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.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Newest Diana Gabaldon

Just spotted this one yesterday on the ferry:

Written In My Own Heart's Blood - Diana Gabaldon
Written In My Own Heart's Blood
Diana Gabaldon
Delacorte Press
Copyright Date: June 10, 2014
978-0385344432

The amazon.com product description:
In her now classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon told the story of Claire Randall, an English ex-combat nurse who walks through a stone circle in the Scottish Highlands in 1946, and disappears . . . into 1743. The story unfolded from there in seven bestselling novels, and CNN has called it “a grand adventure written on a canvas that probes the heart, weighs the soul and measures the human spirit across [centuries].” Now the story continues in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.

1778: France declares war on Great Britain, the British army leaves Philadelphia, and George Washington’s troops leave Valley Forge in pursuit. At this moment, Jamie Fraser returns from a presumed watery grave to discover that his best friend has married his wife, his illegitimate son has discovered (to his horror) who his father really is, and his beloved nephew, Ian, wants to marry a Quaker. Meanwhile, Jamie’s wife, Claire, and his sister, Jenny, are busy picking up the pieces.

The Frasers can only be thankful that their daughter Brianna and her family are safe in twentieth-century Scotland. Or not. In fact, Brianna is  searching for her own son, who was kidnapped by a man determined to learn her family’s secrets. Her husband, Roger, has ventured into the past in search of the missing boy . . . never suspecting that the object of his quest has not left the present. Now, with Roger out of the way, the kidnapper can focus on his true target: Brianna herself.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood is the brilliant next chapter in a masterpiece of the imagination unlike any other.
I was surprised to see this one yesterday as I hadn't had any inkling that there was a new Diana Gabaldon coming up. Of course, to be honest, I haven't read past The Fiery Cross either, so I have some catching up to do.

In fact, having started on that catching up with A Breath of Snow and Ashes, I'm finding myself completely lost. I can't remember much from the previous books at all. For example, what the heck happened to Roger's voice? That's just from the first chapter... Hopefully I'll find myself remembering things as I read more as I go on.

Either way, despite finding the blurb for the newest book confusing - Obviously a lot of the story rests on the events of A Breath of Snow and Ashes and An Echo In The Bone, I can't wait until I get to read this newest book.

Not to mention getting a chance to get a look at the new Outlander TV show.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Upcoming Books - Through October

There are a lot of good looking books in the works over the next few months, beginning with one I featured on it's own:

Beowulf - J.R.R. Tolkien
Beowulf
J.R.R. Tolkien
Release Date: May 22, 2014
978-0544442788

The amazon.com product description:
The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.

From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision. It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel’s terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot.

But the commentary in this book includes also much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, he expressed his wider perceptions. He looks closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf "snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup"; but he rebuts the notion that this is "a mere treasure story", "just another dragon tale". He turns to the lines that tell of the burying of the golden things long ago, and observes that it is "the feeling for the treasure itself, this sad history" that raises it to another level. "The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real. The ‘treasure’ is not just some lucky wealth that will enable the finder to have a good time, or marry the princess. It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination."

Sellic spell, a "marvellous tale", is a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the "historical legends" of the Northern kingdoms.
On to the usual suspects of authors I keep an eye out for when it comes to new books:

Blood Red (Elemental Masters) - Mercedes Lackey
Blood Red
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Release Date: June 3, 2014
978-0756408978

The amazon.com product description:
Rosamund is an Earth Master in the Schwarzwald, the ancient Black Forest of Germany. Since the age of ten, she has lived with her teacher, the Hunt Master and Earth Magician of the Schwarzwald Foresters, a man she calls “Papa.” Her adoptive Papa rescued her after her original Earth Master teacher, an old woman who lived alone in a small cottage in the forest, was brutally murdered by werewolves. Rosa herself barely escaped, and this terrifying incident molded the course of her future.

For like her fellow Earth Masters of the Schwarzwald Lodge, Rosa is not a healer. Instead, her talents lead her on the more violent path of protection and defense— “cleansing” the Earth and protecting its gentle fae creatures from those evil beings who seek to do them harm.

And so Rosa becomes the first woman Hunt Master and the scourge of evil creatures, with a deadly specialty in werewolves and all shape­shifters.

While visiting with a Fire Master—a friend of her mentor from the Schwarzwald Lodge— Rosa meets a pair of Elemental Magicians from Hungary who have come looking for help. They suspect that there is a dark power responsible for a string of murders happening in the remote countryside of Transylvania, but they have no proof. Rosa agrees to help them, but there is a catch: one of the two men asking for aid is a hereditary werewolf.

