Tuesday 28 December 2021

Books Received in December 2021

 Many thanks to Orbit for an advanced copy of:

The City of Dusk by Tara Sim - This just sounds amazing.  Out March 22nd.

This dark epic fantasy follows the heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.

The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the city of dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.

But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving city. And without it, all the realms are dying.

Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Risha, a necromancer struggling to keep the peace; Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with rebellion in her heart; and Nik, a soldier who struggles to see the light—will sacrifice everything to save the city.

But their defiance will cost them dearly.

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Book Review: Drawn on the Way by Sarah Nisbett

Art like many topics is subjective, and so learning how to do art will be different for everyone. I was hoping the author’s more relaxed ‘no rules’ version of learning to draw would work for me in ways that some other learn how to draw guides have not. Unfortunately, while I liked some of the principles the author professed, her style of learning did not work for me either.

I greatly appreciated the section on starting something new, that you need to ignore negative thoughts in order to simply create. The act of making art should bring joy, regardless of what the end result looks like.

I also thought the idea of starting an image with the ‘hook’ (the thing that first catches your eye) and then using that element as the scale for the rest of the image was a good technique and she explains several other clever tricks for making things look more realistic.

But the practical aspects of the book didn’t mesh with my style of drawing. I don’t like the limits imposed by some exercises used, like trying to draw an image without looking at your paper. While I can understand the point of the exercise is to make you focus on the subject and not get hung up on the end result, for me these exercises are more frustrating then helpful as I’m left with a bunch of lines that don’t look anything like the subject.

The chapters are short with only a few paragraphs explaining each lesson and in a few cases I felt that I still didn’t quite understand how to do what was being asked. Especially in one of the early lessons about interrogating the subject when determining what to draw. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of asking a still life subject ‘what happens next’?

Everyone learns differently so the fact that this book didn’t quite work for me shouldn’t discourage you from checking it out.

Friday 17 December 2021

Shout-Out: Nucleation by Kimberly Unger

In this riveting debut science-fiction technothriller, a top-notch VR pilot encounters a disaster during the highest profile space-faring project of her career. Now she must unearth a critical truth: was her discovery due to a betrayal, a business rival, or a threat to humanity itself?

We are live, we are live, we are live. . .

Helen Vectorvich just botched first contact. And she did it in both virtual reality and outer space.

Only the most elite Far Reaches deep-space pilots get to run waldos: robots controlled from thousands of lightyears away via neural integration and quantum entanglement. Helen and her navigator were heading the construction of a wormhole gate that would connect Earth to the stars . . . until a routine system check turned deadly.

As nasty rumors swarm around her, and overeager junior pilots jockey to take her place, Helen makes a startling discovery: microscopic alien life is devouring their corporate equipment. Is the Scale just mindless, extra-terrestrial bacteria? Or is it working—and killing—with a purpose?

While Helen struggles to get back into the pilot’s chair, and to communicate with the Scale, someone—or something—is trying to sabotage the Far Reaches project once and for all. They’ll have to get through Helen first.

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Book Review: The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and Holy War by Geoffrey Hindley

Pros: excellent overview, covers all the crusades, good supplementary material

Cons: superficial coverage can leave gaps in knowledge

This is a short but comprehensive record of the crusades, from what led up to the calling of the first crusade, to how modern nations have looked back on them. In addition to dealing with each crusade and what happened between them, the book also has an excellent chronology, a few maps, and appendices of the various popes and secular rulers of some of the principle nations involved. There are 14 chapters, with an additional introduction explaining what the crusades were and an epilogue. While there are scant details of each crusade, the author is careful to note the various horrors each side perpetuated and how each side was impacted by the crusades (so you get some idea of how Jews, heretics, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, etc. reacted. The one group that got very little input were the Eastern European pagans, who are mentioned in later chapters but there isn’t much information about how they reacted to the crusades beyond what battles they were involved in).

There isn’t much detail for each crusade, the length of the book necessarily forcing the author to cover each one briefly, but the author does an excellent job of covering the basics and more. In some cases it’s easy to skip over some of the more horrible aspects, as they could get a single line - like the fact that some crusaders resorted to cannibalism to survive the first crusade. Having said that, I was impressed by how much information was crammed in. The book provides an excellent overview of the crusades as a whole after which you can easily pick up a book on a specific crusade/period to get more in depth information, knowing the broad strokes of the movement.

If you’re interested in the crusades and want a book that covers it all, this is a good one.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Book Review: The History of Tarot Art: Demystifying the Art and Arcana, Deck by Deck by Holly Adams Easley and Esther Joy Archer

Pros: lots of illustrations, sticks to verifiable history, engaging

Cons: images of a few discussed cards not included

Note: I received a review copy of the ebook from Netgalley and therefore cannot comment on the removable Sola-Busca tarot cards or fold-out tarot timeline that the physical book comes with.

The History of Tarot Art takes you on a journey of the most influential tarot decks. After a short introduction there are 12 chapters on specific tarot decks, followed by a chapter that showcases several contemporary decks. Then there’s a quick epilogue and an appendix where the authors explain how to do a tarot reading and provide 2 spreads for beginners.

Each chapter talks about the history of that deck, who the artist was and why the deck was created. In a few cases other artworks by the artist are included so you can see their general style. The artists also explain the wider influence of the decks and offer a few suggestions of other decks you might like if that style of art speaks to you.

In the introduction the authors make it clear that they are only including verifiable history, no ‘fakelore’. I really appreciated the amount of research that went into this book and how ideas about tarot developed from playing cards to cards for divination purposes.

