Monday, 31 August 2015

Summer Books Received, 2015

Summer's a pretty quiet time for review copies, which is great as it gives me time to get some of the backlog out of the way.  I didn't start that until August, unfortunately, but I'm well on my way to reading through these new releases.  Many thanks again to the publishers and authors who offer me books for review.  I recognize how privileged I am and only wish I had time to read everything.

Artemis Invaded by Jane Lindskold - I recently finished the first book in this series, Artemis Awakening, which I enjoyed more than I expected to (I thought it was going to be a straight up SF romance, which isn't my favourite subgenre, but the romance elements were very limited and the protagonists were well fleshed out and fun to read).  To avoid spoilers, I'm giving the synopsis for Artemis Awakening here.

The distant world Artemis is a pleasure planet created out of bare rock by a technologically advanced human empire that provided its richest citizens with a veritable Eden to play in. All tech was concealed and the animals (and the humans brought to live there) were bioengineered to help the guests enjoy their stay.but there was always the possibility of danger so that visitors could brag that they had "bested" the environment.
The Empire was shattered in a horrific war; centuries later humanity has lost much of the advanced technology and Artemis is a fable told to children. Until young archeologist Griffin Dane finds intriguing hints that send him on a quest to find the lost world. Stranded on Artemis after crashing his ship, he encounters the Huntress Adara and her psych-linked companion, the puma Sand Shadow. Their journey with her will lead Dane to discover the planet's secrets.and perhaps provide a key to give unimagined power back to mankind.

Bots: Emergent Behavior by Nicole Taylor - I've already finished this book and my review of it will go up tomorrow.  It's the first of a 6 book series from the new Epic Press imprint.

A robotics genius, Edmond West has developed a plan to create the world's first Artificial Intelligence truly indistinguishable from a human being. His Bots will eradicate global slavery and allow humanity to channel its darkest impulses safely, harming only these soulless machines. His greatest success, however, may also be his undoing. He's finally created the perfect humanoid robot; perfectly intuitive, perfectly emotive… and perfectly unpredictable.

The Godforsaken by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro - I'm almost done this book and... wow.  It starts slow, but builds such a layer of dread that my shoulders keep tensing up when I read the book.  I'm so close to the end...

In the dark days of the Inquisition, a cursed Spanish prince must wrestle with the ravenous demon that lives inside him
At the height of Europe’s bloody 16th century, as Spain suffers under the iron cruelty of the Inquisition, a different sort of horror plagues the royal house of King Alonzo. A witch’s curse directed at the heartless liege has borne bitter fruit, damning the innocent offspring of el rey. The brooding and sensitive son and heir to the throne, Don Rolon, wanders the great halls of the ancestral home carrying the weight of his unloving father’s crimes in his bones and blood. Torn between his deeply felt religious beliefs and a gnawing hunger, he must somehow deal with a looming threat far more powerful than his murderously jealous brother and the manipulations of a corrupt and self-serving officer of a malevolent church. For when the full moon rises, Don Rolon will be forced to surrender to his unholy needs as the beast within him is unleashed once more.

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein - This book sounds pretty interesting.  John Sandford is a well known thriller writer, trying his hand at science fiction for the first time.  Ctein is a photographer with degrees from Caltech in English and physics.

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.
A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.
The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Shout-Out: Way Down Dark by James Smythe

There's one truth on Australia.

You fight or you die.

Usually both.

Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape.

Seventeen-year-old Chan's ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

This is a hell where no one can hide.

The only life that Chan's ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

This is a ship of death, of murderers and cults and gangs.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness - a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

This is Australia.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery - a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Video: Our Greatest Adventure

I really enjoyed The Martian by Andy Weir, and can't wait for the film to hit theatres in October. Though I know the story, I'm trying to avoid the trailers because I want as much of the movie to be a 'surprise' as possible (for a story I've read).

But this background video of the Ares mission on "Star Talk" by Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Saints' Lives: Saint Theodore (of Amasea/Tyro)

Restored jamb statue
from Laon Cathedral
His feast day is November 9th and he is a patron of lost things.

