Tuesday 18 June 2024

Movie Review: Boss Level

Directed by Joe Carnahan
IMDb listing

A washed up former special ops agent must figure out why he keeps reliving the same day over again, pursued by a group of assassins.

This is an enjoyable action movie. Don’t think about the plot too hard, just watch the bullets fly.

The special effects are very well done and the acting good. There are some great stunts. There are even a few laughs (especially with Guan Yin, the swordswoman).

Personally, I enjoy ‘repeat day’ stories. It’s still nice to see new twists on the old formula, and this movie has a few.

If you’re looking for a fun time waster, give this a try.

 

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Book Review: Eloquent Bodies: Movement, Expression, and the Human Figure in Gothic Sculpture by Jacqueline Jung

The book has 6 chapters in addition to its introduction and conclusion:
1 Encountering the Gothic Sculpture: Mimesis, Kinetics, Haptic Engagement
2 Moving Bodies, Dynamic Perception: The Slowscapes of the Strasbourg South Transept Portal
3 Movement, Media & the Quest for Salvation: A Pillar for Thinking in the Strasbourg South Transept
4 From Motion to Emotion: Encounters with the Wise and Foolish Virgins
5 The Donor Figures of Naumburg Cathedral, Part I: Presence
6 The Donor Figures of Naumburg Cathedral, Part II: Meaning

This is a very focused discussion on sculpture in the round, specifically as used in the cathedrals in Strasbourg and Naumburg. The author does branch out to show other examples demonstrating the historical progression of the Wise & Foolish Virgin sculptures in the former Holy Roman Empire’s lands.

It’s wonderful to see a book that emphasizes the dimensionality of sculpture. Books on gothic sculpture often only show a single image from a single viewpoint (in fact, you’ll often see basically the same image/viewpoint of a particular sculpture in all books). The author’s done an excellent job of photographing the examples in the round, from various angles, showing how standing in different spots to view the sculpture changes what you see and sometimes even the meaning of the piece (the South transept tympanum at Strasbourg are a great example of this, with characters coming in and out of view as you move to the opposite sides).

The author is meticulous in her descriptions of the sculptures: their facial expressions, hand gestures, clothing. I was impressed with the level of detail. For example, Uta of Ballenstedt’s statue in Naumburg is wearing a crown with a hinge, indicating that it was meant to fold.

Chapter 6 didn’t interest me as much as the others. It’s an imagined Sic et Non wherein she tries to guess why the medieval planners of the cathedral chose to place the donor’s statues in the west choir. While it’s an interesting exercise, ultimately unless they’ve written their motivations down, it’s simply guesswork.

If you’re interested in medieval gothic sculpture or visiting one of the cathedrals discussed, it’s a great read. I took a ton of notes for my trip.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Video: Every Major Crusader Order Explained in under 14 minutes

Found this interesting video by the Based Plato talking about the medieval Crusader Orders. The video mentions a few I'd never heard of.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Book Review: Handbook for William by Douda

Translated by: Carol Neel

This is a translation of a booklet of instruction written in the late 840s by an ill noblewoman for her older son, William. It was a difficult time for her. William was a hostage against her husband’s good behaviour. Her husband had taken their infant son to an unknown location, leaving her to run their lands alone. There’s a measure of sadness in the prologue, as it’s clear Dhouda believes she will die without seeing her sons again.

The text is designed to teach her son(s) the things she would not be able to (either due to her death and/or their separation). It gives advice for how to navigate the world as a man of rank as well as advice on spiritual and moral behaviour.

The section on mathematics was interesting as it’s less about calculations and more on the spiritual meaning behind numbers.

There’s some repetition in what’s being said and the book can be boring at time. Still, it’s interesting to know what a woman believed her son needed to know to be a success and how she thought men of her station should behave.

Medieval writers often quote Bible verses and other texts without giving the source or any context. So, for example in book 4, section 7, Douda councils her son to be calm like the man “who rules almost six hundred thousand people and who we read was never disrupted by anger”. He’s named, Moses, a few paragraphs later, but it seems clear that Douda expected her son to know the reference and the man it refers to. I’ve often wondered the extent to which Biblical stories were known by non clergy. Now this was written at a time of enhanced education and by an aristrocratic wealthy woman who clearly had a decent education, so maybe the expectations are understandably high here.

