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Friday, June 14, 2019

Starcraft: Evolution

When I saw that Timothy Zahn had written a Starcraft book, I was intrigued.  I've read a few of his Star Wars books sometime before I started this blog and they were quite good.  So I was curious to see what he would do within the Starcraft universe.

In Starcraft: Evolution, Emperor Valerian receives a distress call from the zerg's Overqueen, Zagara, who requests terran aid against the protoss. The three races have had a cease-fire since their war against the xel-naga Amon, but this peace is tenuous. Along with his Admiral, Matt Horner, he brings the Hyperion to the world of Gystt where the protoss Hierarch, Artanis, is already in orbit.  Gystt was glassed by the protoss a decade ago; everyone is stunned to see the world teeming with life.

While Artanis and Valerian agree to speak with Zagara in person so that she may explain how the zerg has brought new life to the world (and how they may help rebuild some of the devastated worlds of the terran and protoss), Valerian sends a research team to investigate.  Made up of four terran (a marine, a reaper, a ghost, and a scientist) and a protoss (who has been with the ghost academy for a few years because his people did not want him back), Zagara assures everyone that the team can go wherever they like and will not be harmed.  But the team is attacked by a new breed of zerg, one that has distinctive red markings and psionic power that can cripple the protoss and psionic terrans in battle.  And Zagara claims no knowledge of this breed...

I really liked Starcraft: Evolution.  As I have played the games (especially Starcraft II), I kind of knew exactly who was behind what was going on.  But that didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.  While the political stuff between Valerian, Artanis, and Zagara was interesting enough, Starcraft: Evolution really shines when it comes to the adventures of the research team.  I loved their dynamics and would be totally up for reading more of their adventures in the future!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Cosmic Ghost Rider: Baby Thanos Must Die

A friend of mine lent this to me. It starts out with Frank Castle unhappy in Valhalla. Odin let's him return to the world of the living to whatever time he wishes since he feels he still has vengeance to deliver. He chooses to go back to when Thanos was a three year old. But he finds he cannot kill the innocent child. Instead he decides to raise Thanos in the hopes that he will make a better role model for the boy. However, the once-Punisher, now crazy Cosmic Ghost Rider may not be exactly the best father figure for the young boy....

This story is so ridiculous and fun! I laughed out loud when the Thanos Frank raised comes from the future to find him. Full of hilarious characters (like the Juggerduck), I loved this from start to finish! :D

Friday, June 7, 2019

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

I saw The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results and wanted to know what the one thing was.  Gary Keller's advice turns out to simply be that you focus on your one important thing, whatever that is.  Make time for it, practice it daily, and think outside the box to master it, and you will be on your way to living your own version of an extraordinary life.

I honestly don't have a whole lot to say about this book.  His advice is simple, yet much like JL Collins' The Simple Path to Wealth, The One Thing's advice is difficult to implement.  Keller recommends you make a daily commitment (or time block) to work on your one thing; that time block should be 4 hours at a minimum.  Over the course of a year, the four hours a day works out to the approximate hours you need to dedicate to a skill to master it; presumably if you blocked less time (like say two hours), it would take you more time to master said skill. 

Then you have to guard against losing this time block to various time thieves.  This isn't impossible, but it will be difficult to begin with (especially during the average of 66 days it takes to create a new habit according to the research Keller has done for this book). 

Keller provides some good motivation (and some excellent quotes from other people).  I think this is a good book to read if you're struggling with dedicating your time towards what matters most for you.  He also provides some excellent information on setting boundaries (ie saying no to other things).  Overall, I think this is a fine book on the topic, although I did have a hard time finishing reading it once I figured out exactly what his message was (I know part of the problem was that I wanted to stop to go work on my one thing!) ;)

Monday, June 3, 2019

House Detox

A friend of mine at work knew I liked reading house books, so she gave me House Detox by Sara Burford.  House Detox is a really fast read (it's under 100 pages).  It's divided into 8 sections (Make a Start, Entrance Hall, Lounge, Kitchen, Bedroom, Bathroom, Garage, and Index); it's got a ring binding, and each of those sections is a tab, so they're very easy to locate within the book.

I do wish the book went into more detail on a lot of the tips.  For example, it said that house plants should not be kept in the bedroom, but offered no reason why. 

Overall, I thought this book was a great read for anyone new to the idea of decluttering.  It has a lot of great info on how to get started, and about how to plan your declutter so you don't get overwhelmed.  Unfortunately it didn't go into enough detail for anyone who needs a little more out of their decluttering journey.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling

The library had the second Delilah Dirk title, Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, so I decided to give it a read as well.  The King's Shilling takes place a few years after Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant.  After rescuing a little boy from his father (the boy's grandparents and mother wanted the boy back), Dirk and Mister Selim encounter an English Major.  The Major frames Dirk as a spy for the French army.  So to clear her name (and get revenge against the Major), Dirk and Selim journey to England.  There, against Dirk's initial wishes, she brings Selim to her family's estate, where Selim discovers Delilah Dirk is not Dirk's real name; she is in fact an English Lady, and her mother has no idea about her adventures across the continent!  How will Dirk manage to find the Major while keeping up the pretense that she is a regular English Lady?

I enjoyed reading The King's Shilling, but not quite as much as The Turkish Lieutenant.  In The King's Shilling, I found the action a bit harder to follow; there were a few instances where I had to reread the page a few times before I could figure out what exactly was going on.  I enjoyed Dirk's double life though (even though it's a bit hard to imagine how all the Ladies around her weren't onto something being up - Dirk isn't exactly subtle!)  All in all, this was another fun read by Cliff; I hope I'll be able to read Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules one day soon! :)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Injustice vs Masters of the Universe

I saw this at work and had to read it.  I love the Masters of the Universe, and the thought of He-Man vs Superman was just too good to pass up!  And wow, Injustice vs Masters of the Universe was quite the wild ride! 

