Thursday, May 11, 2017

Acer Spin 3 Convertible Laptop

Back in January I finally upgraded my laptop - which I primarily use for work purposes. I'd had my previous one since 2012/2013 and it needed an upgrade for a few reasons. 1. It had a solid-state drive in it - a small one and I was rapidly running out of room, even with keeping no music, photos or even many games on it. 2. Installing that solid-state made the computer a bit less reliable. I got semi-frequent blue-screens from day one. 3. There didn't seem to be a way to make a cloned-hard-disk back-up with the solid-state.

So, in January, I finally took the plunge and upgraded. I stayed with Acer for my brand - I've used Acer laptops for my last three laptops. After some debate - limited by what the stores had in stock at the time, I went with the Acer Spin 3. Now that I've had a couple of months to settle in with it I'm absolutely loving it.

I'm going to start with the features I've used the most. 
  1.  The touch-screen. This is the first proper computer I've had with a touch-screen (There were a few amusing moments with my last laptop where after using my iPad for too long, I'd reach out and try to scroll via the screen). It's not something I use most of the time, but I love it for when I'm using the Spin 3 away from my desk. For me, it works better than the touch-pad (Not a complaint about the specific touch-pad here at all! Every laptop I've had in the last ten years or so, I've found that I brush the touch-pad when I'm typing, leading to some rather amusing/frustrating situations) which I leave turned off most of the time. It's easy enough to select text for copying/pasting using the screen, once you've done it a few times.
  2. The back-lit keyboard. Again, I've not had one of these before, but my husband has. This turned into a must-have very quickly. Under most circumstances, it's a bit of a gimmick-type of thing, but in situations with less-than-ideal lighting, it's wonderful. I am a freelancer these days and as a result, I've found myself working in some fairly "interesting" locations, including evenings in the campgrounds. That's where I believe that the lit keyboard is going to be truly wonderful.
  3. Battery life. This one I've not fully tested to the limit. I know the literature claims up to 10 hours. I've certainly had no problems with 4-5 hours on battery so far, and there's been plenty left. That, though has not been tested under more than light-use circumstances: wi-fi turned off screen brightness turned as far down as possible etc, and only running those programs I truly need, such as Acrobat Reader and my indexing software. Certainly no videos or music running. Battery life has been one of the top considerations in my purchasing selection this time around.
  4. This one may not matter to most people, but the Acer laptops have stuck to the old configuration of having the F-keys as primary, with the other functions (using the Fn key) as secondary. As I said, it may not matter for most people, but the software I used most frequently uses those keys for common shortcuts within the program. I've taught myself to use a number of key combos. I didn't want to have to train myself to add the Fn key to those shortcuts!
I haven't tried using this computer fully spun around in tablet mode as of yet, though I probably will sooner or later - perhaps if I ever load Netflix on it.

One thing I still find myself trying to get used to a bit is that the ports are all in very different places than they were on any of my other laptops: Two of the three USB ports are on the left side, rather than the right, and the power and HDMI cables are on the right-hand side instead. Seeing as my second screen is situated on the left, that gets interesting on occasion.

My Acer Spin 3 also has no internal DVD drive - a first for me, but that's been easily remedied with the purchase of an external drive. However, I have to admit to only having used it a few times - mostly to install some older programs. Though the temptation is there to replace it with a Blu-ray capable external drive to make it easier to watch my favorite shows...

It's definitely a very light computer! The lightest laptop I've owned to date, which is another big plus, especially when it comes to travel.

I didn't go for a solid-state drive this time, but despite the fact that it's made the computer a hair slower, I'm not missing it. I like having that terrabyte of drive space! I really like not having to think twice about whether or not to install a program (games especially are space-hogs) or think about having enough space for my photos.

Monday, May 8, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - May 8, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It's a great post to organize yourself. It's an opportunity to visit and comment, and er... add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye's Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.

 Well, I had a fantastic week of reading, as the last few days of posts shows. A somewhat rainy camping trip will do that.

Let's start with the book from the week before:
Owlflight - Mercedes LackeyOwlflight
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1998
978-0886778040

The amazon.com product description:
Apprenticed to a venerable wizard when his hunter and trapper parents disappear into the forest never to be seen again, Darian is difficult and strong willed--much to the dismay of his kindly master. But a sudden twist of fate will change his life forever, when the ransacking of his village forces him to flee into the great mystical forest. It is here in the dark forest that he meets his destiny, as the terrifying and mysterious Hawkpeople lead him on the path to maturity. Now they must lead the assault on his besieged home in a desperate attempt to save his people from certain death!
I finished this one not last week, but the week before. However, as I didn't participate last week, I don't feel guilty about including it in this week's post.

A snippet from my review:
I can't forget the scene where Darian is thinking about the villagers who tend to harangue him and what that says about them, either. It's one of my favourites in the book. Also the variation on the "road to hell" proverb makes a whole lot of sense too.

Now for this week's reads.
The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffreyThe Ship Who Sang
Anne McCaffrey
Del Rey
Copyright: 1969 (I think?)
978-0552091152

The Amazon.com product description:
Helva had been born human, but only her brain had been saved and implanted into the titanium body of an intergalactic scout ship. But first she had to choose a human partner, to soar with her through the daring adventures and exhilarating escapades in space.
An excerpt from my review:
Not the most exciting of descriptions, but worth looking past and reading the book. The Ship Who Sang is the first book in the Brain Ships series. I have to admit that for a long time, this hasn't been one of my favorite Anne McCaffrey novels. However, I'm not sure why at this point. When I was reading it this time, I loved it!
Four And Twenty Blackbirds - Mercedes LackeyFour and Twenty Blackbirds (Bardic Voices 4)
Mercedes Lackey
Baen Books
Copyright: 1997
978-0671878535

The amazon.com product description:
A MAGICAL MANIAC IS LOOSE IN ALANDA!