The following account comes from The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, translated by William Granger Ryan (volume II). Princeton University Press, 1995. pp 291. 

Saint Theodore was a Roman soldier serving in the city of Marmanites during the reign of Diocletian and Maximian.  Theodore refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, claiming that he was a soldier in the service of his God and of his Son Jesus Christ.  The judge asked if it was possible to know the son of his god, he said yes and was given time to prepare to offer his sacrifice.

Theodore used the time to enter the temple of the Mother of the Gods at night and set fire to it, burning it to the ground.  A witness accused him and he was put in jail.

Temple on fire, detail of Laon Cathedral
jamb statue
Martyrdom of St Theodore as depicted on
a pillar at Chartres Cathedral (N. transept)

While in prison he was visited by “a throng of men in white robes”, even though the doors were all locked.  The guards saw this and ran away in fear.

When he was asked again to sacrifice, he said no.  The judge then had him hung from a limb and his flanks torn with iron hooks so that his ribs were exposed.  When asked if he’d rather be on Earth or with Christ, he said with Christ.  So they lit a fire under him and though the fire didn’t burn his body, he expired there.

A sweet odour spread from his body and a voice was heard that said, “Come, my beloved, enter into the joy of your Lord!” as the heavens opened to receive him.  This happened in AD 287.


Interestingly, his story is fairly different when looked up on Wikipedia and religious websites.  His death date is later (AD 306, under Emperor Galerius) and the location Amasea in modern Turkey.  The church he’s said to have burned is that of Cybele, who was the local mother-goddess, so that’s consistent.

He’s called Theodore of Amasea (for the place) or Theodore Tyro (also spelled Tyron, Tiron and Tiro) as ‘tiro’ is a classical Latin word that describes a soldier who has recently enlisted.  He is therefore also known as Theodore the Recruit.  His story and that of the slightly later Saint Theodore Stratelates are now considered to relate to the same person.

The Orthodox Church in America website also recounts a further story, that 50 years after Saint Theodore's death, the Emperor Julian ordered the commander of Constantinople to sprinkle all the food in the marketplace with blood offered to idols during the first week of Great Lent.  Saint Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxius and told him to warn the people to only eat cooked wheat with honey and not buy anything from the market.

Because of this miracle, the Orthodox Church celebrates him on the first Saturday of Great Lent.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Open Road Media publishes ebooks by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro & Lynn Hightower

From the promotional email:

Known for her riveting horror, science fiction, and supernatural novels, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild and is one of only two women ever to be named as Grand Master of the World Horror Convention. On September 1, ebook editions of six of her works will be published for the first time, including The Godforsaken. A dark tale of a 16th century Spanish prince cursed as a werewolf, the chilling novel is set in the bloody days of the Spanish Inquisition.
The Godforsaken
Sins of Omission
Time of the Fourth Horesman

Lynn S. Hightower’s Elaki series, a near-future police procedural set in a world where an alien race has descended on Earth, will be on sale as ebooks on September 29. Beginning in Alien Blues, Detective David Silver is teamed up with String, an alien of the Elaki race, to solve a string of murders. First published in 1991, this series fuses procedurals with science fiction, imagining a world where humans and aliens can coexist.
Alien Blues
Alien Eyes
Alien Heat
Alien Rites

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Video: Boss B*tches of History

The Wisecrack channel on youtube has been expanding out from its Thug Notes and 8-Bit Philosophy videos.  One of their new offerings (with only 2 episodes so far) is Boss B*tches of History. Definitely NSFW (with swearing + sex talk), it's a fun look at some of the bad a$$ women of the past.  The brains behind the segment (as well as the presenters) are Sovereign Syre and Ela Darling.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Book Review: Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold

Pros: great characters, interesting story

Cons: romantic elements, though minor, feel awkward at times

When Griffin Dane locates the planet he believes to be the ancient pleasure planet Artemis, his intention is to study it and return to his home world and bask in the glory of his historic discovery.  So when his ship crashes, stranding him there, he’s eager to find his way back to the stars. 