It starts with He-Man vanquishing a robot named Faker, who had taken control of Eternos, Capital City of Eternia.  But the civilians berate He-Man for liberating them, because under Faker, they felt safer.  He-Man tells them that he fights for their freedom; Faker was a dictator who tortures people and strips the civilians of their voice.  Zatanna and Swamp Thing overhear this, and decide that He-Man is the perfect man to recruit in their war against Superman back home.  After the Joker tricked Superman into killing Lois and their unborn child, Superman established a totalitarian regime to stop such tragedy from happening again.  Unfortunately, many suffered under his tyranny.  He was overthrown once, but after Brainiac attacked, he was released.  Afterwards, Superman reestablished his regime.  With the Sorceress's blessing, He-Man, along with Teela and Orko, accompany the Justice League to Earth.  Swamp Thing, Starfire, and Cyborg remain on Eternia to help out in He-Man's absence.  Unfortunately, not long after He-Man leaves, Darkseid arrives with the intention of wresting the Anti-Life Equation from the spirit who resides within Castle Grayskull!

Injustice vs Masters of the Universe was such a fun romp.  I absolutely loved it and would love to read more (which the book clearly lends itself to - Hordak running Apokolips, anyone?)

Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living

Wow, so I just realized that it only took me six days to read Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living by Madi Carlson.  I honestly felt like I had been reading it for weeks!  The problem is that it's a reference book, not meant to be read cover to cover (much like You Grow Girl, it's a reference book).  I was actually surprised to finish it earlier this afternoon, because it really felt that slow going.

Carlson covers all things bikes with the intention of getting you set up for commuting by bicycle.  She has some very in depth chapters on the parts and types of bikes, gear, and riding. I surprisingly was quite interested in the chapter on riding with kids; I really liked her break down of the different options for seats, bike trailers, etc.  I do suspect that the book is more for beginner cyclists (or beginner cycling commuters) rather than more experienced people, but I thought it was a very good reference book all the same.

My biggest complaint (besides the fact that this book should not be read cover to cover) is the lack of pictures, particularly to demonstrate bike repairs.  I had a really hard time trying to understand that chapter.  So if you're hoping for a bicycle repair manual, you'd be better off reading something else or going online - I'm sure there are good Youtube videos.

The other issue that I had is that Urban Cycling is very much American.  This is a personal thing, because I am Canadian, so many of the resources she mentioned in the text didn't apply to me because they were all centered around American cities (although there were a few organizations and events that were worldwide, or at least also in Canada).  I didn't really check the resource section at the back of the book though, so it's possible that some of the books and blogs she mentioned are Canadian as well.

So overall, Urban Cycling is a great book to get you started if you're interested in commuting to work via bicycle.  But it doesn't lend itself to reading cover to cover; flip through it and read the parts that interest you instead!

Friday, May 24, 2019

You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth

When I read about You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero (and decided that I wanted to read it), I didn't really get that it was a self-help book.  I thought it was going to be more of a personal finance book like Beat the Bank or Worry Free Money.  But it really isn't.  You Are a Badass at Making Money is very much a self-help book, dedicated to giving you the tools you need to work with the Universe to attract wealth into your life. So consider yourself warned: this book has nothing to do with investing or getting out of debt.

So with that disclaimer out of the way, I found You Are a Badass at Making Money to be a rather interesting book.  It is dedicated to helping you change your attitude towards money; don't think of money as an evil entity ("money is the root of all evils"), but more as a partner.  Sincero defines money as a currency, which has its own energy; she says you have to actively work to attract it rather than risk repelling it with your preconceived attitude towards it. Of course, your attitude isn't all you need; you will also need to put in the hard work to reach your goals.  But once your attitude has changed, the Universe will work with you, sending you opportunities to help you reach your goals.  At the end of each chapter, there's some homework for you to complete, helping you work your way through your own mindset, and a mantra (that generally starts with "I love money because___").  While most of the book is squarely dedicated to helping you manifest more material wealth in your life, there are some areas that look at your life as a while (like encouraging you to meditate and just generally be a better person). 

I will admit that I wasn't a fan of Sincero's slang.  I get that it's probably her thing (I didn't read You Are a Badass but I imagine it has much the same language).  But I found it often kind of came out of nowhere in sentences and knocked me out of the reading.  I think it's also going to really date the book in the future.  But that's just my opinion.  You Are a Badass is a New York Times Bestseller, so clearly many other people do not feel the same way.

All in all, I found that Sincero's book really made me reflect on my own life, which I think is a really good thing.  If you're okay with the slang, I definitely recommend giving it a read.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is a delightful read.  Delilah Dirk is a globe-trotting, sword-swinging adventure woman.  The Turkish Lieutenant of the title is Selim, a tea-loving man who gets caught up in her wake and becomes her traveling companion.  After adventuring and fleeing from an angry pirate, they come across a little village and Selim decides to stay because an adventuring life isn't for him.  But in the end he finds that maybe a quiet little life isn't what he actually wants.

I loved how Dirk is ridiculously confident while Selim is her exact opposite, which makes for a very fun romp.  I quite enjoyed Tony Cliff's first graphic novel and am looking forward to the second. :)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Spinning Silver

When I heard Naomi Novik had another fairy tale coming out, I was super excited to read it. But I decided I would wait until Spinning Silver hit trade paperback because that's the format that Uprooted is in (and I wanted them to sit together on my shelf). I actually saved part of a Chapter's gift card from my birthday last year specifically for Spinning Silver, which finally arrived earlier this week! I got it on Friday and immediately started reading it (although I only got a few pages in at the time because friends came over that night). I read it as much as I could all weekend and just finished now.

Spinning Silver is loosely based off of the fairy tale Rumplestiltskin. The main character, Miryem, is the daugter and granddaughter of moneylenders. Her father isn't very good at the job, which leaves her immediate family in poverty (because he never collects any of the debts he is owed). After her mother falls ill, Miryem has had enough: she hardens her heart and begins collecting the debts on her own. 

Miryem is quite good at the job. A little too good - she boasts that she can turn silver into gold, and a faerie (Staryk) king takes her up on her boast - if she can successfully turn his silver into gold three times, she will become his queen. Miryem doesn't want to become his queen, but if she fails to change the silver into gold she will die. So she finds herself whisked away into his winter lands against her will.