A magical murderer is loose in Alanda. The victims are always women, always lower-class, and the weapon is always a three-sided stiletto, most often found among Church regalia. But the killers are never churchmen, and they always commit suicide immediately after the bloody deed.

Tal Rufen is just a simple constable. But he really cares about his job, and when one of these murder/suicides happens on his beat he becomes obsessed. His superiors don't care—the victims will never be missed, and their murderers are already justly dead. But every instinct Tal Rufen has cries out that he has seen only one small piece of a bigger and much nastier puzzle....

At the publisher's request, this title is sold without DRM (Digital Rights Management).
A snippet from my review:
Despite the many frustrating references to previous books, this turned into one of those reads that I couldn't put down. Every spare moment I had for a couple of days I was reading. And there are plenty of "spare moments" when it's a rainy day in the campground.

A Shadow in Summer - Daniel AbrahamA Shadow in Summer: Book One of the Long Price Quartet
Daniel Abraham
Tor Books
Copyright Date: 2007
978-0765351876

The amazon.com product description:
From debut author Daniel Abraham comes A Shadow in Summer, the first book in the Long Price Quartet fantasy series.
The powerful city-state of Saraykeht is a bastion of peace and culture, a major center of commerce and trade. Its economy depends on the power of the captive spirit, Seedless, an andat bound to the poet-sorcerer Heshai for life. Enter the Galts, a juggernaut of an empire committed to laying waste to all lands with their ferocious army. Saraykeht, though, has always been too strong for the Galts to attack, but now they see an opportunity. If they can dispose of Heshai, Seedless's bonded poet-sorcerer, Seedless will perish and the entire city will fall. With secret forces inside the city, the Galts prepare to enact their terrible plan.
In the middle is Otah, a simple laborer with a complex past. Recruited to act as a bodyguard for his girlfriend's boss at a secret meeting, he inadvertently learns of the Galtish plot. Otah finds himself as the sole hope of Saraykeht, either he stops the Galts, or the whole city and everyone in it perishes forever.
An excerpt from my review:
For me, this was one of those rare books I really struggled to finish. The opening absolutely grabbed me, but I found myself a bit lost about a third of the way through the book. Once I was lost, I never really figured things out again either.

And one final book finished in the last week:

Owlsight
Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon
Daw Books
Copyright: 1999
978-0886778033

The amazon.com product description:
It has been four years since Darian saw his village sacked and burned by barbarians. Taking refuge with the Hawkbrothers, he soon finds his life's calling--as a Healing Adept. But even as he learns the mystical ways of this ancient race, Darian cannot escape the dangers threatening his future. Another tribe of barbarians is approaching. The time has come...to stand up and fight.
An excerpt from my review:
My one complaint with Owlsight is just how quickly the story ends up winding down. Most of the book is leading to the build-up, and it feels as though only a few pages are devoted to the climax of the story.

I'm currently reading:
Owlkight - Mercedes Lackey and Larry DixonOwlknight
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1999
978-0886778514

The amazon.com product description:
Brand new from Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, "an unbeatable team in fantastic magic and adventure" (Kliatt)--the third and final book in the Darian's Tale trilogy, a powerful saga charged with war and magic, life and love.

Two years after his parents' disappearance, Darian has sought refuge and training from the mysterious Hawk-brothers. Now he has opened his heart to a beautiful young healer. Finally Darian has found peace and acceptance in his life. That is, until he learns that his parents are still alive--and trapped behind enemy borders....

I'm reading this one for the Valdemar Reading Challenge.

I want to read:
Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt For the Lost Franklin Expedition - Paul WatsonIce Ghosts: The Epic Hunt For the Lost Franklin Expedition
Paul Watson
W. W. Norton and Company
Copyright Date: March 21, 2017
978-0393249385

The Amazon.com product description:
The spellbinding true story of the greatest cold case in Arctic history―and how the rare mix of marine science and Inuit knowledge finally led to the recent discovery of the shipwrecks.
Spanning nearly 200 years, Ice Ghosts is a fast-paced detective story about Western science, indigenous beliefs, and the irrepressible spirit of exploration and discovery. It weaves together an epic account of the legendary Franklin Expedition of 1845―whose two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, and their crew of 129 were lost to the Arctic ice―with the modern tale of the scientists, researchers, divers, and local Inuit behind the recent discoveries of the two ships, which made news around the world.
The journalist Paul Watson was on the icebreaker that led the expedition that discovered the HMS Erebus in 2014, and he broke the news of the discovery of the HMS Terror in 2016. In a masterful work of history and contemporary reporting, he tells the full story of the Franklin Expedition: Sir John Franklin and his crew setting off from England in search of the fabled Northwest Passage; the hazards they encountered and the reasons they were forced to abandon ship after getting stuck in the ice hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost of Western civilization; and the dozens of search expeditions over more than 160 years, which collectively have been called “the most extensive, expensive, perverse, and ill-starred . . . manhunt in history.”
All that searching turned up a legendary trail of sailors’ relics, a fabled note, a lifeboat with skeletons lying next to loaded rifles, and rumors of cannibalism . . . but no sign of the ships until, finally, the discoveries in our own time. As Watson reveals, the epic hunt for the lost Franklin Expedition found success only when searchers combined the latest marine science with faith in Inuit lore that had been passed down orally for generations.
Ice Ghosts is narrative nonfiction of the highest order, full of drama and rich in characters: Lady Jane Franklin, who almost single-handedly kept the search alive for decades; an Inuit historian who worked for decades gathering elders’ accounts; an American software billionaire who launched his own hunt; and underwater archaeologists honing their skills to help find the ships. Watson also shows how the hunt for the Franklin Expedition was connected to such technological advances as SCUBA gear and sonar technology, and how it ignited debates over how to preserve the relics discovered with the ships.
A modern adventure story that arcs back through history, Ice Ghosts tells the complete and incredible story of the Franklin Expedition―the greatest of Arctic mysteries―for the ages.
8 pages of color illustrations
I've been hearing a lot of good things about this book. Now, I'm looking forward to reading it myself.