He’s rescued from the wreckage by the Huntress Adara and her demiurge puma companion Sand Shadow, with whom she’s psychically linked.  They guide Griffin first to their village and then to a major city with relics left by the Seegnur, the people who made the planet and altered the inhabitants to be the perfect servants.  There they meet with the Old One Who Is Young, a man who has studied the technology of the Seegnur for decades.  

But Griffin’s arrival has awakened something.  And things with the Old One aren’t what they seem.

I loved Adara and Sand Shadow.  It’s great to see a self-confidant young woman who gives and accepts help as the situation requires.  She knows her skills and when the location changes and her abilities are less in demand, finds something she can do to help that will use her skills.  By the same token, it was great to see Griffin fumbling on this ‘primitive’ world, accepting menial tasks as the only ones he’s qualified to do, and not complaining about it.  I really liked Terrell as well.  It was interesting how the three protagonists strengths and weaknesses complemented each other, and how the characters worked together.

The story begins sort of quest like, but there’s a series of overlapping mysteries when they get to Spirit Bay, which were quite interesting to read.  It was also interesting learning more of the Seegnur and how they modified things (via the social rather than scientific changes.  You don’t learn the science behind the genetic modifications but you learn about the different social strata and some of the abilities of people who were adapted for specified jobs).

There were minor romantic elements in the book.  The opening led me to believe that these would have a stronger impact on the story, so I was pretty happy to discover they didn’t.  There were some awkward conversations where the characters were honest about their feelings (or lack thereof), which I appreciated (the honesty, if not necessarily the awkwardness).  Some of the elements seemed a tad heavy handed, like Adara noticing Griffin’s eye colour in the middle of a life or death situation, which also struck me as being out of place. But on the whole I found the characters’ openness refreshing and the elements indicate that a romance may form as the series goes on.

The world-building is understated, but interesting.  Since the planet was specifically designed it still works on a feudal style system.  As with the romance, there are underlying elements but they only pop up from time to time.

It was an interesting read.

Book two, Artemis Invaded, is now out in hardcover from TOR.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Video: Class Heroes Book Series Trailer

Stephen Henning has created four new short films to promote his Class Heroes YA series about teenaged twins who gain superpowers in an accident.

I've read and reviewed all of the books so far (A Class Apart, What Happened in Witches Wood, London Belongs to the Alchemist and the novella Where's Lolly).  You can buy the books via Amazon, the first one is free.  Just a warning, the third book ends on a cliffhanger.

The first of the videos is now up on youtube and gives a general introduction to the series and each of the books:

The other three videos will come out over the next three weeks and introduce each of the protagonists: Sam (Samantha), James and Lolly.

This isn't the first set of videos the author has created, he's done a series of fake news reports surrounding the events of the books, which you can also find on his youtube channel, White Hat Films.

Here's the synopsis for book 1, A Class Apart:

Teenage twins James and Samantha Blake are caught up in a seemingly random terrorist bombing while on a school trip. Many of their friends are killed. When the twins wake up in hospital, their lives have changed forever.
The doctors are amazed at the speed with which James and Sam recover from their injuries and, when the twins begin to exhibit extraordinary powers, it is obvious that something incredible has happened.
As James and Sam attempt to overcome their fears and embrace their new abilities, a series of murders and disappearances start plaguing the hospital. The twins aren't the only ones with special abilities and it becomes apparent that someone is coming for them.
Will James and Sam be able to survive the nightmare into which they have been plunged? Who, or what, is behind the murders at the hospital? And was that terrorist incident quite so random after all?

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Shout-Out: Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

Imagine a time when the gods turn a blind eye to the agony of men, when the last of the hellions roam the plains, and evil stirs beyond the edges of the map. A time when cities burn, and in their ashes, empires rise. 
Alexander, Macedon's sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world, but finds himself drawn to a newcomer…

Katerina must navigate the dark secrets of court life while keeping hidden her own mission: kill the queen. But she doesn't account for her first love…

Jacob will go to unthinkable lengths to win Katerina, even if it means having to compete with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince.

