Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Buying

I went on a bit of a book buying spree today - as hinted at in my last post, the review of Lynn Flewelling's Luck in the Shadows. I'd only intended to buy the next two books in the series, but I kept seeing more and more other books I wanted. I ended up with:

Best-Ever Vegetarian: The Definitive Cook's Collection
Linda Fraiser

The amazon.com product description (with typo corrections):
Whether you want to expand your existing repertoire of vegetarian recipes or embark on a healthier lifestyle, Best-Ever Vegetarian is delicious proof that eating the vegetarian way is not only nutritious, but an exciting & enticing experience too. '
I've been looking at this one for a few days now, and there are quite a few recipes that have caught my attention. I'm not a vegetarian in any way, but I don't mind meals without meat, and having a few more options is always a good thing. Every recipe has it's photo, and another neat thing is the nutritional information given for each recipe as well.

Stalking Darkness (Nightrunner vol. 2)
Lynn Flewelling

The amazon.com product description:
With the Leran threat laid to rest, Alec and Seregil are now able to turn their attention to the ancient evil which threatens their land. The Plenimarans, at war with Skalans, have decided to defeat their ancient enemy by raising up the Dead God, Seriamaius. The early attempts at this reincarnation--masterminded by the sinister Duke Mardus and his sorcerous minion Vargul Ashnazai--once left Seregil in a sorcerous coma. Now, an ancient prophecy points to his continuing role in the quest to stop Mardus in his dread purpose.

Seregil's friend and Mentor, the wizard Nysander, has long been the guardian of a deadly secret. In a secret, silver-lined room hidden well beneath the Oreska, he has served for most of his 300 years as the keeper of a nondescript clay cup. But this cup, combined with a crystal crown and some wooden disks, forms the Helm of Seriamaius, and any mortal donning the reconstructed Helm will become the incarnation of the god on earth.
Based on how much I enjoyed reading Luck in the Shadows, the first book in this series, I'm really looking forward to reading this one and the sequel. These, by the way, were the books I went out to buy.

Traitor's Moon (Nightrunner vol.3)
Lynn Flewelling

The amazon.com product description:
Seregil and Alec have spent the last two years in self-imposed exile, far from their adopted homeland, Skala, and the bitter memories there. But their time of peace is shattered by a desperate summons from Queen Idrilain, asking them to aid her daughter on a mission to Aurenen, the very land from which Seregil was exiled in his youth.
As I said for the previous book, I'm looking forward to reading this one and seeing what  Alec and Seregil get up to next.

And now, on to the inevitable additions of history books:

The Crusader States
Malcolm Barber

The amazon.com product description:
When the armies of the First Crusade wrested Jerusalem from control of the Fatimids of Egypt in 1099, they believed their victory was an evident sign of God's favor. It was, therefore, incumbent upon them to fulfill what they understood to be God's plan: to reestablish Christian control of Syria and Palestine. This book is devoted to the resulting settlements, the crusader states, that developed around the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and survived until Richard the Lionheart's departure in 1192. Focusing on Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, and Edessa, Malcolm Barber vividly reconstructs the crusaders' arduous process of establishing and protecting their settlements, and the simultaneous struggle of vanquished inhabitants to adapt to life alongside their conquerors.

Rich with colorful accounts of major military campaigns, the book goes much deeper, exploring in detail the culture of the crusader states—the complex indigenous inheritance; the architecture; the political, legal, and economic institutions; the ecclesiastical framework through which the crusaders perceived the world; the origins of the Knights Templar and the Hospitallers; and more. With the zest of a scholar pursuing a lifelong interest, Barber presents a complete narrative and cultural history of the crusader states while setting a new standard for the term "total history."
Looks interesting, and it's an aspect of medieval history that interests me. I have a dream of one day writing a novel set in and around the crusades, so I'm always on the lookout for books on the topic. I'm actually looking forward to reading this one with a binder and pen to take notes as I go.