Owlsight - Mercedes Lackey

Owlsight
Mercedes Lackey
Daw Books
Copyright: 1999
978-0886778033

The amazon.com product description:
It has been four years since Darian saw his village sacked and burned by barbarians. Taking refuge with the Hawkbrothers, he soon finds his life's calling--as a Healing Adept. But even as he learns the mystical ways of this ancient race, Darian cannot escape the dangers threatening his future. Another tribe of barbarians is approaching. The time has come...to stand up and fight.
Owlsight is the second book in this trilogy, sequel to Owlflight. I did read and review Owlsight a few years ago now, but it's been a while. Although this is one of my favorite Valdemar novels, I'll admit that my main impetus for re-reading it now is the Valdemar Challenge I'm both running and participating in.

I'd wanted to get it read and reviewed back in April, but a camping trip interrupted. I don't like taking hardcover books camping - too much chance of damaging them, and this book already has a bit of damage from the time I tripped and fell in the mud while walking to work. No need to add any more to it.

Owlsight picks up four years after the ending of Owlflight, but starts out introducing us to a new set of characters in the village of Errolds Grove. Keisha is the new viewpoint character, and she quickly becomes a favorite as we see more of every-day village life through her eyes. I have to admit one of the reasons I like this book so much is all of the little details of fiber-arts scattered through it - comments on spinning, discussions of dyes and a look at the dying process, a couple of scenes with knitting etc.

As I noted in the first book, one of the things that makes the Owl trilogy stand out is that the Heralds are secondary characters at best. Instead, in this book, you've got a trainee Healer as one of the main characters of the story. If you want to see more of how the every-day person lives, and even the Tayledras every-day lives without an immediate crisis breathing down their necks, this is a good book for you.

My one complaint with Owlsight is just how quickly the story ends up winding down. Most of the book is leading to the build-up, and it feels as though only a few pages are devoted to the climax of the story.

Sadly, if my memory serves right, Owlsight is also the last book in the Valdemar world with full-page illustrations, one of the things I really enjoyed in the other books. I do know that Owlknight has little illustrated strips at the top of each new chapter, but that is all. Still, thanks to the illustrations, this is a book worth having in hardcover.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Shadow In Summer - Daniel Abraham

A Shadow in Summer - Daniel AbrahamA Shadow in Summer: Book One of the Long Price Quartet
Daniel Abraham
Tor Books
Copyright Date: 2007
978-0765351876

The amazon.com product description:
From debut author Daniel Abraham comes A Shadow in Summer, the first book in the Long Price Quartet fantasy series.
The powerful city-state of Saraykeht is a bastion of peace and culture, a major center of commerce and trade. Its economy depends on the power of the captive spirit, Seedless, an andat bound to the poet-sorcerer Heshai for life. Enter the Galts, a juggernaut of an empire committed to laying waste to all lands with their ferocious army. Saraykeht, though, has always been too strong for the Galts to attack, but now they see an opportunity. If they can dispose of Heshai, Seedless's bonded poet-sorcerer, Seedless will perish and the entire city will fall. With secret forces inside the city, the Galts prepare to enact their terrible plan.
In the middle is Otah, a simple laborer with a complex past. Recruited to act as a bodyguard for his girlfriend's boss at a secret meeting, he inadvertently learns of the Galtish plot. Otah finds himself as the sole hope of Saraykeht, either he stops the Galts, or the whole city and everyone in it perishes forever.
For me, this was one of those rare books I really struggled to finish. The opening absolutely grabbed me, but I found myself a bit lost about a third of the way through the book. Once I was lost, I never really figured things out again either.

Now, to be fair, this is a really detailed world and well fleshed out. It just felt a bit like two separate stories stuck together with a very abrupt join. I liked the details and the descriptions. However, I would have really liked a fair bit more background about who and why. Even if it were scattered throughout the story.

Perhaps some of what I'm looking for is hidden in the rest of the series. This is clearly the first of four books, and maybe that fact is what leads to a lot of my frustration with the story, because I also didn't feel like there was really a resolution at the end of the book. Rather, it seemed more like the ending of the Fellowship of the Ring or the Two Towers. At the same time, I also didn't feel a driving need to go hunt down the next book in the series.

As I said earlier, the author has clearly put a lot of thought into creating this world, magic system and back-story. One of the things I liked a lot (and I don't think I've seen done all that often) was the whole idea of poses and gestures forming a language of their own. I'd love to have seen more about that - perhaps some hints at how it originated. I also would have loved a bit of detail as to the origins of the school, and why the attitudes there were the way they were - actually, the whole beginning section there with Otah was in my mind the best part of the book.

Despite all that, I found that overall, I didn't really care about the story or the characters - I was finishing the read to not admit that I was defeated - that and I'd somehow forgotten to load on the first book in a series that I really did want to read.

