page assaults. The plot centres around a female diplomat sent to uncover a murderer in a colonized city. (If you ever thought computer programming would make a cool magic system, I highly recommend Foundryside.)

Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan - An interesting completed trilogy about a society built on the use of dragon blood in a world where few dragons remain. There are navel battles, betrayals, wars, etc.

Lamentation by Ken Scholes - The first of a completed 5 book series that was so intense I needed a break between books. When an ancient device destroys the city of Windwir, war comes to the Named Lands. There is a lot of violence, sometimes graphic torture, assassination, political intrigue, plots within plots within plots.

This next book isn't technically grimdark (being older than that label) but the author really puts her characters through the ringer (which is true of all the books I've read by her).

Transformation by Carol Berg - The first of a trilogy but can easily be read as a standalone. A slave who used magic in the past must help his new master overcome his possession. This is one of my favourite novels because there's a surprising amount of humour to it. Black humour, to be sure. It also doesn't pull any punches. There is off page assault (it's clear the protagonist was assaulted in the past and he tries to warn another character who is assaulted off page).

Carol Berg's Song of the Beast is also a brilliant book, but so harsh I've only been able to read it once.

Another hesitant recommendation is The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter*. One side character is assaulted off page, which results in several things going bad for other characters (who try to avenge it). The book is about a man in a structured society who manages to go beyond his station. So much violence and fighting. I haven't read the second one so I'm not sure if the protagonist remains someone I can root for.

If you've had enough dark fantasy and want a palate cleanse, E. K. Johnston's The Afterward is excellent. It's about a group of female knights (one of whom is transgender and several of whom are gay) who go on a quest to defeat the bad guy. It will leave you feeling good about the world.

[*Sorry, I wrote this quickly and have edited out some typos like "City of Stars" and Evan Winters. My apologies.]

Some harassing authors to avoid

[Edited June 26th to add: New stories are still being told and some new harassers are being outed. I didn't (and don't) intend for this to be a list that gets updated, especially since I'm not one of the victims nor am I close enough to the people coming out to verify any of their accounts. Similarly, there are authors who've been outed in the past that maybe people no longer remember that I haven't named here. Maybe some of them have changed and no longer pose a threat. Maybe they haven't. Maybe some of these authors will take the time to better themselves and be worthy of friendship and conventions again. Maybe they won't (and it's not up to me to decide when that time is, not sure if anyone can since it's impossible to know who all their victims were, or to undo the damage these harassers have done to their victims).

Times like this I'm glad I'm Canadian and only briefly attended conventions. I wrote this post because it seems a lot of harassment stories get swept under the rug and promptly forgotten, or stay at a particular platform and never get divulged to the wider field, and I don't think that's right. There has always been a dangerous undercurrent of harassment at SFF conventions and people need to know that and start kicking harassers out and not inviting them again, regardless of how good their fiction is.

I kind of hope that someone more connected than me does start a list though. Because I hate the thought of promoting books by people who act horribly to others and I'm sure I'm not hearing even a portion of the horror stories out there.

I didn't include any of the stories about the people named in my post below, but a twitter search on their names should bring up the information you're looking for.]
---
[ETA again: Julie Caught Reading has started a list of known harassers (and sexual abusers) with links. She's including the YA and kidslit authors who were mentioned back in 2018.] 

[And another edit: If you want a good rundown of the twitter conversations that named the people below as well as includes links to those stories, Jason Sanford has a free patreon article about it.]

----------------

I've been reading all the new (and old) harassment stories on twitter and felt like I should say something.

I have been very lucky in that I've never experienced harassment myself at a conference, but I believe the stories and it sickens me the extent to which some people in the field have had to protect themselves and give up opportunities for their own careers because fandom shields men who act badly.

Every few years a new batch of perpetrators seems to come to light, people there's been a 'whisper network' warning women against. But those networks aren't heard by everyone, and there will be new victims every year until these abusers are removed.

With a lot of the stories I've not read the authors and can easily say I won't in future. One of the authors this time is someone I had professional dealings with. I interviewed Myke Cole back when he was first starting out and recently reviewed some of his books. I followed him on twitter because he tweeted a lot about Spartans and ancient Greece. So it feels more personal.