Unlike Uprooted, the narrative of Spinning Silver is a bit all over the place. The point of view follows Miryem, Wanda (the girl Miryem hires to help her parents out and help her collect her father's debts), Irina (a plain-looking daughter of the duke's first wife who becomes tsarina with the help of the Staryk silver Miryem was given), Stepon (Wanda's little brother), Magreta (Irina's nurse/maid/housekeeper), and even a random chapter from the tsar's perspective (his body houses a demon). While the characters are all rather interesting, I found it often hard to tell the three girls' apart (Miryem, Wanda, and Irina) until you got more context from them because they didn't have distinct voices. The narrative also felt a bit all over the place as a result, too, especially in the middle of the book (which was where you started getting Stepon, Magreta, and the tsar's narratives on top of the three girls).

Despite this though, the story really came together in the end. I didn't like it as much as Uprooted, but I still really, really enjoyed it. And now that it's over, I find myself once again looking forward to more fairy tales like this from Novik in the future.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet

After getting through The Great Transition, I wasn't exactly eager to read more nonfiction.  But thankfully, Kristin Ohlson's The Soil Will Save Us is far less of a slog than The Great Transition was!

The Soil Will Save Us looks at how various people (namely farmers, scientists, and foodies, as per the subtitle) are working on healing the soil.  Healthy soil is more productive, so it's in everyone's best interest (more productive = more food for the billions of people on the planet).  But healthy soil also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.  So it's quite possible that healing the soil can save us from global warming, too.

The soil has released a lot of carbon that used to be previously safely sequestered in it.  Prior to the industrial revolution, this carbon was released thanks to agriculture; the soil did not evolve with anything plowing it and disturbing the microbes and fungi that reside underneath.  The microbes and fungi work together with plants in a vast trading network, trading carbon from plants for the other nutrients that the plants need.  When the soil is disturbed, the carbon that was sequestered in it is released into the air (it binds with oxygen), leaving the microbes to starve. 

The methods for building soil carbon aren't glamorous, which is why politically people tend to ignore them.  They also don't need vast amounts of money (or chemical fertilizers), so the big companies who rely on selling farmers and gardeners fertilizers and other things also want nothing to do with them (these methods cut into their profits).  They're also very hard to look at scientifically: the soil is a vastly interconnected ecosystem, and often parts can't successfully be removed to be studied on their own.  And many studies find funding for three years, while it can take 5 or more to see a difference in soil.

But despite these hurdles, there are many people around the world who are conducting their own experiments on their farms.  And they're seeing some amazing things: like how their soil retains water in droughts compared to their neighbours' soil, or just how much food their healthy soil produces.  This book filled me with hope for the future, that maybe we can feed everyone and save the climate in such a low-impact way. :)

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy

Continuing with the nonfiction reading I've been doing, I started reading Lester R. Brown's The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy.  I was specifically looking for a more positive book on global warming, and this was one of the books near the top of the list.  None of those books were available locally at the library, and this one was the cheapest on Kindle, which is why I ultimately decided to read it.

The Great Transition looks at various sources of energy (including coal, oil, nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric), then goes about making a case for why solar and wind are the clear winners.  Coal is very dirty; while it still powers a large part of the world, its dominance is diminishing because people are demanding clean air.  Oil and natural gas may be a bit cleaner than coal, but they are getting harder to access now that the easy oil fields are discovered and being used up.  Nuclear was once touted as the energy of the future, but costs to get power plants online have soared (plus thanks to several really bad nuclear accidents like the Chernobyl disaster and the more recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, most people no longer support nuclear power plants coming online); nuclear is no longer a good bet in our transitioning energy economy.  In contrast, the costs for both solar and wind have dramatically decreased.  Plus they have very low environmental footprints compared to traditional energy sources.  Geothermal is a possibility, but it is costly to look for sources for geothermal wells (plus there is no guarantee that you'll actually find a good place while you're investigating).  And hydroelectric projects, while renewable, are costly and disruptive; plus many of the large rivers have already been dammed, so the era of making mega-dams is drawing to a close.

This book is packed full of facts and figures about how many megawatts different projects bring in for different countries.  It's good information, but it's a bit overwhelming to read all at once (and also to keep straight at times).  I like that the book has a global focus, but it still zeroes in a lot more on the United States (in most cases it will talk about what a certain country is doing, then zero in on different things happening in multiple different States).  Since I'm not American, I wasn't as interested in the happenings of different States and admit that I found it a slog to read through parts of some chapters as a result.  I applaud the individual States for their projects and successes, I just personally didn't need to be reading so in depth about them.

But the one major issue I had with reading The Great Transition is that, unfortunately, it's out of date.  The facts and figures were all from around 2014, which I presume is when the book was written (it was published in 2015).  But I'm reading it in 2019, four years later; that means that presumably a lot has changed.  Many of the projects that were slated to open within the last four years should be open now.  And I'm sure many of the counties listed in the book that were working on transitioning to renewables have now a higher percentage of their power coming from renewable sources than what was reported in this book.  Being out of date also made the book a bit of a slog to read through, which was unfortunate.  I think it would have been an easier read if it had focussed more on discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the different resources, and how they affected each country, rather than relying so heavily on the specific megawatts of each country and project.  While it's been awhile, I think Just Cool It! did a better job of this than The Great Transition

So all in all, I'm glad I read The Great Transition.  It is a book that is full of hope for the future: the technology was here in 2015 to cheaply harness solar and wind power, and it will only continue to get better.  But honestly, you're better off waiting for a revised edition of this book to come out.  Or just check out Just Cool It!, which talks about the different resources that are available in the here and now to replace fossil fuels without the very specific and out of date facts and figures.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo has come up a few times at work lately, so I decided to check it out to see what it's all about.