I'd call this one a mixed bag. Your mileage may vary as I'm absolutely certain that there are people who really loved it (and presumably the sequels). If so, I'd love to know, and to know why you liked it so much.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Strawberry Fields Forever Shawl Progress Update

Last week I blogged about starting a new crochet project. Well, I definitely made progress over the week. I'm loving the pattern and the yarn colors! In terms of hard progress, I'm up to either row 19 or row 20 and am going to be starting the repeat rows soon. I think this is going to end up being a large shawl - though I wish the pattern maker had given dimensions for the different sizes.

The pattern is just what I was looking for, simple enough for the most part, but enough variety to keep things interesting. And yes, the variegated yarn does add to that variety. I'm never sure what color yarn is going to be next.

Strawberry Fields Forever is a pattern where complacency is a killer. I've already found one error that I've had to correct on the fly. Fixing it properly would have meant ripping back about five rows. With this yarn, that's not something I want to do! So, I improvised.


I know I had some doubts about the yarn, but as I've gotten farther into the ball, it's been no problem at all. Other than snagging back on itself when I've had to unravel stitches to fix mistakes. But, that's been no worse than say the Pattons Lace yarn I used on the Goldberry Shawl a couple of years ago.

This pattern displays the colors of the yarn (Red Heart Unforgettable Stained Glass) gorgeously. I think this may well be the brightest shawl I've ever done - if not the brightest crochet item ever for myself. Yep! this one I'm planning to keep. I hope to keep up the pace though as the rows get longer. I know I've had issues in the past and stalled out for a while - more than a year to finish the Goldberry shawl I linked earlier, and I'm still working on the Elise shawl I started back in 2013/2014 - though that one is getting closer to finished.

As I said, I'm loving this pattern. It's got plenty of variety, even within the rows - double crochet, single crochet, chains, shells clusters and more! The overall motif is a pineapple stitch - which I've never done before. Lots of fun! But keep checking your stitches and the pattern. It's easy to make a mistake and not pick up on it right away!.

Four And Twenty Blackbirds - Mercedes Lackey

Four And Twenty Blackbirds - Mercedes LackeyFour and Twenty Blackbirds (Bardic Voices 4)
Mercedes Lackey
Baen Books
Copyright: 1997
978-0671878535

The amazon.com product description:
A MAGICAL MANIAC IS LOOSE IN ALANDA!

A magical murderer is loose in Alanda. The victims are always women, always lower-class, and the weapon is always a three-sided stiletto, most often found among Church regalia. But the killers are never churchmen, and they always commit suicide immediately after the bloody deed.

Tal Rufen is just a simple constable. But he really cares about his job, and when one of these murder/suicides happens on his beat he becomes obsessed. His superiors don't care—the victims will never be missed, and their murderers are already justly dead. But every instinct Tal Rufen has cries out that he has seen only one small piece of a bigger and much nastier puzzle....

At the publisher's request, this title is sold without DRM (Digital Rights Management).
Four And Twenty Blackbirds is the fourth book set in the Bardic Voices world. The biggest issue I had with reading it at this point is that a lot of the events referenced are from the book A Cast of Corbies, which honestly I haven't read in years. In fact, I've basically forgotten the whole story for that one. The other book which is referenced frequently is the original Bardic Voices: The Lark and the Wren (Also found in the omnibus The Free Bards). Still, this book does seem to stand on it's own.

Despite the many frustrating references to previous books, this turned into one of those reads that I couldn't put down. Every spare moment I had for a couple of days I was reading. And there are plenty of "spare moments" when it's a rainy day in the campground.

Tal Rufen is an interesting character - and quite different from most of the other main characters in the world of the Free Bards. In fact, none of the main characters in this one are musicians, something I quite enjoyed. There are quite a few scenes illuminating how people at the lower end of the wealth-spectrum live in Alanda. I find those scenes in a fantasy novel, illuminating how the every-day person lives and their expectations to the future to be fascinating. Your mileage may vary.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a read that I quite enjoyed. It also counts as a bonus read in the Valdemar Reading Challenge I'm both hosting and participating in.

The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffrey

The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffreyThe Ship Who Sang
Anne McCaffrey
Del Rey
Copyright: 1969 (I think?)
978-0552091152

The Amazon.com product description:
Helva had been born human, but only her brain had been saved and implanted into the titanium body of an intergalactic scout ship. But first she had to choose a human partner, to soar with her through the daring adventures and exhilarating escapades in space.
Not the most exciting of descriptions, but worth looking past and reading the book. The Ship Who Sang is the first book in the Brain Ships series. I have to admit that for a long time, this hasn't been one of my favorite Anne McCaffrey novels. However, I'm not sure why at this point. When I was reading it this time, I loved it!

The Ship Who Sang is classic Anne McCaffrey science fiction - Story and Technology well blended. As well, it's aged very well. Little of the story seems dated - although there are a couple of elements near the beginning that I found to be a bit uncomfortable.

A couple of aspects of how things function seem to be contradicted by how it works in the later Brain Ships books like The Ship Who Searched, but some of that can be explained by how much time has passed between the settings of the books I think.

A second note with The Ship Who Sang is that there is a short story forming a sequel of sorts in the anthology Get off the Unicorn. At the moment, other than knowing that the name of that story is "Honeymoon", I can't remember anything more about it - or rather, the things I do remember about it would class as spoilers for this book. Safer not to say anything I think.

Either way, a read I really enjoyed, with a reminder that there is more in this universe as well. I'm looking forward to reading/re-reading some of the other stories too.