For anyone reading this who isn't on twitter, the names that have come out so far are: Paul Krueger, Sam Sykes, Myke Cole (all 3 for sexual assault and/or harassment over several years), and Mark Lawrence (for harassment). I will not be reading or reviewing their books here. [Edit: Some people on twitter have pointed out that a lot of conventions have whisper network warning people of harassers, but that not everyone gets those messages. The same goes for the internet at large. For example Myke Cole apologized for harassing women back in 2018 - and I'm only hearing about this now.]

I haven't decided what - if anything - I should do about my reviews of Myke Cole's books on my site. [Edit: I've added a comment at the beginning of these reviews with a link to this post so future readers are aware of what's happened.]

Admitting wrong doing is a good step, as is apologizing, which some of them have publicly done. But I was taught that actual repentance means making restitution and never making that mistake again. These men can't undo the harm they've done to the people they've hurt, but they can stay away from conventions in the future, making those spaces safer for other attendees.

It's always a shock, learning that people you admire are a$$holes. All I can do now is stand with the victims.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Movie Review: Us

Directed by Jordan Peele, 2019
IMDb listing

Pros: psychological horror, fantastic acting, great twists

Cons: some of the backstory doesn’t fit if you think about it too much

It’s the start of a family’s summer vacation and the mother reluctantly returns to the beach where she had a terrifying encounter as a child. That night a strange family of doppelgangers shows up at their house.

This is a very scary movie. While there’s some blood and gore, for the most part it’s psychological horror, the kind of horror that will have you jumping at shadows while you wonder what’s going to happen next.

There are a few inconsistencies with the backstory that makes up the deeper plot, but you’ll think of those after the film’s over not while you’re watching it, trying to figure out what’s going on.

The actors are brilliant in their roles. Each does their human and doppelganger’s parts. I was particularly impressed by Evan Alex who played the son, as his doppelganger seemed especially challenging to play.

I expected the film to play out on a small scale - with only their family affected - so I was surprised when things branched out. There were several twists I didn’t see coming.

If you haven’t seen it and like to freak out, this is a good film.

Monday, 22 June 2020

New posts coming

My apologies for the lack of content recently. I’ve been reading a lot of history books for a trip that was supposed to be this summer but will now (hopefully) be next summer. Some of those books I’m reviewing here, some I’m not (usually ones that I skim or don’t fully read or don’t think are worth it for others to read). I’ve also had to reread books I’ve already reviewed so I can properly review sequels, which is putting me behind on reviews I can post. Book 3 of the Masquerade series by Seth Dickinson, The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, was originally scheduled for a mid-June release. I tried to skim the previous books but there’s so much going on I just had to do a proper reread (and having done so I’d recommend it as there are so many nuances you’ll miss if you don’t). You’ll see my review of that on August 11th, it’s revised release date (it’s fantastic). I just finished rereading Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett so I can read Shorefall (already out!). With any luck I’ll be able to post a review of Shorefall next week, after which I’ll be splitting time between history and fiction again. There are some interesting sounding books coming this summer, so I’ll try to do some shout-out posts. For the sake of quick content, I’ve got a review of the movie ‘Us’ ready to go up tomorrow.

A lot has been happening in the world. I went to a black lives matter rally in my city. I've been seeing tweets about how some people in genre have been horrible, abusing others. I've been reading stories about the horrors of covid-19 - those dying of it, those living and suffering after effects. Politics is becoming a horror show of its own in some countries. Sometimes it feels like respect to stay silent, to let bigger news take the place of my blog about books and movies and science fiction/fantasy/horror. But we all need escapes, and if I can point the way to books that will let you escape the challenges of this world for a little while, then maybe what I do here has meaning. 

Be well.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Book Review: Germania by John Wilson

Pros: historical accuracy, shows both sides of the conflict

Cons: some graphic violence

During the eruption of mount Vesuvius, Lucius Quinctillius Claudianus rushes to record the events of his time as a Roman legionary serving in Germania.

The frame story of the old Lucius is told in the first person, present tense. But when the narrative switches to the past, it’s third person and occasionally alternates to the point of view of a female barbarian he befriends, Freya.

