Monday, September 22, 2014

Wool-craft, knitting, crochet and Outlander

This is a clip from the latest episode of Outlander, Rent. At least, it's the latest episode for me, as I'm in Canada and I think we're about two weeks behind the US for air dates.

I've been admiring the various bits of knitting in the costuming on Outlander, shown on Sunday evenings on ShowCase, and keeping a close eye out for any hints of the making of them. This is the first hint of wool-working in the show, and it absolutely made my day to see it:

Waulking wool, the final step in the weaving process as far as I'm aware.
So neat to see in this, though I can't remember if it's actually a scene in the book or not. If not, I admire the research the show crew did to add scenes like this to the show.

The only other time I've seen anything like this was on the second dvd of Norman Kennedy's From Wool To Waulking workshop.

I certainly hope to see more of these kinds of scenes in future episodes of Outlander. Also nice would be to see some more patterns for some of the knit-wear on the show. Some people have already created some patterns and uploaded them to Ravelry. Mostly for knitted items. I'd like to see some adapted for crochet.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The iPhone hype has gone too far

The hype over the new iPhone 6 and 6+ has gone way too far. I say this as someone who's thinking of upgrading to one of them too. However, I am not going to do so without having the chance of handling one or both to see what I think of them. Personally I'm a bit skeptical of the larger sizes that smartphones are coming in these days.

I say the hype has gone too far though because of what happened when I went into a phone store today to see if they had any demo models I could look at.

I was asking the salesman about the new iPhones, and he wanted me to order one. "Nope" said I. I want to check out how they feel before I make a choice. This was his response: "How they feel doesn't matter. What matters is the new software."

OK. So, which one is going to be more comfortable for me to hold is immaterial. I still use my smartphone as a phone and want something that I can hold to my ear comfortably. Ridiculous! By what I was told, I must be in the minority in using my phone as a phone.

Not to mention, I like my phone to be able to fit in my pocket sometimes for convenience. The new, largest phones won't be able to do that. Again, I must be in the minority there, because actually, the larger size of the phone is something that's actively making me think twice about upgrading, even with the soon to come lack of support for my current phone.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Upcoming Books

Here's another selection of upcoming books that have caught my eye. One or two of them I've already pre-ordered too on the recommendation of one of my friends.

Closer To Home - Mercedes Lackey
Closer To Home: Book One of The Herald Spy
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Release Date: October 7, 2014
978-0756408992

The amazon.com product description:
Mags was once an enslaved orphan living a harsh life in the mines, until the King's Own Herald discovered his talent and trained him as a spy. Now a Herald in his own right, at the newly established Heralds' Collegium, Mags has found a supportive family, including his Companion Dallen.

Although normally a Herald in his first year of Whites would be sent off on circuit, Mags is needed close to home for his abilities as a spy and his powerful Mindspeech gift. There is a secret, treacherous plot within the royal court to destroy the Heralds. The situation becomes dire after the life of Mags' mentor, King's Own Nikolas, is imperiled. His daughter Amily is chosen as the new King's Own, a complicated and dangerous job that is made more so by this perilous time. Can Mags and Amily save the court, the Heralds, and the Collegium itself?
Mercedes Lackey has started a new series about Mags, the main character in the Collegium Chronicles books. Based on the blurb, I'm looking forward to reading Closer to Home when it comes out. I do want to know how this situation that she's setting up is going to work out, and I really enjoyed reading the previous Mags books.

No True Way: A Valdemar Anthology
No True Way: All New Tales of Valdemar
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Release Date: December 2, 2014
978-0756407698

The amazon.com product description:
In March 1987, Mercedes Lackey, a young author from Oklahoma, published her first novel, Arrows of the Queen. No one could have envisioned that this modest book about a magical land called Valdemar would be the beginning of a fantasy masterwork series that would span decades and include more than two dozen titles.

Now the voices of other authors add their own special touches to the ancient land where Heralds “Chosen” from all walks of life by magical horse-like Companions patrol their ancient kingdom, dispensing justice, facing adversaries, and protecting their monarch and country from whatever threatens. Trained rigorously by the Herald’s Collegium, these special protectors each have extraordinary Gifts: Mindspeaking, FarSeeing, FarSpeaking, Empathy, Firestarting and ForeSeeing, and are bonded for life with their mysterious Companions. Travel with these astouding adventurerers in sixteen original stories.
After two years where the annual anthology was from the world of the Elemental Masters, it's going to be nice to return to the world of Valdemar. I've been enjoying these anthologies since the first one came out years ago.

