Monday, November 23, 2015

The Secret Country

Pamela Dean's The Secret Country is the first book in her Secret Country Trilogy. Laura, Ted, and their three cousins Ellen, Ruth, and Patrick have been playing their make believe game, The Secret, every summer. But this year, the cousins have moved to Australia, so Ted and Laura are sent to stay with some of their other cousins. These other cousins are nice enough, but it isn't the same! They want to be playing the Secret.

But then the two of them find a sword under a hedge. Hanging onto it transports them into a magical world where their three cousins are already waiting. It seems that the Secret exists. They have been transported to the beginning of their game. And the five of them are expected to play their parts.
But how can they? Ted, playing crown prince Edward, is no sword-fighter. Princess Laura is supposed to be the most graceful person in the world (when in reality Laura is a klutz) and love horses (which Laura is terrified of). What's more, they don't know the people they are supposed to. How will they make it through the feasts and councils without being discovered?

Honestly, that's an excellent question. I'm not entirely sure how they made it through book one without much more than weird looks being thrown their way from time to time.

The Secret Country is the first novel I've read in over a month. I was feeling rather starved for story, which is quite possibly why I made it through reading it. I honestly had a bit of a hard time with the beginning of it, because it's a bit confusing at times. I had a harder time of it though once the story really got going; Laura is the main character, and she's really boring. You can expect her to fall every time she moves, or to drop the things she holds. And she has no courage at all, which translates into her just wanting to go home or hide whenever anything is happening. I do suspect this was on purpose, and that Laura will grow over the course of the trilogy. But much like in Mockingjay, when Katniss is confused and not caring, it makes for boring reading.

Another thing that I admit bothered me at first was how the solutions to things seemed to be something the children would think of with no real foreshadowing, like Shan's Ring. When Shan's Ring was first mentioned, it felt rather like a deus ex machina sort of thing. But the more I thought about it, Dean's introduction to the ring seemed fitting because this is a world that children made up; why wouldn't they be able to make up the solution as they go, too. So in the end I have to commend Dean; the world of The Secret Country really does feel like a children's make believe game.

I am torn on whether or not I'd be interested in reading the other books in this trilogy. All the way through I was thinking the answer to that question would be a resounding "no," but right at the end I admit I got a bit more intrigued. It felt rather like this was when the story really started. So I guess we'll see if it was intriguing enough or not.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Victor's Legacy: First of the Forsaken

What if Victor Frankenstein's monster survived into the zombie apocalypse and became a badass monster fighter? That's the question Matthew Jowett, Andrew Sookram, and Chris "Merk" Merkley set out to answer in Victor's Legacy: First of the Forsaken Book One. William, Frankenstein's monster has been providing for a village of survivors while remaining aloof from them; he knows what happens whenever humans encounter him. But when a new breed of zombies destroys "his" village, he seeks the road and a new destination. He falls in with Angel Eyes' crew of bikers when he saves one of them from the new zombies. After initially wanting to kill him for looking like a zombie, Angel Eyes agrees to keep him when William convinces them he can move through the zombies unharmed.

Unfortunately for the entire crew, Angel Eyes becomes more and more power hungry and mad, ordering them to attack and steal from (or possibly kill) innocents. And so William is left to either follow Angel Eyes into madness or betray the only real family he has ever had.
Merk's art brilliantly brings William's tale to life. I'm definitely going to have to check out the continuing adventure because I definitely want more!!!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Apocalyptigirl: an Aria for the End Times

Wow, two books in one night with me having nothing really to say! I found Andrew MacLean's Apocalyptigirl: an Aria for the End Times at work today. I'm not going to lie, I took it out because there was a girl and a cat on the cover. I wanted to see an apocalypse story with a cat companion. And in that regard, Apocalyptigirl didn't disappoint.

But beyond that, I didn't really get much else. Aria and Jelly Beans are trying to find a powerful relic (and fix up an old mech?) Two groups of people are fighting each other; one of them takes an interest in her after she kills their hunting dogs (in self defence). A third bunch of people caused the world's problems; they show up later for some reason and start blasting. Aria is from a fourth people (I don't know who, or really why they wanted the relic beyond "it is super powerful.") Honestly this was a weird story. With all the exposition Aria gave, I feel like I should've had a better idea of what was going on than I did. The art style was fun though. Although even with that, I had a hard time following a lot of the action.
So yeah, that was Apocalyptigirl.

Compost: the Natural Way to Make Food for Your Garden

I don't really have anything to say about Ken Thompson's Compost: the Natural Way to Make Food for Your Garden.  My parents started composting just before I moved out.  It was great to have so much less garbage.  So I started composting this summer, too, and wanted to learn more about it.  And while Thompson's book wasn't really that technical, the stuff he said about Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) ratios really didn't stay with me (it didn't help that I was falling asleep the night I started reading this).  The main thing I took from his book was the end sentence: "Even if you do everything wrong, you will still make decent compost eventually."  What a great sentiment for someone like me who is new to composting.  :)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Strong Female Protagonist Book One

I'm still trying to power through my stack of Macleans magazines (I've got 3.5 to go) but I realized I was getting sick of them.  So I read Strong Female Protagonist last night.  It's about Mega Girl (Alison Green), a biodynamic girl who is invincible and super strong.  She was fighting monsters and giant robots like a superhero, which was fun until a mind-reading super villain named Menace showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy where biodynamic individuals who would have been able to genuinely make the world a better place had been killed. 