And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander's unmet betrothed, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters.

Weaving fantasy with the shocking details of real history, New York Times bestselling author of Sex with Kings Eleanor Herman reimagines the greatest emperor the world has ever known, Alexander the Great, in the first book of the Blood of Gods and Royals series.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Groupees: Sci-Fi Bundle

Open Road Media has a Sci-Fi Bundle currently on Groupees.  Like HumbleBundle and StoryBundle, the premise is you pay what you want for the ebooks, with the option of donating some of the money to charity (10% in this case, to FirstBook).  Act fast though, it ends in 7 days (so August 28th if I'm counting correctly).

For a minimum $1payment you get 6 books:
Snake Agent by Liz Williams
Moving Mars by Greg Bear
Refugee by Piers Anthony
The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove

Pay $12 or more and get:
The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko
Patton's Spaceship by John Barnes
Midshipman's Hope by David Feintuch
Dragonholder by Todd McCaffrey
Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling
The Disfavored Hero by Jessica Salmonson
The Burning Land by Victoria Strauss

If the total purchases go up to $15000, everyone also gets Night Train to Rigel by Timothy Zahn.

There are some interesting books in this bundle.  I've heard great things about Snake Agent and Sunshine.  My only hesitation on buying it is the piles of unread books on my floor and shelves.  But I like these bundles, I think they're a great way of getting older and/or lesser known books into readers hands.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Shout-Out: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

 In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

And if you're interested, here's an interview I did with the author a few years back, about her Obsidian and Blood trilogy, set in the Aztec Empire.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Book Trailer: The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees

From the email I got about the author and the book, which comes out September 8th:

Cindy Dees has won a Golden Heart Award, two RITAs for Category Suspense and Adventure and has also twice snared RT's Series Romantic Suspense of the Year. She is a great storyteller, and the adventures in her more than fifty novels are often inspired by her own life. Dees is an Air Force vet—the youngest female pilot in Air Force history—and fought in the first Gulf War. She's had amazing adventures, and she's used her experiences to tell some incredible stories.

Now Cindy is turning her formidable talent toward another passion: fantasy gaming. For almost twenty years she’s been involved with Dragon Crest, one of the original live action role-playing games. She’s the story content creator on the game and wanted to do an epic fantasy based on it. Thus, with the blessing and input of Dragon Crest founder Bill Flippin, THE SLEEPING KING was born.

The planet Urth was once a green and verdant paradise. Powerful elemental beings with deep magic were stewards to this wonder, but not all could agree on its destiny. When gods war, it is the small who always suffer, and the First Great Age ended with a battle that nearly destroyed all life. To end the conflict, an Accord was put in place to preserve the balance, and the elementals withdrew their influence to allow new, less powerful races to grow and thrive in the world.

The delicate peace was destroyed, however, when a race of near immortals called the Kothites came to Urth. In the ensuing centuries, they have wreaked havoc on the planet, and the mortal races of men, elves, and other creatures are seeking a way to break free of the Kothite menace. Rumors of a Sleeping King, a powerful elvish elemental trapped in a spell, who may bring Urth back to health, abound, and many are seeking this treature— including a young girl who wants to thwart prophecy to save her own future and a young woodsman out to discover his lost past. Only time will tell if they can work together to save the beloved Urth they call home.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Movie Review: Event Horizon

Directed by Christian Alvart, 1997

Pros: excellent acting

Cons: several gory and disturbing scenes

Seven years ago the space ship Event Horizon disappeared.  Now, a rescue crew is sent to check out a distress signal from the ship carrying Dr. William Weir, the ship’s creator.  But things aren’t right when they find the Event Horizon.  Something’s come back with the ship from wherever it disappeared to, something evil.