Rosa has been taught that there are three kinds of werewolves. There are those, like the one that had murdered her teacher, who transform themselves by use of dark magic, and also those who have been infected by the bite of these magical werewolves—these poor victims have no control over their transforma­tive powers. Yet, there is a third kind: those who have been born with the ability to trans­form at will. Some insist that certain of these hereditary werewolves are benign. But Rosa has never encountered a benign werewolf!

Can she trust this Hungarian werewolf? Or is the Hunter destined to become the Hunted?
I think that Mercedes Lackey has finally gotten around to a version of Little Red Riding Hood in her retellings of fairy-tales.

Closer To Home: Book One of 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?
House of Four Winds - Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
The House of Four Winds
Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Tor Books
Release Date: August 5, 2014
978-0765335654

The amazon.com product description:
Mercedes Lackey is the New York Times bestselling author of the Valdemar series and romantic fantasies like Beauty and the Werewolf and The Fairy Godmother. JAMES MALLORY and Lackey have collaborated on six novels. Now. these New York Times and USA Today bestselling collaborators bring romance to the fore with The House of Four Winds.

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers. 

This is one I'm definitely looking forward to, with less than a month to go:

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.
There's also this one:

Shattered Shields
Shattered Shields (BAEN)
Ed. Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Baen Books
Release Date: November 4, 2014
978-1476737010

The amazon.com product description:
Swords and Shields. Faith and Magic.

Grab yours and get ready, for the enemy is on the move.

High fantasy and mighty conflicts go hand-in-hand. In great wars, armies rise to fight evil hordes and heroes struggle to push beyond their imperfections and save the day. These stories include more than just epic landscapes and characters...but also epic battles.

Imagine a doctor struggling to identify the spy who has infiltrated his company's ranks and poisoned his colleagues or a boy suspected of murder by a king yet protected by a princess as he helps her father against his own people. Imagine a butcher discovering that he's called to lead an uprising, or a First Born knowing that she must betray her own in order to save humanity.

The possibilities are endless, but at the heart they have this in common: soldiers--ordinary and otherwise-struggling against extraordinary odds to survive the day. They must withstand dark magic, dodge enemy blades, and defy the odds to survive SHATTERED SHIELDS.

Table of Contents:
Ashes and Starlight (Runelords) by David Farland
The Fixed Stars (October Daye) by Seanan McGuire
The Keeper of Names by Larry Correia
The Smaller We Are by John Helfers
Invictus by Annie Bellet
Rising Above by Sarah A. Hoyt
A Cup of Wisdom by Joseph Zieja
Words of Power by Wendy N. Wagner
Lightweaver in Shadow by Gray Rinehart
Hoofsore and Weary by Cat Rambo
Vengeance (Frost) by Robin Wayne Bailey
Deadfall by Nancy Fulda
Yael of the Strings by John R. Fultz
The Gleaners by Dave Gross
Bonded Men by James L. Sutter
Bone Candy (Black Company) by Glen Cook
First Blood (Paksenarrion) by Elizabeth Moon
There's a lot of names there that I recognize...
This is another one I'm looking forward to, though I'm likely to wait for the paperback to match the rest of the series. However, there's a lot of new material there. The only one I recognize is the story Alpha And Omega, published in On The Prowl.

Shifting Shadows: Stories From The World Of Mercy Thompson - Patricia Briggs
Shifting Shadows: Stories From The World Of Mercy Thompson
Patricia Briggs
Ace
Release Date: September 2, 2014
978-0425265000

The amazon.com product description:
Mercy Thompson’s world just got a whole lot bigger…

A collection of all-new and previously published short stories featuring Mercy Thompson, “one of the best heroines in the urban fantasy genre today” (Fiction Vixen Book Reviews), and the characters she calls friends…

Includes the new stories…
“Silver”
“Roses in Winter”
“Redemption”
“Hollow”

…and reader favorites
“Fairy Gifts”
“Gray”
“Alpha and Omega”
“Seeing Eye”
“The Star of David”
“In Red, with Pearls”
Laurell K. Hamilton is still going strong with her series about Merry Gentry:

Shiver of Light - Laurell K. Hamilton
A Shiver of Light
Laurell K. Hamilton
Berkley Hardcover
Release Date: June 3, 2014
978-0425255667

The amazon.com product description:
I am Princess Meredith NicEssus. Legal name Meredith Gentry, because “Princess” looks so pretentious on a driver’s license. I was the first faerie princess born on American soil, but I wouldn’t be the only one for much longer...