If you’re interested in medieval thought, behaviour, or education, this is a worthwhile read.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Video: What it was like to visit a medieval tavern

This is an interesting video by Tasting History with Max Miller on what medieval inns, taverns, and alehouses were like. He even teaches how to make a medieval meat stew.


Tuesday 14 May 2024

Book Review: Escape Velocity by Victor Manibo

Pros: compelling, fast paced, interesting characters

Cons: abusive dom/sub scene

The Rochford Institute is hosting their class of 2064 reunion on Space Habitat Altaire. As an added bonus, attending will net each participant at least 5 MERIT points, necessary to gain coveted spaces in the new Mars colony. Unlike her classmates, Ava Khan isn’t there to schmooze. She wants to know who really killed her abusive twin brother their last year of school, and she thinks her three oldest friends have the answer. Meanwhile, the station crew have a plan for how to make the world a better place.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the four friends and Cielo, chief housekeeper on the Altaire. You learn more about each one, how things went in school, what they’ve been up, and why they’re really on the station. They’ve all got compelling stories, even if - despite what they think - they’re not particularly good people.

The book delves into the kinds of backroom deals that allow the super rich to influence the world and come out on top.

There’s an orgy scene (mildly graphic) and one character acts as Dom to another, in which a lot of minimizing language and swear words are used. The second scene with that pair went past words, and though it wasn’t graphic, it still left me feeling uncomfortable.

The ending hits hard and wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s a fast paced, compelling read.

Out May 16.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Movie Review: Argylle

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, 2024
IMDb Listing
Available on Apple TV

Pros: weird, lots of twists

Cons: you have to be in the right mood to enjoy it, the trailers spoil several plot twists (so try to learn as little about it as you can before seeing it).

Elly Conway is a novelist who gets in trouble with a real secret service agency as her ongoing series gets too close to the truth.

I’d never heard of Argylle when I saw it, which is the best way to approach this movie. It is so much fun. Wild and bizarre in just the right ways to be funny and charming. The less you know about the plot going in, the more interesting the twists are, as you really don’t know what’s coming next. There was even one laugh out loud moment towards the end where the situation was so comically dumb, but acted so well with such good effects I truly laughed WITH the film, enjoying the absurdity.

The actors are all great, taking their roles seriously despite the truly bizarre direction the film pivots to at times. There are some fun, well-choreographed fight scenes and good special effects.

You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this. A lighthearted, go with the flow kind of mood. Because you really have to turn your brain off and just enjoy the ride. If you can do that, it’s a highly entertaining film.

Tuesday 30 April 2024

TV Show Review: Fallout Season 1

IMDb listing

Pros: interesting character arcs, some great plot twists, good action sequences

Cons: lots of blood and gore, some nudity

Lucy MacLean leaves her mostly idilic nuclear fallout vault to rescue her father who’s been kidnapped by raiders. She is wildly unprepared for the world she finds on the surface.

I have never played the Fallout games though I watched part of a playthrough once (can’t say which game it was). So while I knew a handful of facts about the Fallout world (Pitboy, mutants, vaults), I was basically coming into the show blind.

I had concerns about the amount of gore in the trailer. I’m not a fan of gross humour/horror. So I watched the first episode as a test. And then kept watching. While there is a fair amount of gore, strategically closing my eyes at the right moment has helped (and the moments are generally telegraphed, so this worked well for me).

There are 3 main protagonists whose stories interweave, and they’re all compelling in their own ways. Two of them (Lucy and Maximus) have fairly simple backstories and motivations. The Ghoul’s story gets more and more complicated as the series progresses. The world’s complexities makes achieving their goals a real challenge. Watching Lucy confront her beliefs and see how she’s forced to change in order to live in this new world was heart-breaking. Ella Purnell is brilliant showing the progression from Lucy’s naivety to survivalism. Similarly, seeing who the Ghoul used to be before the nuclear blasts and wondering what’s brought him to this low point is interesting.

The set designs were beautifully done. I loved how they reinvented technology based on the divergence of history. The VHS style videotapes were kind of fun, as were some of the robots.

There were a lot of great fight scenes in a variety of locations. I appreciated that they were all fights for survival, rather than feeling cleanly choreographed. Everyone fights dirty in this world, or they die.