Diangelo is a white woman who is an academic and lecturer on topics of racial and social justice.  She wrote White Fragility to show white people the defensive mechanisms they use to perpetuate racism.  White people (particularly in North America) are born into a racist society but are not taught how to engage in discussions of race.  So when they are challenged, they use certain defense mechanisms to effectively shut down the conversation and conserve the status quo.  In her time as a lecturer and consultant (Diangelo has given many workshops on white racism), she has seen the same behaviours again and again.  White Fragility serves to examine those behaviours, showing them to white people who may be completely unaware of them and their impacts, so everyone (white people and people of colour) can start having the difficult conversations that need to happen in order to create a more just society for all.

I admit, I was a little skeptical when I first took White Fragility out. But almost immediately I found it very interesting and informative.  White Fragility does specifically deal with people in America, so while her points are still pertinent to us here in Canada, I personally would have been more interested in seeing more illustrations of how things function here too (and not just specifically looking at the United States).  I was also a bit annoyed that through most of the book, Diangelo used examples from the workshops she has run because I would have liked to read a little more about her own personal struggles with addressing racism, too.  So I was happy to see that she turned more to herself in the final chapter.

All in all though, I think that this is a very important book that white people (particularly those living in North America) should read and consider (although it is by no means perfect, as I think this review on Goodreads by Pococurante does a good job pointing out).

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Beat the Bank

My mom recommended that I give Larry Bates' Beat the Bank a read after she heard about it on Twitter.  I had it on hold at the library, but the book was super overdue so I thought it wasn't coming back and bought it on my Kindle.  The book did end up showing up, but I just sent it to the next person who had it on hold and read the version I bought on my Kindle.

Beat the Bank is very similar to a lot of the other books I've read on personal finance.  Bates recommends investing in low-cost index ETF's rather than the much higher cost mutual funds that Canadian banks offer.  The majority of the book was dedicated to showing just how much money you lose out to what he terms "Old Bay Street" (through the fees they charge that many investors don't really understand).  For that reason it's a very informative book.  But because I've already read several other books on personal finance, nothing that he said was really new to me.

That being said, I still enjoyed reading it.  I've found personal finance books to be rather interesting to read. In the case of Beat the Bank, because it's so modern, I enjoyed reading about his breakdown of "New Bay Street" - the robo investors and other tools that have popped up with much lower fees than traditional banks.  I also really liked that he walks you through the process of buying stocks and bonds; I don't remember any of the other books I've read actually doing that.  So Beat the Bank really is a great book for beginner investors. :)

(I'd also like to note that I spoke with someone else at the library who read Beat the Bank, and they really enjoyed it.  They said that for a book on financial planning and personal finance, it isn't boring at all, so I definitely think Beat the Bank is a great place to start for beginners and people who think financial books are boring!)

Oh, and I definitely liked Bates' brief discussion on financial plans.  It isn't a long discussion, but he talks about the importance of having some sort of target that you're aiming for.  Life changes and your target may change along with it, but sitting down and coming up with something that you're working towards is always a good plan.

So that was Beat the Bank.  I'm glad I read it, because even though I'm familiar with a lot of the things he mentions, I still learned some new things. :)  I think the next financial book I'm going to read is going to be A Random Walk Down Wall Street (that was recommended to me I think in one of the other books I read), but it's going to be a bit before I get to it!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Feel the Fear...and Do It Anyway

A friend of mine was giving away free books and I took them because I really like books.  The free books ended up being self-help books, and I figured that after taking them I should probably read them.  So I started with Susan Jeffers' Feel the Fear...and Do It Anyway.

The premise of the book is that everyone feels fear when trying new things.  But successful people don't let that fear stop them - they feel the fear but do whatever it is anyway, learning and growing from the experiences. 

The first few chapters were great, following along with this premise.  The later ones started getting a bit harder to follow though, as the book moved away from talking about fear and more towards talking about your higher self.  I had a hard time getting through the book as a result (I almost didn't finish it just because I was really losing interest in it).  It was also a bit difficult to rate on Goodreads - originally I would have rated it higher than the rating I ended up deciding on.  It's too bad because the first few chapters were rather interesting.

I did take a few notes though from the book, so overall I don't regret reading it. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Getting Pumped! An Insulin Pump Guide for Active Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes

I've had Michael Riddell's Getting Pumped! An Insulin Pump Guide for Active Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes for probably around a year or so.  It's one of those books that I really wanted to read (and needed to read), but I just kept finding excuses not to.  But after a rather difficult week where I haven't been able to exercise pretty much at all due to low glucose levels (and with the long weekend coming where I want to exercise a lot), I thought that now was the perfect time to finally read Getting Pumped! (and hopefully glean some tips to help me survive the weekend).

At 96 pages, Getting Pumped is a very quick read; it's also written in very plain language, which adds to the ease (although there are some concepts that took me a second read-through to understand).  It starts out by explaining how diabetes affects the body, then goes on to show some strategies you can use while on an insulin pump (and preferably with a continuous glucose monitor) to make it through aerobic and anaerobic exercises.  It's also got profiles of nine athletic individuals of various ages living with diabetes, and some very interesting notes on some lesser-known diabetes champions.  Riddell has Type 1 diabetes himself, so he adds some sidebars with his own thoughts from living an active life with diabetes.

I was a little bit confused as to who the audience for the book is (beyond the obvious of a person with Type 1 diabetes who has an insulin pump).  There were some sections of the book that seemed written for parents of children with Type 1 diabetes, and others where it seemed to be aimed more at teens (the chart showing a starting point for ex-carbs only went up to people who are 60kg, so that seemed aimed more at teens, too).  But one of the profiles featured a sixty year old man with Type 1 diabetes, so I'm not entirely sure.

I also noticed that when Riddell was talking about running a temporary basal (the background insulin) for exercise, he didn't actually say when to stop it.  But he's included an email address at the beginning of the book, so I'm going to message him and see what he says.

