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Monday, May 9, 2022

Malice


 I stumbled on Malice by Healther Walter the other day on my first trip wandering around Chapters since the pandemic started.  It's a Sleeping Beauty retelling told from the villain's perspective.  It sounded fantastic, and though I was a bit leery that it was book 1 of the Malice series, I decided to give it a try.  

Malice follows Alyce, a half-human half-Vila child who has always known she wasn't wanted.  In her world, the Vila were eradicated by an alliance of Fae and humans, reviled as evil creatures.  Submitted to horrible tortures when she was young, the Fae ambassador deemed her safe, and so she was sent to live in a Grace house, mixing elixirs for paying customers using drops of her blood.  While there are many Graces, half-human and half-Fae children whose blood shines gold with Fae magic until it is exhausted, Alyce is the only Dark Grace, able to craft elixirs for jealous nobles wanting to damage their rivals.  Despite being unique, no one lets her forget that Alyce is tainted by Vila blood - a monster, and different, someone to be reviled.

But then she meets the Princess Aurora.  Aurora is the last heir of the Briar Throne, cursed to die by Vila magic unless she finds True Love's Kiss.  And she is the only one to voluntarily seek out Alice's company, despite everyone else in the kingdom being opposed.

Overall, I really enjoyed Malice.  The world it is set in was really interesting, particularly how the Graces functioned within it, but also the history of Briar (it was a Queendom because an ancient Queen was able to succeed at a Fae challenge where many men had failed, but over the years the Queens had given away most of their power to their husbands so they were now largely only figure-heads).  I also liked a lot of the characters, although several of them really disappointed me as the narrative unfolded (I was particularly sad that Alyce embraced the villain role in the end a little too willingly - while I understand why it happened, it was really jarring because she was a good character all the way along to that point).  It started to lose me a little at the end unfortunately thanks to this.

But overall,  as I said, it was a great read.  I finished it off in three days, staying up way too late in the process.  I was really happy to get this into a book too because I've had a fairly dry reading spell as of late.  Thankfully, I'll be able to continue with the story soon: Misrule, the second book, is released tomorrow!  I've preordered it on my Kindle so I'll be able to finish the story soon!  And even more fortunately, they are only a duology, so I'll be getting the end of the tale with Misrule. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Own Your Morning: Reset Your A.M. Routine To Unlock Your Potential


My mom sent me a link with information from Liz Baker Plosser's Own Your Morning: Reset Your A.M. Routine To Unlock Your Potential as a joke.  I've never liked getting up and have never, ever been a morning person.  But after reading through the article, I decided to pick the actual book up on my tablet (yay Google Play Books!) and give it a read.  I ended up choosing my tablet because a lot of the reviews said the book was structured like a magazine, so I thought it would be better to read there than on my Kindle.

Own Your Morning talks about ways to make your morning better for you.  The book is very aware that everyone's morning will be different because we all have different lives and personalities, which I really liked.  One of the early chapters was all about finding your (current) values, and trying to honour at least a few of them in your morning, which will set a better tone for you during the rest of the day.  From there, it examines various aspects you might want to include, such as exercise and meditation, and talks about some of the benefits of each of these.

Unfortunately, as the reviews that suggested Own Your Morning would be better on a tablet kind of suggested, the book is a little light on details.  While this makes it a very fun and easy read (which was great - I've been having trouble lately sitting down and reading stuff, so having a quick read was perfect for me right now), it does not go into depth on any of these topics.  So if you're looking for a fun overview of things, it's good. But if you were hoping for more depth, you might not be happy with Own Your Morning.

The other feature of the book that I really liked was the interviews with different women who talked about their morning routines.  While this really drove home the idea that everyone's morning is different, the interviews also gave some fun different ideas for what your morning can look like.  

All in all, I really enjoyed reading Own Your Morning.  I'm going to have to look at tweaking my own mornings, especially on work days.  Maybe incorporating some of the tips I learned here will really help me own my mornings, too.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Deep


 I've been wanting to read The Deep for awhile now, but finally sat down to read it a few nights ago.  It tells the story of a mermaid (Yetu) who, as the historian, holds all the memories of her people, of their trauma and how they came to be. While she is gifted, she is also extremely sensitive, and the memories are literally killing her. So when the time comes, as it does every year, to let her people remember, she decides to run and save herself, rather than take the memories back at the end of the ritual (and so die).  While she slowly regains herself and her sense of self away from the memories, she becomes increasingly aware that the memories are killing the rest of her people, and so needs to decide whether to live or to save them all.

