Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Best Books I Read in 2015

While several of these books came out in 2015, a few were out earlier and one comes out in January. So here they are in the order I read them, my favourite books read in 2015.
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The Martian by Andy Weir - No real surprise here.  It's such a fun book and the movie adaptation was great.  It was pretty refreshing seeing a science fiction man vs nature story.

The Skull Throne by Peter Brett - I LOVE the Demon War saga, and this book upped the ante.  Can't wait for the next book to come out.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - This book made dragons feel fresh again. Brilliant writing with a protagonist I really felt for.

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal - Another series I loved and am sad to see come to an end. This Regency/fantasy mash-up worked better than I would have expected. I'm curious to see what Kowal will write next.

Binary by Stephanie Saulter - The second book in the REvolution trilogy, both of which are excellent, thought provoking science fiction novels.

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias - a great first contact novel set deep within an alien ocean.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson - An absolutely brilliant debut about colonialism and what someone's willing to do - and give up - to achieve a goal.

Against a Brightening Sky by Jaime Lee Moyer - Third in a series set in 20th Century San Francisco, it combines fantasy elements and mysteries. Some great characters too.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett - The unexpected sequel to last year's brilliant City of Stairs is equally awesome.  It's out January 26th (so my review isn't up yet) and is definitely worth picking up.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear - A super fun steampunk romp with a wild West feel to it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Books Received in December 2015

My thanks as always to those who've sent me books this month.

Barsk by Lawrence Schoen - This book reminds me of the Uplift novels by David Brin (which I haven't read - yet)

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

The Witch Who Came In From the Cold: A Long Cold Winter by Max Gladstone and Lindsay Smith - I've already read this and my review will be going up soon.  It's a new Serial Box series
which starts January 16th.

The Cold War rages in the back rooms and dark alleys of 1970s Prague as spies and sorcerers cross murky lines to do battle for home and country. The fate of the East and the West hangs in the balance right along the Iron Curtain—and crackling beneath the surface of it all is a vein of magic, raw and waiting to be tapped.





Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey - This sounds like an interesting dark fantasy/urban fantasy debut, which comes out next June.

When her beloved grandmother dies suddenly, 22-year-old Lissa Nevsky is left with no choice but to take over her grandmother's magical position in their small folk community. That includes honoring a debt owed to the dangerous stranger who appears at Lissa's door.

Maksim Volkov needs magic to keep his brutal nature leashed, but he's already lost control once: his blood-borne lust for violence infects Nick Kaisaris, a charming slacker out celebrating the end of finals. Now Nick is somewhere else in Toronto, going slowly mad, and Maksim must find him before he hurts more people.

Lissa must uncover forbidden secrets and mend family rifts in order to prevent Maksim from hurting more people, including himself. If she fails, Maksim will have no choice but to destroy both himself and Nick.


The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson - I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, and the third is amazing so far (I'm half way through).  The books can be read independently, but you do lose out on the character building if you just right to this book.  There's also a spoiler for book one at the end of this synopsis.  Out January 26th.

The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Cool Christmas Presents

I had a wonderful Christmas, and I hope you all enjoyed or are enjoying your holidays.  I'm blessed with some family members as nerdy as me, and so got some really cool presents.

I LOVE my new kitty socks - especially the one breathing fire at a planet.  Who needs dragons? Well, I do, which is why I think my new dragon guarding its eggs cake pan is pretty amazing. Not sure how evenly the cake will cook (I've never used a shaped pan) or how I'm supposed to ice the cake, but I'm eager to find out. And last but not least, a pair of Schrodinger's cat earrings.  :D


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Shout-Out: Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

If you had one chance to change history...Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you kill?
It's the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be. Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.
Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century? 
And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

Friday, 25 December 2015

Video: The Night Before Catmas

If you haven't seen it yet, here's a cute video of a cat messing with someone's Christmas tree. :)  It's from the Cole and Marmalade youtube channel, which is filled with cat videos.  Enjoy.



If you're looking for something more relaxing, here's Lil Bub's Magical Yule Log video.  It's a cat in front of a fireplace.  For an hour.  If an hour isn't long enough, you can extend your watch with this video, or this one.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Shout-Out: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

I normally use these shout-out posts to spotlight newly released titles (or older titles I've recently become aware of), but with Christmas being tomorrow, I wanted to do something that dealt more closely with the holiday season.  And while I'm not sure if I'm still Christian, I love the pageantry surrounding Christmas.  And let's not forget that Christian began as a pagan celebration...