Chronicles of the First Crusade
Ed. Christopher Tyerman

The Amazon.com product description:
The gripping story of the First Crusade, as witnessed by contemporary writers

The fall of Jerusalem in 1099 to an army of exhausted and starving western European soldiers was one of the most extraordinary events in history—with a legacy that remains controversial more than nine centuries later. This remarkable collection contains firsthand accounts from the knights, religious leaders, and peasants who experienced the First Crusade in all its cruelty and strangeness. Edited with an introduction and notes by one of the foremost experts on the Crusades, Chronicles of the First Crusade is a comprehensive look at the climax of Christian fervor and the record of an ultimately futile attempt to implant a European kingdom in an overwhelmingly Muslim world.
I've been eying this one for a while now - I'd like to know (more or less, anyway, knowing how speeches were recorded in the ancient and medieval world) what Pope Urban's speech that triggered the Crusades actually was. And that's among the other things contained in this book.

Christopher Tyerman has a good reputation as a historian as well - I had one of his books (The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction, also known as Fighting For Christendom) assigned as a textbook in one of my university courses.

Luck In The Shadows - Lynn Flewelling

Luck In The Shadows (Nightrunner vol.1)
Lynn Flewelling
Bantam Specra
Copyright: 1996

The amazon.com product description:
When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be…Luck in the Shadows.
I really do have to thank one of my former co-workers for introducing me to Lynn Flewelling's books. As good a read as she was saying it would be. Now I've got to go out and find the next two in the series, Stalking Darkness and Traitor's Moon.

Luck in the Shadows is an intriguing introduction to a complex and well-created world. However, it is also the first book in the series, and aggrivatingly, it ends with the words "to be continued". So, be warned that you'll probably want to buy the first two or even three books when you start reading.

I found that the characters and the world combined to grab and capture my interest, even when I should have been doing things other than reading - like working on the assignments for the indexing course I'm taking. It's definitely a sign of a good book when that happens.

Some people have said that Luck in the Shadows is a very slow paced book where not a lot happens, but I didn't find that at all. Instead I found a lot of intriguing build-up to the various plot-lines - there are several developing throughout the story, all of which seemed needed.

Definitely an author I'm going to recommend to anyone who likes fantasy novels, especially Mercedes Lackey's books and Elizabeth Moon's novels.

Personally, I can't wait to start the next book in the Nightrunner series.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Rambling: DVD/Blu-Ray Question

I'm calling this a "Book Rambling" post because of the style it's ended up as, even though it's not about books at all.

When you're buying DVD's or Blu-Rays, especially for TV seasons, are they for shows you've already seen on TV? or do you buy for shows you haven't seen but think might be interesting? In other words, how much of a risk do you take?

I'm asking because I seem to find myself doing the latter, and sometimes it works out, while others not so much. I guess in part, I'm wondering how to judge a promising looking season/show, or maybe I'm just judging too soon.

For example, I bought a couple of seasons of Stargate SG-1 a few years ago, not having watched any of the series - maybe an episode or two but I'm not sure. I was hooked immediately on watching the first episode, Children of the Gods. That fascination kept up all the way through the next nine and a half seasons - though I found the last couple of seasons not quite as much to my tastes. I think it's because I liked the original four characters and their interactions - somehow the addition of Cam and Vala didn't work quite as well for me.

Based on the SG-1 seasons I'd seen by that point, it made sense to buy the Stargate Atlantis seasons unseeen - still haven't gotten around to watching them though. It's the same world and premise though, just slightly different characters, I think.

I've gotten a number of other seasons of things where I've not seen the show prior to getting the dvds as well, the latest being the new Amanda Tapping show, Sanctuary. I'll admit that I've only seen the first episode so far, but it's not grabbed me the way Stargate did. Maybe I'm expecting too much from the show - half the reason I bought it was because Amanda Tapping is in it, and it's completely a different type of show. I'm definitely planning to watch more though.

I've been looking at the Game of Thrones DVD's as well, but the price is definitely holding me back. Well, that and the fact that I haven't been able to read my way through the first book in the series as well. I get to chapter ten and stall out, both times I've tried to read the book now.

What are the criteria you use when buying seasons of TV series that you haven't seen? Or, do people still buy seasons of TV series rather than simply streaming them from somewhere like Netflix?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shalador's Lady - Anne Bishop

Shalador's Lady
Anne Bishop
Roc Publishing
Copyright: March 2, 2010

The Amazon.com product description:
For years the Shalador people suffered the cruelties of the corrupt Queens who ruled them, forbidding their traditions, punishing those who dared show defiance, and forcing many more into hiding. Now that their land has been cleansed of tainted Blood, the Rose-Jeweled Queen, Lady Cassidy, makes it her duty to restore it and prove her ability to rule.