There are a lot of illustrations in the book, mostly specific tarot cards from the decks discussed and recommended. In a few places the authors spoke about specific cards that did not show up in the book, which was unfortunate. There were also a few places where the formatting of the book meant the authors spoke about one specific card, like the sun card, and a different deck’s sun card appeared on that page, which was a bit confusing.

It’s fascinating to see how styles changed over time and how various artists created their own decks to address the fact that the current decks didn’t speak to them or show them as practitioners (so feminist and more inclusive decks that made the esoteric content more accessible).

On the whole this is a fantastic book if you’re interested in the art and history of tarot cards.

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Books Received in November 2021

Many thanks to the publishers who granted my book requests on Netgalley in November. These aren't my usual requests but I've been getting more into art and history (and art history) lately.

The History of Tarot Art by Esther Joy Archer and Holly Adams Easley - I find the history of tarot pretty fascinating and so am looking forward to learning more about the history of art used to depict the cards and how the artwork evolved over time and was modified by various artists to fit how they wanted to use the cards.

The History of Tarot Art offers a fresh and accessible look at the art styles, artists, and history behind more than a dozen of the world’s most noteworthy tarot decks.

Guided by Holly Adams Easley and Esther Joy Archer, hosts of the popular Wildly Tarot podcast, this deluxe collector’s book provides a fresh look at the influence of tarot from its beginnings to today. The elegant slipcase, 24 removable Sola-Busca tarot cards, and illustrated fold-out timeline with important dates in tarot development make this package a must-have for any tarot fan.

The History of Tarot Art shows how tarot morphed from a fifteenth century card game to a popular modern activity. Learn more about the stories behind the art of tarot’s most influential decks, like Rider-Waite-Smith and Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, as well as the female artists whose work was often overshadowed in their time.

The History of Tarot Art also takes a close look at the Visconti, Sola-Busca, Tarot de Marseille, Aquarian, Morgan-Greer, Motherpeace, Cosmic, Druidcraft, Wild Unknown, and Deviant Moon decks, alongside dozens of contemporary decks. In many cases, you’ll see how tarot art reflects its era. The Morgan-Greer deck, for example, could only have been born in the 1970s. More recent decks, such as Black Power Tarot and Fifth Spirit Tarot, aim to represent more diverse experiences in regard to race, gender, and sexuality.

The book also provides tips for doing your own tarot readings and a cheat sheet on the meanings of the Rider-Waite-Smith, Thoth, and Tarot de Marseille cards.

Whether you're a longtime tarot practitioner or a newcomer to the practice, you'll find fascinating new insights in this retrospective.

Drawn on the Way: A Guide to Capturing the Moment Through Live Sketching by Sarah Nisbett - A few years back I saw some travel sketchbook/journals and thought it would be cool to learn how to quickly illustrated important (or just interesting) moments better. I also like the idea of using sketching to relax in the middle of a hectic day/trip. I've read the first few chapters already and love how the author is encouraging and insists that doing art should bring you JOY. This is something I've forgotten with my other creative pursuits, so it's a timely reminder.  Out December 21st.

Discover how drawing on the way—in-the-moment sketching on a train, in a café, at the laundromat—can improve your drawing skills and let you unplug and engage with the world.

In Drawn on the Way, Sarah Nisbett shares her techniques for creating captivating line drawings that capture moments and moods: a young woman lost in thought, a pair of hands clasped on a lap, a peppy beagle, a pair of jeans-clad crossed legs. Sarah invites readers to see the people they draw with “compassionate curiosity—as more than a stranger, as someone with a story worth knowing or imagining.”

By learning how to create sketches from start to finish employing techniques such as contour drawing, using line work to add texture, and adding spot color, you’ll see how each sketch tells a story. You’ll begin to focus on important details that reveal something about the person you’re drawing: the graceful drape of a hand over a purse, the shy way someone tucks their feet underneath them.

In this book you’ll discover:
  • How to translate what you see into a compelling drawing
  • How to silence your inner critic and find joy in drawing what captures your interest
  • Techniques for drawing figures and creating quick portraits
  • How key details can take a sketch from plain to captivating
  • How to draw scenes and backgrounds without becoming overwhelmed
  • Ways to find the extraordinary in the everyday
  • How to transform mistakes into likeable elements
  • Tips for becoming a visual storyteller
  • Life lessons learned from years of live drawing 
We spend most of our lives on the way, rushing and running from place to place, task to task. When we have a spare minute, we usually reach for our phones and shut everything else out. The techniques, projects, and ideas in Drawn on the Way are designed to help you be more mindful about drawing, to capture the people, places, and things you encounter each day. By doing that, you’ll connect with humanity in a deeper, more meaningful way—and discover a lot about yourself.

A Guide to Medieval Gardens by Michael Brown - I love medieval gardens and learning what plants were grown and how they were used. There aren't that many books on the subject so I can't wait to dive into this one. Out March 30th, 2022.

Medieval gardens usually rate very few pages in the garden history books. The general perception is still of small gardens in the corner of a castle. Recent research has shown that the gardens were larger than we previously believed. This book contains information and pictures that have not been generally available before, including the theory and practice of medieval horticulture. Many features of later gardens were already a part of medieval gardens. The number of plants was limited, but was still no less than many modern gardeners use in their own gardens today. Yet medieval gardens were imbued with meaning. Whether secular or religious, the additional dimension of symbolism, gave a greater depth to medieval gardens, which is lacking in most modern ones.

This book will be of interest to those who know little about medieval gardens and to those with more knowledge. It contains some of the vast amount of research that the author carried out to create the medieval gardens at the Prebendal Manor, Nassington, Northamptonshire. The author has tried to use previously unused sources and included his own practical experience of medieval gardening methods that he carried out to maintain the gardens. Some worked, others certainly didn’t.

