Tuesday 28 March 2023

Book Review: Medieval Plants and Their Uses by Michael Brown

Pros: lots of great information, good amount of coloured photographs

Cons: hard to source quotes

The book has 15 chapters including the introduction: Medieval Vegetables; Medieval Fruits & Nuts; Grains; Plants & Medicine; Symbolism and superstition; Magical & Mysterious; Love, Seduction & Beauty; Childbirth, Babies & Nursemaids; Clothing, Laundry & other Household Tips; Dyes, Inks & Paints; Animal Health Care; Harvesting & Preserving Plant Material; Fun things to do; Plant Lists. It would be impossible to give a full accounting of the uses of plants in the middle ages in such a short book. The author does an admirable job of giving a lot of information in such a condensed format. I was impressed with how many plants he dealt with in even the shorter chapters, with lots of tidbits of folklore added in. Medicine gets the longest chapter as it goes over specific ailments and what plants were used to treat them.

The book has a lot of half page and full page colour photographs of plants and some manuscript illuminations. These are used to good advantage when explaining how certain plants were used based on their looks (like a photo of henbane next to its use in curing toothache as the seed cases resemble teeth on a jawbone). The rose sepal photo really helps explain a poem used in the symbolism and superstition chapter.

There are a number of recipes included, though the author does advise against using some, especially in the medical section.

The chapter on fun things to do shows several ways to make flower crowns and a few simple reed instruments.

I loved learning about plants I’ve never heard of, including several vegetables that are no longer widely cultivated as the easier to grow and cook potatoes have taken their place. It was also interesting learning how medieval people may have dealt with things like chapped lips or dying hair. Another fun tip was to chew licorice for a clear voice, the way Roman orators did.

There’s a bibliography at the end of the book but no citations or notes in the text explaining what source specific information is from.

This is an easy to read guide on medieval plants including a lot of great information.

(Out March 30)

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Book Review: The Unbroken by C. L. Clark

Pros: great characters, excellent world-building, thought-provoking

Cons: several near-death encounters

The day they arrive in the country she was kidnapped from as a child, Touraine, lieutenant of the Balladairan Colonial Brigade, saves the life of Princess Luca. The princess is there to quell rebellion and prove her fitness for the throne. She’d also like to learn more about the healing magic the locals used to wield. Touraine just wants her fellow conscripts to survive the coming unrest. As they work together, their feelings for each other, as well as their private goals, clash in unexpected ways.

The world-building is top notch. The level of second guessing motivations was perfect given how the colonial troops were raised. Seeing Touraine torn between wanting to help the princess, the rebels and her conscripts was heart-wrenching, especially when she kept making bad decisions. I also liked seeing how torn Luca was about wanting to do well by her people even when she had to chose what was best for the crown.

Touraine manages to recover from extreme injuries - via healing - quite a few times. It seemed unfair by the end how often she survived when other characters die. Especially given how much of the damage done in the colony was due to her own poor choices.

I loved how easy - and hard - using magic is.

It’s a good, thought-provoking read about colonization and loyalty.

Tuesday 14 March 2023

Book Review: Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton

Pros: fast paced, good world-building, romance elements


Due to a power decrease that means the colony won’t last through the next winter, Mickey7 is tasked with retrieving the anti-matter bomb he supposedly left with the creepers two years ago. But when he goes to get it, it’s not in the rock pile where he left it.

This is a fast paced continuation of Mickey7. I loved learning more about the new world and seeing a few more alien species. Mickey has to make a lot of difficult decisions and it’s fascinating seeing what he’ll do.

I loved Mickey’s relationship with Nasha. It was nice seeing a committed couple work together to save their colony.

There’s a fair amount of action as well as some attempts at diplomacy. I thought the author did a good job of showing that different species think in different ways and that communication isn’t always straightforward.

If you like light-hearted science fiction these books are fantastic.

Sunday 12 March 2023

Graphic Novel Review: The Sea in You, Written and Illustrated by Jessi Sheron

Pros: lesbian mermaid love story!, gorgeous artwork, deaf/mute characters

Cons: some sad scenes, emotional abuse

Fifteen year old Corinth’s boyfriend Seth is emotionally abusive. When she meets a mermaid at the beach she discovers that friendship doesn’t have to be painful. But Skylla wants to stay with Corinth, and bad things happen when mermaids transform into humans.

The artwork is gorgeous. Vibrant colours, lots of curvy women. While you don’t see much of the underwater kingdom, I loved how this author represented the mother mermaid and the fathers (they’re so CUTE!). The mermaid design is all fish, with sharp teeth, webbed fingers, and various coloured skin.

Corinth’s a great character who’s lack of self-esteem is being exploited by her emotionally abusive boyfriend. There’s nothing over the top in the story, just constant little episodes of negging and gaslighting. Seeing her regain confidence is a real treat.

Corinth’s mother is deaf so she knows sign language. After meeting, she starts teaching Skylla all sorts of new language based things, including sign language. It’s great to see.

The relationship between Skylla and Corinth is built on mutual admiration and affection, and it’s is a real pleasure watching it blossom into love.

This is a fun, beautiful graphic novel that I hope a lot of people read.

Tuesday 7 March 2023

Book Review: Dead Country by Max Gladstone

Pros: interesting characters, some good fight scenes, great magic system


Tara Abernathy never intended to return to the town that ran her out as a teenager. But she can’t miss her father’s funeral. Nor can she turn away the young, untrained woman with craft abilities. Nor can she leave her old hometown at the mercy of Raiders and the curse that drives them.

This is the first book of the Craft Wars series. While it comes after the 6 books of the Craft Sequence, and focuses on Tara Abernathy (who features in several of the Sequence books), it’s designed as a new entry point and gives you all the background you need in order to enjoy this book.