I love Hogfather and if you've never read Pratchett - or this particular book - you've been missing out. The story delves into some of the older, darker aspects of the holiday.


ITS THE NIGHT BEFORE HOGSWATCH. AND IT'S TOO QUIET.
Where is the big jolly fat man? Why is Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho? The darkest night of the year is getting a lot darker...

Susan the gothic governess has got to sort it out by morning, otherwise there won't be a morning. Ever again...

The 20th Discworld novel is a festive feast of darkness and Death (but with jolly robins and tinsel too).

As they say: You'd better watch out...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Video: The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-Earth Dance Battle

I know this made the rounds a few months back, but with the holidays here, and much merriment and dancing, it seems a good time to remember it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Book Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Pros: complex mystery, great characters, more mythology

Cons: didn’t touch on one of the unresolved plot points from the first book

The past year has brought economic trouble to the city of Elendil.  When a creature from mythology starts a series of terrorist attacks, targeting the governor, whom Marasi believes to be corrupt, Waxillium and Marasi become more and more convinced that these problems are related.  

Wax and Wayne make for a fun team.  Wax is driven, with a strong moral compass while Wayne has a crude sense of humour and loose beliefs with regards to ownership.  Their different abilities complement each other, making them powerful. Wayne’s ease with accents, dialects, and costumes gets a good workout. 

I found myself liking Steris more in this book, and wishing she had more page time.  While her relationship with Wax isn’t a love match, I do think they’re a couple that could work, given how things progress.  

I also like how Marasi is developing as a character.  She faces different kinds of challenges in this book and acquits herself well.   

While you don’t technically have to read Alloy of Law to understand and enjoy the events of this book, it does help.  Certain events have more weight if you know what’s happened, and you’ll have a sense of missing information during a few conversations (I ended up skimming the first book half way through this one to remind myself of what’s happened).  There’s also a lot more mythology in this book, making me want to read the original Mistborn trilogy.

I love how Allomancy and Feruchemy work and the skills the powers allow the characters to use.  This book also uses a third type of metal magic, which was cool to learn about.

I was somewhat surprised that one of the major unresolved plot points from the first book wasn’t really touched on or dealt with in this one.  I’m assuming it will come back in the third book.


This is a fun book and while the ending isn’t a cliffhanger, it is designed to have you reaching for the next book, The Bands of Mourning, which luckily comes out in January. 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Shout-Out: Warrior Women Edited by Paula Guran

Two dozen stories of women warriors form this epic anthology of stories about those forced to fight, those who chose to fight regardless of odds, those who ran from their destiny as warriors, and those who will end war at any cost.

In Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “The Sea Troll’s Daughter,” the titular daughter of a fearsome beast reluctantly confronts the woman who slew her father. In Carrie Vaughn’s nonspeculative “The Girls from Avenger,” a WWII pilot tries to determine the cause of her friend’s mysterious crash. An immortal wandering warrior meets an immortal prisoner in George R.R. Martin’s hopeful but bleak “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr.” Spaceship captain Tory Sabin must battle bureaucracy and physics to locate a missing friend in “The Application of Hope” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

The warriors include girls as well as grown women: young Thien Bao is offered the chance to end a cataclysmic war at an unimaginable cost in Aliette de Bodard’s “The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile,” and a girl who discovers her father is a “monster” grows into a woman who tries to save others from his fate in Ken Liu’s “In the Loop.”

Each story contains strength and compassion, even when the personal cost is high. The depictions of battle and trauma are rarely graphic, but they’re as hard-hitting as the subject demands. This is a truly impressive accomplishment for Guran and her contributors.
Table of contents

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Shout-Out: Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

The Nebula Award–winning author of the Alex Benedict novels and the Priscilla Hutchins novels returns to the world of Ancient Shores in a startling and majestic epic.

A working stargate dating back more than ten thousand years has been discovered in North Dakota, on a Sioux reservation near Devils Lake. Travel through the gate currently leads to three equally mysterious destinations: (1) an apparently empty garden world, quickly dubbed Eden; (2) a strange maze of underground passageways; or (3) a space station with a view of a galaxy that appears to be the Milky Way.

The race to explore and claim the stargate quickly escalates, and those involved divide into opposing camps who view the teleportation technology either as an unprecedented opportunity for scientific research or a disastrous threat to national—if not planetary—security. In the middle of the maelstrom stands Sioux chairman James Walker. One thing is for certain: Questions about what the stargate means for humanity’s role in the galaxy cannot be ignored.