As far as I can tell the author did a remarkable job of maintaining historical accuracy. There’s more detail at times than I needed about the various Roman legions and where Lucius was marching in relation to other groups, but on the whole I loved the depth of detail in this novelization.

Bringing in Freya as a point of view character allowed the author to examine several issues from both the Roman and Germanic perspective. Lucius questions the Roman way a fair bit (largely due to Freya’s influence) but it’s still nice to see the various Germanic tribes humanized and shown off as being different from rather than lesser than the Romans. The author also does a great job of showing that neither side is inherently evil or good, and that when necessary, both are capable of horrific acts of brutality.

There are some graphic descriptions of brutal events. Some people are crucified, decapitated heads are staked to trees, there’s mention that one group of female prisoners will likely be raped before being sold into slavery. While mentioned once or twice, there’s no sexual content in the book.

If you’re interested in the Roman military and its interactions with different tribes, this is engaging and accurate.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Video: Puppet History - The Dancing Plague

I came across this on youtube recently and it's fantastic. Set up as a kind of quiz show for two contestants, a puppet leads them through the Dancing Plague of Strasbourg in the 1500s. Warning: This is NOT a show for children. There is some swearing and the history itself gets quite dark.

The show appears to be a new series by the Watcher channel, they only have 4 episodes up so far.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Book Review: The Perfect Assassin by K. A. Doore

Pros: good worldbuilding, interesting setting and characters

Cons: opening felt a bit slow

When the newly trained assassin Amastan discovers a drum chief’s body hidden on a rooftop, he’s tasked with proving that his clan of assassins wasn’t responsible. But the unknown killer isn’t the only danger, as the unquieted jaani (souls) of the murdered are restless, not dissipating as they ought, and trying to possess new bodies. With few leads Amastan’s time is running out, even as he befriends the servant of the first victim and begins to feel love for the first time.

It took me a while to warm to Amastan. The first few chapters show how undecided and hesitant he is, trying to plan things to perfection. As his relationship with various characters grew, I started to like him a lot more. It was interesting seeing the assassin clan portrayed as merely helping the city get rid of bad people. It makes the concept and characters easier to sympathize with.

I was surprised Tamella, his trainer and head assassin, left him to solve the murder without any advice or consultation. I can understand that she couldn’t investigate things herself, but she had knowledge that would have aided Amastan. Instead she simply blamed him for not solving it fast enough despite his having no training in detective work.

The worldbuilding was really good. I did like that Amastan and the other assassin trainees had real jobs to pay bills and keep occupied around their secondary craft. I also liked that they actually worked at those jobs. Menna’s work with the elders, quieting jaani was interesting. The jaani themselves were cool and terrifying. I also liked seeing the healers dependent on water for their work, and how towards the end of the season that’s problematic as the desert city must ration it. Reading characters running across rooftops and down narrow alleys was entertaining.

While I figured out who the killer was fairly early, it was still interesting seeing the story unfold.

It was a fun, quick read.

This is the first book in a trilogy. The final volume, The Unconquered City, is out June 16th.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Video: Star Wars tribute

A few months ago Whitney Avalon, who does Princess Rap Battles among other videos on youtube, did a tribute to Carrie Fisher. It's a song about Star Wars to the tune of "Memory" from the musical CATS.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Movie Review: Vivarium

Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, 2019
IMDb listing

Pros: creepy, psychological horror

Cons: some annoying parts, very slow moving

A young couple are trapped in a strange subdivision and told they’ll be released once they raise a mysterious child.

I watched this film knowing nothing about it ahead of time and rather enjoyed it. It’s a slow moving horror film, with some great anxiety producing moments and a claustrophobic feel. There are also some science fiction elements.

After I finished I was surprised to find it advertised as a sci-fi triller. It’s not a thriller, by any stretch. It’s psychological horror dealing with the uncertainty of what’s going on and the growing horror that the child they’re raising isn’t human.

The cuckoo reference at the beginning was a bit heavy handed, but definitely primes you for the creepiness of what’s coming.