It’s a much smaller book in scope than the Sequence books, dealing with a small cast as it takes place in a small town in the middle of a desert. Tara’s forced to revisit her past, not just the town and its antagonism towards her, but also her time at school to know how to teach and what information to give.

The craft is always a delight, with its mix of occultism and the arguments of law. There are some good fight scenes.

This is a book about coming to terms with your past and deciding who you want to be going forward. If you haven’t read Max Gladstone, this is a good place to start.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Books Received in February 2023

Many thanks as always to the publishers who sent me review copies. 

Meru by S. B. Divya - A challenging, but ultimately compelling read of 2 entities determined to make life better for humanity, and find love along the way. Reviewed here.

One woman and her pilot are about to change the future of the species in an epic space opera about aspiration, compassion, and redemption by Hugo and Nebula Award finalist S. B. Divya.

For five centuries, human life has been restricted to Earth, while posthuman descendants called alloys freely explore the galaxy. But when the Earthlike planet of Meru is discovered, two unlikely companions venture forth to test the habitability of this unoccupied new world and the future of human-alloy relations.

For Jayanthi, the adopted human child of alloy parents, it’s an opportunity to rectify the ancient reputation of her species as avaricious and destructive, and to give humanity a new place in the universe. For Vaha, Jayanthi’s alloy pilot, it’s a daunting yet irresistible adventure to find success as an individual.

As the journey challenges their resolve in unexpected ways, the two form a bond that only deepens with their time alone on Meru. But how can Jayanthi succeed at freeing humanity from its past when she and Vaha have been set up to fail?

Against all odds, hope is human, too.

The Sea in You by Jessi Sheron - A gorgeous, if sometimes sad, lesbian retelling of "The Little Mermaid". Out March 14.

15-year-old Corinth was just trying to clean up the beach; she never expected to meet a mermaid, let alone be nearly drowned by one. It was the start of a very strange friendship!

After Skylla, the deadly fanged mermaid, mysteriously lets Corinth live, they grow closer through a cautious exchange of stories, gifts, jokes, and sign language. Mermaids, it turns out, eat people, but however terrifying Skylla may look, she’s a little younger, a little smaller, and perhaps a little too soft for all that. Bewitched by Corinth and their growing bond, she learns about all the best things in life on land: books, burgers, donuts, and this strange chattering human sound called laughter. But a storm is brewing – both at sea and in Corinth’s increasingly dangerous relationship with her obsessively jealous boyfriend – and a magical bargain may be the only thing that can save her, at a tremendous cost.

A whimsical dark fantasy retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” The Sea in You upends everything you thought you knew about magical creatures of the deep, on a whirlwind journey to a whole new world you’ve only dreamed of before!

Dead Country by Max Gladstone - While I own all of the Craft Sequence novels I haven't found time to read them all and can't remember everything anymore, so this looked like a great place to remind myself of what's been happening without feeling like I have to reread the entire series. It's a more personal story with 'low stakes' but a lot of heart. Out March 7. 

Since her village chased her out with pitchforks, Tara Abernathy has resurrected gods, pulled down monsters, averted wars, and saved a city, twice. She thought she'd left her dusty little hometown forever. But that was before her father died.

As she makes her way home to bury him, she finds a girl, as powerful and vulnerable and lost as she once was. Saving her from raiders twisted by the God Wars, Tara changes the course of the world.

Dead Country is the first book in the Craft Wars Series, a tight sequence of novels that will bring the sprawling saga of the Craft to its end, and the perfect entry point to this incomparable world.

The Faithless by C. L. Clark - I've heard amazing things about the first book in this series, so really looking forward to this. Out March 7.
In the second installment of C.L. Clark's Magic of the Lost trilogy, soldier Touraine and princess Luca must return to Balladaire to reclaim Luca's throne and to face the consequences of dismantling an empire.

The rebels have won, and the empire is withdrawing from Qazal. But undoing the tangled web that binds the two nations will not be easy, and Touraine and Luca will face their greatest challenge yet.

Luca needs to oust her uncle from the Balladairan throne once and for all and take her rightful place as Queen. But he won't let go of power so easily. When he calls for a "Trial of Competence" and Luca's allies start disappearing from her side, she will need to find a way to prove her might. And she knows someone who can help...

Touraine has found a home in the newly free country of Qazal. But she soon realizes that leading a country and leading a revolution are two very different tasks. And, even more importantly, if Luca's uncle doesn't ratify the treaty, the Qazali could end up right back where they started.

Together, the two women will have to come overcome their enemies, their history, and their heartbreak in order to find a way to secure Luca's power and Touraine's freedom.

Paradise-1 by David Wellington - I've developed a soft spot for space horror, and the cover and synopsis for this are very compelling.  Out April 4.

An electrifying novel perfect for fans of science fiction and horror, Paradise-1 follows two agents from the United Earth Government as they investigate the complete disappearance of humanity’s first deep space colony. When Special Agent Petrov and Dr. Lei Zhang are woken up from cryogenic sleep, dragged freezing and dripping wet out of their pods with the ships's alarms blaring in the background, they know something is very wrong. Warned by the Captain that they're under attack, they have no choice but to investigate.

It doesn't take much time to learn that they've been met by another vessel—a vessel from Paradis-One, Earth's first deep-space colony, and their final destination.

Worse still, the vessel is empty. And it carries with it the message that all communications from the 150,000 souls inhabiting the Paradis-One has completely ceased.

Petrov and Zhang must board the empty ship and delve further into deep space to discover the truth of the colony's disappearance—but the further they go, the more dangers loom.