The story had some excellent plot twists (though, apparently many of these are known game storylines, so may not be surprising to those who’ve played them). I was happy that so many questions were answered by the final episode, while leaving enough to segway into a second season.

If you’re ok with gore and some nudity (one episode has a weird scene where a group of people derobe), then give this a try. The acting is great, the characters compelling, and the story shockingly good (especially compared to some other video game shows lately *cough* Halo *cough*).

Thursday 25 April 2024

Video: When You're Married to a Helldiver

I've been watching some youtube videos of people playing Helldiver 2, so this video by the Warp Zone made me laugh.

Friday 5 April 2024

Ross Scott on Stop Killing Games

I've been watching Ross Scott, aka Accursed Farms' Freeman's Mind and Ross's Game Dungeon videos on youtube for years so I knew he was concerned about game publishers destroying video games for years. When Ubisoft decided to kill their online servers for The Crew, he kicked things into high gear. 

Basically, if you own a copy of The Crew, you're about to lose access to the game you paid for, forever. The move to online only games means there are more and more games each year dependent on publishers to maintain services that allow you to play. Once they stop, poof, the game - and the money you spent on it - are gone.

I'm embedding the long version of what he want to do to stop publishers from doing this. But if you want the VERY short version, he's got a 50 second video here.

There are 2 aspects of his campaign, depending on where you live and if you own a copy of The Crew.  If you own The Crew and live if France, he gives information on how to bring up the issue with Ubisoft and the French consumer protection agency. If you don't, or live elsewhere, he's setting up petitions you can sign.

In addition to the video, he's also got a website, stopkillinggames.com, with more information.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Book Review: Anxiety Workbook for Women by Bianca L. Rodriguez

Recently I’ve been working on reducing my anxiety so I requested this on NetGalley.

The book has 2 parts (Understanding Anxiety & How to Manage Your Anxiety) and 9 chapters (Anxiety & Women; Navigating Life with Anxiety; Calm Your Body & Mind; Observe Your Anxiety & Identify Your Triggers; Release Yourself from the Cycle of Worry & Rumination; Replace Your Anxious Behaviors with Healthy Ones; Navigate Relationships and Manage Social Anxiety; Acknowledge & Address Specific Phobias; and Reclaim Your Life & Reach Your Goals). The book ends with a short list of resources, online sites for additional help if you need it.

The first chapter has a lot of repetition, which is great for getting you to really take in the information. I found it helpful to learn why anxiety exists and how it’s meant to help in dangerous or unusual circumstances. Anxiety becomes a problem when it overstays its usefulness.

The book progresses through teaching you about anxiety, then ways to deal with different aspects of it using a variety of exercises. I found some activities worked better for me, but the variety means people with different ways of learning and thinking - and different levels and aspects of anxiety - will find useful activities. There were several exercises dealing with intrusive thoughts/ruminating on past actions, on how to relieve black & white thinking, etc. Unexpectedly the book didn’t just deal with ways to improve yourself in private, there’s a section on how to do small talk and introduce yourself to strangers. The chapter on breaking down goals into manageable pieces was also unexpected and useful. I really appreciated the reminder to celebrate your successes.

It is useful to try various exercises, even if you don’t think they’ll work for you. I did the ‘write a letter to your anxiety’ and it was surprisingly insightful.

Through the work I’ve done over the years some of these lessons were no longer necessary for me, but I could see how they would have helped (and were similar to techniques I used in the past).

If you suffer from anxiety and want to learn techniques that can help, give this workbook a try.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Book Review: Cascade Failure by L. M. Sagas

Pros: fun and interesting characters, tight plot, some thought provoking moments, good fight scenes

Cons:

Here’s the back cover blurb, which is simply perfect.

There are only three real powers in the Spiral: the corporate power of the Trust versus the Union's labor's leverage. Between them the Guild tries to keep everyone's hands above the table. It ain't easy.

Branded a Guild deserter, Jal "accidentally" lands a ride on a Guild ship. Helmed by an AI, with a ship's engineer/medic who doesn't see much of a difference between the two jobs, and a "don't make me shoot you" XO, the Guild crew of the Ambit is a little . . . different.

They're also in over their heads. Responding to a distress call from an abandoned planet, they find a mass grave, and a live programmer who knows how it happened. The Trust has plans. This isn't the first dead planet, and it's not going to be the last.