The film is blessed with some great actors, Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus from The Matrix) and Sam Neill (Dr. Grant from Jurassic Park) being the headliners, and while the roles are typical horror fare (person who freaks out, person who’s cold and collected, kick-ass woman, comedy relief, intelligent captain, etc.) the actors do a great job in their roles.  The tone and look of the film was half way between the original Alien (for its aesthetic and horror aspects) and the sequel Aliens (for some banter and kickassery). 

I’m not a fan of gory horror and there were some truly disturbing scenes here that I could have done without.  But it really works for this film.  

There’s not as much character building before the horror starts, so I didn’t care about the characters as much as I’d have liked, but the story was interesting - if simple.  Great horror doesn’t require complexity though, if there are some good lines, decent characters and great actors, all of which Event Horizon has.

I’m sorry it took me this long to see the film.  

Friday, 14 August 2015

Piles of Books

I have the extraordinary privilege of having books sent to me for review.  This is something I've worked hard for, making publishing contacts as a bookseller, promoting books as much as I could, writing progressively better reviews.

The upside to this is that I have more books than I can read.  The downside to it is... I have more books than I can read.  And shelve.  I love reading and I love books, but the time has come for me to realize that I can't house all the books I have anymore.  I also feel bad about the number of books I just don't have time to read and review.

So, in order to galvanize me to get rid of some books (and read more older titles), I sorted my books into various piles (sequels to books I've read, first books in a series, standalones, YA, books I'm not sure I'll like, etc.) and then reorganized my bookshelves.

Note, the upright books on the bottom left are history books I need quick access to and oversized books.
I HATE having books on their sides on my shelves.  I like my books easy to access.  I like my books easily visible (without other books crowded in front of them).  But on their sides, piled untidely, with piles in front of other piles, is the only way I can get all of my books on the shelves now.  I've done this on purpose.  I'm hoping that my hatred of my shelving format will galvanize me into reading faster, picking up more of the older titles on my shelves, and getting rid of books I won't read again.

I've also made a few piles of 'read 50 pages' books on my floor.  These are books whose synopses don't really interest me, but that I feel bad discarding outright.  I figure if a book can't capture my interest in 50 pages it's not worth keeping around.  And it gives books I might otherwise leave on my shelves indefinitely a chance to wow me, or go to a home where someone who is interested in them lives.

The end result of this is two-fold.  First, I've already started accepting fewer review books and only request books on Netgalley (and reduced the number I request).  Summers are always light for new books, but I expect I'll be getting several titles in the fall and I want to be able to read those right away.  Second, while I've been trying to keep up my once a week book review schedule, reading 50 pages of several books until I find one that I want to read all of means I won't be finishing as many books and so won't be able to review them.  In other words, expect to see a few more movie reviews on Tuesdays.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Shout-Out: The Knight by Pierre Pevel

Traitor . . . or hero?
This is the tale of Lorn Askarian.
Some say he brought the kingdom to the brink of destruction, taking advantage of a dying king and an unpopular queen to strike against his enemies, heedless of the danger posed by a growing rebellion.
Others claim he saved the kingdom, following the orders of a king who had him falsely imprisoned, heedless of the personal cost, and loyal to the last - fighting against desperate odds on the political and physical battlefields alike.

Whatever the truth, whatever you choose to believe, this is his story.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Video: Fairies in a Jar

I've been watching Screen Team for quite some time and love their nerdcraft episodes.  Here's one from a while back where Angie shows how to make 'Fairies in a jar'.

I liked the idea so much I made my own fairy jar using yellow and green glow in the dark nail polish.

They've got a video on how to make Harry Potter wands, a Rorschach mask, Pokemon melted crayon art and more.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Book Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Pros: interesting characters, minor romance elements, coming of age story

Cons: minor world-building nitpicks, Alina makes a terrible decision half way through

Bea has grown up in the pod, a conscientious rule follower and believer that the world can be brought back from the brink that was the Switch by husbanding the remaining trees and eventually letting the pod’s population out into the wider world.