I think the film would have benefitted from having a bit more set up with the couple, perhaps seeing them check out another house together before getting trapped so we see more of how they interact when times are good. While I thought Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots did a great job over all of making things seem off, I didn’t feel they had much chemistry as a couple. I felt like their relationship was already falling apart before the film started so their drifting apart during the film didn’t impact me that much.

Senan Jennings, the actor who played the younger version of the boy, was brilliant. He’s unsettling and the right kind of slightly off in performing human actions to be creepy and alien. Though his screaming did get on my nerves and I couldn’t understand why the couple didn’t try to discipline him in some way to stop that. At the same time you can see that they’re trying to maintain a detached attitude towards the boy by only interacting with him as much as they have to.

The ending was a bit trippy and open to some interpretation.

Not sure I'd see it again but I'm glad I saw it.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Books Received in April, 2020

Many thanks as always to the publishers that sent me books for review this past month.

The Perfect Assassin by K. A. Doore - I've already finished this and will be posting my review of it soon. Book 3, The Unconquered City, comes out June 16th.

Divine justice is written in blood.
Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.
Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.
Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.


First Sister by Linden Lewis - This debut novel sounds really interesting. Out August 4th.

Combining the social commentary of The Handmaid’s Tale with the white-knuckled thrills of Red Rising, this epic space opera follows a comfort woman as she claims her agency, a soldier questioning his allegiances, and a non-binary hero out to save the solar system.
First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.
Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.
A stunning and sweeping debut novel that explores the power of technology, colonization, race, and gender, The First Sister is perfect for fans of James S.A. Corey, Chuck Wendig, and Margaret Atwood.

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson - This is the third in a planned 4 book series. I have really enjoyed the previous two books and can't wait to dive into this. The release date has been moved from June to August 11th.

The hunt is over. After fifteen years of lies and sacrifice, Baru Cormorant has the power to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest that she pretends to serve. The secret society called the Cancrioth is real, and Baru is among them.
But the Cancrioth's weapon cannot distinguish the guilty from the innocent. If it escapes quarantine, the ancient hemorrhagic plague called the Kettling will kill hundreds of millions...not just in Falcrest, but all across the world. History will end in a black bloodstain.
Is that justice? Is this really what Tain Hu hoped for when she sacrificed herself?
Baru's enemies close in from all sides. Baru's own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path—a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world's riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize.
If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Book Review: Building the Great Cathedrals by Francois Icher

Translated by Anthony Zielonka

Pros: lots of large illustrations and photographs, goes over the entire process, easy to read

Cons: some extraneous information, refutes bad information by first teaching it to the reader

The book consists of six chapters: The Age of the Cathedrals; Patronage, Financing, and the Workshop Committee; The Architect; Before Reaching the Cathedral Construction-site; The Cathedral Construction-site; and The Memory of the Builders. I was hoping for a more in depth explanation of how cathedrals are built, from beginning to end. This turned out to be a very basic primer of the process. Turns out that’s all I really needed. There are over 200 colour photos, making this is a luscious book. It’s oversized so the photos are also quite large. There’s a good mix with a lot of building images and photos from various cathedrals.

The emphasis here is on French cathedrals and guilds, branching out briefly to touch on other places. I found it a bit annoying how the author kept refuting beliefs. Yes, it’s important to correct misconceptions but I’d prefer that be done by simply explaining the correct answer rather than taking up room to teach the bad information first. I also found the short chapter on whether a modern French confraternity descends from the medieval guilds unnecessary.

The last chapter includes information on a sketchbook that survives from the middle ages which reproduces many cathedral design elements. That was fantastic. I also appreciated the translations of some of the guild regulations for stonecutters.

This is a basic guide to the construction of cathedrals - from start to finish - whose illustrations really make it worth the price.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Book Review: Pheonix Unbound by Grace Draven

Pros: good world-building, interesting characters

Cons: the world is brutal, begins with a rape

Gilene is the village of Beroe’s sacrifice for the Rites of Spring, and due to her ability to control fire, has been for the past few years. Her actions keep the other women in her village safe from harm but extract a severe price from her. When she’s recognized through her illusion spell by the Gladiator Prime Azarion, he blackmails her into helping him escape the coliseum and the Empire itself. As a fire witch, he needs her to reclaim his rightful place as heir to his clan.