One oddity though, it's currently only available to pre-order in the kindle format. I sincerely hope there's going to be a paper-book release as well. I'll be quite disappointed if these books go to e-only.

The Amazons: Lives And Legends Of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World - Adrienne Mayor
The Amazons: Lives And Legends Of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World
Adrienne Mayor
Princeton University Press
Release Date: September 22, 2014
978-0691147208

The amazon.com product description:
Amazons--fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world--were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons.

But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China.

Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons--Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China.

Driven by a detective's curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic.
This is the book that I've pre-ordered on the strength of a friend's recommendation. It looks absolutely fascinating, and I know that Adrienne Mayor is an excellent writer, having read and reviewed one of her previous books, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Freedom's Challenge - Anne McCaffrey

Freedom's Challenge - Anne McCaffrey
Freedom's Challenge
Anne McCaffrey
Ace Books
Copyright: 2009
978-0441006250

The amazon.com product description:
The alien Catteni invaded Earth and enslaved thousands of humans on the planet Botany, where they struggle to survive while colonizing the world for their overseers. Now that they’ve proved Botany is capable of sustaining life, Kris Bjornsen and her fellow settlers have no intention of surrendering the home they’ve created for themselves…

Armed with the knowledge that the true enemy behind the Catteni is the Eosi race, Kris has begun a campaign to free Botany’s settlers by raising a rebellion among her people against their parasitic oppressors.

Aided by her Catteni lover, Zainal, Kris and the colonists manage to steal warships—and discover dissidents on other Eosi-controlled worlds. If all of the subjugated races join forces, they will have an army large enough to win their freedom and their worlds.

The war of liberation has begun.
Freedom's Challenge is the third book in this series, following on Freedom's Landing and Freedom's Choice. Interestingly, this is also the book where certain scenes had stuck - vaguely - in my head from the last time I read it, back when the book first came out. Most notably, the scenes on Catten itself. At the same time, I'd forgotten enough of the read that it was like reading the book for the first time.

One note I have to make - the cover art above is the new art. Honestly in this case I really prefer the original cover art style.

Anyway, this was another book that I ended up racing through while on a camping trip. Loved it. However, I'm having trouble finding a way to describe the story and style without giving a ton of spoilers, or being confusing because by this point, a lot of the storyline really requires knowledge of the previous books in the series.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Booking Through Thursday - Your Recommendation

This weeks question over at Booking Through Thursday is a simple one for me to answer:
If a friend asks you to recommend a really good book—good writing, good characters, good story—but with no other qualifications … what would you recommend? 
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
As far as I'm concerned, there is only one answer: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

There's something for everyone, at least everyone who likes fiction, in this book. The world is so deep and fully realized - there are things mentioned which clearly have their own history, known to the characters, but not required for the story.

Consistency is well done throughout - Tolkien was even carefully checking the dates for the phases of the moon to make sure that the characters, separated were looking at the same moon on the same day.

The devil is in the details people say, and Tolkien put a lot of effort into making sure those details were all consistent throughout the story.

The same thing is true of the characters. They have depth, history and motivations which make them into real people who grab your interest and hold on to it until the last page is turned.

Personally, I love all the description, but I know some people have said there's too much of it. For me, it's that description that helps add the depth to the story - I can almost feel myself in Middle-Earth at times.

Tolkien knew language and how to use it, and that shows in every carefully chosen word in the book. Prose, poetry and song were all carefully written to best effect.

I could keep going for a while, but I won't. The Lord of the Rings has been my favorite book for about two decades now, and it shows.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crochet and Spinning Update

I'm pretty proud of myself for this, but for the last two months or so, since the TDF on Ravelry, I've been managing to spin and/or crochet at least a little bit nearly every day. I think I ended up missing only one day so far. This is a track record I want to keep going indefinitely.