Thursday 25 November 2021

Shout-Out: Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier

The past never forgets . . .

Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer's apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land,leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas' title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness.

Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what he remembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targets those closest to the queen,Cas is drawn into a search for a killer...one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret--one that could threaten the kingdom's newfound peace and plunge it back into war.

Monday 22 November 2021

The Reinvented Detective Anthology open for submissions

 Got an email about a new anthology currently open for submissions:

The Reinvented Detective


Edited by Jennifer Brozek and Cat Rambo


As we move forward into the age of information, what happens to our ideas of detection and crime? How do you handle it when your smart car blackmails you or you need to murder the downloaded personality of your enemy? What acts to enforce society's norms and catch those violating them in the future? Will our definitions of crime or punishment change, and what new forms of either might appear?

Among the stories we hope to see:

  • Updated tropes like but not limited to the hardboiled detective, the police procedural, or the locked room mystery.
  • Kidnapped AIs, stolen memories and identities, virtual crimes vs physical ones.
  • What constitutes murder when the victim's got a backup? What if you accidentally unplug someone's server?
  • Stories that experiment, astonish, and entertain.

This is our open call. Writers of color, QUILTBAG writers, writers with disabilities, and neuro-diverse writers are actively encouraged to apply, as are writers from outside the United States.


Open for submissions: November 15th, 2021 through January 15, 2022. All submissions should be submitted through our Moksha portal. Please remove identifying information from the manuscript, but otherwise use standard manuscript format. In the cover letter, list your full author name, the title of your work, and the word count.

Length: 1500-5000 words (5k is going to be a tough sell)

Buying: Original fiction; exclusive rights for 18 months with standard "best of" anthology exceptions.

Paying: 8 cents a word (SFWA pro rates)

No multiple submissions. Simultaneous submissions are okay but you must notify us immediately if the story sells elsewhere.


Submissions open November 15, 2021 and close January 15, 2022

The first round of reading will run February 1 through April 1. All submissions will be informed by May 1 whether or not they are being held for further consideration.  If you have not heard anything by June 1, please email us.

The book will be published in 2023 by by CAEZIK SF & Fantasy, an imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.

Submissions can be made by going to our Moksha portal at: 

Jennifer Brozek

Jennifer Brozek is a multi-talented, award-winning author, editor, and media tie-in writer. She is the author of the Never Let Me Sleep, and The Last Days of Salton Academy, both of which were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Her BattleTech tie-in novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, won a Scribe Award. Her editing work has earned her nominations for the British Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Hugo Award. She won the Australian Shadows Award for the Grants Pass anthology, co-edited with Amanda Pillar. Jennifer’s short form work has appeared in Apex Publications, Uncanny Magazine, and in anthologies set in the worlds of Valdemar, Shadowrun, V-Wars, Masters of Orion, and Predator.

Jennifer has been a freelance author and editor for over fifteen years after leaving a high paying tech job, and she has never been happier. She keeps a tight schedule on her writing and editing projects and somehow manages to find time to volunteer for several professional writing organizations such as SFWA, HWA, and IAMTW. She shares her husband, Jeff, with several cats and often uses him as a sounding board for her story ideas. Visit Jennifer’s worlds at jenniferbrozek.com.  

Cat Rambo

Since first appearing on the SF scene in 2005, Cat Rambo has published over 250 fiction pieces, including Nebula Award winning novelette, Carpe Glitter, and nonfiction works that include Ad Astra: The SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook (co-edited with Fran Wilde) and writing book, Moving From Idea to Finished Draft. Their 2021 works include fantasy novel Exiles of Tabat (Wordfire Press) and space opera You Sexy Thing (Tor Macmillan). Rambo has been short-listed for the World Fantasy Award, the Compton Crook Award, and the Nebula Short Story Award.

A former Vice President and two-term President of the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), Cat continues to volunteer with the organization as part of its mentorship program and Grievance Committee. They founded the online school The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers in 2010, specializing in classes aimed at genre writers, which now offers dozens of classes from some of the best writers currently working in speculative fiction.

Cat has lived in Seattle the last few decades and considers it their home, but is prone to wandering sometimes. They share Chez Rambo with a palindromically-named tortoiseshell cat, a jumping spider, way too many houseplants, and a spouse.

Tuesday 16 November 2021

Video: Medieval Bardcore Holding Out for a Hero

 Two youtubers I greatly admire, Whitney Avalon and Hildegard von Blingin' teamed up to create a medieval bardcore version of Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero. Their music video, inspired by the artwork from books of hours is fantastic.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

The Undertakers by Nicole Glover

This is book two of the Murder and Magic series. My review of book one is here.

Pros: excellent worldbuilding, fun characters, community, interesting mysteries


Henrietta and Benjamin Rhodes’s funeral parlour hasn’t drummed up much business, but their work as sparrow and finch, solving murders and mysteries, has them questioning all the fires that have been breaking out around town. Fires that seem to have magical help. Fires the local firefighters aren’t putting out. A fire killed Raimond Duval, a friend of their friends. The most recent fire burned down an entire street except for the house of Valentine Duval, Raimond’s son. The Rhodes soon learn of stolen goods, a hidden treasure, and discover one of their old enemies is in town.

The book takes place a few months after the events of The Conductors. While you don’t need to have read that to understand this book, it does introduce all of the characters and their interpersonal relationships, which along with the mystery is what makes these books so fun.

I love that there’s a loving couple at the heart of the book. I love that Hetty has several female friends to talk to about everything. I love seeing the Rhodes interact with their group of friends. This sense of community is strangely missing in a lot of fantasy literature and it’s so wonderful to read.