Her best friend Quinn is a premium, able to afford extra oxygen, better food and other perks her auxiliary status parents can’t buy.  He’s not like other premiums though.  He’s nice and considerate of those in the lower echelons.  He plans a weekend trip for them outside the dome that keeps them safe - it will be Bea’s first time outside -, but things get complicated when they run into a girl he finds attractive, Alina.

Alina is a RAT, a member of the resistance movement in the pod.  She knows the lies the Breathe corporation tells pod dwellers, that plants can’t grow in the lower oxygen levels outside the dome and that humans can’t train themselves to survive outside the false environment, because she’s been to the Grove, where both things happen.  When stewards come to arrest her, she goes on the run.  Quinn and Bea help her get outside, an action that changes all of their lives.

I liked the protagonists.  The author did a great job of fleshing them out so their actions and reactions to things felt authentic.  They all grow as the book progresses, and their decisions impact their lives and the lives of others.

The premise of the book, that humans cut down trees and killed the oceans, reducing the oxygen levels in the atmosphere to such that humans can’t survive outside domes, is a horrifically plausible one.  As are some of the things that came out of that: the horrors Maude describes and the stratification of the pod.  Still, the timeline seems very short.  Only two generations have passed since the disaster, so most people would know someone who remembers Breathe’s promises that they’d someday leave the pods.  And yet, very few people seem to question what’s happening in the pod.  

The army was sufficiently creepy, obeying orders that make them complicit in the continuation of pod existence.  It seems an awful lot of people know that plants can grow outside and are willing to kill them.  I would have expected more resistance recruits from their ranks.  Yes, they’d get perks from being in the army and probably threats against rebellion, but it’s still one hell of a secret to keep and ultimately to their own - and their descendants - detriment.  

I was surprised that those who set up the grove didn’t set up alternate locations for growing trees at the same time.  Knowing they were being hunted and having only one place with trees seems almost as bad as having no places with trees.  I would have expected that their main objective, to replant and let the trees slowly return oxygen levels to normal, requires as many trees as they can grow, in as many places as they can grow them.  Yes, that means finding suitable locations to set up, but surely they could open a string of stadiums and theatres, spreading out a few days walk from each other, away from the pod.  Once the trees are going they wouldn’t need much care, beyond a water and light source.

The army would also have to be pretty on top of things for them to kill all weeds and plants popping up.  Granted, they really only have to worry about the area around the dome where tourists camp, as few people would see anything beyond a day or two’s walk, as they would then either know about the Grove or not have enough oxygen to get back to the pod in time.

Alina makes one decision that sets a lot of other events in motion, a decision she must have known would have serious negative consequences, and yet she doesn’t seem to question the wisdom of it.  I’ll discuss this more in the spoiler section below.

The ending surprised me, both with its brutality and its leniency.  Quinn’s dad seems to act somewhat out of character from what he’s done through the rest of the book, both in dealing with the resistance, and his son.

These are all minor complaints that I didn’t really think about until I was writing my review.  On the whole I greatly enjoyed this book.  It’s fast paced, with minor romance and coming of age  

*** Spoiler Section ***

The decision I’m talking about with Alina is stealing the tank.  It should be obvious to her that the army will come after them after such a serious theft, but somehow she doesn’t consider that this act will start a war and bring the army down on the glade.  I was surprised by how long it took the army to locate the glade, regardless of Quinn’s lies.  Though I guess an abandoned city could have thousands of likely hideout locations - any large building could have sufficed, since the army didn’t necessarily know they were looking for a building large enough to house fully grown trees.

I really didn’t understand why Quinn’s dad let the rebels go at the end.  Yes, there was trouble back at the pod, but the rebels were in front of him.  All he needed to do was shoot them and that problem at least would have been solved.  Or reduced.