But even if Lady Cassidy succeeds, other dangers await. For the Black Widows see visions within their tangled webs that something is coming that will change the land-and Lady Cassidy-forever...
I've read Shalador's Lady before, and the link to my review is here. This is the sequel to The Shadow Queen (which I reviewed recently here), and the two books are really tied together. These ones do require you to read them in order for maximum enjoyment, and it's also helpful to be somewhat familiar with the storyline and characters from The Invisible Ring, as the history told there has a lot of influence on the current events in both The Shadow Queen and Shalador's Lady. Despite that, it's one of my favourite books in the Black Jewels world - although there are some short stories in the two collections that almost equal it. Certainly one of them cracks me up every time I read it.

Cassidy is a character that I really grew to like through both books - though, as usual, the Scelties really steal the day. She's a very down-to-earth character, which I liked. The other thing about her is that she wears possibly one of the lightest jewels for a character in this world. It makes a nice change to see how things are experienced for someone who's not one of the most powerful beings in any of the three Realms.

I also have to say that I love the cover art throughout this series. It's both gorgeous and slightly spooky - which fits the atmosphere of the stories in my mind.  
The world itself is very different from most of the fantasy-based worlds I've read too, both in terms of magic and in the power-structures. Even the geography, with the various Realms and the portals between stands out.

Despite that, I'll be honest and say that no matter how much I enjoy the world of the Black Jewels, I don't think the books are for everyone. The character attitudes might be rather shocking to some, and I wouldn't recommend this series to younger teens either. Adults only.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Real Bread - Success at Last!

I've said before that I wanted to be able to bake real yeast-breads at home as compared to the quick breads I've been doing for the last couple of months (Bread Baking - Take Two, and my review of Linda Collister's book Quick Breads). Well, last night and this morning I finally decided to give it another try. With a brand new bottle of yeast, I attempted the Country Loaf from Michael Smith's book The Best of Chef At Home.

It was easier than I thought it would be to make the dough, and overnight (the first rising period), the mixture about doubled in size in the bowl. Then, this morning it was a breeze to knead into the ball, then into a log and place it into the loaf pan.

After the second rise, the top of the dough was above the level of the loaf pan, and it gained I think almost another inch in the oven, where it turned the most perfect golden colour. I can't wait to slice into this loaf and see how it tastes.

Every time I've tried to bake yeast-breads in the past, I've had no luck with the rising. This time, it worked out perfectly.

Planning to have some of the bread for a late breakfast with the asparagus soldiers from Jamie at Home, one of Jamie Oliver's older cookbooks, but a newer acquisition in my collection.

Edited to add: The bread is delicious - somewhat more yeasty tasting than I'm used to, but delicious, with a great texture, and the eggs, with asparagus wrapped in bacon were divine. Worth the effort to make for sure (and I hate handling raw meat, which category bacon fits into). I'd do it again.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Shadow Queen - Anne Bishop

The Shadow Queen
Anne Bishop
New American Library
Copyright: 2008

From the chapters/indigo website:

From the national bestselling author of the new novel set in the "darkly fascinating world" ("SF Site") of the Black Jewels.
Dena Nehele is a land decimated by its past. Once it was ruled by corrupt Queens who were wiped out when the land was cleansed of tainted Blood. Now, only one hundred Warlord Princes stand without a leader and without hope.
Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line, desperate to find the key that reveals a treasure great enough to restore Dena Nehele. But first he needs to find a Queen who remembers the Blood's code of honor and lives by the Old Ways. The woman chosen to rule Dena Nehele, Lady Cassidy, is not beautiful and believes she is not strong. But she may be the only one able to convince bitter men to serve once again.
I've read The Shadow Queen before a few times now, and it and it's sequel, Shalador's Lady and these two are my favourites of the Black Jewels world. My original reviews for The Shadow Queen are here and here, and my review of Shalador's Lady is here.

I have to say, right off the bat that I love the cover art on all of the Black Jewels novels. To me it suits the story type and themes, not to mention the characters.