Other than those rather minor things, I think that Getting Pumped! is a fantastic resource for people on an insulin pump who want to live a more active life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Editing Made Easy

I woke up early this morning and couldn't sleep.  So after tossing and turning for awhile, I decided to grab a book and start reading.  The book I chose was Editing Made Easy by Bruce Kaplan; I picked it up from the library because I wanted to brush up on editing.  Editing Made Easy looked like such a short, easy to read book that I thought it was a great place to start.  And it turned out that in this case, looks didn't lie: I finished reading it after only a couple of hours of reading (and taking notes).

Kaplan covers the basics of copy editing.  His goal is to make your writing, whether it be newspaper, a nonfiction book, a blog post, fiction, or whatever else you're writing, effective and simple.  He gives examples of common writing problems and shows how to fix them.  Some of the chapters are basically just lists of words, so those ones weren't fun to read.  But otherwise this is a great resource that you can read cover to cover to learn more about editing!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Hags, Sirens, & Other Bad Girls of Fantasy

I bought Hags, Sirens, & Other Bad Girls of Fantasy many years ago, whne I was in school. I wanted short stories to give me a break from reading psychology text books. Life didn't exactly turn out how I'd planned, so Hags, Sirens, & Other Bad Girls of Fantasy (and most of the other anthologies I bought at that time) remain on my bookshelves (and on The List). While looking at my books, trying to decide what to read after Empire of Sand, I thought I'd give this a whirl.

The premise behind Hags, Sirens, & Other Bad Girls of Fantasy is fun: this is supposed to be an anthology of stories dedicated to the bad girls of fairy tales and mythology, because "bad girls have more fun" and they "have their real world competition beaten, hands down, both for outrageous behavior and for sheer, unmitigated gall" (those quotes come from the introduction by editor Denise Little). Unfortunately the vast majority of the stories in this volume didn't live up to Little's hype. 

It started with "Shall We Dance" by CS Friedman, which was an odd little tale about a bewitching mystety woman who preys on alpha males, making them into shadows of themselves before abandoning them for the next alpha. This one was odd because the mystery woman spoke no words (the story was narrated by a guy who saw her destroy his friend), but it did have a bad girl. Then we had "Bitter Crowns: a Tale of Crownland," which was the first story that left me wondering why it was in this book. The story is about a female lawgiver who travels around and dispenses justice (rather like a Herald of Valdemar); she encounters a serpent from her past who traps women in trees so they can create blood fruit for it. While interesting, there were no hags, no sirens, and no bad girls. This happened again and again, with tales that either had no bad girls, or bad girls who were really good girls doing bad things. Of the 20 stories in this book, only about 5 of them had an actual bad girl doing bad things. The winner on that score waw probably "Black Annie" by Jean Rabe, a brutal tale of a hag who slaughters a village because they killed a cat in an attempt to lure her out. 

The stories I enjoyed were "The Light of Ra" by Phaedra M. Weldon, which was about Isis, Set, and Osiris, "Mother of Monsters" by Greg Beatty, which was said to be one of the really good stories of this volume by other reviewers, "Lilith" by Peter Orullian, another one listed as really good, and "Heart of Stone" by Scott William Carter, which tells of how Medusa learned to love. 

I know that anthologies are really hit and miss, but I found it to be a real slog to get to the better stories in this volume. I almost didn't finish reading Hags, Sirens, & Other Bad Girls of Fantasy because it was such a slog. But I made it through, and now I can finally cross it off The List for good).

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Empire of Sand

I saw Tasha Suri's Empire of Sand at work the other day.  It sounded really interesting, so I decided to give it a read. 

Empire of Sand is the story of Mehr.  She is the illegitimate daughter of an Ambhan Governor and an Amrithi woman.  Her mother was exiled when Mehr was younger and her father married another woman who disliked Mehr almost immediately because she visibly looks Amrithi.  The Amrithi are outcasts, considered to be barbarians by the Ambhan, I think mainly because their culture is so different: the Amrithi are nomads who dwell in the desert and are descended from the daiva.

Mehr lives mainly in solitude, taking comfort only in the times when she is permitted to visit her younger sister, Arwa.  Arwa doesn't visibly look Amrithi, so their stepmother has taken it upon herself to raise Arwa in ignorance of her Amrithi heritage (which Mehr insists on practicing - her father, out of guilt, allows her to continue her practice).  So Mehr spends much of her time dancing the Amrithi rites her mother and later her friend Lalita taught her; the rites bring her joy.

A dreamfire storm is approaching Mehr's home soon (dreamfire is the manifestation of the Gods' dreams - the Gods are slumbering under the desert).  Her teacher promises that they will dance one of the rites together; Mehr is excited because it is the first time she as ever been able to.  But when her teacher fails to appear, Mehr leaves the house to look for her.  When the storm surrounds her, she pleads with it to lead her to Lalita; she finds only Lalita's friend and guardian Usha dying instead. Once the storm passes, Mehr is found by her father's guards, but disgraced because she is wearing no veil.  Her father tells her her actions will have consequences, and so she will be forced to marry.  While Mehr has never wanted to marry, especially someone from another province because she does not want to lose her Amrithi heritage, she at least will be given the choice of who to marry: this choice is the only one permitted to Ambhan women - the choice of whose burdens to share; it is a choice that the Ambhan take very seriously and is respected by all.  And while Mehr is part Amrithi, she is also part Ambhan, and so this is a choice she will have to make for herself.

Unfortunately Mehr's actions during the storm draw the attention of the Maha, the spiritual leader of the Ambham Empire (and the first Emperor who has been alive for many generations).  He has been searching for Amrithi with the gift and Mehr has revealed herself to have it.  His mystics arrive and inform Mehr that the Maha has a possible suitor for her.  Everyone knows that Mehr is not being given a real choice, that if she refuses the Maha he will have her family killed.  The nobles are angered, and her father wants to spirit her away to another province, but Mehr insists on accepting the match to protect her family, especially her sister.

And so she is married to Amun.  Unexpectedly, the vow is a physical thing on her skin - that is why the Amrithi make no vows (and why Mehr's mother refused to marry her father).  Vows are true binding things to the Amrithi - going against a vow will physically hurt you (and can literally kill you).  Amun has been bound to the Maha, and was instructed to lie with Mehr so that she would be bound to share his burdens (which are whatever the Maha demands); hating that Mehr was given no choice in the matter, Amun chooses to fight the vow subtly - they lie together but do not have sex to seal the deal. 