Unless the crew of the Ambit can stop it.

The characters are so much fun. They’re all neurotic in complementary ways. Surly and snipey at times, talkative and playful at others. Eoan’s curiosity about everything was a real joy. Despite their arguments it’s clear Nash and Saint are a tight knit crew. Seeing Jal and Anke dropped into the crew’s dynamic made for some great interactions.

The plot is tight with enough down time to get to know all of the characters between chase scenes and fights. There are some real tense moments.

The politics of this future are suitably complex without taking over the story. There are a few decent questions about morality and whether it’s better to focus on the needs of society at large vs saving your personal friends and family. And who should make the necessary sacrifices.

It’s a book about the choices we make and how we deal with the consequences of the bad decisions of our past. Of working as a team to complete a goal. Of betrayal and redemption.

It’s a delightful story that, though it dealt with heavy issues at times, left me feeling hopeful about the future.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Travel Journal Ideas

I was speaking with a friend recently and we started trading journalling ideas and I realized I'd learned a bunch of things these past few months that she didn't know about, so I thought I'd share them with a larger audience.

For my past few trips I wanted to come back with pretty journals. For France I had this lovely idea of sitting in front of a cathedral sketching pieces of architecture. Well that never happened. These are research trips and they're packed FULL of sites, so there's little downtime. And my priority is photographs - hundreds of them per site, that all need to be double backed up (which for Italy took over an hour a night as my photo file sizes got larger and my phone was old).

Before I left for Italy I researched gifts for techies, looking for ideas for my husband, and stumbled across the Canon Ivy 2 (not sponsored). It's a mini printer that makes... 2x3 inch stickers! They're thin, so they don't bulk up my journal, you can customize them with text and other features (frames, shapes) and there are templates on the app so you can split the sheet into smaller photos (I generally printed all of mine as quarters, with 1/8s for things like food). I made my own mini template with the photo sizes so while I was writing my journal I could block out the space with a squiggled frame and then print and add the photo in later. The photos are on the darker side, a bit 'artistic' looking rather than true to life/vibrant. You can edit them in the app so I tended to brighten mine. There's also a blue sheet in each paper pack that you run through the printer first to calibrate it, and someone online suggested if you get a good one to keep it and use that one over and over again as some give brighter results. The printer comes with 10 pieces of paper. Replacement paper is not cheap though, and you have to use their stuff. (You can see three 1/4 pictures at the bottom of the picture below, the printer, a full page, the blue calibration paper and a full pack of 10 pages.)

While the printer worked great, I still want my next journal to be even prettier. So I bought a bunch of stickers and then got the idea to make my own! I lucked out and found a package of half sheet shipping labels for $1. I started by printing background text in different languages, then stained the sheet with coffee, added some coloured stamps and die cut them out. I've got a lot of stamps and dies from card crafting and it feels good to use them again (I haven't been very crafty the past few years). I cut out various leaves, mushrooms, mini houses, butterflies, cats, etc. I made country labels this way too. 

One of my favourite things about churches is their floor plans, which for research is so important. So I made mini stickers of them to add to my journal. I also started printing images of interesting things I'll be seeing at museums and whatnot (like the Jelling stones in Denmark).

I don't have a colour printer so I set up a page and had a copy shop print it for me. They wouldn't use my sticker paper (unsurprisingly), so I used another supply I'd bought, double sided adhesive paper. That was my original plan for the stickers before I found the labels. I printed mini city crests, manuscript pages, manuscript marginal figures, a picture of the currency I'll be using on the trip, and more museum pieces. I also printed out and coloured mini tarot cards. I'm planning to assign a different tarot card to cities I visit (for example Stockholm = sun card, Nuremberg = justice). I'm also bringing postage stamps. I have tons from when I used to collect them. I didn't have any from Sweden though, so I printed one off to make a sticker of it.

 I doubt I'll use of the supplies I've bought and made, but I guarantee I'll have a pretty journal when I get back!

