Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Books Received in August, 2016

My thanks, as always, to TOR for sending me some tempting books.  I'm really behind on my reading due to my upcoming Peru trip, but I plan on catching up fast when I get back.

Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee Hieber - This is the second book in the series, begun in The Eterna Files.  I'm using the synopsis for book 1 below, as I'm planning on reading it when I get back from my trip and don't want to spoil anything.

London, 1882: Queen Victoria appoints Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police to Special Branch Division Omega. Omega is to secretly investigate paranormal and supernatural events and persons. Spire, a skeptic driven to protect the helpless and see justice done, is the perfect man to lead the department, which employs scholars and scientists, assassins and con men, and a traveling circus. Spire's chief researcher is Rose Everhart, who believes fervently that there is more to the world than can be seen by mortal eyes.
Their first mission: find the Eterna Compound, which grants immortality. Catastrophe destroyed the hidden laboratory in New York City where Eterna was developed, but the Queen is convinced someone escaped-and has a sample of Eterna.

Also searching for Eterna is an American, Clara Templeton, who helped start the project after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln nearly destroyed her nation. Haunted by the ghost of her beloved, she is determined that the Eterna Compound-and the immortality it will convey-will be controlled by the United States, not Great Britain.

The Sword of Midras by Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott - This is a prequel novel to the Shroud of the Avatar video game by Portalarium. From their website: Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is a fantasy RPG that combines a single player narrative with a sandbox MMO created by a team that includes: Richard “Lord British” Garriott the creator of the Ultima series, Starr Long the Director of Ultima Online, and Tracy Hickman the [co-]author of Dragonlance.

The world died during the Fall. 
Abandoned by the mighty Avatars and their Virtues, the people who remained were left defenseless in an untamed land. That is, until the Obsidians came. Through dark sorcery and overwhelming force the Obsidian Empire brought order to chaos, no matter the cost.
Aren Bennis is a Captain in the Obsidian Army who has seen enough of what a world without Virtue looks like and is willing to do whatever it takes to establish a lasting peace. But after finding a magical sword that only he can wield, a sword his trusted scout, Syenna, claims is a blade once used by the legendary Avatars, Aren is thrown into a far more unfamiliar battle. One fought with whispered words and betrayal instead of swords and arrows. 
Running out of allies, Aren's only hope for survival is to discover the true nature of the ancient weapon he wears at his side. In order to do that, Aren will have to turn to the empire's enemies and, in doing so, he will discover what order at the hands of the Obsidians really means.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Comic Review: Battlestar Galactica Issues 1 and 2

Just before the peace negotiated by Baltar between the alien created Cylons and the humans of the Twelve Colonies, can be ratified, there’s a surprise Cylon attack.  But they don’t just destroy the fleet, they also target the colonies themselves.  Only one battleship remains: Battlestar Galactica, which escorts the remaining survivors on a quest to find their ancestral home: Earth.

Written in 1979 and based closely on the TV show that aired the year before, the comic books are fun to read.  Some scenes from the show are removed, likely due to space (some of the set up with Zac and Apollo’s mission, Starbuck talking with Athena while she’s changing, etc.).  The missing scenes tend to be character development moments, things that help with getting to know who everyone is and the interpersonal relationships between them.  Unfortunately, losing Zac’s scenes removed some of the tension the TV episode builds up.

The first issue ends with the ships heading out on their quest to find Earth.  The second comic covers the pilots checking over the ships in the new fleet and ends with them beginning their mine field piloting mission.  I suspect a third issue would finish the events of the pilot episode. 

The artwork is nice, and follows the designs of the show closely.  I didn’t realize until I watched the show that the pilots helmets look like ancient Egyptian headdresses, which was kind of neat.

The comic also does away with the narration that the episode begins with, which explains that this all takes place somewhere distant.

I suspect the comic was meant to drum up interest in the show and/or be a collector’s item.  It’s a neat piece of history.

Friday, 26 August 2016

TV Show Review: Battlestar Galactica Episode 1 (1978)

I saw this a few years ago when I watched the 2004 remake, but watched this again today so I could compare it to the first two issues of the 1979 comic books (volumes 1&2), which I will be reviewing on Tuesday.

Pros: some great characters, brilliant world-building, good special effects, excellent music

Cons: rushed storytelling

Just before the peace negotiated by Baltar between the alien created Cylons and the humans of the Twelve Colonies, can be ratified, there’s a surprise Cylon attack.  But they don’t just destroy the fleet, they also target the colonies themselves.  Only one battleship remains: Battlestar Galactica, which escorts the remaining survivors on a quest to find their ancestral home: Earth.