Merry Gentry, ex–private detective, now full-time princess, knew she was descended from fertility goddesses, but when she learned she was about to have triplets, she began to understand what that might mean. Infertility has plagued the high ranks of faerie for centuries. Now nobles of both courts of faerie are coming to court Merry and her men, at their home in exile in the Western Lands of Los Angeles, because they will do anything to have babies of their own.

Taranis, King of Light and Illusion, is a more dangerous problem. He tried to seduce Merry and, failing that, raped her. He’s using the human courts to sue for visitation rights, claiming that one of the babies is his. And though Merry knows she was already pregnant when he took her, she can’t prove it.

To save herself and her babies from Taranis she will use the most dangerous powers in all of faerie: a god of death, a warrior known as the Darkness, the Killing Frost, and a king of nightmares. They are her lovers, and her dearest loves, and they will face down the might of the high courts of faerie—while trying to keep the war from spreading to innocent humans in Los Angeles, who are in danger of becoming collateral damage.
I've definitely fallen behind on this series!
The next book is a bit of a change of pace from fantasy and paranormal romance:

China Dolls - Lisa See
China Dolls: A Novel
Lisa See
Random House
Release Date: June 3, 2014
978-0812992892

The amazon.com product description:
The New York Times bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls has garnered international acclaim for her great skill at rendering the intricate relationships of women and the complex meeting of history and fate. Now comes Lisa See’s highly anticipated new novel, China Dolls.

It’s 1938 in San Francisco: a world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.

The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.
I think this is going to be a book that's perfect for people who liked Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy. My favorite Lisa See novel to date though, is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Elizabeth W. Barber

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years
Elizabeth W. Barber
W. W. Norton and Company
Copyright: 2005
978-0393313482

The amazon.com product description:
New discoveries about the textile arts reveal women's unexpectedly influential role in ancient societies.

Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibers. In fact, right up to the Industrial Revolution the fiber arts were an enormous economic force, belonging primarily to women.

Despite the great toil required in making cloth and clothing, most books on ancient history and economics have no information on them. Much of this gap results from the extreme perishability of what women produced, but it seems clear that until now descriptions of prehistoric and early historic cultures have omitted virtually half the picture.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber has drawn from data gathered by the most sophisticated new archaeological methods—methods she herself helped to fashion. In a "brilliantly original book" (Katha Pollitt, Washington Post Book World), she argues that women were a powerful economic force in the ancient world, with their own industry: fabric.
Highly recommended, and an interesting read as it turned out. There are points where it feels a bit more "popular" rather than scholarly in tone, but Elizabeth Barber clearly knows what she's talking about in this book. And, a lot of that is from her own experiences as a weaver.

I like the approach that she's taken with this book, combining linguistics, literature and archaeology to trace the history of spinning and weaving through pre-history and into the Minoan and Mycenaean times. From that, I learned quite a bit about fiber choices and preparation methods through those time-periods: nettles, flax and hemp preparation for spinning, for example, and innumerable hints about the techniques and skills various groups of people were using.

She even traces the theorized migrations of the different tribes and groups through the use of the different types of loom-weights and linguistic changes.

One of the big things that I learned on reading Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years aside from just about everything I now know about the processing of vegetable fibres, was about the two different types of loom that were used. I was slightly familiar (through reading) with the vertical loom of the style shown in the Greek black-figure vases, but knew nothing about the ground-looms that were used in Egypt through much of the same time-period.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles with the book - such as the way in the first chapter, she jumps from the spindle to the treadle-powered spinning wheel, completely skipping the great wheel. On the whole though, those are small things, and this book is one I'd recommend to anyone interested in women's history or the history of spinning and weaving - not always the same thing though.

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years is well illustrated, both with photos, maps and line drawings. However, all of them are in black and white. I wish there had been some color imagery, but perhaps color would have detracted from the clarity of the images in some cases.

Now, if only I could find a book like this for the Classical era through the Middle Ages, or even the modern period.

Definitely a book that I'm going to be keeping on my shelves though.

Reading this book does (at least in my mind) count towards the History Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Upcoming Tolkien Title - Beowulf

This is a book that I've heard rumors of for over a decade now: J.R.R. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf.
Beowulf - J.R.R. Tolkien
Beowulf
J.R.R. Tolkien
Release Date: May 22, 2014
978-0544442788

The amazon.com product description:
The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.

From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision. It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel’s terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot.