The setting is Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, with several flashbacks to some of the jobs the couple undertook as part of the Vigilance Society (basically the underground railway). It’s a world where magic is real, and most cultures have their own kind of magic, with white Americans using wands for sorcery and the black Americans using celestial magic. In the background are mentions that laws are being considered to limit the use and teaching of celestial magic. Magic is integrated into every aspect of life, showing up at baseball games, balls, gunfights and for daily tasks. There’s also potion craft, which one of Hetty’s friends excels at.

The book touches on many goings on so it’s not always apparent what’s part of the central mystery and what isn’t. Much like real life the characters learn things in offhand and unexpected ways.

This is a great series and I highly recommend it.

Monday 1 November 2021

Books Received in October 2021

Many thanks as always to the publishers who allow me to review their books in advance. There are some amazing books coming out in the next few months.

Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson -  If you're looking for a unique space mystery, give this a try. Out now. You can read my review of it here

The colony ship Ragtime docks in the Lagos system, having traveled light-years to bring one thousand sleeping souls to a new home among the stars. But when first mate Michelle Campion rouses, she discovers some of the sleepers will never wake.

Answering Campion’s distress call, investigator Rasheed Fin is tasked with finding out who is responsible for these deaths. Soon a sinister mystery unfolds aboard the gigantic vessel, one that will have repercussions for the entire system—from the scheming politicians of Lagos station, to the colony planet Bloodroot, to other far-flung systems, and indeed to Earth itself.

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire - I really enjoy McGuire's Wayward Children books and can't wait to learn about the second school. Out January 4th.

"Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company."

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.
It isn't as friendly as Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children.
And it isn't as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her "Home for Wayward Children," she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming...

Mickey7 by Edward Ashton - Clones in space? Sign me up! The plot makes me think of No Way by S.J. Morden, which I enjoyed. Out February 15th.

Dying isn’t any fun…but at least it’s a living.

Mickey7 is an Expendable: a disposable employee on a human expedition sent to colonize the ice world Niflheim. Whenever there’s a mission that’s too dangerous―even suicidal―the crew turns to Mickey. After one iteration dies, a new body is regenerated with most of his memories intact. After six deaths, Mickey7 understands the terms of his deal…and why it was the only colonial position unfilled when he took it.

On a fairly routine scouting mission, Mickey7 goes missing and is presumed dead. By the time he returns to the colony base, surprisingly helped back by native life, Mickey7’s fate has been sealed. There’s a new clone, Mickey8, reporting for Expendable duties. The idea of duplicate Expendables is universally loathed, and if caught, they will likely be thrown into the recycler for protein.

Mickey7 must keep his double a secret from the rest of the colony. Meanwhile, life on Niflheim is getting worse. The atmosphere is unsuitable for humans, food is in short supply, and terraforming is going poorly. The native species are growing curious about their new neighbors, and that curiosity has Commander Marshall very afraid. Ultimately, the survival of both lifeforms will come down to Mickey7.

That is, if he can just keep from dying for good.

A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson - This book just sounds incredible. Out March 1st.

Myra has a gift many would kidnap, blackmail, and worse to control: she’s a portrait artist whose paintings alter people’s bodies. Guarding that secret is the only way to keep her younger sister safe now that their parents are gone. But one frigid night, the governor’s wife discovers the truth and threatens to expose Myra if she does not complete a special portrait that would resurrect the governor's dead son.

Once she arrives at the legendary stone mansion, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. A killer stalks these halls--one disturbingly obsessed with portrait magic. Desperate to get out of the manor as quickly as possible, Myra turns to the governor’s older son for help completing the painting before the secret she spent her life concealing makes her the killer’s next victim.

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Book Review: Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

Pros: interesting characters, great world-building, unique


AIs fly ships, and AIs have never failed in flight.

When first mate Michelle ‘Shell’ Campion is woken after the last bridge-jump to the Bloodroot colony, 10 years into her mission, she finds the starship Ragtime’s AI reduced to its basic operating system and 31 colonists missing from their sleeping pods. This is not the way the now acting captain foresaw her first mission going.

Bloodroot sends an investigator in answer to Shell’s distress call to find out what’s happening on the quarantined ship, but murder is just the start of the mysteries he uncovers there.

The world-building is great. While most of the action takes place on Ragtime, I loved Lagos station and learning about the Lambers. I also appreciated that the human characters were considerate towards the AI, even asking what pronouns they prefer.

The plot begins with the mystery of how the colonists died, but that’s quickly overshadowed by the weirdest series of events as things on Ragtime quickly spiral out of control. You’re not going to figure out ‘who dunnit’, or foresee any of the other twists that come completely out of left field, but the ending explains why everything happened, which I greatly appreciated.

The pacing can be on the slow side at times, reflecting the actualities of space travel and communication. Having said that, the characters never have enough time to solve a problem before the next one comes up, making the story feel claustrophobic, rushed, and tense.

The characters are intriguing and unusual. Shell is calm and collected even under the worst pressure. Fin hates space though he’s excited to be practicing his trade again after screwing up his last assignment. Joké is… unique and kind of fun.

This is a different kind of science fiction novel, something the author mentions in an afterword at the end of the book. So if you want something outside the norm give this a try.

Friday 15 October 2021

Shout-Out: Winders by Ryan O'Nan

In this stunning debut by actor and screenwriter Ryan O'Nan (Skins, Marvel's Legion, Queen of the South), time itself can be wound back like a clock. The power of Winding can fix mistakes and prevent disasters. Or, in the wrong hands, it can be used as a weapon against the world...

Juniper Trask is a prodigy, raised under the Council's strict Code, which allows Winders to exist in secret among average humans. After the shocking murder of her mentor, she is chosen to take his seat on the Council. But as Juniper settles into her new role, cracks of dissension are forming around her, and she uncovers the dark truth behind their power. Juniper has just become a pawn in a game no one knows is being played, and as she begins to question the Code for the first time, her life spirals into a world of danger.