Especially since travel through the stargate isn’t necessarily only one way...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Video: Star Wars The Force Awakens Acapella Medley

Jimmy Fallon and The Roots do an acapella medley for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with some of the stars of the upcoming film.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Pros: great world-building, fun characters, interesting plot  

Cons: some crude language

Karen Memery works as a ‘seamstress’ in Madame Damnable’s Hotel Mon Cherie.  When two women knock on their door running from one of Peter Bantle’s cribs by the pier, Karen stands up to him and the roughs who’ve come to take the women back.  Bantle’s got a special machine and he’s running for mayor, and things in Rapid City start to go downhill fast for the ‘seamstresses’, especially when U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves rolls into town, looking for a killer.

You get a wonderful first chapter explaining how Karen’s a ‘seamstress’ and a seamstress, making her own dresses for her, ahem, actual work.  You also get a great introduction to her co-workers and the environment they work in vs environments other ‘seamstresses’ have to work in.  So when a ‘seamstress’ from a much worse environment show up, you’re already sympathetic towards her.

The world is basically a decent sized town in the wild west, if the wild west had dirigibles and other steampunk accoutrements - like a souped up Singer sewing machine that straps on.  There’s also a wide variety of characters, from the black marshal (patterned off of a real man), a lot of spunky women (not all of whom are white), some Russians, a native man, and others.  The cast makes the city feel real - and remembers the history of the Western coast, with China towns, escaped slaves, indentured servants, and more.   

Bear’s prose is fun, seeing through Karen’s eyes, though it takes some getting used to as the grammar’s atrocious.  There’s a lot of period - and character - appropriate terms (including derogatory terms for people of other races/nationalities) and swearing, which some may find offensive. 

The plot rambles a bit, as Karen isn’t always at the centre of things, but is quite interesting and coalesces in a series of fights that make for an exciting climax.


This is an excellent book.  Highly recommended.

Friday, 11 December 2015

X-Men Apocalypse Movie Trailer

I've really enjoyed the rebooted X-Men movies and this trailer for Apocalypse looks incredible.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Shout-Out: Ignite the Shadows by Ingrid Seymour

Sixteen-year-old Marci Guerrero is one of the best teen hackers in Seattle. However, she’d give up all her talents to know she isn’t crazy.

Marci feels possessed by shadowy spectres that take control of her body and make her do crazy things. While spying on the clandestine group known as IgNiTe, she is confronted by their mysterious leader, James McCray. His presence stirs the spectres inside her brain into a maddening frenzy. Her symptoms and ability to control them don’t go unnoticed by James, who soon recruits her. As IgNiTe reveals its secrets, Marci starts to realise that half the world’s population is infected with sentient parasites, which are attacking and eventually supplanting the human brain.

Now Marci wishes she was crazy, because this truth is far worse . . .






Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Audiobook Review: Out of Tune Edited by Jonathan Maberry

This is a short story collection of horror and dark fantasy tales based on old ballads.  The audio book is narrated by Peter Bishop and Lesley Ann Fogle.  Each story is followed by a short commentary on the folklore associated with the ballad by Nancy Keim Comley.

I found Mr. Bishop’s narration pleasant to listen to, while his voices didn’t change much from the narration.  Ms. Fogle’s voice was too monotone for my tastes, though after a few minutes I was generally enthralled by the story and it didn’t bother me anymore.  I loved her character voices, which were excellently done.

I didn’t find any of the stories particularly scary, though some were creepy and unsettling.  Familiarity with the ballads increased my enjoyment of the stories.  Having said that, I didn’t feel any detriment when I wasn’t familiar with the ballads, and in a few cases I’m sure it helped with suspense.

The stories are all excellent quality, though individual tastes may have you disagreeing with my ratings.

***** “Wendy, Darling” by Christopher Golden
This story combines a ballad theme about mothers with Peter Pan as Wendy prepares for her wedding. - I wasn’t familiar with the ballad theme this riffed off of, so it was delightfully creepy learning Wendy’s secret and the truth of the Lost Boys.

**** “Sweet William’s Ghost” by David Liss
A woman cheats on her fiancee and comes to regret it. - The story is told from the lover’s point of view and he’s quite a piece of work.  There’s black humour in his beliefs about women, though his sentiments and swearing may offend.

**** “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair” by Del Howison
A man must make a difficult decision when the daughter he wanted so badly turns out to be as prophecised. - While I would have liked more background information on the wife, I found this story quite creepy with a horrifying ending. 

