Thursday 27 August 2020

Shout-Out: Divine Heretic by Jaime Lee Moyer

Everyone knows the story of Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who put Charles VII on the throne and spearheaded France's victory over Britain before being burned by the English as a heretic and witch.

But things are not always as they appear.

Jeanne d'Arc was only five when three angels and saints first came to her. Shrouded by a halo of heavenly light, she believed their claim to be holy. The Archangel Michael and Saint Margaret told her she was the foretold Warrior Maid of Lorraine, fated to free France and put a king upon his throne.

Saint Catherine made her promise to obey their commands and embrace her destiny; the three saints would guide her every step. Jeanne bound herself to these creatures without knowing what she'd done. As she got older, Jeanne grew to mistrust and fear the voices, and they didn't hesitate to punish her cruelly for disobedience. She quickly learned that their cherished prophecy was more important than the girl expected to make it come true.

Jeanne is only a shepherd's daughter, not the Warrior Maid of the prophecy, but she is stubborn and rebellious, and finds ways to avoid doing - and being - what these creatures want. Resistance has a terrifying price, but Jeanne is determined to fight for the life she wants.

But when the cost grows too high, Jeanne will risk everything to save her brother, her one true friend and the man she loves.

Not everyone is destined to be a hero. Sometimes you have no choice.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Book Review: The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

Note: I read and reviewed this title in March, just after my area entered lock-down due to Covid-19. The original release date for the book was May 5th, later pushed back to August 25th.

Pros: the relationship between the robots and kids was interesting

Cons: I intensely disliked the government personnel, the book made me feel angry and anxious

After a biological attack in Afghanistan goes wrong, a team of scientists is assembled to both find a cure and - if that fails - ensure the continuation of human life.

Reading this while in social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic was… not ideal and definitely coloured my reception of the story. The novel has 2 halves and two narratives, that of the scientists and military personnel trying to get a handle on the manufactured virus starting in 2049, and that of some of the kids from the plan B of the scientists, starting when the kids are 6 years old, in 2060. As a Canadian, the US characters’ decision to kept the knowledge of the plague from the rest of the world, deciding in their arrogance that they and they alone could solve the problem, rather than asking for help from scientists around the world, was infuriating to read. I found myself really hating the US scientists despite the author’s attempts to humanize them with love stories and heartbreak. Even at the end it seemed they were hellbent on compounding their errors.

The kids’ story in the first part of the book wasn’t that interesting and really cut down on tension for the other storyline, as the reader knows from the start of the book that at least some of the mother robots succeed. I found their story more compelling and interesting in the second part of the book. The author nails the tension in this half and I was worried about what was going to happen to the kids.

In terms of characters, I did like learning more about the kids and their bonds with the mother robots. I was impressed at how capable the kids all were in terms of caring for themselves, despite their youth.

I felt conflicted by the Hopi inclusion. On the one hand it was neat seeing them, on the other it made them feel like ‘mystical natives’, only there to help the scientists survive. Aside from Nova, we never see them from their own point of view, living their lives. We only see how they help the scientists with medicine, scouting, and food, which made them feel like servants.

I was also unsure what the end goal of the scientists was. Even if all 50 kids survived, that doesn’t seem like enough genetic diversity to repopulate the world.

In better times I think I’d have enjoyed the story more. As it was, I found the book made me feel a mix of anxiety and anger.

Friday 21 August 2020

Homemade Wax Tablet

 Sometimes it's fun to recreate historical items to see how they really worked. 

A while back I saw several people make wax tablets and thought that would be a cool activity. A LONG time ago I made rolled beeswax candles and still had them, so getting the wax was easy. (To make these, you roll sheets of beeswax around a wick.) I considered (and even started) carving a tablet base, but found a suitable wood piece at the dollar store in the lid of a small jewelry box. I unscrewed the lid, sanded the sides and filled in the holes with wood glue. I then painted the entire thing in a coffee stain (which made it feel grainy so I probably wouldn't do that again). I varnished it to keep the stain in and then got to melting my wax. I used a silicone cup in a pot of water as my double boiler. It took longer for the wax to melt than I expected and I had to do it three times to fill my tablet. I probably used around 1 cup of wax for this.

Here you can see the tools I used:

I used all of a black candle and half of a dark blue one, giving me a fairly dark writing space. The wax is denser than I expected, harder to scrape (though I don't have a proper tool). I was surprised how quickly - and how much - wax built up on the writing tool I used (I tried with a matchstick and then a crafting tool that has a small ball on the end). I wonder if proper styli had a way of dealing with this.

I'm using my heat gun to reset the top layer of wax. It appears you'd lose a layer of wax each time you change your message. But your message will stay there unless it gets very hot or you scrape it off. I wonder if people kept a jar for the wax they remove so they can melt it and add it back on...

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Book Review: The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Pros: lots of intrigue, thought provoking, nuanced


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.