Charlie Ryan always knew he was different, ever since he saved his mother from a horrible car wreck that no one but him remembers. After meeting a mysterious man who claims he has the same ability, Charlie leaves home to chase him for answers. But the world Charlie's stepped into is more dangerous than he could have imagined. Charlie's powers are special, and there are those who would kill to get their hands on him.

Now, Juniper and Charlie need each other if they are going to survive the future--no matter which future that may be...

Wednesday 13 October 2021

Book Review: No Way by S. J. Morden

Note: This is book 2 of the series, therefore the review contains spoilers for book 1 (you can read my review of One Way here.)

Pros: gets you quickly up to speed with regards to the events of book 1, interesting characters, some ethical dilemmas, hard SF, variety of conflicts


After building the base on Mars and surviving XOs attempted assassinations, Frank cuts at deal with the company to impersonate Lance Brack and help the NASA astronauts arriving in a few months with their mission. But XO has others secrets on Mars, and they intend to keep their malfeasance unknown on Earth.

No Way picks up immediately after the end of One Way. If it’s been a while since you read the first book, the author does an excellent job of reminding you of the ending and the more important elements within the first few chapters of book two.

Frank is a sympathetic protagonist despite his past. He faces a lot of ethical dilemmas before the NASA crew arrive, and a few more afterwards. The crew themselves face some tough decisions later in the book.

I appreciated that the conflict was a mix of man vs nature, man vs himself, and man vs man. The book is well paced, with sections where things are going well followed by tense chapters where things go very wrong.

Descriptions of life on Mars circle around the constant danger, the monotonous scenery, and the utter excitement of being on an alien planet. While I personally can’t vouch for the scientific accuracy of everything that happens, the author is a rocket scientist with degrees in geology and planetary geophysics.

There is some thematic overlap with The Martian, though the tone here is more serious. If you like survival stories, or Mars, this is a fantastic book.

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Books Received in September 2021

 Many thanks to TOR Books for the following title.

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott - I have heard amazing things about Kate Elliott's work but have somehow never read her. So I'm really looking forward to this book, which releases in January, 2022.

They choose their laws to secure their power.

Fellion is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.

Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.

But Fellion has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Popin' Cookin' Sushi

 It's been a few years since I did one of these Japanese Popin' Cookin' candy kits. This is the sushi one, which is quite simple in comparison with other kits I've done (I didn't have to look up the instructions in English!). 

The kit comes with a tray for making the shaped pieces (with textured bottoms so the pieces look 'real'). There's a dropper for the caviar, a mixing spoon, and the different flavoured gelatins.

You basically fill the compartments with water up to the line and then add the correct gelatin (my Japanese is still good enough for me to read the package names). The hardest part was stretching out the nori/seaweed base for that sushi piece as it broke and didn't want to hold together. I enjoyed making the little caviar balls, picking up mix from compartment A and dropping it into B where it stayed separated out.

Not sure what the various fruity flavours were, but they worked well together and tasted really good. Even the 'soy sauce' was nice. The inner packaging has mini plates you can cut out for presentation, but I've got an actual Japanese plate for that.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Book Review: The Offset by Calder Szewczak

Pros: intense worldbuilding, interesting characters

Cons: abrupt ending, several unanswered questions

Miri is angry at the selfishness of her parents who brought her into a dying world, especially Professor Jac Boltanski, “humanity’s last hope”. She always knew Jac would be her offset, the parent chosen to die for the sin of procreating when their child turns 18. And Miri’s 18th birthday is two days away. She’s home again after running away 2 years ago, and no longer sure she’s making the right choice.

Meanwhile Jac has discovered a problem with her project and travels to a lab far from home, knowing her time is short.

The book is short and to the point, focusing on the characters and the world they inhabit. It’s told from the points of view of Miri and her mothers, Jac and Alix. Miri is angry and lashes out, but has also been through a lot of challenges, so you understand at least part of where she’s coming from. Jac’s focus on work is admirable considering she’s trying to undo climate change, but it’s clear she missed out on a lot of family stuff because of it. I really liked Alix and felt she got a rough deal. I felt sorry for her not having her wife around for their last few days together.

The worldbuilding was excellent and intense, with so much of society broken down but the acknowledgement that the rich will still get the best food, care, and opportunities. I appreciated that the authors (writing duo Emma Szweczak and Natasha Calder) show us how the poor and the rich lived, and how easy it is to take certain things in life for granted when you’ve known nothing else.

The anti-natalists are terrifying, but also somewhat sympathetic. In a world where overpopulation has caused so many problems it’s easy to see how so many people would advocate against procreation and create the offset. This is brought to a head when the characters visit a ReproViolence clinic and it becomes clear that the offset isn’t the only violence surrounding procreation.

The story is compelling and I found it hard to put the book down. Chapters are short so it’s easy to squeeze a couple in.

I found the ending rather abrupt, expecting to see more of how things worked after Jac learned what was happening with her project. There were a number of questions I wanted to see resolved that were left hanging. The authors have expressed that this may be the first of a series, so here’s hoping there are more books.

The Offset was an interesting read. The premise reminded me of Unwind by Neal Shusterman, bleak but with a hint of hope.

Tuesday 7 September 2021

Book Review: Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Pros: interesting characters, lots of conflicting motivations, challenging heist


Ryia, The Butcher of Carrowwick, has been hunted by the Guildmaster of Thamorr for years. As the muscle for Callum Clem, leader of the Saints in the slums of Carrowwick, she has a fairly safe home. But when the opportunity comes to rob the Guildmaster and remove him as a threat she jumps at the chance. But this is a mission requiring a team, and though her teammates are mostly Saints, they’ve each got their own plans for how this mission will end.