***“John Wayne’s Dream” by Gary Braunbeck
The unnamed narrator arrives for their AA meeting only to find it cancelled and a special concert being shown instead. - The story is slow as it mixes what’s happening in the present with flash backs of the protagonist’s childhood.  I’m not a fan of cowboys or ‘real men’ rhetoric, and while the story shows their potentially caustic nature, it wasn’t a story I particularly liked. 

**** “Bedlam” by Gregory Frost
Tom, captain of The Bedlam, journeys home with his crew to find the woman he loves but hasn’t seen in years. - This story changes part way through, making it feel like two stories.  While the change took me a moment to comprehend, it made the story something other than a prose retelling of the ballad it’s inspired by.  

**** “Awake” by Jack Ketchum
A jazz musician struggles with a respiratory disease and marital problems. - It starts slow and ends dark.

*****“John Henry, the Steel Drivin’ Man” by Jeff Strand
The bigger and bigger exploits of John Henry are told. - This story’s a lot of fun.  I was left thinking that the few hints you get of the narrator’s story sound creepily interesting and might make a great story too.

**** “Fish Out of Water” by Keith R. A. Decandido
A dive tour operator helps find a missing vessel that reported seeing a mermaid before losing contact. - This is a short story featuring Cassie Zukav, a character Decandido has written about several times.  No knowledge of the other stories is necessary to understand this tale as everything is explained, though some mention is given to previous events.  In addition to mermaids, expect some Norse characters.

**** “Making Music” by Kelley Armstrong
A female lyrics writer gets a commission to write for a famous musician. - An entertaining story with a great ending.

***** “Tam Lane” by Lisa Morton
A young architect in training’s father buys an old haunted house she greatly admires, where she has an unusual encounter. - Knowing the ballad this was based on meant I could better appreciate the ways the author subverted the story.

***** “John Barleycorn Must Die” by Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte
A recovered alcoholic is sent to do an interview with three sisters who have started their own brewery. - Highly descriptive writing.  While it’s easy to figure out where the story’s ultimately going, it’s interesting seeing the protagonist struggle with his own demons first.

***** “In Arkham Town, Where I was Bound” by Nancy Holder
Edgar Allen Poe visits some rich ‘relatives’ in hopes of some money or a loan to help with food and medicine for his dying wife. - A sad story of love, trust and betrayal.

**** “Driving Jenny Home” by Seanan McGuire
Lee has trouble letting go of her dead girlfriend. - Another sad story, this time one of grieving.

**** “Hollow is the Heart” by Simon R. Green

A reporter is trying to get his job back by writing a story about a local legend.  The hollow women are mysterious women who prey on unattached men. - A few things about the story were predictable, but it’s well told and the hollow women legend is quite interesting.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Shout-Out: Thirst: Blood of My Blood by R. P. Channing

~ Kira Sutherland ~
After a near fatal accident (and getting cheated on by her 'boyfriend'), and beating up the lead cheerleader (with whom the boyfriend cheated...), and being labeled as having 'issues' in her school because she, uhm, sees ghosts, Kira is left with two choices:

1. Continue her 'therapy' (where she's told the ghost is a hallucination and also gets her legs ogled too often...)

Or

2. Go to Starkfield Academy, a boarding school for "Crazies and Convicts" (as the social media sites call them.)
She chooses the latter...
~ Cory Rand ~
Cory Rand has not had an easy life. His mother died in a car accident when he was twelve, and so did his mother's best friend...sort of. You see, Janice made a promise to take care of Cory just before she died, and so she lingers. Undead. A ghost that watches out for him.
Brought up in an abusive home, Cory quickly falls into a life of disreputable behavior. After his third offense (which was prompted by a girl, as usual - he has a weakness) he's left with two choices:

1. Be tried as an adult and share a cell with a guy named Bubba (he thinks...)

Or

2. Go to Starkfield Academy, which Cory is pretty sure is run by vampires. But, hey, at least he'll get an education.
He chooses the latter...

It's at Starkfield that Kira meets Cory Rand, a boy with an insatiable Rage who sees ghosts, too. As well as other things, other things from his past, things that confuse him, things like fire and witches and demons.

Things he's always ignored.

Until now.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Shout-Out: Cooking for Geeks 2nd Edition

A few years ago I reviewed a fascinating book on the science behind cooking, Cooking for Geeks. On October 29th a second edition of the book was released.  It's got 150 new pages and a complete rewrite of the rest of the book.  It now has more than 100 recipes, more than 20 interviews with chefs, writers and researchers, sidebars with information, and labs for parents to do experiments with their kids.