As an addendum, my Eurail pass came with a premium code for a travel app called Find Penguins. I've looked into it a bit and it tracks your travel and allows you to post photos on their site. People can comment without needing their own account. You can make your trip public, for anyone to see, or private with only those who have the link being able to follow your trip. At the end of the trip you can buy a physical book from them that documents your trip, with a map, and daily information for where you went (city, temperature, altitude, photos, comments). The premium account lets you post more photos/videos per 'footprint' and gets you a free ebook of your trip at the end. If you sign up they give you a 3 month premium account trial - so if you want to use it, don't do what I did and sign up 4+ months early to test it out. Also, for the sake of security, people mention to start and stop your trip tracking at the airport so it doesn't add your house. This is especially important if you're doing the public setting. I haven't really tried the app out so this isn't an endorsement, just a heads up to check it out if you've not heard of it in case it interests you. I may post a review of it once I'm back.


Tuesday 5 March 2024

Books Received in February 2024

 Many thanks as always to the publishers who approved my requests for Netgalley advance reader copies.

Cascade Failure by L. M. Sagas - This book was so much fun to read. Fast paced with a hopeful ending. Look for my review on its release date of March 19.

There are only three real powers in the Spiral: the corporate power of the Trust versus the Union's labor's leverage. Between them the Guild tries to keep everyone's hands above the table. It ain't easy.

Branded a Guild deserter, Jal "accidentally" lands a ride on a Guild ship. Helmed by an AI, with a ship's engineer/medic who doesn't see much of a difference between the two jobs, and a "don't make me shoot you" XO, the Guild crew of the Ambit is a little . . . different.

They're also in over their heads. Responding to a distress call from an abandoned planet, they find a mass grave, and a live programmer who knows how it happened. The Trust has plans. This isn't the first dead planet, and it's not going to be the last.

Unless the crew of the Ambit can stop it.

 

Anxiety Workbook for Women by Bianca L. Rodriguez - I'm slowly working my way through this. While I've made good progress in the past a dealing with my anxiety, there's always more to learn and I'm hoping this book will give me new tools to help quiet my mind so I can concentrate better again. Out March 19.

Manage your anxiety and take control of your life

Learn how to quiet your mind and ease fearful feelings with this simple, practical anxiety workbook for women. Each page offers insight into the underlying causes of anxiety and teaches you how to identify your triggers and develop effective coping methods so you can live with greater confidence and contentment.

The truth about anxiety—Explore what anxiety really is, how it manifests in different ways, and the reasons it is especially common among women.

Proven tools and techniques—Discover exercises from a licensed therapist for soothing anxiety with mindfulness, meditation, acceptance and commitment therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

You're not alone—Find hope and support in stories of other women using the strategies in this workbook to overcome their anxiety.

Build the skills to reduce stress and cultivate calm with this supportive anxiety book for women.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Book Review: Strange Religion by Nijay K. Gupta

The book is split into 4 sections, with 12 chapters, an introduction, and a short conclusion. There are end notes at the back. The 4 sections are: Becoming Christian, What the First Christians Believed, How the First Christians Worshipped, and How the First Christians Lived.

I reviewed an advance reader copy, meaning it wasn’t in its final form. My copy had no illustrations, just captions where the illustrations should go. So I cannot comment on their quality, though there were a good number of them and they’re placed to illustrate interesting aspects of the text.

The author used a decent number of quotes from ancient texts in addition to numerous Old and New Testament quotes. He often tied things together with modern examples which I found a bit jarring but might help a general audience better understand the thought process of ancient peoples.

The book has some great aims and asks some excellent questions. These are questions that cannot be fully answered, as sources are limited, but it was frustrating at times how short the discussion was. The author might give a few possible answers but little or sometimes no reasoning on why these answers should be considered.

For example, in the 3rd chapter he questions why Romans would join the new Christian church when it was so radically different from what they were used to. He mentions 4 possibilities: the intriguing idea of monotheism, the promise of eternal life, that the new faith blended religion, philosophy and morality in a way others didn’t, and the concept of loving everyone. He mentions these but has no follow-up discussion about them and simply ends the chapter. Also strange is the absence of Christianity’s idea of equality as one of those possibilities. Many early adopters of Christianity were rich upper class women (women whose houses were gifted to the church to become buildings of worship upon their deaths). While upper class women had more agency than many in ancient Rome, the Christian faith gave them power over belief in ways other religions denied them. The author does cover the stratification of Roman society and how Christians tried to upend that with their idea of everyone being treated equally within the church in a later chapter, but he never posits this as a reason why lower class individuals might have joined the church in the first place. Even in his conclusion, when he again considers the question of what made Christianity so compelling, he neglects to mention it in favour of purely spiritual answers.