It hasn't reduced the number of projects I have on the go at all though. As usual, I'm better at starting a project than I am at finishing it, although I did finish one small project, and one of the longer-running projects I've mentioned here before is nearing completion. I'm hoping to get it done this month.

In terms of spinning, I've added one project, with a new spindle: the fibre is something of a mystery, but I have four ounces in three roving strips, all different colors, and I'm spinning it as finely as I can on my new(ish) Snyder Mini-Turk. In the photo the colors are showing as more blue than they actually are. In reality, one strip of roving is purple, one is turquoise, and the third is striped in black, blue and purple. I've torn the roving into small patches, and I'm spinning them in order: turquoise, purple and then the multi-color. Right now, it's on the multicolor and I guess it is fairly blueish in tone.

I'm trying a new technique as well: Ply-On-The-Fly, so all of the spun fiber on the spindle is finished. The process is to spin a length in one direction, wind it off on your hand and then chain ply that section before winding the finished length (now quite a bit shorter) onto the spindle. The other neat thing with a turkish spindle is the way the cop ends up being a work of art in and of itself - if you're careful.

The downside to this method, especially with my effort at keeping the cop neat, is just how slowly it progresses. Of course, I have to admit that part of that is because I'm not doing too much of it at any one time.

The other spinning projects I'm focused on are:
1. A merino-silk blend I have on my wheel in shades of blue. There's 200 grams of this fiber, and I'm about half-way through spinning it. Eventually, my plan is to chain-ply it as well.

2. Alpaca fiber on my supported Ghstworks spindle. This is a one ounce sample that I got from the Spin-Off kit. I'm maybe a third of the way through it. Again, it's slow going.

3. Multi-colored sprinkle-dyed merino fiber on a plain drop spindle. I'm finally seeing the end of this spinning project after three or four years now. Enough is enough, but it's my fault because I bought four or five 100gram bags of it. This one's being spun into singles on the spindle, but I have a bobbin on the go on my wheel that I'm using to chain-ply the singles.

Going over to crochet, the list of projects is about the same length, perhaps longer, and definitely longer if you include photos.

1. The Elise Shawl. This is a project that's gotten a lot larger than it was intended to be when I started it back in May. Back then, it was a one-skein shawlette, but I decided that it would be too small for my tastes, so I'm expanding it. Thankfully, I chose to use undyed Madtosh yarn, so matching colors and dye-lots wasn't a problem. I also decided to add beads to the shawl, using a second crochet hook. As I've said a few times since, "why did I think that would be a good idea?". I'll be glad when this project is done with, but I've got two more skeins of yarn to cake and add, so I'm not even half-way at the moment.

2.  The Goldberry Shawl. No photos for this one right now, but I'm about seven rows from finishing, so I'd like to get it done by the 22nd of the month - Frodo and Bilbo's birthday. The rows have gotten long though - one of the stumbling blocks of this shawl, I'm finding.

3. Another Bernat Mosaic Shawl in the Optimistic colorway. I like to have these to work on in the summer, though maybe I should have picked another color. It's a bit boring, because I just finished one of these a couple of months ago. Still, they work up pretty fast. The other advantage of these is the yarn isn't expensive, so I don't worry about taking one of these to the beach or camping.

4. The Triumph crocheted sock pattern. This one shouldn't really be on the list as I'm not working on it at all. I'd have to say that the socks triumphed over me. The one sock I mentioned last year fit perfectly, but I really screwed up on the second sock. It's way too small, so I now have to unpick the whole thing and start again. I haven't been able to gather the will-power together for it yet.

5. My first attempt at a carry-bag. It's from the same magazine as the basket I did earlier in the year. I'm not entirely sure what I think of the result though. The bag turned out to be a bit smaller than I though it would be for the medium size based on the picture in the magazine. Some of that might be the yarn I used being less stretchy than the yarn the pattern called for. On the other hand, I haven't actually tried filling the bag with anything as a test yet.

 I made one change of my own as well, adding a couple of extra rows to the handle to make it a bit wider. I was afraid the handle as it's written in the pattern would be narrow enough that it would cut into my hand or shoulder too easily.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1612120423/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1612120423&linkCode=as2&tag=alboup00-20&linkId=JSBIQJPTNA6ICG25
6. The Bristleberry scarf pattern from the Crochet One Skein Wonders book. The most recent addition to my in-progress list. Not that I needed to start another project with all the ones I have on the go right now, but I couldn't resist buying a skein of  Madtosh Lace yarn when I saw it in the store.