The first edition had a lot of interesting information and a humorous tone to it. And some interesting recipes. I still remember the watermelon, red onion and feta cheese salad recipe I made following a section on taste combinations. I also learned what the difference between baking soda and baking powder is, how cake flour differs from all-purpose flour, why it's important to let roasted meats sit a few minutes before slicing them up, how to take the sting out of red onions, and more.

'Tis the season for gift giving, and if you know a geek who likes science, likes to cook or needs to learn how, this is a great idea.

Why, exactly, do we cook the way we do? Are you curious about the science behind what happens to food as it cooks? Are you the innovative type, used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Do you want to learn to how to become a better cook?

Cooking for Geeks is more than just a cookbook. Author and cooking geek Jeff Potter helps you apply curiosity, inspiration, and invention to the food you prepare. Why do we bake some things at 350°F / 175°C and others at 375°F / 190°C? Why is medium-rare steak so popular? And just how quickly does a pizza cook if you "overclock" an oven to 1,000°F / 540°C? This expanded new edition provides in-depth answers, and lets you experiment with several labs and more than 100 recipes--from the sweet (a patent-violating chocolate chip cookie) to the savory (pulled pork under pressure).
When you step into the kitchen, you're unwittingly turned into a physicist and a chemist. This excellent and intriguing resource is for inquisitive people who want to increase their knowledge and ability to cook.
  • Discover what type of cook you are and learn how to think about flavor
  • Understand how protein denaturation, Maillard reactions, caramelization, and other reactions impact the foods we cook
  • Gain firsthand insights from interviews with researchers, food scientists, knife experts, chefs, and writers--including science enthusiast Adam Savage, chef Jaques Pépin, and chemist Hervé This

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Books Received in November, 2015

My thanks, as always, to the publishers who have sent me books this month.

Solar Express by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. - This sounds like a fascinating SF novel.

You can't militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth's surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the "Solar Express" before it perhaps destroys itself.

Leading the way for the North American Union is Alayna's friend, Captain Christopher Tavoian, one of the first shuttle pilots to be trained for combat in space. But, as the alien craft gets closer to its destination, it begins to alter the surface of the sun in strange new ways, ways that could lead Alayna to revolutionary discoveries-provided Chris can prevent war from breaking out as he navigates among the escalating tensions between nations.

Out of Tune by Jonathan Maberry, Ed. (audiobook) - I'm halfway through this anthology based around old ballads.  The stories so far have all been of high quality.

Out of Tune is calling. A song half-heard. The murmur of a voice singing in the dark. There it is again...a few words set to an old melody filled with mystery, heartbreak and horror. Out of Tune gathers a collection of original dark fantasy tales inspired by folk ballads. Here you'll find stories of strange creatures and strangers humans, treachery and love, murder and monsters. Out of Tune brings together some of today's most talented writers and sets them loose in that swirling darkness at the edge of town.
NY Times bestselling author and editor Jonathan Maberry unleashes his own brand of dark forces with a line-up of bestsellers and award winners. Kelley Armstrong, Jack Ketchum, Simon R. Green, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Golden, David Liss, Gregory Frost, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Jeff Strand, Lisa Morton, Jeff Mariotte & Marsheila Rockwell, Nancy Holder, Del Howison, and Gary Braunbeck. With commentary on each source ballad by folklorist Nancy Keim Comley. Now get ready to dance to the music of the night.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson - I really enjoyed The Allow of Law and am looking forward to jumping into this book.  The third book in the series, The Bands of Mourning, is out January 26th.

With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.

The trilogy's heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are "twinborn," meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.

Shadows of Self shows Mistborn's society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.

This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial's progress in its tracks.

Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they've been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

Air and Darkness by David Drake - I can't believe I haven't heard of this series before now.  It's the fourth and final book in a fantasy retelling of Roman events and sounds awesome.  I've heard you can read these as stand alones, but I'll want to start with the first book, The Legions of Fire.

Air and Darkness, an intriguing and fantastic adventure, is both an independent novel and the gripping conclusion of the Books of the Elements, a four-volume set of fantasies set in Carce, an analog of ancient Rome by David Drake. Here the stakes are raised from the previous novels in an ultimate conflict between the forces of logic and reason and the forces of magic and the supernatural. During the extraordinary time in which this story is set, the supernatural is dominant. The story is an immensely complex journey of adventure through real and magical places.