This is a fantasy novel that follows the beats of a category romance novel. Despite it’s happily ever ending though, the world is brutal and the book itself begins by explaining that the heroine has been raped in the past as part of her duties as a sacrifice, while graphically showing the rape of the hero by the Empress, a scene I could have done without.

These actions set a tone for the book that I was never able to recover from. The author does a great job of showing how, over time, the couple begins to overcome their meeting (Azarion’s abduction and threatening of Gilene) to slowly kindle romantic feeling for each other. A fair amount of time passes over the course of the book, making this feel believable.

I really liked both Gilene and Azarion as characters. Gilene is responsible and pragmatic, even in the face of her imposed ‘duty’. The scene at the beginning where she disrobes, ready to be raped and done, is heartwrenching but really does show what a survivor she is. Azarion has lived through similar horrors and I was surprised that this was never used as a way to bring them closer together emotionally - that they never talked to each other (or other characters) as a way of dealing with and trying to heal from their traumas. I did like his determination and spirit and learning about his tribe was interesting.

Their rape is never formally addressed between them and thus hangs over everything they do. When they finally make love, Gilene thinks back to the last man she was with (ie, her previous rape). Not only is this off-putting to the reader it shows that she’s never really dealt with the trauma of the horrors she’s been through. Thinking back on this later, I wish the author had eased them into the physicality of sex as much as she’d eased them into their emotional connection. Yes, they share a bed and end up cuddling, but there’s no measure of, this is how sex with a willing partner differs from an unwilling, and I think the characters (and I as a reader) needed that. I also think it would have been interesting to see Azarion discuss how his only (only recent at any rate) experiences of sex were violent and filled with fear and anger, asking for advice on how to give (and feel) pleasure. I found it bizarre that the author would bring up such a heavy emotional event and then not try to show actual healing via therapy of some sort. Because as much as Gilene’s pragmatism makes her willing to undergo rape, that’s not the same as healing from it and being ready for an actual emotional and physical connection.

The world-building was very good. I liked that there are several types of magic and that some magics come with a cost. There are several interconnected political and economic groups (the Empire, various tribes, guilds, tradesmen). The Savatar were fleshed out as a people with a lot of customs setting them off from the Empire.

I loved that both characters get satisfying climaxes for their different plot arcs. The ending was great.

If you’re looking for a feel good, fluffy read, give this a pass. If you like grimdark fantasy but want more romance, this is for you.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Anniversary "spaceship view" card

I recently celebrated my anniversary and made a science fiction based card for my husband. My idea was this couple is dancing in front of the view screen/window of a spaceship flying past or orbiting another planet. It's the first card I've made in a while and I'm happy with how it turned out. You can't really see it in the photo but some of the darker planetary lines (clouds?) has some shimmery gold mixed in with the darker red.


Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Book Review: History of the Church in Art by Rosa Giorgi



Translated by Brian Phillps

Pros: lots of images, covers a range of topics

Cons: no glossary for vestments

This is part of a series of books by the J. Paul Getty Museum where works of art (mostly paintings) have aspects highlighted to give a deeper appreciation of the artworks and their meanings. After the introduction there are 5 chapters in this book: Liturgical Objects and Furnishings; Clothes, Vestments, and Status; Worship and Images; Episodes in the History of the Western Church; and Historical Figures in the Roman Church Tradition.

This book is not a linear history of the Catholic Church. It is a guide to help you identify items of Catholic worship (clothing and implements) as well as important people and events in works of art.

I enjoyed learning about the various church implements, some of which I’ve learned to recognize and some of which I was unfamiliar with. This section was great as each implement was dealt with individually with at least one or two images. 

I was hoping the section on vestments would go over each item of clothing so I could get a better understanding of what each one was. Instead the chapter dealt more with status, showing different orders (monks, priests, cardinals) and what they would wear. While there were some textual notes pointing out the various individual items of clothing (alb, cope, etc) it would have been nice to get a glossary of terms with simple images to better teach these terms.