This is going to take a while because the yarn is so fine that each row doesn't add very much to the project on it's own. Then, after a few rows, you look at it again, and all of a sudden you can see the difference.

I love the way it's working up. The pattern is simple enough that I'm not too likely to make any mistakes, at least if I'm careful, but just different enough to keep my attention. And the colors are absolutely spectacular!

Freedom's Choice - Anne McCaffrey

Freedom's Choice - Anne McCaffrey
Freedom's Choice
Anne McCaffrey
Ace Books
Copyright Date: 1998
978-0441005314

The amazon.com product description:
Abducted by the alien Catteni, Kristin Bjornsen was one of many humans brought to the planet Botany as part of an experiment to see if it could support life. Enslaved and forced to colonize a world not their own, the settlers have accepted Botany as their home—a home worth fighting for…

Kristin’s people have learned that the aliens responsible for their imprisonment are merely mercenaries, subjugated by the parasitic Eosi Race, and that Botany is being farmed remotely by some unknown species—a species that may be sympathetic to the colonists’ struggle for freedom.

The “Farmers” refuse to join the humans in their rebellion against the Catteni, but they agree to use their technological skills to shield Botany and hide it from its enemies—buying Kristin and the settlers time to build up their forces and liberate their world…
The second book in the "Freedom" series, this is the sequel to Freedom's Landing, which I raced through a couple of weeks ago. It's taken me until now to get to this book because I had to wait for it to arrive. The first, third, and fourth books in the series I had found at my favorite used bookstore. They didn't have this one though, so I ended up ordering a copy, which finally arrived on Friday.

Freedom's Choice - Anne McCaffrey (New Cover Art)
That was a bit of a surprise too, because there are now some new covers for this series. I kind of like the new cover too, but at the same time, it's the odd one out because the other three all have the original cover art. As I've said before, I'm a bit odd about changing cover art in a series. Even more confusing, the Amazon listing for Freedom's Choice in the mass market edition still shows the original cover art. I had to pick up the correct cover image from the Kindle edition listing.

Anyway, the wait was worth it, although I'm now having a bit of trouble reviewing Freedom's Choice because I raced through it and then on to the third book, Freedom's Challenge, and I'm now well into the fourth and final book in the series, Freedom's Ransom.

There's plenty more universe-building going on, as well as more information about various things that were hinted at in the first book: the Farmers, also called the Mech-Makers, the Eosi; who they are and how they work etc.

Overall, a very fun read and a book I know I'll be re-reading again in the future.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Snow Queen - Mercedes Lackey

The Snow Queen - Mercedes LackeyThe Snow Queen
Mercedes Lackey
Luna Books
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780373802654

The amazon.com product description:
Aleksia, Queen of the Northern Lights, is mysterious, beautiful and widely known to have a heart of ice. But when she's falsely accused of unleashing evil on nearby villages, she realizes there's an impostor out there far more heartless than she could ever be.

And when a young warrior disappears, Aleksia's powers are needed as never before.

Now, on a journey through a realm of perpetual winter, it will take all her skills, a mother's faith and a little magic to face down an enemy more formidable than any she has ever known…. 
I've read and reviewed The Snow Queen before, but it had been a while. This is one of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series of fantasy romance novels based on fairy tales, often with interesting twists, especially as each story doesn't always follow only one fairy-tale.

Imagine a world where fairy-tales are real, and they don't always have a happy ending. What's more, if your circumstances even vaguely match the setting for one of those tales, your life will be forced into following that tale. That's the world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. Not even the Godmothers, one of the forces that try to either prevent the Tradition from steering people into those tales, or at least to give them a happy ending, is immune from the force of the Tradition.

Even so, these stories fit the romance mold, which means that the characters are going to have their happy ending. That's a given, right from the start. The story, and the fun of the read are all about how they get there.