It seems that killing the protagonist’s parents in YA dystopian novels has become quite the trend.  Are authors doing it because it’s ‘expected’ or is it still meant to be a surprise twist or a push for the protagonist to go off and rebel and whatnot without fear for what will happen to those left behind?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Shout-Out: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods - retold from the point of view of the world's ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki's recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Medieval Cathedrals: Notre-Dame de Laon, part 2: Interior

[I'll be using a lot of architectural terms in this series of posts, and in the interests of not doing work that's already been done, instead of making my own glossary I'm linking to this excellent one by Athena Review. All photos used in this post are mine, and can be used by others provided you post a link to this page and credit me.]

My sources for this material are wikipedia’s Laon Cathedral page, The Great Courses The Cathedral course by Professor William Cook (lecture 9), and La Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Laon by Auguste Bouxin, available via  The book is where I got the information for the sculptural program.  Note that my French isn’t that great and the book is quite old (1902), so if you plan to use that information you’d be advised to check with more modern sources.

See part 1: the exterior, here.
Laon cathedral is 111 meters long, the nave being 53 meters, and the choir an impressive 10 bays.  The transepts that give the church its cruciform shape are 12 meters long and meet at a crossing tower that is 40 meters high. 
Nave looking west from the crossing.
Nave looking east
I've included a jpeg version of the floor plan I prepared (and corrected) for this cathedral.  Fell free to use it, but please credit me if you do.  Email me if you'd like the pdf file instead.

Crossing tower with tripartite elevation
Laon Cathedral floor plan

The cathedral has a 4 part elevation: aisle, gallery, triforium and clearstory.  The columns alternate styles, with either 3 or 5 colonettes rising from the floor to join with the vaulting in the ceiling. 
Nave elevation
Nave pillar with aisle and nave vaulting.
You can sometimes arrange to see the gallery at the tourist information office next door.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time for the tour, though I imagine you can get some amazing photographs from there.  It’s also the only way to see the two lancet windows visible on the west front, as the aisle otherwise blocks them from view at nave level.  It’s also the only way to see the upper chapels that adorn the rounded sides of the transepts.  The upper chapels have a double elevation, making a three window height visible from the outside of the cathedral.

The north rose window contains stained glass from the 1180s and depicts Philosophy, with the ladder on her dress as described by Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. surrounded by the other arts.  The four slightly off set lancet windows below have modern glass in them.

The south window has a large lancet window with an occulus and smaller lancets inside it, now filled with clear glass.  The tracery is 14th century and quite beautiful.
South transept
South transept lower chapel
The east end is quite impressive with three very deeply set tall lancet windows surmounted by a rose.  There’s some original 13th century stained glass here.

East end
Deep set lancet windows in east end
The centre, ‘Passion window’ includes a scene in the lower right quadrant of the upper roundel that depicts the pilgrims of Emmaus eating at a table, with Christ’s feet rising through the ceiling (alas, the glass is dark so I couldn’t locate the scene when I was there, and my attempts to crop large photos down to show it aren’t as successful as I’d have liked).

Supper at Emmaus stained glass

Unfortunately the west rose, made in 1210 and depicting the Last Judgement, is partially obscured by the organ.
West rose window
While a bit out of the way - and a tough climb up a steep hill - Laon Cathedral is definitely worth a visit.
Taking the stairs back down to the train station is MUCH easier.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Medieval Cathedrals: Notre-Dame de Laon, part 1: Exterior

[I'll be using a lot of architectural terms in this series of posts, and in the interests of not doing work that's already been done, instead of making my own glossary I'm linking to this excellent one by Athena Review. All photos used in this post are mine, and can be used by others provided you post a link to this page and credit me.]

My sources for this material are wikipedia’s Laon Cathedral page, The Great Courses The Cathedral course by Professor William Cook (lecture 9), and La Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Laon by Auguste Bouxin, available via  The book is where I got the information for the sculptural program.  Note that my French isn’t that great and the book is quite old (1902), so if you plan to use that information you’d be advised to check with more modern sources.  I did make some corrections to my chart based on the photographs I made of the cathedral, but it’s possible some of the figures have been more accurately identified.  I don’t own a guide book for this cathedral the way I do for several others, so take my charts as a jumping off point for study rather than as a finished product.