Friday, April 28, 2017

New crochet project: Strawberry Fields Forever Shawl

I've started a new crochet shawl project today - and no, I haven't finished any of my other projects yet. However, I do have some extenuating circumstances. With the usual camping trips coming this summer, I absolutely refuse to take a project in expensive (Madelinetosh), cream coloured yarn into the great outdoors - with risk of smudges from soot, grease etc. Ditto for the laceweight scarf project, which is also being done in Madelinetosh yarn.

Both sock projects are currently stalled out too because I'm having trouble figuring out what I'm supposed to be doing next. Which problem probably mostly stems from the fact that I'm teaching myself how to knit on these projects and I seem to have a ton of trouble every time I run into a new stitch.

So, I wanted a project I could do in a cheap yarn (or at least relatively cheap, anyway). A run through Ravelry's pattern database turned up this gem: Strawberry Fields Forever. And, I even like the look of the yarn it calls for. Acrylic, so washable if something happens during the making.

On the other hand, although the yarn feels nice and soft in my hands, it's horrible if it tangles. I fished out the center of the first ball, only to find a nasty frizzy knot in the yarn about three colour-changes in. So bad that I ended up pulling the yarn apart and spit joining it again after taking out the knot. I simply couldn't separate the yarn strands enough to loosen them.

The yarn is a singles-type - not something that usually bothers me - I loved the Bernat Mosaic line, which sadly has been discontinued. Had it not, I'd probably have gone with another of their shawls. However, this time, the yarn really doesn't seem to have a lot of twist. In places it spreads out to show the individual fiber strands and then frizzes.

Still, that's only my impressions after handling it for about fifteen to twenty minutes max. My opinions may change with more experience. I have to admit that I found that issue in only the one place. If I see it more often... we shall simply have to see. And, I really should get more than ten or so stitches into the project.

For now, I have to say that the pattern instructions seem to be clear and straightforward. It's all a written pattern, with no charts. In my mind, that can go either way. I started using written patterns only, but have since grown to quite like having charts as well (sometimes it's only the chart that I'll use, depending on the pattern).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Owlflight - Mercedes Lackey

Owlflight - Mercedes LackeyOwlflight
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1998
978-0886778040

The amazon.com product description:

Apprenticed to a venerable wizard when his hunter and trapper parents disappear into the forest never to be seen again, Darian is difficult and strong willed--much to the dismay of his kindly master. But a sudden twist of fate will change his life forever, when the ransacking of his village forces him to flee into the great mystical forest. It is here in the dark forest that he meets his destiny, as the terrifying and mysterious Hawkpeople lead him on the path to maturity. Now they must lead the assault on his besieged home in a desperate attempt to save his people from certain death!
The first book I can claim for this year's Valdemar Reading Challenge, and also the first time I've reviewed this book on All Booked Up although I've read it more than a few times now.

Owlflight is in many ways a typical Mercedes Lackey Valdemar novel. You can almost tick off the points - at least at first glance. Suitable for both the YA audience and adults, she writes a downright captivating story in my mind. You've got the young, unhappy protagonist here, but from that point on, things do take a different route. This set of books (Owlflight, Owlsight and Owlknight) is the first set within Valdemar where it's ordinary people who take the center stage. Yes, I know about the Oath set (Oathbound, Oathbreaker and Oathblood, the book of Sword and Sorceress short stories) and By the Sword, but for the most part those books are set outside of Valdemar.

It's rather neat to see how ordinary people live day-to-day and how they deal with things. All the petty (and not so petty) minutiae of daily village life. And also to see more of the Hawkbrothers.

One of my favorite things about this book though are the black-and-white pictures at the beginning of each chapter. I know though, and this is unfortunate these days, that these illustrations show themselves at their best in the hardcover editions of the books.

I can't forget the scene where Darian is thinking about the villagers who tend to harangue him and what that says about them, either. It's one of my favourites in the book. Also the variation on the "road to hell" proverb makes a whole lot of sense too.

Mercedes Lackey's novels are some that I keep coming back to over and over again. She's also become one of two authors I'll buy in hardcover on release day, no matter how tight my budget. Honestly, I have yet to read one of her Valdemar books that I haven't loved! They've taken on the status of "old friends" that I can nearly always fall into and enjoy, no matter what's going on in my life at the time.

Monday, April 24, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? April 24th 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It's a great post to organise yourself. It's an opportunity to visit and comment, and er... add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye's Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.

Last week I only got one book read:
The Perfect Horse - Elizabeth LettsThe Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission To Rescue The Priceless Stallions Kidnapped By The Nazis
Elizabeth Letts
Ballantine Books
Copyright Date: August 2016
978-0345544803

The amazon.com product description:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II

In the chaotic last days of the war, a small troop of battle-weary American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find—his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world’s finest purebreds in order to breed the perfect military machine—an equine master race. But with the starving Russian army closing in, the animals are in imminent danger of being slaughtered for food.

With only hours to spare, one of the U.S. Army’s last great cavalrymen, Colonel Hank Reed, makes a bold decision—with General George Patton’s blessing—to mount a covert rescue operation. Racing against time, Reed’s small but determined force of soldiers, aided by several turncoat Germans, steals across enemy lines in a last-ditch effort to save the horses.

Pulling together this multistranded story, Elizabeth Letts introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters: Alois Podhajsky, director of the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a former Olympic medalist who is forced to flee the bomb-ravaged Austrian capital with his entire stable in tow; Gustav Rau, Hitler’s imperious chief of horse breeding, a proponent of eugenics who dreams of genetically engineering the perfect warhorse for Germany; and Tom Stewart, a senator’s son who makes a daring moonlight ride on a white stallion to secure the farm’s surrender.