I enjoyed the read this time, as much as I did last time. Especially as it's been long enough now that I felt like I was reading The Snow Queen for the first time again. One thing I noticed on this read was the number of spinning and weaving references. Being into fibre-crafts myself, they almost jumped off the page for me - weaving a cloak at the beginning of the story, one of the background characters doing some tablet-weaving and another spinning with a drop spindle in one of the scenes.

Overall, a fun read.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

No Sailing Waits and Other Ferry Tales - Adrian Raeside

No Sailing Waits and Other Ferry Tales: 30 Years of BC Ferries Cartoons
Adrian Raeside
Harbour Publishing
Copyright Date: April 11, 2012
978-1550175967

The amazon.com product description:
As a part of our provincial highway system and a lifeline for coastal communities, BC Ferries plays an integral part in British Columbians lives. This is especially true for cartoonist Adrian Raeside, who has been drawing cartoons portraying the ferry fleet for over thirty years. From breakdowns, groundings, the Fast Ferry Fiasco, the Sunshine Breakfast, German-built ferries, the Million Dollar Man (David Hahn) and fuel surcharges, Raeside has covered it all in his unique style. The best of these hilarious and sometimes poignant cartoons are for the first time compiled into a book, a unique chronicle of our ferry fleet and a must-read for anyone who has ever endured a two-sailing wait at a ferry terminal.
One of the books I re-read over the weekend was this one, and a funnier read I haven't had in a long time. My original review was from two years ago, August 2012.

I'm using BC Ferries a lot more these days, so some of the issues really resonate still. Others are slightly more dated, and one in particular was very touching: his honoring of the two who died in the ferry sinking a couple of years back. Very poignant and special.

Otherwise, every single page left me laughing. If you know the BC Ferry system you'll recognize at least some of these issues: the Sunshine Breakfast - a regular appearance in this book, sailing waits (the two sailing wait mentioned above is nothing compared to one I had a couple of years ago, where we were stuck for two sailings outside the terminal, and then another sailing or so inside, before we finally were able to get on the last sailing of the day), Ferry fares - always going up, and strikes.

As I've said before, I'd be very surprised to find Adrian Raeside's No Sailing Waits and Other Ferry Tales in the BC Ferries gift store. The cartoons aren't very flattering to BC Ferries. On the other hand, editorial cartoons are usually pretty critical of whatever they're about - that's half the point.

Probably more of a local interest book, but one of the funniest I've read in a while.

Fortune's Fool - Mercedes Lackey

Fortune's Fool - Mercedes Lackey
Fortune's Fool
Mercedes Lackey
Luna Books
Copyright: 2008
978-0373802739

The amazon.com blurb:
 The seventh daughter of the Sea King, Ekaterina is more than a pampered princess-she's also the family spy. Which makes her the perfect emissary to check out interesting happenings in the neighboring kingdom…and nothing interests her more than Sasha, the seventh son of the king of Belrus. Ekaterina suspects he's far from the fool people think him. But before she can find out what lies beneath his facade, she is kidnapped!

Trapped in a castle at the mercy of a possessive Jinn, Ekaterina knows her chances of being found are slim. Now fortune, a fool and a paper bird are the only things she can count on-along with her own clever mind and intrepid heart.…
It's been a while since I read Fortune's Fool, but I was inspired to do a re-read by the previous book I read, Firebird, also by Mercedes Lackey. The two books have different takes on some of the same themes, namely their treatment of the seventh son and the role of the fool, something I found of interest on this read.

In Firebird, Ilya, the seventh son in question is genuinely despised by his family, while in Fortune's Fool, Sasha and his family are filling roles and working to use the Tradition to their own advantage, so while outwardly his treatment is similar, in private he's genuinely cared for by his family.

Both the similarities and the differences make these two stories intriguing to read back-to-back. They're both based on fairy-tales, though different tales (more or less), and using similar character types, even with the same expectations (the happy ending), and yet they're very different.

Fortune's Fool is part of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, which is introduced in The Fairy Godmother. However, this is a series where each book also stands alone quite well as the rules of the world are explained again in each book. Not to mention that in each book, there's an entirely new set of main characters, although some of the characters from the earlier books might make a cameo appearance or two.