The author does an excellent job of setting up the main characters. It makes the opening feel a little slow, but the payoff comes quickly when you understand who the heist team members are and the conflicting motivations that drive them. It’s the motivations that make this book compelling, knowing that they all want to double cross each other, but for different reasons. You know - early on - that things are going to go poorly, and it’s a wild ride seeing just how everything falls out in the end.

The characters are quite interesting with different reasons why they’re working for Callum Clem. I especially enjoyed seeing Ryia, The Butcher of Carrowwick, develop a conscience.

The adepts and their telepathic/telekinetic magic is handled well, kept in a fair bit of mystery. The crew mainly uses their own form of magic, sleight of hand and make-up to achieve their ends.

After the opening chapters the book is very fast paced, with plans and counter-plans, fights and derring do. If you like grimdark fantasy but with a more upbeat feel, this is a great book.

Thursday 2 September 2021

Shout-Out: Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux

In this claustrophobic science fiction thriller, a woman begins to doubt her own sanity and reality itself when she undergoes a dangerous experiment.

The Ganymede facility is a fresh start. At least that's what Senna tells herself when she arrives to take part in a cutting-edge scientific treatment in which participants have traumatic memories erased.

And Senna has reasons for wanting to escape her past.

But almost as soon as the treatment begins, Senna finds more than just her traumatic memories disappearing. She hardly recognizes her new life or herself. Even though the cure might justify the side effects of the process, Senna knows that something isn't right. As the side effects worsen, she will need to band together with the other participants to unravel the mystery of her present and save her future.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Book Review: The Good Wife’s Guide - Translated by Gina Greco and Christine Rose

Pros: faithful translation that mentions prior work done on the text, lots of textual notes and introductory pieces to help with comprehension, lots of interesting information about life in the middle ages

Cons: medieval writing tends to be dry and I found it hard to read more than a few pages at a time without a break

This is a translation of the French medieval household book Le Ménagier de Paris. It consists of an introduction, which includes background information, what life was like in Paris at the time of it’s writing, and a gloss of The Tale of Griselda. The text itself consists of several parts talking about good conduct (prayer, behaviour, dress, chastity, virtues & vices, obedience to one’s husband, etc), horticulture, choosing servants, hawking, menus, and recipes. There are introductory passages every few sections so you have a good idea of what the book will discuss next, as well as excellent page notes (many of which detail translation decisions) and a very useful glossary of culinary terms to help with the last 2 sections of the book and a bibliography.

The premise of the text is that of an older husband writing a book for his new young wife so that she will be properly trained and able to manage a household for her second husband after the author’s death. The book goes into a fair amount of detail regarding some items (there are a lot of recipes and detailed information on the virtues & vices, breaking down the various ways people sin and how it’s important to confess). There are also some long morality tales about how it’s important to obey one’s husband and be long-suffering, even if your husband tries your patience or tests you.

I found it very interesting what a woman in 14th C Paris was expected to know, even if it’s unknown if the author’s ‘young wife’ actually existed. The cooking section mentioned where to buy certain ingredients and how much they cost. The hawking section was very detailed about how much work was involved, all of which had to be done by the person intending to fly the hawk (so servants couldn’t train the bird for you). The moralistic tales are fairly long winded and get boring after a while. The Tale of Griselda is kind of infuriating as a modern reader and even the author’s response to it implies he doesn’t agree with the husband’s actions, but thought it was worth including anyway.

I wish the author had finished his planned book and included the games and entertainments he’d intended. I think those might have been quite interesting to learn about.

There’s a lot of great information here, but you’ll probably have to read it in small doses to stay engaged. The translators did a fantastic job of keeping the language easy to understand, but medieval texts tend to be on the dry side.

Friday 20 August 2021

Audio Drama: Mission of the Lunar Sparow

Commander Rae Field is resourceful, with thousands of mission hours of experience. Then something happens to her on the Moon, something that she has never experienced before. It will change her forever.
This is the first of 9 episodes (published weekly, the first 5 episodes are already out). The audio drama was written, produced and directed by Lee Schneider for the FutureX Network (though you can also listen to it on iTunes, Spotify, etc). The story is based on a novel by H. G. Wells.

The story consists of one human (Andia Winslow) and one AI actor.

I've only listened to the first episode so far but it really caught my interest. The voice acting is solid, the dialogue is humourous and entertaining, the production values are fantastic. Each episode is roughly 5 minutes long, so it's not a major time commitment. 

Wednesday 18 August 2021

What's a skáldharpa? (music instrument video)

Pierrick Valence from the music band SKÁLD has created a series of workshop videos on youtube, explaining some of the historical - and just plain unique - instruments used in their songs. The band is inspired by Nordic mythology.

Here are a few of the instruments he introduces: the skáldharpa, talharpa, citra, and jouhikko.

He introduces the instruments explaining where they’re from and then plays a quick melody so you hear it on its own. He also mentions where you can buy one (generally specialty craftsmen online).

Thursday 12 August 2021

Shout-Out: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

In horror movies, the final girls are the ones left standing when the credits roll. They made it through the worst night of their lives…but what happens after?

Like his bestselling novel The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix’s latest is a fast-paced, frightening, and wickedly humorous thriller. From chain saws to summer camp slayers, The Final Girl Support Group pays tribute to and slyly subverts our most popular horror films—movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream.