The pilot episode had a lot of ground to cover and clearly didn’t want to spend much of that time on the destruction of the fleet and colonies, taking a fair amount of time to set up some of the characters on Galactica, then jumping ahead to the humans in their scrounged ships leaving on their quest.  Having said this, a surprising amount of time is also spent on a planet they encounter later in the episode that might have been better served as the plot of the next episode, as it tells a mostly self-contained story.  But this first episode was apparently marketed as a TV movie, so maybe they needed to fill out the time slot.  And maybe the battle/destruction would have cost too much to do properly, so they opted to bypass most of it.

The character building at the beginning does mean several protagonists are quickly remembered, which I thought was well done considering the size of the cast.  I also liked that there was some diversity in the cast.   

The acting’s pretty good, if at times over the top - I’m looking at you, Starbuck.  The scene with Zac at the beginning gets quite tense.  

I have to admit that Boxey, the kid, is kind of annoying, as he’s always running off.  While I liked his mother (played by Jane Seymour), she’s clearly unable to keep track of him.

The special effects are quite good considering when this came out.  There are a lot of similarities to Star Wars in this respect, with the heavy use of models and lazers lights.

The world created is quite rich, with specialized terms.  It’s only touched on but the different colonies appear to have some different accents/dialects, religious practices, etc. 

One of the best aspects of the show is the music, which was fully orchestrated and sounds amazing.

The show has a bit of camp - as must be expected given when it was made.  But the remake took a lot of liberties with the story (and made some great changes), which makes the original worth watching.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Shout-Out: Vicarious by Paula Stokes

Winter Kim and her sister, Rose, have always been inseparable. Together the two of them survived growing up in a Korean orphanage and being trafficked into the United States. But they've escaped the past and started over in a new place where no one knows who they used to be.

Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose's ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Whether it's bungee jumping, shark diving, or grinding up against celebrities in the city's hottest dance clubs, Gideon can make it happen for you--for a price.

When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter is devastated. She won't rest until she finds her sister's killer. But when the clues she uncovers conflict with the digital recordings her sister made, Winter isn't sure what to believe. To find out what happened to Rose, she'll have to untangle what's real from what only seems real, risking her own life in the process.
Paula Stokes weaves together a series of mysteries and the story of an unbreakable bond between sisters in this unforgettable high-tech thrill ride.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Book Review: The Blood King by Gail Martin

Pros: quick read, variety of action, good pay off, complex plans

Cons: some unnecessary repetition

Note: This review contains spoilers for book one, The Summoner, reviewed here.

Tris and his friends have made it to Principality City and gained several powerful allies, but if Tris wants to claim the Margolan throne and right his half-brother’s wrongs, he’ll have to assemble an army and master his summoner abilities.

As with the first book, there’s a good variety to the action: fight scenes, mage training, diplomacy, and a touch of romance.  It keeps things feeling fresh and helps with the quick turning of pages.   

The plan for taking back Margolan has an appropriate complexity that relies on more than just Tris and his training.  I appreciated that the efforts of displaced farmers and deserting soldiers helped with the overthrow.

You learn more about the vayash moru (vampires), and how they operate and survive.  I also liked the introduction of new blood magic formed ‘creatures’, though wished they had been given more page time as they’re quite terrifying.

There were some times when the author repeated herself in giving information but it wasn’t as distracting as in the first book.

It’s a great conclusion to Martin’s duology, with a pay off that feels hard earned for the characters. 

Friday, 19 August 2016


In a few weeks I'll be heading to Peru on vacation.  I've spent the last month or so getting ready - which has included going out and getting a lot of exercise (Pokemon Go's been fantastic for motivating me to take longer and longer walks).

This is why my posting schedule's been later the last little while.  Being outside so much means I haven't had much chance to read, and I've burned through my reserve reviews, so after this Tuesday (I finished a book today) I'll be resorting to shorter things to review to save time while still delivering content.

Once again I thank my husband's family, which had a lot of old, cool stuff.  Specifically, some old comics.  As the photo below shows, there are some Twilight Zone issues, an Outer Limits, Greatest Adventure, Battlestar Galactica 1&2, Space War and a few others.  I'm thinking of reviewing 2 issues per Tuesday post, but we'll see.