So she has quit being a superhero (publicly unmasking herself) and has instead enrolled in college.  But she's having a hard time because she's different and everyone knows it.  Her philosophy teacher failed her paper because he doesn't think she can understand the human condition, and when she complains about this the professor is fired; the school doesn't want to risk angering her.  And of course it isn't easy to just quit being a superhero.  When one of the villains she incarcerated finds out where she is, he shows up to fight her in the middle of the school.

Then Alison goes to visit a biodynamic friend named Feral and discovers Feral is going to make an incredible sacrifice.  That's when Alison realizes that saving the world is going to take even more that she thought it would.

I loved how the characters were very real and flawed individuals.  Especially since these biodynamics were all fourteen year olds when they got their "powers."  They made mistakes because they weren't grown up yet (and ended up pulled from their families).  This was a very real look at what might happen if superheroes became real.

Strong Female Protagonist is a very deep and thought-provoking read.  It's awesome that they got Book One published through Kickstarter; I hope to see more books in the future!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Learn Twitter in 10 Minutes

I got a few books on social media from the library today.  I wasn't originally going to take Lynn C. Schreiber's Learn Twitter in 10 Minutes because I wanted something a little more advanced.  But in the end I figured why not?  It promised to be a quick read, which seemed like a great introduction to Twitter, which is exactly what it was.  Schreiber covers all the basics, from signing up to following people and using RTs, MTs(modified tweets, something I didn't know), and hashtags.  This is a great book for anyone new to Twitter.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Troubled Waters

When I was visiting Chapters awhile ago with my brother, Sharon Shinn's Royal Airs caught my attention.  It sounded like a standalone story, so I didn't mind reading it.  But knowing it was book two of her Elemental Blessings series kind of bothered me. So at the first chance I got, I picked up the first book, Troubled Waters.

Earlier this week I realized I had to write a book review.  Having not read anything for a few weeks besides Macleans magazines (my brother has been giving them to me and I'm quite behind on reading them), I decided I should read a book fast.  I was thinking of reading The Secret Country by Pamela Dean, but I found myself really, really wanting to read Troubled Waters instead.  For one thing, I've read only short stories by Shinn and have been wanting to read one of her novels for some time now.  For another, her Elemental Blessings novels really appeal to me right now: if I get super into the series, there's currently only one more out, which I have (unlike with her Samaria series - if I start Archangel and love it, I'll have to track down the other four books!)

So Troubled Waters is about Zoe Ardelay, a girl who has spent the last ten years living in a small village with her father, a former royal advisor.  After her father passes away, the new royal advisor, Darien Serlast, arrives to inform her she has been chosen to be the king's fifth wife. 

On their journey to the city, Zoe is a shell of herself, still deeply grieving her father's very recent death.  But when they arrive in the city, she seizes a moment to disappear, staying with the other people who live alongside the river.  Slowly she begins to heal, making a life for herself there.  But she knows it is only temporary, for she will have to decide what she will do.  For she is born of one of the Five Great Houses, and she knows she will not be content to live by the river forever.

But then she makes an even more astonishing discovery - she is the heir to her mother's family, a secret that has been kept from her her entire life.  And so she goes to reclaim her heritage.  A heritage that means she will have to return to the city, the King's court, and to Darien Serlast, but this time as the prime of a powerful family. 

I wasn't sure what exactly I was going to get out of Troubled Waters.  I've basically just given you the summary of the back of the book.  But honestly, that pretty much gets you halfway through the book.  The second half of the book is actually a court drama that Zoe is thrust into the middle of.  What made it super interesting was not only the schemings of the king's four wives and the presence of Darien Serlast (a man of wood and bone, who was totally at odds with Zoe's water and blood heritage and personality), but the way Zoe was able to play the court games even after having been living in exile with her father for ten years.  She didn't really care about a lot of what was going on, but she was playing the games anyway, mainly because she had to - she is now the head of the Lalindar family and needs to keep up their position.  But she's also part of the Ardelay family, and wants to bring them back into favour with the court and the king.

Shinn's worldbuilding was quite awesome - I loved the world of the Elemental Blessings.  This is a world where the number five is incredibly important.  At birth, a child's father goes up to three strangers to acquire three random blessings for the child, which come from the five elements (or if the child is extremely lucky, from the sixth set of extraordinary blessings).  Most people have a main element that they have an affinity to, be it water/blood (coru), wood/bone (hunti), fire/mind (sweela), air/soul (elay), or earth/flsh (torz).  This tends to be quite pronounced in the Five Great Families.  The head of each family also has extraordinary power, being able to command the element they have an affinity for.  So in Zoe's case, she can call water to do her bidding, she will not drown, and she can actually feel the make-up of anyone's blood if she can touch their skin.  The seasons are also organized into five, which are also named after the elements (Quinnelay, Quinncoru, Quinnahunti, Quinnatorz, and Quinnasweela).

Oh yeah, and you can wander into a temple and pull random blessings during a day.  These blessings can help give you direction for what's going on in your life.

I also really liked that all the people in this book is that they all felt real: they were all flawed human beings in their own way.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I actually liked Troubled Waters so much that it made its way onto my favourites shelf on Goodreads, something that doesn't happen all that often (the last book to make it there was Elizabeth Bear's By the Mountain Bound, which I read in January).  The characters were believable, Shinn's descriptions were great, everything was great.  Troubled Water was exactly the sort of book I expected from her after reading the couple of short stories by her (especially after being blown away by "Nocturne" four years ago) I'm only sorry that I've put off reading a novel by her for so long!