Friday, 23 February 2018

Book Review: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths by Susanne Alleyn (Edition 3.1)

Pros: goes over a good variety of topics with a fair amount of detail, engaging language, educational

Cons: spends more time than necessary complaining about general and specific errors encountered in fiction and books

The book consists of 18 chapters (though the first chapter explains what an anachronism is and the last one is a bibliography for research purposes). The other chapters are on: underpants (VERY interesting), geography, expressions/slang, attitudes, food/plants/animals (ie, what was originally American and therefore unavailable in the rest of the world before the ‘discovery’ of the new world), naming practices, guns, money, aristocratic titles, lighting, travel, hygiene, servants, guillotine (for French Revolution works), a chapter on minor things (pens, rubber, restaurants, etc.), and burial practices.

There’s a real wealth of information here. Some of it seems obvious once it’s pointed out while other items felt like real revelations. The author goes pretty in depth on some of these topics.

The author has a tendency to complain about errors she’s encountered in historical novels and books. While some examples are helpful, it’s often clear the author just wants to complain about shoddy research, which isn’t always useful for someone interested in avoiding such mistakes. Indeed, towards the end of the book I started skimming these passages so I could get back to the historically accurate information.

On the whole I was very happy with this book. I learned a lot, and it’s the kind of detailed minutae that often gets overlooked when thinking of the past.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Shout-Out: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

Myke Cole, star of CBS's Hunted and author of the Shadow Ops series, debuts the Sacred Throne epic fantasy trilogy with The Armored Saint, a story of religious tyrants, arcane war-machines, and underground resistance that will enthrall epic fantasy readers of all ages. 
In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Book Review: Killing Gravity by Corey White

Pros: interesting characters

Cons: lots of swearing, lots of violence

Mariam Xi knows she’s a danger to the new ship that picks up her distress beacon. So she’s keen to leave them when they stop at a station. She’s not surprised when MEPHISTO troopers show up. But Mariam doesn’t want to go back to the program that gave her psychic powers - and she has the means to refuse.

I loved the characters. They had a lot of personality and verve. I especially liked the experimental cat thing, Seven, who’s just so cute. Mariam is quite powerful, but that’s in keeping with what was done to her in the past. It might take some readers a bit of effort to remember that Squid gets they/their pronouns, but how Mariam reacts to them, and the positive sexuality of some of the characters, makes the future feel like it’s progressed in some good ways from our own time.

The novella length means you don’t get to know the characters as much as I’d have liked. Mariam doesn’t get to interact with the crew that much so while you get the feeling that they’re starting to become friends, they don’t really have the history of working together, being there for each other, etc. that the ending requires. 

I did find the amount of swearing a bit jarring, especially as it came from Mariam. For some reason I couldn’t reconcile how I pictured her with the language she often used. Which is weird because I didn’t have the same disconnect regarding the amount of violence and destruction she causes.

It’s a quick, interesting read.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Movie Review: The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, 2017

Pros: brilliant acting, interesting story, great creature effects


“At a top secret research facility in the 1950s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.” (IMDb)

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, the mute janitor, who’s able to hear but cannot speak. The actress does a brilliant job with a difficult role. I thought it was cool that sometimes her signing was subtitled and others it was verbally translated by friends. In one scene she forces the person she’s talking to to repeat her words back in order to force him to listen to what she’s saying. I was also impressed by how much information she transmitted via gestures and facial expressions.

I loved Giles, her flatmate artist who’s also lonely, and feeling his age. In fact, the entire supporting cast did great jobs. Michale Shannon as Strickland, the antagonist, was quite menacing. Octavia Spencer as a fellow janitor, and often translator, was a real joy to watch.

The creature effects were wonderful. It looks very realistic.

I’m not sure I believe the two could fall in love so quickly given the communication - and situational - difficulties of their meeting. I did appreciate that they took time to develop a relationship and trust.

The story had more varied threads than I was expecting, elevating it from a regular creature feature to a kind of spy thriller/romance.

My husband pointed out that Esposito’s bathroom was surprisingly watertight in order to handle the pressure during one scene. I expected more water to leak out around the door, if nothing else.

There is some nudity and sexual content. There’s also some violence and a few scenes that made me cringe.

It’s a brilliant film, a real modern fairy-tale.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Shout-Out: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer

Bryony Gray is becoming famous as a painter in London art circles. But life isn't so grand. Her uncle keeps her locked in the attic, forcing her to paint for his rich clients . . . and now her paintings are taking on a life of their own, and customers are going missing under mysterious circumstances.

When her newest painting escapes the canvas and rampages through the streets of London, Bryony digs into her family history, discovering some rather scandalous secrets her uncle has been keeping, including a deadly curse she's inherited from her missing father. Bryony has accidentally unleashed the Gray family curse, and it's spreading fast.

With a little help from the strange-but-beautiful girl next door and her paranoid brother, Bryony sets out to break the curse, dodging bloodthirsty paintings, angry mobs and her wicked uncle along the way.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Video: Perfect-Timing Villain

This is a great video by Chris & Jack about how villains have such impeccable timing when the hero shows up.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Book Review: WANT by Cindy Pon

Pros: great setting, real people, great extrapolation

Cons: slow at times

Jason Zhou has been living on the streets of Taipei since his mother died when he was thirteen.The haves (yous) and have nots (meis) are at odds in the city, a situation exacerbated by the terrible pollution covering the city in perpetual smog and acid rain, pollution the yous never experience, all but living in suits fitted with filtered oxygen and temperature controls. Zhou’s closest friends have come up with a plan to stop the creator of the suits, a man who’s also bribing and threatening - even murdering - politicians to prevent any environmental clean-up. That plan begins with him kidnapping a you girl for ransom. Because bringing down the man is an expensive business.

I loved that the book was set in Taipei. It’s cool inhabiting another city, even if it’s one in an unpleasant extrapolated future. Given the way global warming is being treated, I have no problem believing that the future will be covered in smog and that life expectancy will drop because of it. I also have no problem believing that the rich will isolate themselves from the problems of the world so long as those problems aren’t seen as directly impacting them.

Zhou and his friends all have different strengths, making them fascinating to watch as they work on their plan. I loved that they complemented each other’s skills and that though they didn’t always agree, they worked things out. Daiyu was also great, a mixture of determined, smart, courageous, and feminine. The characters all felt like fully fleshed out people. 

The story was interesting, though I found it was slow at times. I never really worried characters wouldn’t pull through, even though there were some tense moments.

This is a great book.