The paintings used as examples were mostly from the later middle ages to the 1800s and covered a good mix of topics and people. I appreciated the number of explanatory notes each one received.

The chapters on historical episodes and figures covered a fair range of topics. There were a few I’d have added, but on the whole I thought they did a good job.

If you are interested in Christian art or the history of the Catholic church, this is a great book.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Shout-Out: HEX by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Nell Barber, an expelled PhD candidate in biological science, is exploring the fine line between poison and antidote, working alone to set a speed record for the detoxification of poisonous plants. Her mentor, Dr. Joan Kallas, is the hero of Nell's heart. Nell frequently finds herself standing in the doorway to Joan's office despite herself, mesmerized by Joan's elegance, success, and spiritual force.

Surrounded by Nell's ex, her best friend, her best friend's boyfriend, and Joan's buffoonish husband, the two scientists are tangled together at the center of a web of illicit relationships, grudges, and obsessions. All six are burdened by desire and ambition, and as they collide on the university campus, their attractions set in motion a domino effect of affairs and heartbreak.

Meanwhile, Nell slowly fills her empty apartment with poisonous plants to study, and she begins to keep a series of notebooks, all dedicated to Joan. She logs her research and how she spends her days, but the notebooks ultimately become a painstaking map of love. In a dazzling and unforgettable voice, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight has written a spellbinding novel of emotional and intellectual intensity.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Books Received in March, 2020

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

The Mother Code by Carole Stivers - I have finished this and will post my review on its release date of May 5th August 25th. It has the unfortunate timing of being a book about a man made pandemic during an actual pandemic. Not my preferred reading right now, which coloured my impression of the book.

It’s 2049, and the survival of the human race is at risk. Earth’s inhabitants must turn to their last resort: a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order—an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code. 


Kai is born in America's desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too—in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?
In a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human—and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.

Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis - Sounds interesting. This will be my next read. Out July 21st.

Truth is a human right.
It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government—and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him—until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.
Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human—and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Book Review: The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages by Geraldine Heng

Pros: good exploration of a challenging topic, lots of examples, thoroughly examines sources

Cons: sometimes uses fictional narratives as if they were accurate historical works, didn’t properly clarify that Ethiopia does not mean the current country, repeats information

The book consists of 8 chapters: Beginnings, Inventions/Reinventions (race studies), State/Nation (Jews), War/Empire (Islamic “Saracens”), Color (Africans), World I (Native Americans as mentioned in the Vinland sagas), World II (Mongol Empire), World III (Romani). There is no conclusion but there are a lot of notes after each chapter.

The ‘Beginnings’ introductory chapter gives a brief overview of what each chapter covers. Chapter one deals with the idea that race is a modern construct and that racism as understood today didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The author pulls that argument apart with a few quick examples of how Jews were treated in England (wearing a symbol on their clothes, accusations of blood/murder libel, the Jewish exchequer). She also quickly goes over the mappamundi that gained popularity in the 13th century, with their ‘monstrous races’ around the edges of the known European world and how the English wrote about the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish closer to home. She concludes this chapter with a quick example of race as it pertains to colour, specifically black Africans.

With the foundation set, the author moves to the heart of the matter starting with how the Jews were perceived in Medieval England specifically. The first two chapters were a struggle for me as the language was hard to parse, being very academic and dense. As the book progressed the language became more accessible and I found the rest of it easier going. The author repeated some information within chapters, which is great if you’re only reading one section but could get annoying at times when reading the whole thing.

I was impressed with the extent to which the author dissected her sources.

The author had the habit of giving very brief mention to things that should have been emphasized more. For example, in the chapter on black Africans there’s little reinforcing of the fact that “Ethiopia” referred to anywhere in Africa south of Egypt, and often included India (as goods from India traveled to Europe via ports in Africa). It would be easy to assume the term deals with the modern country. Similarly, while the same chapter uses fictional works to show the European attitudes towards black characters the author later uses other fictional narratives as if they were pure historic documents (while the Norse sagas might have a high level of accuracy, taking minutae written 200 years after the fact at face value is unwise).