The basic explanation for the world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms is that it's one where all the fairy-tales are real. Cinderella? It's happened - enough times that it's now a Traditional path for a step-daughter. Rapunzel? Sleeping Beauty? The same is true of those tales too. Thing is, the stories aren't guaranteed a happy ending. In fact, more often than not it seems that the stories will have a bad ending for the participants. That's what the fairy godmothers are there for; to try and re-direct these Traditions to happy endings. But, there are plenty of Kingdoms where there is no Fairy Godmother. In some of those, they've come up with other methods, as in Fortune's Fool.

Mercedes Lackey has been using the Tradition to come up with some very interesting twists to add to some fairly famous fairy-tales in this series. If you're interested in fairy-tale retellings, this is a series I definitely recommend. It's one I turn to when I want a nice, quick, fairly light read.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Firebird - Mercedes Lackey

Firebird - Mercedes Lackey
Firebird
Mercedes Lackey
Tor Books
Copyright: 2008
978-0765317193

The Amazon.com product description:
Ilya, son of a Russian prince, is largely ignored by his father and tormented by his larger, older brothers.  His only friends are three old people: a priest, a magician, and a woman who toils in the palace dairy.  From them Ilya learns faith, a smattering of magic, and the power of love--all of which he will need desperately, for his life is about to be turned upside-down.

            The prince’s magnificent cherry orchard is visited at midnight by the legendary Firebird, whose wings are made of flame.  Ilya's brothers’ attempts capture the magical creature fail.  When Ilya tries to catch the Firebird, he sees her as a beautiful woman and earns a magical gift:  the speech of animals. 

            Banished, the young man journeys through a fantastical Russia full of magical mazes, enchanted creatures, and untold dangers.  As happens in the best fairy tales, Ilya falls in love with an enchanted princess, but to win her freedom will be no easy task.
I read and reviewed Firebird back in 2010, but over the intervening years I'd managed to forget most of the details until I re-read the book a few days ago, so it was almost like reading it for the first time again.

That said, one of the things that always draws me to Firebird is the cover art. It's some of the most beautiful I've seen on a Mercedes Lackey novel, and it's what pulled me into the read this time. In reality, I'm waiting for my ordered copy of Freedom's Choice to arrive so I can continue to read that series. So, a book I know is a moderately quick though gripping read was a good choice in my mine. At the same time, it sparked a reading streak.

I've started racing through the retellings of various fairy-tales that Mercedes Lackey has written - mostly in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. Firebird led me to Fortune's Fool and then to The Snow Queen. Now I want to re-read One Good Knight, which I don't seem to have in my collection. I also want to hunt down Black Swan, which she wrote years ago.

Anyway, back to Firebird. This one's based on the Russian tale of the Firebird, and maintains the storyline as far as I can tell. At the same time, I'm fairly certain that Mercedes Lackey has added her own twists to the story. I'm just not familiar enough with her source material to know, though I can guess as to some of them.

As I noted in my previous review, there are a few lines that will make anyone familiar with her works laugh - because you'll recognize them from previous books. Still, they suit the situation and they gave me a chuckle, so I'm not complaining.

Definitely a book I recommend, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for fairy-tales.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Freedom's Landing - Anne McCaffrey

Freedom's Landing - Anne McCaffrey
Freedom's Landing
Anne McCaffrey
Ace Publishing
Copyright: 1996
978-0441003389

The amazon.com product description:
Kristin Bjornsen lived a normal life, right up until the day the spaceships floated into view above Denver. As human slaves were herded into the maw of a massive vessel, Kristin realized her normal life was over and her fight for freedom was just beginning…

The alien Catteni value strength and intelligence in their slaves—and Kristin has managed to survive her enslavement while hundreds of other humans have not. But her trial has just begun, for now she finds herself part of a massive experiment. The aliens have discovered a new world, and they have a simple way of finding out if it’s habitable: drop hundreds of slaves on the surface and see what happens.

If they survive, colonization can begin. If not, there are always more slaves.
This is an older Anne McCaffrey novel, and one I'd nearly forgotten about until my latest trip to my favorite used bookstore. They just happened to have three of the four books in the series in (Of course, not the second one, so I'm waiting for my ordered copy of that to arrive. Hopefully later this week).

Freedom's Landing has an interesting combination going for it - science fiction with a hint of romance, and it works. The story has held up pretty well too, although fifteen years or so isn't all that much time.