But the commentary in this book includes also much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, he expressed his wider perceptions. He looks closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf "snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup"; but he rebuts the notion that this is "a mere treasure story", "just another dragon tale". He turns to the lines that tell of the burying of the golden things long ago, and observes that it is "the feeling for the treasure itself, this sad history" that raises it to another level. "The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real. The ‘treasure’ is not just some lucky wealth that will enable the finder to have a good time, or marry the princess. It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination."

Sellic spell, a "marvellous tale", is a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the "historical legends" of the Northern kingdoms.
I own and have read other translations of Beowulf, including the Chickering edition, but even so, I've been looking forward to this one for a while. J.R.R. Tolkien was a known expert on the subject and I'd really like to find out what he had to say.

Definitely, I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this one. May 22 can't come soon enough for me.

Monday, April 28, 2014

From Wool To Waulking (DVD) - Norman Kennedy

From Wool To Waulking: Spinning Wool and Creating Cloth
From Wool To Waulking: Spinning Wool and Creating Cloth With Norman Kennedy
Norman Kennedy
Interweave Press
Copyright: November 2012
978-1596686830

The amazon.com product description:
The History! The Stories! The Techniques! Join Norman Kennedy in an enthralling workshop about spinning, weaving, and waulking wool. Following his passion for weaving and knitting around the British Isles and around the world, Norman Kennedy watched traditional artisans making textiles as they had for generations. By listening to their stories and learning their craft, Norman preserved skills that were on the verge of disappearing. Now you have the chance to experience these traditions, learn the stories, and gain valuable spinning techniques with this workshop! In this video workshop, he teaches a new generation of spinners these techniques: Oiling wool for carding Using hand cards to prepare rolls and batts Dressing and spinning with a distaff Creating Shetland-style lace yarn Successfully spinning wool with a variety of spindles, a treadle wheel, and a great wheel The workshop culminates in a waulking, a method for fulling cloth that brings people together to finish cloth by hand-led and accompanied by Norman's singing in a variety of languages. In a bonus segment, Norman demonstrates using a traditional indigo dye vat and discusses a variety of natural dye techniques. Norman Kennedy teaches using the rich past as his course.
I bought Waulking with Wool a couple of months ago now on the strength of this sample clip:


I have to say that the rest of the video more than equals that clip. I've watched the whole thing once and the first disc a second time, with the full intent of watching it several more times as I try and figure out the techniques that Norman Kennedy demonstrates.

I'd also like to try out a spindle like the one he's demonstrating on and see how well that works - or not - I'm pretty used to a drop spindle now after almost ten years of using one and I'm trying to figure out the supported spindle and it's techniques intermittently - planning a month long blitz on that one for May thanks to a couple of Ravelry challenges.

Norman Kennedy seems, in the video, to imply that drop spindles were/are less common historically than more supported style spindles, but I've seen quite a few depictions of drop spindles in the art of the ancient world and in medieval illuminated manuscripts. I'd love to be able to discuss that a bit more, if only to find out if I'm misinterpreting what he's saying.

You really get your money's worth on this one: two discs making a total of three hours of clear and detailed spinning instruction. But, even non-spinners find this interesting watching. It's all interspersed with anecdotes, personal history, history in general and even folk-lore - including some traditional songs involved in fibre-crafts (something I wouldn't mind hearing more about. I wonder if any of these are on his cd?). I started watching it with some other spinners for the second watch, and they were finding little bits of things to try as well, and these are people who have much more experience than I do, so there's stuff here for spinners at all levels.

At this point in time the section of the video I'm focused on is the beginning half of the first disc: the initial fibre-preparation descriptions and instructions: cleaning, processing, and carding. All the things you have to do with a raw fleece before you can spin it.

Next time I'm watching, I'll probably be paying a lot more attention to another section of the dvd. Perhaps it'll be where he's spinning on the flax-wheel and how he's controlling the twist going into the singles. I've watched that a couple of times and when I've tried it myself, it just feels really uncomfortable. I don't know if that's because I've been doing it the way I have for so long, or if it's because of how and where my wheel is set up - I'm right next to a wall, so I'm sitting a little off-center from my wheel, and the orifice is more in line with my left hand, while I'm right handed. Comfortable enough with the way I've been handling the roving, but for his method, it feels like I'm trying to work across my body.