There was a lot of great information imparted, and some interesting works broken down. I learned a lot from this book, especially on topics I have less background in. For example it was great that the author brought in archaeological information about Native American tribes that supported information from the Norse sagas. But there were times when had I not had the grounding on a certain topic (having read several books on ancient/medieval Ethiopia, taken a course in university on the challenges of using fictional primary sources for accurate historical information) I might have come away with the wrong conclusions.

This is a good book that discusses an important topic, but it’s not for beginners and should be read with care.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Book Review: Where Oblivion Lives by T. Frohock

Pros: fast paced, focused, interesting worldbuilding

Cons:

It is 1932 and tensions between Germany and France are on the rise. Diagos nightmares of the Great War and sharp violin music are getting worse and he fears los Nefilim will cast him out unless he can prove himself trustworthy. So when his lost violin case is discovered he offers to track down the instrument in Germany. But a past life connection implicates Guillermo’s half brother and a fallen angel.

I really enjoyed this. The plot is quick paced and engaging making the book hard to put down. Everything is focused on the plot, so while there is some groundwork being set for the next book in the series (with regards to the Spanish Civil War and World War II), most of what goes on is directly related to what’s happening at this period of time.

I love the characters and how they support each other. Even the scenes from one of the antagonist’s point of view showed that he has what he feels are noble motivations for his actions. Since Diago is gone for most of the book there isn’t as much family time, which is a shame as their personal dynamics are so wholesome and loving - and hard to find in media.

The alternate history additions of angels and daimons continues to be interesting. I love that the magic system is built around symbols and music.

I’m looking forward to the next book.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Book Review: Los Nefilim by T. Frohock

Pros: great relationships, tight plots

Cons: not enough background!

Several years ago Diago had a short "affair" with an angel, a betrayal he hid from his husband. Now another angel threatens to kill his husband if he doesn’t sacrifice the son he didn’t know existed to a daimon.

This is a collection of 3 novellas dealing with Diago, his husband Miquel, and his son, Rafael and how the Nephilim (offspring of humans and either angels or daimons) interact with each other. The stories take place within a short time frame.

I've put "affair" in quotation marks because as the story goes on it's revealed to be a rape. There are no graphic details but if this will trigger you you may want to avoid the book. I thought the author handeled it well, though the characters don't dwell on the emotional aftermath that would result from this revelation as much as I suspect real people would.

I liked the interactions between the three principle characters. The relationship between Diago and Miquel was so loving and considerate. Seeing Miquel caring for Rafael was very touching, especially given Rafael’s origin. There were some great family moments, especially with the later stories.

Each novella has a tight plot that gives you the necessary information and characters and little else.

I’d love to learn more about Diago’s past, his time with King Solomon in particular. Hopefully one of the novels the author has written as follow-ups will go into that period and fleshes out the world some more.

I enjoyed this and am looking forward to reading more in this world.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Shout-Out: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Sky in the Deep in this bewitching, historical horror novel, perfect for fans of Holly Black and V.E. Schwab.

Seventeen-year-old Aderyn ("Ryn") only cares about two things: her family and her family's graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don't always stay dead.

The risen corpses are known as "bone houses," and legend says that they're the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?

Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the deeply-buried truths about themselves. Equal parts classic horror novel and original fairytale, The Bone Houses will have you spellbound from the very first page.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

History Review: Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography by Sara Lipton

After the introduction there are seven chapters: Mirror of the Fathers: The Birth of a Jewish Iconography, ca. 1015-1100, Blinding Light and Blinkered Witness, ca. 1100-1160, Jewish Eyes: Loveless Looking and the Unlovely Christ, ca. 1160-1220, All the World’s a Picture: Jews and the Mirror of Society, ca. 1220-1300, The Jew’s Face: Flesh, Sight, and Sovereignty, ca. 1230-1350, Where are the Jewish Women?, and The Jew in the Crowd: Surveillance and Civic Vision, ca 1350-1500.

The first few chapters the author would posit an idea and then later refute it, making a mess of my attempts to note take the book. I found the later chapters much more straightforward. The chapters are all subdivided into smaller subjects that wrap around the issue so you get a feel for the times and places being discussed in addition to the main question of how Jews were depicted in art during the middle ages.