This trip is going to be physically demanding (hence all the exercise in preparation), so I'll likely need a week or two to recover from it.  I expect I'll do some heavy reading and little else the first few weeks I'm back, to rebuild my review buffer.  I haven't fully decided what to do for my Friday posts - I may prep some movie reviews.  I may also have a few blanks as time become short.

I'm hoping to get back to doing more medieval posts in October, but we'll see how things go.  A family project this summer will need to be completed after my trip, which will take a fair amount of time.  Le sigh.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Shout-Out: Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

In 1812, Elinor Pembroke wakes to find her bedchamber in flames—and extinguishes them with a thought. At 21, she is old to manifest magical talent, but the evidence is unmistakable: she not only has the ability to start fires, but the far more powerful ability to control and extinguish them. She is an Extraordinary, and the only one in England capable of wielding fire in over one hundred years.

As an Extraordinary, she is respected and feared, but to her father, she represents power and prestige for himself. Mr. Pembroke, having spent his life studying magic, is determined to control Elinor and her talent by forcing her to marry where he chooses, a marriage that will produce even more powerful offspring. Trapped between the choices of a loveless marriage or living penniless and dependent on her parents, Elinor takes a third path: she defies tradition and society to join the Royal Navy.

Assigned to serve under Captain Miles Ramsay aboard the frigate Athena, she turns her fiery talent on England’s enemies, French privateers and vicious pirates preying on English ships in the Caribbean. At first feared by her shipmates, a growing number of victories make her truly part of Athena’s crew and bring her joy in her fire. But as her power grows and changes in unexpected ways, Elinor’s ability to control it is challenged. She may have the power to destroy her enemies utterly—but could it be at the cost of her own life?

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Video: Prop Wars

Ever wanted to see someone battle with a lightsaber vs Thor's hammer?  Welcome to Sneaky Zebra's Prop Wars.

Didn't get your fix?  They've made a second one.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Book Review: The Summoner by Gail Martin

Pros: great characters, interesting world, quick read, action packed

Cons: lots of repetition, characters are a little too perfect

Prince Martris Drayke’s is forced to flee his home country when his half brother forcibly takes the crown.  On his journey north to his uncle’s court, Martris discovers that his formerly minimal magical powers have expanded, allowing him to interact with spirits in ways he couldn’t before.  Is he the heir to his grandmother’s Summoner magic?  And if so, will this magic help him defeat the blood magician working with his brother? 

I read this book when it first came out in 2007 and loved it unreservedly.  So it was interesting, rereading it for review, to see how many ‘debut author’ flaws I noticed this time around.  The good guys are all a little too perfect.  The bad guys have no redeeming qualities and are a bit cookie cutter.  There’s a lot of repetition in the writing, both with information being relayed several times, as well as sentences that reiterate what was just written.  One important plot advancement was told by off the cuff exposition, rather than in a shown scene.  Several common tropes show up…

But those are all nitpicky points.  Apparently years of reviewing have made me quite critical, which is both good and bad.

This book is a real joy to read.  The prose flows, and though the book is quite thick, the pages pass quickly.  I was actually shocked at how fast I whipped through it.

I love the characters.  Martris (Tris) really grows and develops as a person.  I liked that we see his magic progress, but that his quick escalation of powers is explained.  I liked that magic had limits and there were consequences for its overuse.

Kiara is another character I simply adored.  She’s got a competence without the passion to prove herself that plague so many ‘strong’ female characters.  She is what she is because she’s worked hard, practiced, and because her kingdom expects its men and women to be able to protect it.  I also liked that the narrative pointed out how Tris admired her skills without the need to test her or put her down to raise himself up.

Vahanian is a traditional rogue with a heart of gold, but he’s given more back story than usual, and cries at one point in the book.  This is a humanizing not generally seen with tough fighters, and I appreciated it.

The part of the world we see is a collection of small kingdoms.  Some different customs are mentioned, though not many.  The real point of interest with the world building is the vayash moru - vampires.  They don’t play a big role, but it’s cool to see them in traditional fantasy.  I also enjoyed the Goddess, whose different aspects were worshipped in different countries.  

There’s a lot of action and the characters face a number of different dangers, which kept the book feeling fresh and exciting.

It’s an older title, but one well worth picking up.