One interesting little piece of trivia: The opening chapter or so of Freedom's Landing (with an alternative ending than that of the chapter in question in the novel) was published as Thorns of Barevi in Get Off The Unicorn back in the 1970's.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Freedom's Choice, and I don't want to risk spoiling things - although why I worry about that for a book that's not a new release, I don't know.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gravity Dreams - L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Gravity Dreams
L. E. Modesitt
Tor Books
Copyright: 2000
9780812566611

The amazon.com product description:
In Earth's distant future, Tyndel is both teacher and mentor, a staunch devotee to his conservative and rigidly structured religious culture. Then a rogue infection of nanotechnology transforms him into a "demon", something more than human, and he is forced into exile, fleeing to the more technologically advanced space-faring civilization that lies to the north, one that his own righteous people consider evil. Although shaken by his transformation, he has the rare talent required to become a space pilot. What no one, least of all Tyndel, expects, is his deep-space encounter with a vastly superior being--perhaps with God.
I've read and reviewed Gravity Dreams before, and loved it. No difference this time - just the challenge of getting my hands on a copy. I know I owned it previously, but for the last year or so I couldn't find it. Figuring it was lost in one of the boxes from my moving, I just shrugged, and thought it would turn up. Books have done this before - usually after I give up and replace them. Well, I replaced my copy of Gravity Dreams, but the original copy has yet to show up. I'm still waiting...

Aside from that - and the note that I ended up buying my replacement copy through Abebooks - I still found Gravity Dreams to be a very good read, racing through it over the course of about four days - including a camping trip.

L.E. Modesitt Jr. writes his science fiction with layers. The surface layer is the story, but there are other deeper layers and themes to each of his books as well. With Gravity Dreams, I'm sure there were layers that I was missing - quite a bit of the Dorchan culture left me scratching my head at their ways of thinking, but at the same time raising some interesting points.

One of the biggest themes in this book, as well as others of Modesitt's such as Adiamante is personal responsibility. In Adiamante, the personal responsibility theme was strongly focused on the environment, but there nonetheless. In Gravity Dreams, it's geared more to responsibility for your choices and the consequences thereof.

The other big theme in this book is honesty. Honesty with yourself and with others, distilled down to the most basic and even extreme levels, even to the point where it's forced on people - using some of the characters own words here. This is where I have to be honest myself and say that this is a world I wouldn't want to live in. I like my illusions a bit too much thank you - a comment I made in my previous review as well.

In terms of story structure, Gravity Dreams is rather interestingly put together with time-jumps both forwards and back. Thankfully, each chapter starts with the date for the events in that chapter, and also the location. Definitely something that I found was needed. Also, and I've seen reviews complaining about this, much of the story is set up around dialogue and internal thoughts. I liked it, but others obviously don't.

Following on that is the depth of descriptions that the author uses. I especially liked the use of color and music in overspace, making it a multi-sense experience rather than just simply visual. Humans have five senses, and Modesitt makes use of that as best he can though the medium of the written word. On the other hand, I quite like descriptive stories, so this was right up my alley.

If you like science fiction and also want a story that will make you think while you're reading it, I highly recommend Gravity Dreams and also L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s other science fiction novels.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Crown of Renewal - Elizabeth Moon

Crown of Renewal (Legend of Paksenarrion) - Elizabeth Moon
Crown of Renewal (Legend of Paksenarrion)
Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey
Release Date: May 27, 2014
978-0345533098

The amazon.com product description:
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Moon spins gripping, richly imagined epic fantasy novels that have earned comparisons to the work of such authors as Robin Hobb and Lois McMaster Bujold. In this volume, Moon’s brilliant masterwork reaches its triumphant conclusion.

The mysterious reappearance of magery throughout the land has been met with suspicion, fear, and violence. In the kingdom of Lyonya, Kieri, the half-elven, half-human king, struggles to balance the competing demands of his heritage while fighting a deadly threat to his rule: evil elves linked in some way to the rebirth of magic.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring kingdom of Tsaia, a set of ancient artifacts recovered by the former mercenary Dorrin Verrakai may hold the answer to the riddle of magery’s return. Thus Dorrin embarks on a dangerous quest to return these relics of a bygone age to their all-but-mythical place of origin. What she encounters there will change her in unimaginable ways—and spell doom or salvation for the entire world.
I mentioned in yesterday's post that I was nearly finished reading Crown of Renewal. Well, I finished it, and all I can say at the moment is "Wow!".