Corylus, a soldier, emerges as one of the most compelling heroic figures in contemporary fantasy. Battling magicians, spirits, gods, and forces from supernatural realities, Corylus and his companions from the family of the nobleman Saxa-especially Saxa's impressive wife Hedia, and his friend (and Saxa's son) Varus-must face constant deadly and soul-destroying dangers, climaxing in a final battle not between good and evil but in defense of logic and reality.

Mystic by Jason Denzel - I reviewed this book yesterday.  It has some great world-building and a protagonist who realizes having friendly support is important.

I called to the Myst, and it sent us you.
For hundreds of years, high-born nobles have competed for the chance to learn of the Myst. Powerful, revered, and often reclusive, Mystics have the unique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society. Such has always been the tradition-until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, low-born teenager, as a candidate.

Commoners have never been welcomed among the select few given the opportunity to rise beyond even the highest nobility. So when Pomella chooses to accept the summons and journey to Kelt Apar, she knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship.

Breaking both law and tradition, Pomella undergoes three trials against the other candidates to prove her worthiness. As the trials unfold, Pomella navigates a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal, unaware that ruthless conspirators intend to make her suffer for having the audacity to seek to unravel the secrets of the Myst.

Wheel of Time Companion by Robert Jordan, Harriet McDougal, Alan Romanczuk and Maria Simons - I read the first 5 or 6 books years ago, and should really read the rest. This looks like an excellent resource if you can't remember who side characters are or want more information about people, places and things.

Since its debut in 1990, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan has captivated millions of readers around the globe with its scope, originality, and compelling characters. Over the course of fifteen books and millions of words, the world that Jordan created grew in depth and complexity. However, only a fraction of what Jordan imagined ended up on the page, the rest going into his personal files.
Now The Wheel of Time Companion sheds light on some of the most intriguing aspects of the world, including biographies and motivations of many characters that never made it into the books, but helped bring Jordan's world to life.
Included in the volume in an A-to-Z format are:
An entry for each named character
An inclusive dictionary of the Old Tongue
New maps of the Last Battle
New portraits of many characters
Histories and customs of the nations of the world
The strength level of many channelers
Descriptions of the flora and fauna unique to the world
And much more!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Book Review: Mystic by Jason Denzel

Pros: fun protagonists, good world-building, interesting plot

Cons: immersion broken at times

Pomella AnDone is astonished when she’s invited by the new High Mystic to compete for an apprenticeship.  Though Pomella has a book with mystic symbols and songs from her grandmhathir, and has always been able to see wispy animal shapes no one else can, she never dreamed that a commoner would be allowed to apprentice.  Defying her Baron, her fathir, and custom, she sets out.  Pomella wants to start her new life by leaving her old life behind but her potential beau Sim, follows after, wanting to make sure she gets to the meeting place safely.  And others aren’t keen on a commoner rising above her station.

It took me a little while to get into the story.  While I appreciated the attempt at making some words sound ‘fantasy’, I kept tripping over ‘fathir’ and ‘grandmhathir’.  There were also a few early scenes that bumped me out of the story - particularly when Pomella starts reading her grandmhathir’s book in the rain - and the book somehow doesn’t suffer any damage (nor does it suffer much damage after being left out in the elements - open - for 2 days).  I also had a few issues with light sources that other readers probably won’t notice or care about.  In one scene Sim tries to pass time by reading - under a wagon, when the sky’s dark with clouds, with no candle or other named light source - and yet he’s able to see the colour of the ink on the page.

Those minor nitpicks aside, this is an enjoyable book.  A lot of effort was put into the world-building.  My favourite aspect was the wide variety of world - and character - appropriate exclamations and expressions.  Sim, an apprentice blacksmith, uses a few that reference metal-working.  It was also cool to see sumptuary style laws in place, stating what people of different classes were allowed to do, along with specific written languages for each class.  The multi-racial make-up of the continent vs the island where the book takes place, was also cool to see.

Pomella, as a sixteen year old, isn’t sure what she wants out of life, and so questions her decisions often.  She’s feisty but she also realizes she can’t do everything on her own.  In one scene that made me want to cheer are these sentences; “Now, faced with the first Trial, she needed someone.  Not because she couldn’t succeed by herself, but because the thought of being in this alone made her sick” (p122).  Too many books assume that for a protagonist to be strong they have to do everything alone.  But they ignore the reality that friendship is important, and we all need help and support to achieve our dreams.

The plot is interesting, and the ending is quite exciting.  I really enjoyed how things pan out.  While it wasn’t a perfect book, it was a good debut.