Overall though, this is definitely the best spinning resource I've found to date - short of being able to spin live with someone more experienced who can demonstrate, correct and answer questions as I'm working. Still this is pretty close.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Latest Crochet Project Started and Finished

My latest crochet project, the Aruba Storage Basket from Crochet In A Snap:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0017342LM/ref=as_li_ss_il?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0017342LM&linkCode=as2&tag=alboup00-20
Where the original pattern called for solid colored yarn, I happened to have a couple of skeins of the multicolored line, pictured to the right, which I used instead. Also, I omitted the colored stripes from the pattern - which possibly made the process somewhat more boring. Next time I think I want to try doing this pattern in something closer to the suggested yarns, although I really don't care for Red Heart Super Saver. I find it to be quite scratchy on my hands as I work. Still, for this kind of project it works well, and I will use it again.

One of the things I did like about this basket is just how quickly it worked up. I got it finished in about three days. It's also pretty sturdy, probably because of the way the stitches were all done with two strands of yarn - a first for me.

I found that the best way of dealing with the project was to use two skeins at the same time, rather than to try doing something like winding half of a skein into a new ball to work with. A rather good choice, as I have the feeling that to use one skein for this project, it would have to be a jumbo skein - I used up nearly all of both skeins.

Simple stitches, but some new techniques nonetheless. I like it, and I'll probably end up making more of these storage baskets.

And, a third photo. So cute, I just couldn't resist:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring Gardener Greenhouse

I know, I know, this is a book blog. So, what am I doing posting about greenhouses of all subjects?

Well, now we have the house with lots of yard-space and a vegetable garden under construction. So, I've wanted to have a greenhouse for a few years now - especially now I'm planning to start growing things from seeds, rather than buying everything in pots in order to save money.

There was no way we could easily build one from scratch, but we saw a nice little kit at the store: the Spring Gardener Greenhouse kit, which bills itself to be easy to assemble with no tools needed.

Two windows open, showing the bug netting
that covers the inside.
 Of the three sizes available, we decided on the middle one: 8 feet wide by 10 feet long by 8 feet high in the middle. The other two sizes were 6x8x7 and 10x20x9, which we decided would be way too large for our needs.

Our initial impressions of the setup:
Very simple and easy to do, although even with the labeling of the poles and joints, it is possible to connect them wrong. It's easy to fix though, as all the pieces are connected by wing-nut bolts - as they say, no tools (other than a stepladder) needed.

Overall, it took us about at most two hours to assemble and pull the covering fabric over the frame. And then, the two of us were easily able to lift and carry the greenhouse for short distances to get it put in exactly the spot we wanted it. The ladder was used in two places: tightening the bolts along the roof-line, which were out of my reach, and also for making it easier to lift the cover over the roof.
The Spring Gardener Greenhouse end view
with both doors rolled open and fastened up.


We've anchored it down with tent-pegs, and that seems to be holding the greenhouse firmly. One very important thing while anchoring the greenhouse: make sure that the legs are not splayed outwards at all, or the zippers on the doors won't close.

Other than that, which was about a ten minute fix at most, everything with the greenhouse is working as it should be: the doors zip and unzip nicely, the velcro for the windows works, and what's more, it's definitely warmer inside the greenhouse than it is outside.

Now I just have to come up with some plant stands and or a workbench/table for inside so I can work in there as well as having a place for all the seedlings and their little pots to sit.

Once seedling season is over, I'm planning to use the greenhouse for growing tomatoes and peppers - neither of which I've had much luck with in the past in other gardens. On balconies though, it's been a slightly different story - so maybe the extra warmth of the greenhouse will be the trick.

What are your favorite vegetables to grow in the greenhouse? I'd love to know, because I'm sure it's useful for more than just tomatoes and peppers.

I'd also love to know how effective or not a greenhouse is at extending the growing season into the fall and winter for things like lettuces and other greens.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Current Projects

Of late I've been really into spinning and working with fleeces. The current enthusiasm, I think is partly because spinning and yarn-craft is something that works well with the lifestyle I'm trying to encourage in my new home, but mostly I simply enjoy it. The regular arrival of Spin-Off magazine, and other new spinning-related items, including a fleece I have to process and card before I can spin it are also keeping my mind geared towards spinning.

Above is my current project, a 50g Fleece Artist braid of silk and mohair that I got quite a few years ago now. I'm spinning it as finely as I can, with an eye to attempting a chain ply once the singles have been spun.
This is the first of three skeins (two full-size from my jumbo bobbins and flyer) and the third only half the length, yardage unknown that I spun and chain-plied from a pound of shetland rams' fleece - the same ram that I have the last fleece from.


Aside from spinning, I've also been doing a lot of work outside, fencing in an area to use as a vegetable garden and putting up a green house from a kit. The last few things I need to do before we can start planting are to put in the frames for the raised beds, get the soil to fill them and to make a table for inside the greenhouse.

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