Despite my desire to see more discussion, the book is excellent at giving a good idea of how differently ancient peoples thought about concepts like religion. It was very useful learning how Greeks and Romans worshipped. I also appreciated learning more about how early Christian practice was different from the Jewish faith it sprang from. I highlighted numerous passages in the book that I thought were worth reflecting on. Christianity has changed a lot from those early years, so it was interesting seeing what the first Christians believed and how they followed Christ.

Consider this a great introduction to the topic of how early Christians practiced and how their worship and thought patterns differed from those of the people around them. It’s a fairly short, easy to read book that will give you a lot to think about.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Movie Review: Nine Days

Directed by Edson Oda, 2020
IMDb listing

Set in a realm that monitors people on earth and chooses souls to be sent there, one of the interviewers who had a bad experience on earth sorts through new candidates. But as he deals with the death of his favourite subject and a candidate with ideas different from the others’, he starts to question the criteria upon which he makes his judgement.

This is a strange but thoughtful movie about life and death and what we got out of those experiences. It’s a reminder to be in the moment, to appreciate what you have.

The interviewer, Will, played by Winston Duke, is an interesting character. He’s clearly upset that he has to replace one of his subjects and his experience on earth was apparently negative. It’s unclear what he’s looking for in his new subject, so there’s an interesting mix of souls trying to cater to what they think he wants and being true to themselves.

Emma, played by Zazie Beetz, does a brilliant job of showing how every moment is precious - even minor, otherwise forgettable ones. That if you really LOOK around you, you’ll see the good in the world. She questions the process and gets the most out of the time allotted.

It’s a thought-provoking film that had me crying in a few scenes.

There are a lot of unexplained aspects of the film, where this takes place for example. Expect to be moved by several scenes and left unsettled by the ending.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Reduced Attention Span

I know from posts I’ve seen online that a lot of people came out of the pandemic with a reduced attention span. I used to read for hours at a time, lost in the story. Now it sees like anytime I open a book it’s a real struggle to finish a chapter, a page, a paragraph. No matter how interesting the characters or plot, I have a hard time keeping my mind focused on what I’m doing. So many other things try to intrude. I’m reading more history books, which means I often pause to look up new information or other books being referenced to check out later. I’ve started forcing myself to sit still and read, but even then, chores, shopping lists, random thoughts intrude, making it hard to concentrate. And there’s always social media, that time sink that makes it feel like you’re connecting with the world when you’re really just becoming more and more isolated in your own private echo chamber.

I’m planning another research trip which is eating up the majority of my time. I haven’t been taking on many review requests as a result. Haven’t been reading much fiction at all. Last year I only read 28 books, 18 of which were fiction. Two of those were graphic novels, three more were Dante’s Divine Comedy (are those fiction? poetry? religious philosophy? not really sure). I keep thinking I can read on my trips, but the stress involved means I REALLY do not have the concentration required. So I’ve gravitated to watching more movies and TV shows.

I read an article recently by a professor lamenting that kids these days haven’t learned the skill of reading. That the instant gratification of social media has lowered attention spans and that schools haven’t focused on the skill that is sitting still and concentrating on a single task. I’m realizing that sitting still is a skill to be cultivated. And I think a lot of us have lost it.

I also think I need to prioritize pleasure reading more. Accomplishing tasks is great and research is wonderful, but all stress and no down time make for people who don’t handle the challenges of life very well. The world keeps telling us that we need to earn money from everything we do, that all our hobbies should be second or third jobs. I have found that when I review all the movies I watch I don’t enjoy them as much. There is real work involved in thinking critically about media. This blog started out as a way to market myself and my writing. I know how hard it is to find good media, and how hard it is to be seen, so for years this blog’s been about pointing out books and movies I thought were interesting and worth checking out.

So this blog’s been declining in terms of content. I post book reviews when I have them. I’ve got a religious book review coming soon, and a few science fiction books I’ve received advance reading copies of. This year will probably be another lean year. Hopefully I’ll have more time for leisure reading come autumn, after my trip.

I’m currently reading Cascade Failure by L. M. Sagas, and it’s very tense. I’m enjoying it a lot. And managing to read a couple of chapters before my brain tells me to get back to research.