Mehr is brought with the mystics to the Maha's temple.  Everything she ever knew and loved is forcibly ripped from her (and even her culture in many ways - Mehr was raised as an Ambhan noblewoman, which meant she wore veils like armor - here her face is always bare for all to see).  The only constant is Amun, who Mehr learns is not at all the animal the other mystics treat him as.  She learns that the two of them are required to perform the Rite of the Binding, which is how the Maha has been living so long (and making the Empire prosper) - he channels the dreamfire through his Amrithi servants and uses his mystics to direct the dreams of the Gods to favour the Empire.  Mehr dares to dream of escape, for both her and Amun.  But Amun is truly bound to the Maha, and has no idea how long he can fight his vow and keep Mehr free.

Empire of Sand was awesome!  I particularly loved the worldbuilding - it's based off of Mughal Indian culture, I believe.  I loved how the Amrithi vows worked, too.  And also the Rites, how they were dances. 

I also quite liked Mehr and Amun.  Even though she felt very out of place and at times useless, Mehr helped Amun dream and hope again.  I started out not sure how to feel about her (she talked about using people a fair bit, but she was also raised in a very bad situation with her stepmother before moving into an even worse situation under the Maha, so it was kind of understandable).  In the end I thought she was a very noble woman who had grown a lot into a better person.  Amun had a rather quiet and understated character, but that was okay because it was him.  He had a subtle humour, which I loved, and was just a perfect match for Mehr in so many ways.  I really enjoyed reading about their adventures.

One thing that made me kind of shake my head (although this wasn't exactly a bad thing), was how the "bad guys" of the story were: they treated both Amun and Mehr as tools and as subhuman.  The Maha and one of his female mystics, Kalini, were particularly bad for that.  I wonder how the story might have been had people been kinder to Mehr?  If the Maha hadn't taken great pleasure in making her fear him?  Or if Kalini had encouraged Mehr to make friends (particularly with her sister, Hema?)

Overall, I loved reading Empire of Sand.  Between the worldbuilding, the characters, and the story itself, it is a fantastic book that I cannot recommend enough!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Fair Game

After reading The Night Circus, I decided to continue on with the fantasy reading.  The Night Circus reminded me of urban fantasy (but without the vampires, werewolves, witches, and fae), so I decided to read Fair Game, the third Alpha and Omega novel.

Fair Game takes place quite some time after Hunting Ground.  Werewolves have outed themselves to the world.  The Marrock Bran has tightened werewolf law; where once young wolves may have gotten a warning, now they are executed if they break that law.  And Charles is the one who gets to do the honours.  He's been sent out as his father's executioner for about a year now.  And the job is killing him. 

Luckily for Charles, he is mated to Anna.  Anna knows what is happening because Charles has stopped playing music and has shut down the bond between them.  She goes to the Marrock, who doesn't listen to her.  So then she gets Asil to help her.  It is Asil who finally gets through to Bran that Charles needs to do something else to get his mind off of all the killings he has had to do for the pack.

Luckily an opportunity comes up that is perfect: there is a serial killer loose in Boston, and the FBI want a werewolf to help them find the culprit.  Bran sends Anna to consult with them, with Charles as her bodyguard.  They discover that the victims have largely been half-blooded fae, along with a few werewolves thrown in since the werewolves have gone public.  Unfortunately for Anna and Charles, helping the FBI puts them on the killer's hit list.

I loved this book.  Reading about Anna and Charles felt like going back to visit old friends.  Fair Game was also a bit of a departure from the way Anna and Charles are in earlier novels though: Anna is in many ways the stronger one here, while Charles is the weaker one (ghosts from his executions are literally haunting him, and he is terrified they will hurt Anna so he has shut the bond down between them to protect her, even though that is hurting her terribly).  I loved the change in Anna in particular because she has grown into herself now, refusing to be anyone's victim (she even says that Charles teaching her to protect herself is the best gift he ever gave her; that he is still willing to come and help her/protect her is the second best).  And seeing Charles truly vulnerable to something was refreshing (and how the power of love literally does save him, because fearing for Anna's life helps him break through the stranglehold the ghosts have on him).

This was the first book though that I felt might have benefited from me reading more from the Mercy Thompson series (which I haven't read since 2009).  A lot of time passes between Hunting Ground and Fair Game and there's even reference to things that have happened to Mercy that I really feel like I should have read first.  But really, it's not a huge deal - those references are only made in the first chapter or so, then Fair Game goes onto its own path.

The characters were also a little hard to follow.  Anna and Charles meet six people initially in Boston: two FBI, two Homeland Security, and two agents from CANTRIP (the agency dealing with supernaturals), then a Fae.  Outside of the two FBI characters, who are around through the whole book, I had a hard time keeping all of the other characters straight, especially since I don't really think the Homeland Security ones show up again (so I kept second guessing myself with names and wondering who was who).  By the end of the book I was fine, but the middle got a bit confusing trying to keep everyone straight.

But like I said, I really did love this book.  I'm glad the series has continued (book 5 was published in 2018) so I'll be able to read more adventures of Anna and Charles in the future. :)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Night Circus

I've wanted to read The Night Circus for a while now.  My brother gave me a copy (I think last year) and I've been meaning to read it ever since then.  But every time I grabbed it, The Night Circus would sit on my nightstand while I inevitably started some other book instead.  I don't know why this kept happening - I've heard super good things about the book.  Interestingly, when I was talking to a friend at work about planning on starting it earlier this week, she said the exact same thing!  Strange.