A compelling account for animal lovers and World War II buffs alike, The Perfect Horse tells for the first time the full story of these events. Elizabeth Letts’s exhilarating tale of behind-enemy-lines adventure, courage, and sacrifice brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of human valor.

Praise for The Perfect Horse

“Winningly readable . . . Letts captures both the personalities and the stakes of this daring mission with such a sharp ear for drama that the whole second half of the book reads like a WWII thriller dreamed up by Alan Furst or Len Deighton. . . . The right director could make a Hollywood classic out of this fairy tale.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Letts, a lifelong equestrienne, eloquently brings together the many facets of this unlikely, poignant story underscoring the love and respect of man for horses.”Kirkus ReviewsThe Perfect Horse raises the narrative bar. Applying her skills as a researcher, storyteller and horsewoman, Letts provides context that makes this account spellbinding.”Culturess

The Perfect Horse is an enthralling and moving story that I could not put down. This is a riveting and unique perspective on World War II.”—Molly Guptill Manning, author of When Books Went to War

“Passionately told and dazzling in scope, The Perfect Horse charges headlong into an unforgettable tale of World War II, when good men were given a final mission—to save beloved horses—at an hour when no one wanted to die. In Elizabeth Letts, the saga of World War II’s white stallions has found its perfect guardian.”—Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call

“Elizabeth Letts’s beautiful prose, woven together with meticulous research, takes you for a ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.”—Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless
One of those books that every time I picked it up, I couldn't put it down again easily. An excerpt from my review:
I have to recommend this book most highly. A gripping read which left me wanting to know more - perhaps to hunt down translations of Alois Podhajsky's books - I know I've seen his book on horsemanship (in fact, I have a copy sitting on my shelf), but didn't know he'd also written another book too.
I didn't end up picking up either of the books I said I would last week. Instead I'm currently reading:
Owlflight - Mercedes LackeyOwlflight
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1998
978-0886778040

The amazon.com product description:
Apprenticed to a venerable wizard when his hunter and trapper parents disappear into the forest never to be seen again, Darian is difficult and strong willed--much to the dismay of his kindly master. But a sudden twist of fate will change his life forever, when the ransacking of his village forces him to flee into the great mystical forest. It is here in the dark forest that he meets his destiny, as the terrifying and mysterious Hawkpeople lead him on the path to maturity. Now they must lead the assault on his besieged home in a desperate attempt to save his people from certain death!
I've read Owlflight a few times now, and enjoyed the read every time. This is the first in a trilogy (typical for most of the Valdemar books until the last few years) and what makes it different from the rest is that this series is one where the main character isn't a Herald.

However, even though I've read Owlflight before, it doesn't look as though I've ever reviewed it here. Interesting. As an added benefit, this whole trilogy counts towards my Valdemar Reading Challenge.

I'm planning on reading the next two books in this trilogy this week:
Owlsight and Owlknight. Beyond that, I can't say.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Snapshots - April 22, 2017

Saturday Snapshots is a meme hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. The rules of the game are:

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.
Personally, I find that this is one of the most fun memes that I've participated in. Not to mention that it's a bit of an incentive to get out and take more photos every week!

For this week I'm not posting new shots, but older ones - much older. I had a bit of fun over the last week scanning some photos from a trip I took fifteen years ago. These three were the best of the lot.


The temple of Athena Pronaia in Delphi.

A row of Corinthian style column capitals I found in Athens.

And, an iconic portion of a Venetian/Byzantine fortress. My notes says simply "Methoni" for this one, along with the fact that it's near Pylos.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue The Priceless Stallions Kidnapped By The Nazis - Elizabeth Letts

The Perfect Horse - Elizabeth LettsThe Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission To Rescue The Priceless Stallions Kidnapped By The Nazis
Elizabeth Letts
Ballantine Books
Copyright Date: August 2016
978-0345544803

The amazon.com product description:
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II

In the chaotic last days of the war, a small troop of battle-weary American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find—his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world’s finest purebreds in order to breed the perfect military machine—an equine master race. But with the starving Russian army closing in, the animals are in imminent danger of being slaughtered for food.

With only hours to spare, one of the U.S. Army’s last great cavalrymen, Colonel Hank Reed, makes a bold decision—with General George Patton’s blessing—to mount a covert rescue operation. Racing against time, Reed’s small but determined force of soldiers, aided by several turncoat Germans, steals across enemy lines in a last-ditch effort to save the horses.

Pulling together this multistranded story, Elizabeth Letts introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters: Alois Podhajsky, director of the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a former Olympic medalist who is forced to flee the bomb-ravaged Austrian capital with his entire stable in tow; Gustav Rau, Hitler’s imperious chief of horse breeding, a proponent of eugenics who dreams of genetically engineering the perfect warhorse for Germany; and Tom Stewart, a senator’s son who makes a daring moonlight ride on a white stallion to secure the farm’s surrender.

A compelling account for animal lovers and World War II buffs alike, The Perfect Horse tells for the first time the full story of these events. Elizabeth Letts’s exhilarating tale of behind-enemy-lines adventure, courage, and sacrifice brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of human valor.