Crown of Renewal is the fifth book in the Paladin's Legacy series by Elizabeth Moon, starting with Oath of Fealty (which is probably going to be my next read/reread), and maybe the final book. I'm not sure on that, as the ending is one that could go either way.

One thing about this series at this point - familiarity with the earlier books is a must. I was finding myself a bit lost at points because it's been a while since I read Kings of the North and Echoes of Betrayal, much less the earlier books. That's part of why I'm planning a big re-read of the series. I'd actually like to be able to re-read The Legacy of Gird, which I struggle with as well, as aspects of that book affect the current one.

It was rather neat as I was reading to go "OK, so this is what she was talking about on her blog" at various points - discussion of researching different kinds of boats for example.

Definitely a read I enjoyed and will read again.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rereads and a Reading Update

I've been doing a fair bit of re-reading over the last month and a bit, but I've also been away for a lot of that time as well - thus the lack of posts.

The thing with re-reading, especially here, is that I've already reviewed these books, sometimes more than once, and I'm having a lot of trouble thinking up new things to say about them. So, I'm going to cheat/take the lazy way and just group them together in this one post with links to my previous reviews.

The books are:
The Parafaith War by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Overall, I've found that L.E. Modesitt's books are often quite challenging to review, mostly due to the different layers to the story. His science fiction is some of my favorite as well, also due to those layers, which leave me thinking about different aspects of society.

This one, despite being well over a decade old, has aged very well. It's not dated in any way and still very relevant to our own world despite being set in a very far future world.

The Adept - Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
The Adept by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris.
Another favorite novel. This one's the first in a series of five books, fantasy and set in Scotland. Again, being an older book, I have to say that it's aged quite well. The first time I heard of this series would have been over a decade ago on a Mercedes Lackey mailing-list. If my memory's not playing tricks, it was in reference to someone asking for recommendations of other books they might like to read. So, if you like Mercedes Lackey, especially her Diana Tregarde books, these could be well worth your while to hunt down.

Adiamante by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Another thought-provoking science fiction novel that's aged very well. As I've noted in my earlier review of this book, it's a world that I don't know that I could live in, although there are some aspects that I really like - especially the environmental consciousness. At the same time, those are the same ones that I think I'd have the most trouble with.

Definitely worth a read though you might have to hunt to find this one.

If you're noticing a theme in this post, yes there is one. I've been on a bit of a L.E. Modesitt Jr. streak of late, and it's just going to continue. There's another of his books that I want to re-read: Gravity Dreams. And I finally can. For some reason over the last couple of years, my copy of the book simply disappeared. Maybe it's still hiding somewhere, packed away from my first move - five years ago now. (It's happened to me before. Only last month I rediscovered my original copy of Jo Graham's Black Ships, missing since that first move).

Anyway, I've been wanting to re-read Gravity Dreams for a while now with no luck in finding my copy. So, I ended up ordering another copy, which arrived last week.

The reading update portion of this post:
The Lady - Anne McCaffrey
The Lady by Anne McCaffrey
I'm about two thirds of the way through this one and struggling with it, even though I've read the book several times before and loved it. I think what's getting to me this time is the 1970's attitudes in Ireland. For some reason I'm really noticing them this time around.

Aside from that, it's a great story. Some romance, but I'd generally class this as regular fiction as half the story is from the daughter's point of view (13 year old), and more of a horse story than anything.

Crown of Renewal (Legend of Paksenarrion) - Elizabeth MoonI'm also still reading Elizabeth Moon's latest novel, Crown of Renewal. I can't believe it's taken me this long to get through it - no reflection on the quality of the book I have to say. My husband got interested in her books as well, and so I promised to read Crown of Renewal only while he's reading the first book, Oath of Fealty. From what he's said, he's really enjoying the read. It just takes him a while. Personally, I can't wait to get back to reading this one - then I'm going to be snatching back Oath of Fealty to start the whole cycle from book one.

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