I really enjoyed The Deep.  I loved the worldbuilding around where the merpeople came from (they are descended from pregnant African slaves who were thrown overboard - the idea is that in the womb, babies are not breathing air, so what if they were born of the sea and never needed to breathe air? A very interesting narrative that has roots in songs - this article talks a bit about it, as well as the idea that people would like a memorial along the Atlantic trade routes, which is definitely deserved considering how many people died along them)  And the idea of holding all the trauma from generations of your people (and it wasn't just the trauma, it was their actual memories) was really interesting - as historian, Yetu wasn't really living, she was living the lives and trauma of all the people who came before her.  

Definitely check it out if you have the chance (and are okay with reading fantasy)!

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Starless


Starless is a short fantasy novella by Evan S. Sullivan telling the story of Calan Castillon. It goes back and forth between his youth and ten years later when he is part of an invasion to another land.  The other land, Cavadere, invaded their lands during his youth and Calan's father was killed during the war to repel the invaders.  Now the kingdoms who were invaded have created their own great fleet and strike out to conquer the enemy who invaded them.  Calan was sent to honour his family's alliance with another kingdom, and Calan is incredibly resentful that his family abandoned him like that.

I had a really hard time connecting with Calan.  Some of the things that happened, particularly in his youth, seemed really weird to me (I'm not positive how old he was, but he was able to wander around his city freely without an escort around the age of 8 or 9, and he's the nephew of the king).  He didn't seem to understand how alliances work even though the book said he had political training once he was a bit older.  And he was kind of just generally sullen, unlikable, and not particularly useful in the events of the story (his commanding officer disliked him and I actually found myself agreeing with the commander because through the early parts of the story, Calan was mainly standing around and doing nothing - though I will concede that this part of the story took place on a boat, and Calan says he has had no experience on one before).

Starless is a fairly short read (about 110 pages).  I mention this because it felt like the story actually started around page 70 or so.  Most of the things that happened before that were backstory that wasn't particularly needed; with the story coming from Calan's perspective alone, we could have taken his word on what he was feeling towards everyone else, particularly in his family, without the events needing to be shown.  Even the events that fueled his nightmares weren't particularly needed for the narrative itself.

I did find the ending of the book to be interesting though.  I admit that I clued in on what was most likely going to happen around page 70, but was still curious to see how it all unfolded and why.  Calan reminded me of Arthas from Warcraft III in many regards with what happened in Starless, though their stories are by no means the same.  

I was also intrigued by many of the other characters surrounding Calan.  His cousins seemed particularly interesting (the princess heir to the throne who can apparently best two grown men/knights with a sword, and her younger brother who just wants to be a musician, not a prince) and it was a shame that this story didn't show more of them.  I also wish the differences between the kingdoms had been explored in more detail (why do the women of the South get to use swords when the women of the North don't?), although I do understand there wasn't space for such things within Calan's narrative.  I am hopeful that more of these characters and cultural differences will be explored in Deathless, Sullivan's new novel that I believe is set in the same world as Starless.

I'd also like to mention that the list of characters really came in handy when I started reading Starless, particularly in terms of the Castillon family (the king, his son, and his brother all have names starting with "R," so it took a bit to figure out who was who).  I do wish there had been a map though to show the different kingdoms, particularly while trying to follow the events of the war. I firmly believe that fantasy books should all have maps to help the reader follow along.

Cash Cows, Pigs and Jackpots: The Simplest Personal Finance Strategy Ever


 I picked up David Trahair's Cash Cows, Pigs and Jackpots: the Simplest Personal Finance Strategy Ever at the library the other day.  It's been awhile since I've read a personal finance book, and this one sounded interesting.  It's also Canadian, which is more relevant for me than American personal finance books, so that was a definite plus.

I thought I'd be in for some fun tales about get rich quick schemes.  Or something more akin to JL Collins' The Simple Path to Wealth.  Instead, Cash Cows, Pigs and Jackpots ended up a fairly basic personal finance book with only one main message: spend less than you make.  While important (but not exactly earth-shattering) advice, that's not really a strategy per se.  I've read other books (that I've liked better - check out some of the other personal finance books I've read) that give more details and strategies on how to pay down your debts, and more fun anecdotes from other people taking control of their finances.

Beyond that, Trahair looks at two important aspects of your personal finance: the question of buying or renting a place to live, and retirement.  I found that the first discussion got bogged down by him walking you through a spreadsheet he made to help you decide on whether renting or buying is better for you (and since I'm not actively interested in that question at the moment, I wasn't really engaged by it).  But I did find the discussion on condos interesting, just in terms of the other fees you need to consider when deciding whether buying one is right for you.

The retirement discussion mainly focussed around CPP and OAS here in Canada.  While I was glad to hear that these are healthy and will be around for awhile (particularly CPP), most of the discussion was tied to the specifics of the "new" rules rolled out around 2012.  Being 10 years out of date at the time of my reading it, I didn't care at all about these specifics, and so lost interest once again.