This only occurred to me a while after I finished the book, but Berry’s quite cruel to her parents.  They know she’s been kidnapped, but after escaping the slavers, she still spends a month or more with Tris and co. before returning home.  Her parents must have been worried sick about her - and for much longer than necessary.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Shout-Out: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father's failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father's former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, a sixteen year old Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic - the Red Church. Treachery and trials await her with the Church's halls, and to fail is to die. But if she survives to initiation, Mia will be inducted among the chosen of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the only thing she desires.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Video: The Try Guys Try the Ancient Olympics

With the Olympics on, it's a great time to look back on how the games were actually run in Ancient Greece.  The Try Guys (part of BuzzFeed) went to the Getty Villa to try some historical sports. While the nudity is blurred, there is some adult conversation, so consider this NSFW.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Pros: brilliant premise, some heart-wrenching scenes, great characters

Cons: a few off notes

July 1916, the Great War continues and so does the work of the Spirit Corps, taking reports and messages from the British dead.  Ginger Stuyvessant is a medium, doing her duty both with the ghosts and at the hospitality tent that acts as their cover.  When a message comes through suggesting that the Spirit Corps is being targeted, her fiance and military spy, Captain Ben Harford, starts to investigate.

I absolutely loved the premise of this book.  Mediums who used the ghosts of the dead to track enemy troop positions?  What a brilliant idea.  If, of course, also a horrific one as it’s entirely dependant on your side dying.  I loved that part of the mediums’ job was assuring each soldier that their death had meaning. 

The cast was great.  I loved Ginger’s pluck and her relationship with the members of her circle as well as the deep love she has for Ben.  Ben is also a good character, trying to protect Ginger while acknowledging that part of what made him fall in love with her was her adventurous spirit.

I was impressed that Kowal brought in an Indian squad as well as a West Indian woman, and horrified by how they were treated by the military brass.

Given that it details wartime, it’s not surprising that there are some heart-wrenching scenes.

A few minor things bugged me, like at the end I got Edna and Aunt Edie confused.  There was also an ending scene with a character that rang a bit false to me, which I’ll explain in more detail in the spoiler section.

The mystery was well done with a good number of twists and turns to the investigation.  Ginger and Ben certainly work hard to find out what’s going on, taking a lot of physical - and other - punishment.

I really enjoyed this novella.  It’s only about 200 pages, but it took a while to read, simply because of the heavy subject matter.  I would love to see more done with this setting/premise.   


It’s made clear earlier on that Ben doesn’t like his cousin, Reginald, because the man is a bully who picked on those beneath him.  The end scene with Reginald makes it seem like Ben disliked him unfairly, perhaps because he was poor.  One act of kindness doesn’t negate numerous years of petty abuse, even if that abuse was directed at others (others who would have been Ben’s servants when he took over the household, and who will now become Reginald’s servants instead).

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Shout-Out: The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

Once there was a time when men and women lived as equals, when girl babies were valued, and women could belong only to themselves. But that was ten generations ago. Now women are property, to be sold and owned and bred, while a strict census keeps their numbers manageable and under control. The best any girl can hope for is to end up as some man's forever wife, but most are simply sold and resold until they're all used up.
Only in the wilderness, away from the city, can true freedom be found. Aya has spent her whole life in the mountains, looking out for her family and hiding from the world, until the day the Trackers finally catch her.
Stolen from her home, and being groomed for auction, Aya is desperate to escape her fate and return to her family, but her only allies are a loyal wolf she's raised from a pup and a strange mute boy who may be her best hope for freedom . . . if she can truly trust him.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Got to Catch ‘em All

Pokemon Go is becoming quite a phenomenon.  And I’ve jumped on that band wagon.  Not without some misgivings though.

Pokemon came out on TV in Canada when I was in high school.  I’ll admit that I liked the show and watched it everyday, but I might not have admitted it to you back then.  As with a lot of “things below my age” I was somewhat ashamed of my enjoyment in the show.  This was true of other cartoons I watched including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sailor Moon.  But I liked the shows.  They gave me half hours of escapism from the lousiness that was high school and daily life.  I NEEDED these shows to keep myself sane, to get through the days, the weeks, the years.

But at the back of my mind - and when anyone else was around - I was ashamed of my love for cartoons.  

It was with extreme reluctance that I set up my Pokemon Go account.  I downloaded it “just to see what it was like”, even though my husband didn’t care one way or another and no one else was around.  I played it “just to see if it’s any fun, you know, not because I’m actually interested.  I just want to see what everyone’s talking about”.  

The first time I went outside to play - I didn’t have a data plan for my iPad (my only tablet device) so I had to play in places that had wifi, which meant my house and the nearby community centre - I imagined people were looking down their noses at me, criticizing my decision to play a ‘child’s’ game.  While one guy with a young kid looked at me funny no one else even noticed I was there, or cared.  Still, I felt like a looser.