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Shout-Out: Phoenix Rising by Ephie and Celia Risho

When a flying creature sets fire to their home, the people of Seabrook scramble. But for Amber, a twelve-year old daydreamer, it’s just the beginning. At the urging of mischievous pixies, she sets out in search for answers, only to find there’s far more going on than her sleepy village can handle. Evil wizards and their sinister plot begin to unfold before her the further she travels. What started out as a seemingly simple task quickly reveals a far greater challenge facing the entire kingdom. And time is running short. If she can’t figure it out soon enough, the entire coast will burn.

An epic coming-of-age fantasy adventure for young and old readers alike!

In “The Elementalists” fantasy books set, you will embark on an adventurous journey into a universe where ordinary teenagers discover incredible powers. Across four epic fantasy books, readers are taken into a world where magic is full of possibility, friendship is unbreakable, and courage glows in the face of challenges.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Movie Review: Outland

Directed by Peter Hyams, 1981
IMDb listing

After being transferred to be the new head of security on a mining colony on Io, Marshal William O’Niel must decide if he wants to toe the line or bust the drug ring he uncovers.

The special effects are really good. The station looks dirty and lived in, with a claustrophobic mix of large spaces broken down into small cubicles and living quarters. It’s very much a realistic - and rather horrifying - guess at what a company town would look like. Little private space, little regard for the workers, lots of emphasis on productivity and profit for the company.

There’s a realistic 3 day transfer time from the orbiting space station and the planet, which the story uses to good effect. The tech is all so outdated watching them write emails and watch video messages is kind of painful, though it was futuristic stuff for the early 80s.

The extended final fight was entertaining. I question some of the structural integrity of the complex and the mine’s ability to continue operating after some important sections of the base were destroyed though. Oddly the massive damage to the base isn’t commented on by anyone in the film.

While it’s not the best film set in space, it was entertaining and embodies a lot of the themes later 80s films would focus on.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

TV Show Review: Severance Season 1

Created by Dan Erikson (2022)
IMDb Listing

Lumen Industries has discovered how to surgically separate the brain. Their workers have no memories of what they do on the job, and their ‘innies’ have no life outside of work.

After a co-worker suddenly leaves, Mark S. is promoted to team lead of data refinement. His first task is to help the team’s replacement, Helly, with her adjustment to severed life.

But Helly doesn’t want to work at Lumen and it’s truly bizarre office culture. And she will do whatever it takes to get out.

This is an absolutely brilliant show on Apple TV. It’s slow moving and takes its time letting you get to know the core characters and their issues. It asks some great questions about memory, work, and work-life balance. Having seen it twice now, it’s also a show that gets better upon rewatch as you can pay attention to smaller details you missed the first time around.

The story is bizarre in all the best ways. There’s so much that’s simply ODD about Lumen and the office. The show has a lot of bright lights and long white corridors. It’s also got some creative photography choices, making good use of reflections and cramped spaces. There’s a sweet office romance between 2 older men (one of whom is played by Christopher Walken). A lot of 60s inspired sets and parties. A new age guru, and more.

The season has an electrifying finale that poses a lot of new questions and deepens the mysteries around the company.

I hope the series gets all the seasons it needs to tell its story as planned.


Tuesday 9 January 2024

Book Review: Mislaid in Parts Half-Known by Seanan McGuire

After losing years of her life in the Land Where the Lost Things Go, Antsy Ricci has found her way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. But a school filled with kids trying to find their Doors back to magical lands might not be the best place for a girl that can find anything,

This is the 9th book in the Wayward Children series and is best read in sequence. It takes place a bit before and directly after the events of Where the Drowned Girls Go and Lost in the Moment and Found. It’s worth rereading those if you don’t remember what happened.

Antsy’s an interesting character. She’s 9 years old in the body of a 16 year old, with no idea of how to act around kids her visible age. Seeing her face her past and giving real resolution to her story in Lost in the Moment and Found, was wonderful.

I loved Sumi in this story. She can be a bit much but acts like a real mother hen crossed with a real no nonsense attitude. She has some of the most insightful lines in the book.

Despite the rules of the school, a quest is at hand. As a novella it only takes a few hours to read, but has a very satisfying story arc.

If you’ve read the prior novellas in the series, this is a strong follow-up. If you haven’t, I can’t recommend the series enough.

  - a review copy of the book was provided by NetGalley -