Praise for The Perfect Horse

“Winningly readable . . . Letts captures both the personalities and the stakes of this daring mission with such a sharp ear for drama that the whole second half of the book reads like a WWII thriller dreamed up by Alan Furst or Len Deighton. . . . The right director could make a Hollywood classic out of this fairy tale.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Letts, a lifelong equestrienne, eloquently brings together the many facets of this unlikely, poignant story underscoring the love and respect of man for horses.”Kirkus ReviewsThe Perfect Horse raises the narrative bar. Applying her skills as a researcher, storyteller and horsewoman, Letts provides context that makes this account spellbinding.”Culturess

The Perfect Horse is an enthralling and moving story that I could not put down. This is a riveting and unique perspective on World War II.”—Molly Guptill Manning, author of When Books Went to War

“Passionately told and dazzling in scope, The Perfect Horse charges headlong into an unforgettable tale of World War II, when good men were given a final mission—to save beloved horses—at an hour when no one wanted to die. In Elizabeth Letts, the saga of World War II’s white stallions has found its perfect guardian.”—Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call

“Elizabeth Letts’s beautiful prose, woven together with meticulous research, takes you for a ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.”—Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless
A book that I raced through in about three days. Every time I picked up The Perfect Horse, I found it a real struggle to put down again.

Miracle of the White Stallions - DVDI was vaguely familiar with parts of the story thanks to the Disney movie, The Miracle of the White Stallions, but reading The Perfect Horse showed me that there was so much more. Yes there were the Lippizans - both the stallions and the mares, but also in danger were gorgeous Polish Arabians, Thoroughbreds and many other fine horses who had been looted from around German-controlled Europe. That was the part of the story I'd never heard about prior to reading Elizabeth Lett's book.

A lot of people say that animal stories are so often heartbreaking. Not this one. For the most part, the worst that happens to the majority of the figures in this book, both human and animal, is disappointment and some promises that never truly bear out.

Although this is a book about World War Two, as it focuses on a smaller part of the events - that surrounding the horses, it is not as dark as some. The book does touch on the greater events, however, at the same time, it also leaves them in the background for the most part.

The Perfect Horse is lavishly illustrated throughout - photos of the main figures, events and many of the horses so central to the story. The only potential complaint is that all the photos are black and white only. At the same time, it's very likely that the original images were mostly in black and white anyway - given the time period. It might have been a nice touch to include color photos of some of the central equine figures like Witez.

I have to recommend this book most highly. A gripping read which left me wanting to know more - perhaps to hunt down translations of Alois Podhajsky's books - I know I've seen his book on horsemanship (in fact, I have a copy sitting on my shelf), but didn't know he'd also written another book too.

New Book - Essays on the Lord of the Rings

One of my former co-workers recently published a book through Amazon titled Essays on the Lord of the Rings. Having read a couple of them, I have to say that he has quite the interesting perspective.

Essays on the Lord of the Rings - Patrick McEvoy-HalstonEssays on the Lord of the Rings
Patrick McEvoy-Halston
Independently Published
Copyright Date: April 10, 2017
978-1521032213

The amazon.com product description:
Series of essays on The Lord of the Rings, including two "reader's guides," as well as a foray into the fictitious possibility -- What if Saruman was right? The lead essay focuses on how LOTR is best understood as actually more anti-adventure than adventure; on how it never really lets you get too far outside your door, even as you find yourself amongst things as wondrous as Oliphants, wizards, Orcs and Elves. Think of this book as an attempt at good counsel so you don't go adrift to the unexpected wiles of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece.
As I said, he has quite the interesting perspective.

Monday, April 17, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It's a great post to organise yourself. It's an opportunity to visit and comment, and er... add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye's Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.

You know something? I look at that list there and realize just how old All Booked Up is sometimes. I started doing this meme back in the days when It's Monday! What Are You Reading? was hosted at J Kaye's Book Blog.

Anyway, I'm back in the game after a couple of months on hiatus (again). These days I'm somewhat sporadic with All Booked Up despite my best intentions. But, after a few months of struggling with one book, I've finished reading it, and I'm on to other books.

Books I finished reading last week:

Europe: Chained By History - Larry J. HiltonEurope: Chained By History
Larry J. Hilton
Newport Publishing
Copyright Date: December 2015
978-0996786119

The amazon.com product description:

A Plea for Europe to form a United States of Europe
Europe: Chained by History is a groundbreaking book that uses history to make a compelling case for Europe to form a United States of Europe--or risk seeing the European Union come apart individually.
Using the history of Vienna from its inception to 1938, readers are invited to observe Western Europe from within this ancient city.
  • Where did historic rivalries among European nations begin?
  • How did the Enlightenment affect Europe and the United States?
  • What persistent darkness allowed Hitler to lead the word in to a second devastating world war?
  • What will it take for today's European Union to survive?
Author Larry J. Hilton explores these questions, and more, by using fascinating details about what it was really like to live in Vienna from the the first century through the days of hyper-inflation after World War 1.
Thought provoking and well researched, Europe: Chained by History radiates hope even as it details the formidable political obstacles to European unity. In the end, a banking or ISIS crisis will force the issue.
An excerpt from my review:
It's rather interesting to see history as not just a case of "here's what happened" but also as a set of expectations for the future - thus the chains of his title. Definitely a different perspective of the past, and one that provokes a fair bit of thought. I think that I'm going to be digesting this book for a while.

I'm currently reading:

The Perfect Horse - Elizabeth LettsThe Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission To Rescue The Priceless Stallions Kidnapped By The Nazis
Elizabeth Letts
Ballantine Books
Copyright Date: August 2016
978-0345544803

The amazon.com product description:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II

In the chaotic last days of the war, a small troop of battle-weary American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find—his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world’s finest purebreds in order to breed the perfect military machine—an equine master race. But with the starving Russian army closing in, the animals are in imminent danger of being slaughtered for food.

With only hours to spare, one of the U.S. Army’s last great cavalrymen, Colonel Hank Reed, makes a bold decision—with General George Patton’s blessing—to mount a covert rescue operation. Racing against time, Reed’s small but determined force of soldiers, aided by several turncoat Germans, steals across enemy lines in a last-ditch effort to save the horses.