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre. For more than a decade, she’s been meeting with five other final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, working to put their lives back together. Then one woman misses a meeting, and their worst fears are realized—someone knows about the group and is determined to rip their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about final girls is that no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Video: The Forsaken Mandalorian and the Drunken Jedi Master

Createscifi has made a Star Wars fan film wherein a Mandalorian completes a bounty and runs across a drunk Jedi Master. It's two scenes that basically set up further adventures between the pair. The acting's quite good and the props are excellent. 

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Book Review: The Godstone by Violette Malan

Pros: good worldbuilding, interesting magic system, complex characters

Cons: a bit slow at times

When the artisan Arlyn Albainil receives word that his cousin Xandra named him executor of his testament he knows something’s up. The White Council wants to open Xandra’s practitioners’ vault, the place magic users keep their most important - and dangerous - work. But Arlyn knows what Xandra kept his his vault - the godstone - is a powerful artifact too dangerous to be released. So he enlists the help of the village practitioner, Fenra, to seal the godstone away forever.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding and learning how modes worked. There were a few confusing moments as the characters understood what was happening as they passed between modes in a way that wasn’t explained to the reader, but I caught on quickly. I also liked the complexity of magic and learning that there were other planes of existence.

Fenra was a great character, compassionate but also pragmatic. I loved watching her relationship with Elvanyn develop. While her age is never given, it’s clear she’s not young, and her actions show the careful consideration of someone with a good deal of experience behind her.

The story was told from the three protagonists’ points of view, with the character named at the start of each section so it was very easy to keep track of whose thoughts you were sharing.

The pacing is slow but steady, doling out information at a good rate to keep you interested and with some tense scenes as the godstone comes into play.

Though the author is working on a sequel, The Godstone works as a standalone, wrapping things up nicely at the end.

I really enjoyed the book and if you like old school fantasy, you should give it a try.

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Books Received in June & July 2021

Many thanks as always to the publishers who sent my books over the past few months.

The Undertakers by Nicole Glover - This is the second book in Glover's Murder & Magic series. I loved The Conductors and really enjoyed this book as well. My review, and the book, will be out November 9th.

Nothing bothers Hetty and Benjy Rhodes more than a case where the answers, motives, and the murder itself feel a bit too neat. Raimond Duval, a victim of one of the many fires that have erupted recently in Philadelphia, is officially declared dead after the accident, but Hetty and Benjy’s investigation points to a powerful Fire Company known to let homes in the Black community burn to the ground. Before long, another death breathes new life into the Duval investigation: Raimond’s son, Valentine, is also found dead.

Finding themselves with the dubious honor of taking on Valentine Duval as their first major funeral, it becomes clear that his passing was intentional. Valentine and his father’s deaths are connected, and the recent fires plaguing the city might be more linked to recent community events than Hetty and Benji originally thought.

The Undertakers continues the adventures of murder and magic, where even the most powerful enchantments can’t always protect you from the ghosts of the past . . .

 The Offset by Calder Szewczak - The premise here sounds so interesting, and reminds me a bit of Neal Shusterman's Unwind, which I liked.   Out September 14th. 

It is your eighteenth birthday and one of your parents must die. You are the one who decides. Who do you pick?

In a dying world, the Offset ceremony has been introduced to counteract and discourage procreation. It is a rule that is simultaneously accepted, celebrated and abhorred. But in this world, survival demands sacrifice so for every birth, there must be a death.

Professor Jac Boltanski is leading Project Salix, a ground-breaking new mission to save the world by replanting radioactive Greenland with genetically-modified willow trees. But things aren’t working out and there are discrepancies in the data. Has someone intervened to sabotage her life’s work?

In the meantime, her daughter Miri, an anti-natalist, has run away from home. Days before their Offset ceremony where one of her mothers must be sentenced to death, she is brought back against her will following a run-in with the law. Which parent will Miri pick to die: the one she loves, or the one she hates who is working to save the world?

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Video: Sleep Sound (D&D)

R. A. Salvatore has written a nursery rhyme introducing his famous Drow warrior Drizzt Do'Urden, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch with some stunning visuals. While it's called an 'introduction', if you're unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms (now just called Dungeons & Dragons apparently), then you won't understand what's going on or who any of the characters are. Also, don't watch this if you don't like (not cute) animated spiders.

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Book Review: We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

Pros: interesting protagonist, tense action, compelling mystery

Cons: somewhat frustrating opening

Grace Park is the Orbiter on the spaceship Deucalion, a psychologist sent to monitor the crew on their mission to scout out a newly discovered planet and prepare it for colonization. Her role, her standoffishness and the fact that she not a conscripted member of ISF makes her something of an outsider among the crew, fitting in more with the androids on board. Things immediately start going wrong when they arrive at the planet. Facing mistrust and paranoia, Park has to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

The opening’s a bit slow as you’re introduced to a lot of characters, settings, and history. It’s also frustrating as you’ve only got the information that Park is privy to (with the exception of some emails at the start of some chapters), so it takes quite a while before you both begin to understand what’s going on. That slow opening pays off at the half way point when the tension ramps up and it becomes very hard to put the book down.

The book begins with a mystery but parts in the middle felt very much like a horror novel. The action is fast and explanations limited (though eventually you do learn enough to understand what’s really going on).

Park is a challenging protagonist as she has a limited range of emotions. It’s easy to understand why she’s ostracized by her peers, but seeing her actions from the inside helps the reader empathize with her. I did find it a little strange that a 13 member human crew could make a 3 floor ship feel crowded and full of ‘cliques’, but those early complaints faded as the action ramped up. I enjoyed seeing Park’s friendship with various androids as the book progressed.

It’s an interesting book. Definitely worth pushing past the opening to see where the book goes. The ending felt right, though it left unanswered questions.