See part 2: Interior, here.

Notre-Dame de Laon is situated on top of a steep hill.  It makes for an impressive view, from the bottom and the top.  Laon was an important city for Charlemagne and his descendants.  The emperor attended the dedication of a previous church on the site, completed in 800 CE.  That church was replaced under Bishop Elinand (1052-1095).  It suffered fire damage in the revolt of 1112, but wasn’t completely destroyed. 

The current cathedral was started in the choir around 1160.  Construction stopped in 1174 and restarted around 1180, with the nave.  The choir was replaced and lengthened in 1215, replacing the apse (curved end) with a square one.  This gives the cathedral a wonderful sense of length, though none of the other Gothic cathedrals used it.  The West front, begun in the 1190s, was completed with three portals and a rose window around 1225.  This was the first deep set rose window created after that of Saint Denis.  It depicts the Last Judgement and dates from 1210.  Unfortunately the organ covers the lower parts of the glass, so they’re impossible to see (maybe you can see it on the gallery tour?).

Laon from the train.
First set of stairs up the hill.
The west facade is gorgeous, though all of the jamb statues are reproductions, as is the central lintel with the scenes of the Domition and Assumption of Mary.  Mary sits above these scenes on a throne next to her son, both of them flanked by angels with prophets, angels and the tree of Jesse in the archivolts above. 

West Facade
Central portal
The left portal is heavily influenced by the fact that Laon was an important center of learning for the time.  While the lintel and tympanum show the birth of Christ and Mary as Throne, the archivolts show scenes from the Bible that testify of Christ as well as the virtues and vices.

Left portal
Right portal
On the right portal we find the Last Judgement scene that is quite tame in comparison to that of many other churches and cathedrals of this period.  The bodies rising from the graves are peaceably led off to heaven or hell without any fuss and no real terrifying figures.  Christ sits in majesty above, with choirs of angels and the elect (or saints?) in the archivolts.  The outermost arch holds on the left side, the wise virgins with their vials of oil, and on the right, the foolish.  At the very top of that arch on the left we can see the church with the open door, and on the right, the doors are closed.

Left lancet archivolts with arts.
Right lancet archivolts with creation.
Above the outer doors are two large lancet windows with carved archivolts as well.  The left one shows fantastical beasts in two of the arches, with a third showing female representations of the arts (the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric, the quadrivium: arithemetic, geometry, music and astronomy.  The artist also threw in - according to Bouxin - philosophy, medicine and painting).  On the right we find some birds eating grapes, eagles spreading their wings and God creating the world.

The west facade has a lot of minor sculpture accenting the architectural features.  Easily spotted are a winged hippopotamus and rhinoceros, but there are a lot of faces and other fantastical creatures. There are arches but no gallery of kings on the upper level.  A statue of Mary holding Jesus, flanked by two angels, appears at the top in the centre of the facade.

Here's the sculptural program chart I made for my trip (and updated after my trip), that identifies all of the figures.  It's a jpeg of a pdf, so it won't print out in great condition.  If you'd like a better copy, email me and I'll send you the pdf.  If you choose to use this on your own site or for a school paper, please credit me and read the notes above regarding my sources.
Laon west facade sculptural program

west facade sculpture

The building was supposed to have 7 towers, but only 5 were built.  The towers have two sets of porticoes on top of each other at the corners, the lower one is square while the upper one is hexagonal.  Several stone oxen look out of the towers, tribute to the oxen that supposedly appeared to help pull the building stones up the hill to the building site and then disappeared when the work was completed.

tower detail with oxen
The north side of the church has a door with minor sculpture, now broken.  The figures look like a martyrdom scene, with the martyr being escorted to heaven in the upper level.

North door

North side

The south side has some figure sculpture but little else.

The east end is only really visible from the old Bishop’s palace to the south west, but shows the rounded chapels on the transepts and the square east end.
East side
Tomorrow I'll post the floor plan and pictures of the interior.