This is a world that I find that I can nearly always drop into and enjoy, even reading the books out of order, now that I've read and re-read them a few times. On the other hand, it's a world that drives me a little crazy at times too - some things about it are just a shade on the jarring side, such as some of the things that feel a little too modern for other elements of the world - coffee, some of the naming conventions - which stand out as only a couple of the characters are named that way, as compared to the uses of horses, carts etc. To be honest most of these grumbles come from my readings of the original Black Jewels trilogy, and not this duology though.

As I said though, this is an intriguing world and the magical structure is more or less unique in the way it works and the various limitations it has. Also, it's rather refreshing to read a book where it's not an automatic thing that the men are the rulers (although I'm generalizing quite a bit here).

Still, I quite like Cassidy and her love for the garden and the land, and it's nice to see a bit more of the fate of Jared's people. A large part of the more distant background referred to (though how distant that can be when there are characters alive who remember the characters from that book) is the tale told in The Invisible Ring, set distantly prior to the main trilogy.

Honestly, this series is not for everybody, but I quite like it, even though the books are something of a quick read. Still, The Shadow Queen made for a needed break from working on my assignments for the Berkley indexing course, and also is the first novel I've managed to finish in the last month or so.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey Movie Review

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
Racing Radagast through the blazing sun...

My apologies to Rolf Harris for the paraphrase of his Christmas carol, Six White Boomers, but if you've seen the movie in question, you'll know what I'm referring to. That's the only thing that came to mind for certain scenes.

It's been almost a month since the DVD was released, and you've either seen it, or (hopefully) read the book, so I'm not going to worry too much about spoilers at this point.

I should note right off that I'm something of a book purist - some might say extremely so. As such, based on the Lord of the Rings movies done by Peter Jackson, I didn't go to see The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey in theatres. Whereas I did go see the LOTR movies on their opening days.

So, I finally got around to seeing the new Hobbit movie. Right off the bat, I have to say I was expecting good things concerning sets and scenery - those they got right in the Lord of the Rings movies (only helped by the fact that my two favorite Tolkien artists were involved), and the same thing held true for this one. It was kind of nice seeing Rivendell and the Shire again. No complaints there.

I was surprised at how true to the text of the Hobbit and the dialogue Peter Jackson stayed (at least for the scenes that were in the actual book). Of course, I'm trusting my memory here on this, and it's been somewhere between five and ten years since I read The Hobbit - and what's more, all my Tolkien books have been packed away. Somewhat aggravating to say the least - there were a few times last night where I was wanting to be able to reach over and double-check some detail against the book. Still, it felt a bit like I could tick off the lines, starting with that rather famous line "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit. Not a dirty, nasty, wet hole....". Slightly changed, but still there.

Andy Serkis certainly did a good job as Gollum again. No quibbles there - I especially liked the scene where we're watching his face in the reflected water.

Now for the starting run of grumbling. I knew going into the movie that there were things that were going to annoy me about it - after all, it's another movie adaptation, and one done by Peter Jackson.

Did we really need the constant chasing by Azog and his minions? It added too many battles and special effects extravaganzas. To the point where I found the running battle/escape from the Goblins' caves under the Misty Mountains to be somewhat comedic. Probably not the effect they were going for.

The other running gripe was Jackson's portrayal of the dwarves as slobs with no table manners. Beer running down their beards, grabbing for food, etc, etc. My feelings on that change were probably not helped by the fact that I couldn't really tell them apart for the majority of the movie.

I've already alluded to Radagast's means of transportation at the start of this post. Rabbits pulling a sled. Really? That got comments from the rest of the audience as well - "Christmas in New Zealand" for example. I have to say, I didn't like Jackson's portrayal of the Brown Wizard at all.

There were also a number of scenes I found to echo scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies - Gandalf talking to the butterfly to bring the Eagles in The Hobbit, vs. Gandalf talking to the moth at the top of Isengard in the Lord of the Rings movies for example.

I have to say though, I was surprised at how little I found myself grumbling about Jackson's version of Bilbo. There were a couple of things - that he willingly started out on the adventure, for example, and his willingness to fight - my thoughts on the latter could be somewhat confused due to the length of time it's been since I read the book though, but I don't remember Bilbo doing much of any fighting at all.