All in all, I didn't find Cash Cows, Pigs and Jackpots to be a very engaging read.  I would have preferred less focus on the date specific numbers (and honestly less focus on hard numbers in general), and more focus on stories of people (there was one story in chapter four that was really interesting - I would have liked to read more of that in the book!)

Saturday, February 5, 2022

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire


I picked up The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford a few years ago, on a whim.  I don't know a whole lot about Mongolia or Genghis Khan, but I was intrigued that his daughters might have had a hand in saving the empire he built.  

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens is split into three parts.  The first part was centered around Genghis Khan himself, showing how he built his empire and why his daughters played such an important part in it (he had been betrayed by many men throughout his life, and he needed someone he could trust running things while he took the men off to war).  I found this part quite fascinating, especially with just how much power he gave his daughters.

The second part was, in my opinion, the hardest one to get through. This showed how, after his death, the men of his clan undermined and stole power from the women.  There are some very dark events covered in this section (I'm not going to lie - a few events I wish I could go back to not knowing about - hopefully they will fade from my memory soon). But there were some really interesting people in this section, like Qaidu Khan and his daughter, Khutulun.  Khutulun was a fierce warrior, and she vowed to only marry a man who could beat her at wrestling.  While she did end up marrying someone eventually (in the wake of rumours that spread about her and her father having some sort of incestuous relationship), she was undefeated in wrestling!

The final section was about Manduhai and Dayan Khan.  Manduhai ended up a queen put in an almost impossible situation after her husband passed away, because whoever married her would become the next Khan.  But rather than marrying one of the three obvious contenders, she forged her own path by engaging herself to a child who was the final male heir of Genghis Khan.  And rather than using him as most others might have, she ensured that he grew up to be a strong and wise leader, making sure that he was always along when she brought the Mongols to war.  Together, the two of them reunited the shattered empire of Genghis Khan for good, while also ensuring that the surrounding countries understood that they had no interest in conquering more territory - the Mongols had learned that it was hard to administer a vast Empire. Though there was about 20 years between them, Manduhai and Dayan Khan stayed together until her death; neither of them took another spouse or tried to depose of the other (although they very easily could have gone their separate ways once Dayan Khan was 18).  

While overall The Secret History of the Mongol Queens was an interesting book, I did find the writing to be a bit dry at times.  I also thought it would have benefitted from a lot more supplemental material, especially lineages.  I found I had a really hard time keeping people straight, particularly in the second section of the book where it moved quite quickly from person to person.  This was also the section that did not have any family tree at all when it began.

I'd also like to mention the really neat calligraphy drawings at the beginning of each section.  I didn't realize that's what they were until I read the Acknowledgements page - they are by N. Bat-Erdene, and they depict three of the Mongol Queens (Borte, Sorkhokhtani, and Manduhai). According to Weatherford's note, the Mongol people believe the essence of a person survives in the sound of the spoken name and the form of the written one, hence why these drawings are particularly important.  He also notes that no portraits of these ladies are known to exist.  Very, very interesting!

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Jurassic Park


I've considered reading Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park on and off over the years.  I love the Jurassic Park movie.  I also really, really liked Crichton's book Timeline when I read it years ago (before this blog existed. I thought it was the only Crichton book I've read, but I also apparently read Next over a decade ago; I don't remember it at all).  But I never got around to it.  I think I had a paperback copy for awhile, then got rid of it.  But then a few months ago I was talking to a friend about it and ended up picking it up on my Kindle.  My friend really liked it, and recommended it as a must read for dinosaur lovers.  

The movie follows the overall plot of the book fairly well, so if you've seen it, you know what happens.  Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, and Ian Malcolm are all invited to John Hammond's island to tour his amusement park.  The lawyer, Donald Gennaro, wanted their help in assessing whether or not to close down the park.  Hammond also invited his grandchildren to the park in the hopes that their presence would help Gennaro see the wonders the park gave to children.  

The characters are a bit different from the movie though.  Lex is only 7 or 8 and a tomboy (and a very stereotypical annoying kid).  Tim is older and into computers as well as dinosaurs.  There's a PR person who takes them around on the tour.  And Dr. Settler (who is much younger than I would have thought) seems to mostly be present as an audience for Ian Malcolm's lectures.

They're also....kind of flat.  And honestly not particularly interesting people (I think because they're flat). 

There's also a lot of science throughout the book.  In Timeline, I remember the science being front heavy - once you got through the first bit, the science was all explained and the story just happened.  In Jurassic Park, the science is throughout the book, often halting the story to be explained.  And it's not just one kind of science: you've got genetics, paleontology, biology, chaos theory mathematics, computer science (the book hasn't aged particularly well in regards to the technology - it was written at a time when CD players needed to be explained in detail).  