But once I did actually start reading it, I finished it in just a couple of days. :)

I don't know quite how to describe the book, so I'm going to let the summary on Goodreads do the talking for me:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway - a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love - a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
 
So we have the physical circus, which is the venue chosen for Celia and Marco's duel.  Celia and Marco were trained from young ages to duel, but were never actually told by their instructors (Celia's father and the mysterious Mr. A.H.) what the parameters of the duel were.  Celia doesn't actually know who her opponent is for quite some time, while Marco knows it is her from the moment he first sees her; Celia is the circus's illusionist, and she assumes her opponent is someone else physically in the circus, but Marco is the proprietor's assistant and so manages from afar. 

This book is magic to read. The idea of using a physical place like a circus as the venue for a duel is fantastic.  The circus itself is a place where people expect to "see" magic, so anything Celia and Marco do to influence it just fits in with the general ambience.  I loved how the new tents they would create were basically love letters to each other. :)

It was also interesting just how much the circus became wrapped up with them.  By the end of the book Le Cirque des Rêves could not function without them.

One thing I had a hard time with were the dates.  The story twists and turns through time (specifically jumping ahead a few years to show what is happening to Bailey, a young boy who is enchanted with the circus and one of the twins who was born there), then heads back to show what is happening with Celia and Marco. Even though there were months and years (as well as the city), I had a hard time keeping it all straight in my head.  And once Bailey's story intersected with Celia and Marco's, this got even harder to keep straight!

Overall though, I really enjoyed The Night Circus.  It is a magical, unique book that I'm glad I finally read.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Back when I bought Ship Breaker, I also bought Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren.  After finishing Divergent, I saw Prisoner of Ice and Snow sitting on my shelf and decided to give it a read too. And you know what was way more fun than jumping into and out of trains?  A prison break by thirteen year olds in fantasy Russia!

Valor's twin sister Sasha was given a life sentence in jail after stealing from the royal family.  So Valor decides to spring her sister from the inside!  She gets herself thrown into the same jail by shooting an arrow at the prince.  So now she just needs to find her sister and get the two of them out.  Unfortunately they are in Tyur'ma, the prison for young offenders; no one has ever successfully escaped from Tyur'ma.  But that doesn't stop Valor!  She has a plan to get them both out!

Prisoner of Ice and Snow is a lot of fun.  Seeing how Valor needs to outsmart the warden (and the prince, who has taken an interest in her), all while trying to figure out who among the prisoners she can trust (and while dealing with unexpected setbacks) was great.  There's also some really great worldbuilding - the Kingdom of Demidova is ruled by the Queen and passes through the female line.  Valor was supposed to be following in her mother's footsteps as Queen's Huntress, and Sasha was training to be the future Queen's Advisor before she was sent to jail.  I didn't get a great sense of what most of the men in the kingdom do, but Valor's father was the current Queen's Advisor before their family was disgraced by the theft, so men do not seem to be treated as second-class citizens in Demidova, which was nice to see (I remember men being second-class citizens in Melanie Rawn's Exile's series, which I read long before starting this blog).

All in all, this was a fun, super fast read that i quite enjoyed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Divergent

The same friend who game me Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green game me Divergent and Allegiant.  Wanting something that I figured would be a bit more of a lighthearted romp after Dredd, I decided to give Veronica Roth's Divergent series a try.

And holy crap, Hunger Games!

Beatrice Prior lives in a society where everyone has to live in one of five factions.  When you turn 16, you are submitted to a test which shows you which of the five factions you have an affinity with, then you get to choose which faction you will join in adulthood (this actually confuses me - why do they have the test if you still get to choose where you go?)  There's Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).  Beatrice's family is Abnegation.  So if Beatrice chooses to stay with Abnegation, she will get to stay with her family, but if she chooses another faction, she doesn't get to see them anymore (unless they show up on visiting day?) - your new faction is your new family.

So when Beatrice takes the test (which involves being plugged into a machine that gives you a few simulations), her results come back as inconclusive.  The lady administering the test, Tori, warns Beatrice that she is Divergent.  She tells Beatrice not to tell anyone, then logs the results manually as Abnegation.

So Beatrice is left knowing she is Divergent.  It's dangerous for some reason, and she can't talk to anyone.  So now she has to decide which faction to join, knowing that she doesn't quite fit into any of them (but that she has more affinity for three of the five).  Ultimately she chooses Dauntless; her choice is hard on her family (particularly her father) because her brother also chooses a different faction literally moments before she does. Arriving at Dauntless, she tells the people when she arrives that her name is Tris.  And so she is ready for her new life.

But life as a Dauntless Initiate is hard.  The Initiates will be ranked and only a set amount of them will be admitted into Dauntless' ranks; the rest will be turned away as factionless.  And the Initiates who grew up in Dauntless have a clear advantage when it comes to physical skills because they all grew up fighting and jumping onto and off of trains, while the other Initiates like Tris did not.  So the new ones need to work hard to get themselves up to speed if they want to survive and thrive in Dauntless.  And Tris gets the added bonus of trying to figure out what being Divergent means (and keeping it secret).

I know that this description doesn't really sound like The Hunger Games. But both The Hunger Games and Divergent are set in a dystopian future which has divided the population up.  The Hunger Games used sectors, based on where you live; Divergent uses factions, based on your personality.  Tris also reminded me of Katniss, as being this badass young girl who triumphs over crazy odds (huh, and who plays up the vulnerability at times that benefit her - lol that was a comparison I just realized while writing this).  Oh, and the physical part of the Dauntless initiation involves teens fighting each other until one of them can't fight any more - that really made me think of The Hunger Games or the movie Battle Royale but without the killing.


Tris' love interest is Four, the guy who is training the non-Dauntless initiates.  There was a big reveal about his identity that I'm sure you'll see coming a mile away.  But that was okay; I thought their relationship was pretty cute (and I liked how her fears of intimacy came up in the book).

They also had a hilarious exchange when talking about how one of the other Initiates hated Tris:

“'Peter would probably throw a party if I stopped breathing.'

'Well,' he says, 'I would only go if there was cake.'”

 I laughed so hard when I read that. 