Overall, I think Jackson did a slightly better job with this first movie in the Hobbit trilogy of movies than he did with the Lord of the Rings movies.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Rambling: Writing, Novels, Tolkien, History of Middle-Earth

So, what do all the things listed in the title have to do with each other? In this case, only that I got to thinking about the way we write things these days as compared to the way Tolkien did for example. Longhand form - however messy, as compared with typing on the computer. One is not better than the other - I still do both, albeit with most of my writing on the computer, but I still do some longhand, and have binders for various projects stashed around.

Yes, it's an open secret that one day I'd love to have managed to write a book, novel or non-fiction and get it published. In going back over one of those started projects (and the notes I've left in the margins for a second draft, should I ever get that far), I got to thinking about how much we know of the way J.R.R. Tolkien created Middle-Earth and wrote within it thanks to all the drafts and re-worked pages throughout his life. Hand-written and corrected, with things crossed out and rephrased, different colours of ink, written over top of typed. It's possible on each page to trace the evolution of a plot point, verse or story idea and to realize the amount of work that went into each sentence. Will we ever have that kind of information for any other author or novel again? Will we want to have it again?

Of course, even if we have that kind of information, will there ever be someone with the dedication of Christopher Tolkien to making all that information available to the public in an organized fashion?

I got to wondering about all this as I thought about the ease of editing and rewriting on the computer - a couple of clicks and the whole thing can be deleted only to start again - half the time, I think, all you're left with is more or less the final version. All the changes are more or less lost to history - should, of course, anyone be interested.

What kind of an impact does the computer have on writing? It's so easy to change things over and over. Of course, should you decide later that you preferred an earlier version of something, unless you did "save as" or pasted out the sections you're editing, you've got to try and reconstruct it from memory - and depending how long ago it was edited, that can be quite the challenge.

First draft, second draft, do they even exist any longer, seeing as half the time with the computer we can work within the same document? All the things we were taught to do in terms of essay writing and creative writing in English classes? Or, have they just been compressed.

I'm not saying that one form of writing is any better than the other - just that they're different and each has it's advantages for both the writer and for anyone coming along later. For example, the thought of essentially rewriting something I've already written isn't something I look forward to - at least not doing so by hand. On the other hand, having been through at least four major computer failures, the thought of keeping my writing in a format that isn't going to be lost by dropping it is extremely appealing - not to mention the problems that come from incompatible formats and older formats becoming unreadable to current software. That is something I see coming up on various author's blogs from time to time.

It's also another blow to things remaining available for posterity. Now, I'm sure that Tolkien never seriously thought about having something like the History of Middle Earth series published, but the papers involved did end up in university libraries, such as Marquette, and I for one, am glad for the effort that his son has made in editing and preparing them for publication - and not just the Middle-Earth stuff, but also Sigurd and Gudrun, and the soon-to-be-published Fall of Arthur.

In a sense, I guess I'm wondering if the discoveries of some "lost" work by an author of yesteryear (both literary and musical) is also a thing of yesteryear, or if a century or so from now, they'll be discovering manuscripts hidden away in basements and attics from the authors of today - or will they be only unreadable computer files, if that?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bread Baking, Take Two

Last month I posted a review of Linda Collister's book Quick Breads. Since then, I've not bought a loaf of bread. I've been making loaves of quick-breads instead. Since that review, I've added the brown soda-bread variation to my repertoire with great success, and a properly done pumpernickel and fig loaf. I'm also planning to try the quick rye bread soon - I've got the ingredients. The only thing holding me off on this one is that it should be made the day before you want to use it. One of the draws to making my own breads is the wonderful taste and texture of the fresh, hot bread with real butter melting into it.

As well, I tried one of the quick breads from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything (the yellow edition) - an apple loaf. Tasty, but an entirely different texture. I don't know yet if all of the quick bread recipes in Bittman's book have the same texture, but I think so, given the descriptions of the method used in the book. He uses minimal mixing in order to retard the formation of gluten, making the texture of the loaf more like that of a pound cake rather than a true bread.

I've discovered that I prefer a more "bready" texture to the caky one in this latest attempt. Mostly because I want to use the bread with cheeses, meats and jams, all the same things you can do with "real" or yeast breads.

Really, I've got to figure out how to make yeast-breads successfully. I've tried it a few times, but had no successes to date. Until then, these soda breads and baking powder breads will do very well. They're certainly fun to make, and I look forward to each loaf being finished up because it means that I get to make another loaf.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...