Pulling together this multistranded story, Elizabeth Letts introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters: Alois Podhajsky, director of the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a former Olympic medalist who is forced to flee the bomb-ravaged Austrian capital with his entire stable in tow; Gustav Rau, Hitler’s imperious chief of horse breeding, a proponent of eugenics who dreams of genetically engineering the perfect warhorse for Germany; and Tom Stewart, a senator’s son who makes a daring moonlight ride on a white stallion to secure the farm’s surrender.

A compelling account for animal lovers and World War II buffs alike, The Perfect Horse tells for the first time the full story of these events. Elizabeth Letts’s exhilarating tale of behind-enemy-lines adventure, courage, and sacrifice brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of human valor.

Praise for The Perfect Horse

“Winningly readable . . . Letts captures both the personalities and the stakes of this daring mission with such a sharp ear for drama that the whole second half of the book reads like a WWII thriller dreamed up by Alan Furst or Len Deighton. . . . The right director could make a Hollywood classic out of this fairy tale.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Letts, a lifelong equestrienne, eloquently brings together the many facets of this unlikely, poignant story underscoring the love and respect of man for horses.”Kirkus ReviewsThe Perfect Horse raises the narrative bar. Applying her skills as a researcher, storyteller and horsewoman, Letts provides context that makes this account spellbinding.”Culturess

The Perfect Horse is an enthralling and moving story that I could not put down. This is a riveting and unique perspective on World War II.”—Molly Guptill Manning, author of When Books Went to War

“Passionately told and dazzling in scope, The Perfect Horse charges headlong into an unforgettable tale of World War II, when good men were given a final mission—to save beloved horses—at an hour when no one wanted to die. In Elizabeth Letts, the saga of World War II’s white stallions has found its perfect guardian.”—Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call

“Elizabeth Letts’s beautiful prose, woven together with meticulous research, takes you for a ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.”—Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless
I'm really enjoying the read - currently about half way through the book. As I noted in my previous post mentioning The Perfect Horse, I'm at least vaguely familiar with parts of the story, but there's so much I didn't know about too. I have to admit though that I'll be happy to be finished with this read simply to get away from the topic of the Second World War. Two books in a row on the subject (Europe Chained By History had a lot on World War Two and the lead-up to it) are a bit much I'm finding.

I'm planning to read at least one of the following:

Cold Welcome (Vatta's Peace) - Elizabeth MoonCold Welcome (Vatta's Peace)
Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey
Copyright Date: April 11, 2017
978-1101887318

The Amazon.com product description:

Nebula Award–winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with a thrilling series featuring Kylara Vatta, the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta’s War sequence.

After nearly a decade away, Nebula Award–winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with this installment in a thrilling new series featuring the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta’s War sequence.

Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.

Yet even as Ky leads her team from one crisis to another, her family and friends refuse to give up hope, endeavoring to mount a rescue from halfway around the planet—a task that is complicated as Ky and her supporters find secrets others will kill to protect: a conspiracy infecting both government and military that threatens not only her own group’s survival but her entire home planet.

Praise for Elizabeth Moon

Trading in Danger
“A mix of space opera, military science fiction and human drama, this is an exciting and often touching novel.”RT Book Reviews

Marque and Reprisal
“Excellent plotting and characters support the utterly realistic action sequences: swift, jolting, confusing, and merciless. It’s a corker!”Kirkus Reviews

Engaging the Enemy
“Moon has created a richly imagined universe of different cultures, replete with intriguing characters and the sense of unlimited possibility that characterizes the most appealing science fiction.”School Library Journal

Command Decision
“One of scifi’s best military space series . . . confirms Moon’s place with Lois McMaster Bujold and David Weber in the top tier of turn-of-the-millennium military SF writers.”—Syfy

Victory Conditions
“Rip-roaring action and intriguing science and tactics distinguish Nebula winner Moon’s fifth and final Vatta’s War installment. . . . A fine and fitting conclusion to Moon’s grand space opera tour de force.”Publishers Weekly

Tempest: All New Tales of Valdemar
Ed. Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 2016

The amazon.com product description:

Twenty-four authors ride with Mercedes Lackey to her magical land of Valdemar, adding their own unique voices to the Heralds, Bards, Healers, and other heroes of this beloved fantasy realm.

The Heralds of Valdemar are the kingdom’s ancient order of protectors. They are drawn from all across the land, from all walks of life, and at all ages—and all are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women. They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more. These inborn talents—combined with training as emissaries, spies, judges, diplomats, scouts, counselors, warriors, and more—make them indispensable to their monarch and realm. Sought and Chosen by mysterious horse-like Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic, enigmatic creatures. The Heralds of Valdemar and their Companions ride circuit throughout the kingdom, protecting the peace and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.

Now, twenty-three authors ride with Mercedes Lackey to her magical land of Valdemar, adding their own unique voices to the Heralds, Bards, Healers, and other heroes of this beloved fantasy realm.

Join Elizabeth Vaughan, Fiona Patton, Jennifer Brozek, Brenda Cooper, Rosemary Edghill, and others in twenty-two original stories, including a brand-new novella by Mercedes Lackey, to Valdemar, where:

A Herald must crack an ancient code in a historic tapestry in order to arbitrate a dispute over land and lineage…

A Healer’s daughter flees the noble family that has trapped and enslaved her mother, and must seek help to free her mother…

A young woman who hides her clairvoyant powers from her town’s Karsite priests ForeSees a threat, and must risk revealing her Gift to save her community…

A Herald finds his assistant has been abducted by a man upon whom he had levied a heavy fine, and must foil the kidnapper’s plans to save his charge…

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