So at the end of Tris's initiation day, rather than celebrating, the bad guys spring their plan.  The Erudite leader had developed a mind control serum that works on everyone except those who are Divergent (hence why Divergence was bad and Divergents were killed when they were identified).  A whole bunch of stuff happens: Four is a Divergent, Tris and Four are captured, Four gets subjected to a DIFFERENT mind control thing, Tris is going to be executed, Tris is saved by her mom, her mom is also Divergent, her mom dies, she is reunited with the rest of her family, they decide to stop the bad guys, her father dies, she fights Four, she saves Four, they stop the mind control, then they flee.  End of book.

I should also mention that this isn't exactly a light-hearted romp either: someone gets their eye stabbed, someone commits suicide, there's an attempted murder, and a whole bunch of people get killed at the end of the book.

In a lot of ways, this book is really silly.  I think that most people would be Divergent because we are all a mess of traits (although I understand how the factions might operate if people chose one and just tried to live up to those ideals buy failed some times, like how Tris' mom accuses her dad of being selfish, which is against the Abnegation philosophy).  The Dauntless spend a lot of time jumping on and off of trains (and somehow only one person dies from it in the book - shouldn't more of the non-Dauntless initiates have like broken their legs jumping off the train the first time?)  But despite all the silliness, it's fun.  I mean, the Dauntless jump on and off of trains!  Lol

So if you're looking for a fun read that you don't have to think too much about, I definitely recommend this book.  It's also a fast read: it's almost 500 pages long, but the type is big so I powered through it over two days. 

But that being said, I'm not at all interested in continuing.  I know lots of people loved this series, but I just don't think it's for me. :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Dredd

After reading Judge Dredd: the Complete Brian Bolland, I decided to read a collection of Dredd stories I have, simply titled DreddDredd collects three shorter novels: Dredd vs. Death by Gordon Rennie, Kingdom of the Blind by David Bishop, and The Final Cut by Matthew Smith.


The first story, Dredd vs Death, made me really glad that I read the comic collection before reading this so I knew about the Dark Judges and some of what had happened with them (the two incidents that I knew of were directly referenced in this story!) The Dark Judges were defeated and trapped by Judges Dredd and Anderson again after they had nearly won (the Necropolis incident, which I am unfamiliar with outside of the prologue of this story); this time they were imprisoned beneath a penitentary in what is called "the Tomb." Before their defeat, Judge Death had marked some denizens of Mega-City One to work towards freeing the Dark Judges should something happen. After a decade of waiting, one of those men, Vernon Martins, is ready to strike. Funding the Church of Death and engineering an army of vampires, he launches an attack on the penitentiary, freeing the Dark Judges to once again continue their work of judging the living.

As interesting as the plot was, I found Dredd vs Death to be a difficult read. I thought the beginning chapters were particularly disjointed because you meet a whole bunch of characters in the first few chapters; many of them aren't particularly important for the plot (like Galen DeMarco and Chief Judge Hershey; all of the scenes with DeMarco and most of the scenes with Hershey could have easily been cut). And those were main characters from the Judge Dredd continuity; this story was also rife with little moments where you follow totally random people for a scene then they're never heard from again. It was really annoying and made for a slog of a read. Plus you don't actually get to see Dredd until Chapter 2!

Once the story really gets going (which takes several chapters), it was pretty much nonstop action as Dredd, Anderson, and Judge Giant fought to stop the Dark Judges. I wasn't at all familiar with Giant, but he was probably my favourite character in the book - he was trying to live up to Dredd's faith in him. Plus he just seems like a much more friendly and approachable guy (especially when compared to Dredd's stoicism).  Everyone else was just kind of this living legend who I knew was going to succeed no matter how bad things looked because Anderson and Dredd had survived the Dark Judges before. That being said though, I'd say the last 50 pages or so were pretty interesting as our heroes had to track the Dark Judges down and defeat them; I got to see some random parts of Mega-City One that I wasn't expecting like a Smokatorium and Resyk.

All in all though, I found this story disappointing. It kind of read like a comic book that was missing the pictures (and so missing half of the story).

Kingdom of the Blind was a very welcome change of pace.  For one thing, it read more like a prose novel than a comic missing pictures.  And for another, we actually get to meet Judge Dredd on the first page of the prologue!

In Kingdom of the Blind, Dredd starts off trying to infiltrate Jesus Bludd's inner circle using a recruit whose mind is almost impenetrable to psi-probing. Bludd's influence has been spreading but he has remained untouchable, always removed from any crime.  Plus he has the help of Kara, his mysterious enforcer who is a very strong psyker - she has been able to detect any Judge who tries to get close to Bludd.

A few months after Dredd's cadet makes contact with Bludd, Chief Judge Hershey has arranged for delegates of five other mega cities to come to Mega-City One and negotiate a worldwide extradition treaty so that fugitives from the Law will not be able to hide in other parts of the world.  Dredd's cadet gets a message to Control that Bludd is planning an attack against the summit.  This leads to a long cat-and-mouse game where Bludd is always five steps ahead of Dredd and the Justice Department.  Kingdom of the Blind is a fun little romp through Mega-City One and beyond that will lead you guessing as to what will happen next!

Although I will admit, I had kind of figured out what the end was going to look like by part way through the story.  Still, I found it interesting to see how we got there.

So that just leaves The Final Cut.  This was a strange read.  One chapter would follow Dredd, told through third person pov, then the next would follow Pete Trager, an undercover Judge; the Trager chapters were written in first person. 

The actual story has Dredd investigating murders; several bodies were recovered in a chemical pit at the base of a building being constructed.  The building is part of a prominent politician's Phoenix Project, where he is revitalizing areas of Mega-City One.  For his part, Trager is busting a criminal family when he gets wind of something sinister going on within the city that no one is talking about.  He makes it his mission to get into the secret society to bust it.

The Final Cut was a difficult read.  It deals a lot with torture and is pretty graphic in its descriptions; I considered not finishing it, but since it was the last story in this book I just soldiered on.  I'm very glad to be finished it so I can read something else.

So that was my foray into Dredd (and probably the extent of my foray into the Judge Dredd universe right now).  Between this book and the Brian Bolland collection, I'd definitely recommend the Brian Bolland collection any day.