When I turn on the app the cartoon theme song plays in my head: “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was…”

I went to another wifi spot with my husband, but the connection was spotty and it drove him nuts that I couldn’t play the game properly, despite obviously wanting to.  So we went to the mall and I got a data plan.  I spent the next few hours running all over the place, getting pokestops and catching a ton of new pokemon.

A few days ago I went back to the community centre because it’s got several nearby pokestops.  I used a lucky egg, which gave me 30 minutes of double the xp.  During that time I hatched 2 eggs (near hatching when I started), evolved and caught several pokemon, and hit those pokestops several times.  I had so much fun.  And I didn’t feel bad for running around like a lunatic.  I didn’t care what others thought.  I HAD FUN.  And isn’t that what life’s about?  Enjoying ourselves?  Doing things that make us happy?

That evening I saw this video by the School of Life on Imposter Syndrome:

And it struck me: the people who point fingers and say I shouldn’t do things ‘because of my age’ do things they’re ashamed of too.  They just make themselves feel better by harassing others so we stop enjoying the things we’re doing.  

You know what?  I’m sick and tired of letting other people - people I don’t care about, people I don’t know, dictate what I can and can’t do, what I can and can’t like, what makes me happy and what makes me ashamed.  I am an adult, whether I like so called childish things or not.

Who are they to tell me I can’t read YA novels if I enjoy them?  Who are they to tell me I’m too old to watch cartoons if they bring me joy?  Who are they to tell me I’m stupid for playing a kids game if that game gets me outside, exercising without thinking of it as exercise and feeling generally ecstatic?  Who are they to tell me I’m not a fan just because my way of enjoying something is different from theirs?  Why should their opinion of me matter?

Oddly, in most things it doesn’t for me.  I’ve reached an age where I generally don’t care what others think of me anymore.  I have my own opinions on things and I don’t need others’.  But this game took me back to my youth, when wanting to fit in was more important than accepting who I was and just being me.

I like myself.  I’m proud of who I’ve become.  And I’m done with feeling ashamed for liking the things I like.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go out and Catch ‘em All!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Shout-Out: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

StoryBundle: Starward Bound

StoryBundle has a new science fiction ebook bundle up, this time focusing on space opera.  From their email:

The initial titles in The Starward Bound Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
  • Starfire by B. V. Larson
  • Outlaw by Edward W. Robertson
  • Aetna Adrift by Erik Wecks
  • Patcher: Books 1 & 2 by Martin Kee
  • The Novum Trilogy Book 1: Crucible by Moira Katson
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus five more:
  • Otherness by David Brin
  • Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos
  • The Outpost by Mike Resnick
  • Racers of the Night by Brad R. Torgersen
  • The Returning by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Not interested in space opera but still want some ebooks?  They've still got their Historical Fantasy bundle and their Haikasoru Japanese Sci-Fi bundle.  All of these bundles are for a limited time only (and the Haikasoru one is ending soon), so get them while you can.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Book Review: Everyone in Silico by Jim Munroe

Pros: fascinating world, interesting characters, thought-provoking

Cons: open ended

It’s the year 2036 and the world is run by corporations that advertise non-stop and have polluted the planet. More and more people are leaving Vancouver for the virtual reality city of Frisco, manufactured by Self. But not everyone can afford to go, like Doug, who’s age is putting him out of touch in his coolhunting job. And not everyone wants to go, like Nicky, who lucked out and got a lab full of genetics equipment when her school scrapped their program. While others can’t wait to get there, like Eileen’s twelve year old ‘grandson’, who goes without permission, leaving her frantic to find out what’s happened to his body. Because Self is a very private company, a company Paul - who brings these characters together - wants to crack open.

Published in - and extrapolated from - 2002, the world-building is fascinating. While the author gets some things wrong, others are more true today than they were when the book came out. The idea of corporations bringing down governments that hinder their commercial efforts, even if those efforts are meant to protect the populace, is scarily relevant today.

The characters all have goals and complications in their lives. Through their day to day lives they comment on how things have changed, and how some things, like discrimination based on race and class distinctions, stay the same. There are some short but graphic sexual scenes, and not all the pairings are heterosexual.

Most of the book takes place in the real world, though you do get to see Frisco from time to time and more completely towards the end of the book

While I enjoyed how Doug’s story ended, on the whole I found the ending a bit unsatisfying as it left things more open ended than I would have liked.

It was a quick, interesting read that raised some thought-provoking ideas.