Tuesday 29 June 2021

Book Review: Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Pros: interesting politics and worldbuilding, fun romance


Cassandra’s first social event after losing her ability to work magic and breaking up with her fiance starts off poorly. A carriage of ladies has been stopped by trolls and forced to walk in the snow, getting lost. While helping look for them, Cassandra’s ex shows up just as she wakes another troll and makes an unfortunate promise. Now she has a week to find out who’s cast an impossible weather spell or be imprisoned by an angry elf lord.

This is a fun novella with romance and fantasy elements. The setting is an England where Queen Boudicca ran off the Romans and her descendants made a peace pact after warring with the elves. Politics is a woman’s game, and the pact demands rituals be performed perfectly.

Cassandra was the first female magic practitioner, but after a mysterious event, she can no longer use magic. She’s a headstrong character that you can’t help but sympathize with, who learns a few lessons about her own privilege even as her life hasn’t turned out as she planned.

The romance is fun and engaging.

Magic is sparingly used, but interesting when it comes up.

This is the start of a series but can be read as a standalone.

Tuesday 22 June 2021

History Book Review: Bread, Wine and Money: the Windows of the Trades at Chartres Cathedral by Jane Welch Williams

Pros: very detailed analysis, excellent overview of the history required to understand the author’s thesis, lots of images

Cons: some images are of poor quality, some ideas/terms could have used a bit more explanation

It’s become conventional knowledge that the trade windows at Chartres and other cathedrals were donated by members of the trade guilds that are depicted. Williams has done a thorough job in this book, published in 1993, of refuting that claim.

The book is separated into 5 chapters, with an additional introduction and epilogue. There are 4 colour plates and 151 black and white plates. There are extensive notes and a bibliography. Chapter 1 briefly examines the literature that’s been written about Chartres cathedral with regards to its stained glass (dating and program), specifically focusing on interpretations regarding the trade windows. Chapter 2 goes over the historical circumstances in Chartres around the time the cathedral was built. It details the tensions between the chapter, the bishop, the count and the townspeople (including a riot in 1210). Chapters 3-5 are analyses of windows dealing with bread, wine, and money changers in that order. They each go over what other historians have said about the windows, the historical context of those trades (bakers, tavern keepers, and money-changers) then analyzes each window that shows those trades comparing them to others within the cathedral, to those from other cathedrals, and ancient Roman works.

Williams points out very quickly that there are few if any contemporary records supporting the idea the trade windows were guild gifts. Her very thorough examination of the interrelationships of power, and how bread, wine & money (that is the cash economy as well as monetary gifts to the cathedral) were incorporated into liturgical practice within the cathedral as well as the liturgical year (in terms of taxes and ‘gifts’). The book also examined how practices changed over time (for example, how the Eucharist was given less often to regular people and eulogy bread was passed out instead).

There were a lot of black and white images, including several useful maps and floor plans of the cathedral showing where the various windows were located in the building. Some of the window photos were of poor quality so it was hard to see what the author was describing (though this is probably due as much to the state of the windows at the time the book was made).

I did find that a few terms and ideas could have used a bit more explanation. For example, the author seems to assume that the reader knows that bishops were appointed from outside the Chartres chapter rather than voted on by the canons, which likely added to the antagonism between him and the canons.

I learned a lot about church practices and how various groups in society related to each other. It’s a great reminder that people have always been complex and relationships never easy, especially where power and money are involved.

If you’re interested in the middle ages, medieval art, cathedrals or liturgical practices, this is an interesting book and, I think, proves the point the author is making. It’s given me a lot to think about with regards to how I read church windows.

Thursday 10 June 2021

Shout-Out: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

A ruthless princess and a powerful priestess come together to rewrite the fate of an empire in this “fiercely and unapologetically feminist tale of endurance and revolution set against a gorgeous, unique magical world” (S. A. Chakraborty).

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.

But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze.

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Movie Review: Project Power

Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2020
Netflix original
IMDB listing

Pros: excellent special effects, tight storytelling, several interesting twists, compelling characters

Cons: doesn’t delve into to the personal costs of taking the drug beyond the obvious

There’s a new drug in New Orleans called ‘power’ that grants the taker 5 minutes of an unknown animal based ‘super power’. A cop wants the drug to level the playing field. A vigilante wants to find the source of the drug. Both turn to a teenaged dealer just trying to make a better life for herself and her mom.

The characters were interesting and I found their stories compelling. There were a few scenes I thought were just for character building but turned out to contain plot elements, which was great. The script was tight and entertaining with a couple of good twists along the way.

Jaime Foxx’s humour in the 90s turned me off, but I’m finding he’s a fantastic action hero and does an amazing job as the vigilante, Art. Joseph Godon-Levitt’s cop was kind of unorthodox but fun. His scene with Robin’s mother was pretty funny despite the tension. I really liked Dominique Fishback as Robin. She hit the right mark of needing adult help while maintaining the teen core of ‘I can take care of myself’.

There are some excellent fight scenes. One started out kind of unique but they kept up the ‘shoot from behind glass’ too long making the end of the fight very hard to follow.

The powers are determined by what’s found in nature, which still leaves an impressive range. They were used enough to demonstrate what’s possible, but not enough to ruin the novelty. The special effects were very high quality and looked amazing.

My only complaint with the film is that it doesn’t really address the personal consequences of taking the drug. It points out that not everyone gets a super power, some simply blow up, but doesn’t really point out that even in cases where people do get super powers, the powers themselves can - apparently - seriously mess the taker up too. For example, the guy with fire power apparently gets seriously burned by them. Is it the power that burns him or the aftereffects (the fire around him once the 5 minutes are up)?

On the whole it was a great film and it’s surprising I hadn’t heard about this film before turning it on.

(If you watch the trailer, be aware that past the half way point they reveal several spoilers.)