She alternates between generalized statements and specific examples but constantly reminds the reader that there is no singular interpretation - that anti-semitic images existed along side images showing Jews witnessing ancient prophets and detailing important Old Testament stories in positive ways. The slow evolution of images from merely illustrating stories to hook nosed, cap wearing personifications of evil is a sad reflection of their society as a whole, made even sadder by the fact that you can see a lot of similar beliefs/accusations against Jews and other minority groups cropping up in society today.

The book contains a good amount of black and white photographs of the artworks discussed as well as a central section with colour photos.

It’s an interesting and complex topic and the author does a good job of breaking it down into smaller, easy to understand pieces.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Shout-Out: Songs From the Deep by Kelly Powell

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Book Review: The Killing Light by Myke Cole

Note added June 25, 2020: since this review was posted some allegations have been raised against this author.
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Pros: intense, great slow-burn romance

Cons:

Heloise and her allies march on the Emperor’s city, but a ghastly glow behind them changes their focus when it becomes clear a rent has been torn into the demonic realm after their battle with the magicians in Lyse and demons have come through.

As with the previous volumes there is a lot of action, a lot of pain, and a lot of surprise twists. The book can get very intense at times, especially during the fight scenes. I had no idea where anything was going but the ending felt like the perfect wrap-up for all Heloise had been through.

I loved the relationship that formed between Heloise and her bodyguard Xilyka. Xilyka’s understanding of Heloise’s PTSD was wonderful to see.

Tone’s storyline was very surprising considering everything he did in the previous books and yet seemed to fit. I appreciated that though Heloise was hurt and angry, she never became a monster.

This is a great series if you want a heroine you can root for - the whole way through, one who grows as a person and doesn’t become corrupted by loss.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Shout-Out: The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. 
William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Book Review: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Pros: compelling, thought provoking

Cons: limited tension

The world believes that 10 years ago Zahra’s father killed everyone aboard the House of Wisdom spaceship using an old virus. Zahra now belongs to a wasteland ‘family’ that plans to hijack the ship and use it as a new home, escaping the reach of the United Councils of Earth. To access the ship Zahra and a small group kidnap the only surviving member of the House of Wisdom massacre, Jaswinder Bhattacharya. But the Councils were wrong about what happened on the ship and Zarah’s small infiltration group is about to learn the horrifying truth.

This is a very compelling read. I had a hard time putting it down and finished it in one day. This did have the unfortunate side effect that I didn’t really have time to fear for the characters’ lives or feel any emotional connection with any but the point of view characters. There was only limited tension built up before bad things happened.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Zahra and Jaswinder, with occasional transmission logs in between giving information from the time of the original massacre. Both protagonists were in many ways broken people with tragic pasts and complicated presents. They were interesting to learn more about and easy to sympathize with.

The book occasionally had characters point out the racism and politics of their world, especially with the treatment of Jaswinder’s best friend, Baqir, who immigrated to the Councils but lost family members and an arm to a disease before their application was processed.

The mystery on the ship was handled well, with information being revealed at a satisfying rate.

It’s a great, quick read.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

3D Notre-Dame de Paris Puzzle

For Christmas my husband got me a really cool, incredibly detailed, 3D model/puzzle for Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral.  I spent the last 2 weekends putting it together. It's by a company called Cubic Fun.

The pieces are printed on each side of thin foamboard, which you punch out of cards. There's also a card of printed acetate windows and double sided tape pieces for putting the windows in.

The puzzle/model starts by putting the west facade together. I was amazed by the number of pieces each step took.

The doors look so real, with a piece of foamboard for each layer of statuary. It looks amazing. And they got the pictures for the sculpture right - so each door has the proper tympanum and archivolts (sculpture above and around the door), rather than the same images printed 3 times. The rose windows are also different, though the other windows are copies of the same image.

 Next were the two sides, and all their flying buttresses.

Here's one side done, roof and all.

The finished cathedral looks incredible and is quite large. My cat walked around it while I was taking pictures, giving a sense of scale. Closed, it's over a foot high and at least a foot and a half long.


It even opens up so you can see the interior aisles and tiny altar.