Also: misogyny.  Everyone is so surprised that Dr. Sattler is a woman.  But then she gets to just do stereotypical woman things (go help take care of Dr. Malcolm while us men figure everything out), forgetting that she's just as smart as the men in the room.  It really bothered me knowing how great and active she was in the movie (a lot of the things she does in the movie are done by Gennaro in the book).

So all in all, I found Jurassic Park to be quite the let down.  But now I want to go and rewatch the movie, which I think is far better paced than the book was!

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Long Story Short


I bought Long Story Short: the Only Storytelling Guide You'll Ever Need by Margot Leitman last year, during a writing book buying-spree I went on. Apparently I didn't pay too much attention to it though, becauae it's actually a book about oral storytelling rather than writing. But that was okay - I found Leitman's writing super engaging, and some of her principles do translate to writing stories as well.

Long Story Short is a guide on how to tell true stories from your life to an audience, whether that is during a storytelling competition, as part of your work, or even just to a group of friends. Leitman discovered storytelling by accident when she was an aspiring actress in New York. Since then, she's told her stories on national television, won storytelling competitions, and started teaching others how to tell their true stories. While she covers the basics of crafting a story (specifically looking at things like condensing characters, and making sure your story has a beginning, middle, and end), the majority of the book is focussed on either finding your story, or on giving you the confidence to tell your story (and to tell it truly - don't embellish it!) 

Long Story Short is a super quick read (it's also a really cute little book). As I said, I really enjoyed Leitman's writing - you can tell she has a real knack for storytelling! I also liked how it gave great ideas for actually presenting stories - the next time I have to do any sort of presentation, I'll definitely be giving this book another read!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

A Few Graphic Novels - Jan 2022


 A friend of mine lent me some graphic novels a little while ago and I finally got around to reading them today. 

First was Return of the Valkyries, a random story where Jane Foster brings more Valkyries back (?) in the middle of Marvel's The King in Black event.  Right off the bat I was kind of in trouble because I knew nothing about The King in Black (but the book does a good enough job of giving you the gist of things so I get that it's like a chaotic god named Knull is attacking the earth with an army of symbiote-dragons).  It opens with Jane Foster ferrying the best super-human, Sentry, to death because he failed to stop the mad god (I'm not a comics expert, but I have never heard of this guy before so his death meant nothing to me). :( On the way to the afterlife, they find the body of the Celestial whose head is being mined elsewhere (where the Collector lives in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie).  The body has been trapping souls and manages to snag Sentry's.  While trying to get him back, Jane frees another lost soul (and fellow Valkyrie). They return to Valhalla where Brunnhilde fills Jane in on what they're dealing with (the Celestial's body is tied to Knull.  Breaking the bond between the two will weaken Knull.  But the rescued Valkyrie isn't interested in joining the fight, so Jane hatches a desperate plan with two others.

I found this one kind of hard to follow at times.  Yes, I understood the main plot and what was going on.  But I had a hard time keeping track of what all the characters were doing and why (and also who was dead vs who wasn't, as the dead Valkyries all show up to help).  I also have no idea what the rescued Valkyrie's name is (I'm sure it says it somewhere, but I didn't catch it, even though I caught her dead lover's name, and the names of some of the dead Valkyries).  This story also kind of felt out of place to read it on its own - it would probably be a lot better within the context of the King in Black storyline.


Next was Star: Birth of a Dragon. Star (aka Ripley Ryan) is a character from Captain Marvel.  While interviewing Captain Marvel, Ryan was kidnapped and later gained superpowers, attempting to kill Captain Marvel (she failed, but I think she killed many in New York).  To stop her, Captain Marvel ripped a hole through her chest.  But she didn't die.  Instead she somehow ended up bound with the reality stone.  Sentenced to prison on the Raft, she breaks out and just wants to be left alone.  But her uses of the infinity stone are clumsy, and she suddenly has a whole pile of superhumans looking for her to obtain it!

 This was a really interesting read.  Ryan is suffering from PTSD after being kidnapped and having Captain Marvel punch a hole through her.  She's trying to deal with that while also trying to control her new powers.  And to make everything worse, guess who shows up, but Captain Marvel herself!  I think what really made this story shine was at the end when Carol Danvers doesn't understand what happened (and just how traumatized Ryan is by her), why Ryan chose to make a deal with the Black Order rather than fighting with her and Scarlet Witch. I'm not sure if that PTSD will feature in future stories with this character, but I'm definitely interested to read more!


Finally, I read Crossover Volume 1: Kids Love Chains.  This one has a really interesting premise.  All the people of all the comic books have suddenly appeared in our world, blurring the lines between what is real and what is fake.  The comic people have erected a barrier over one of our cities.  Any of the comic people caught outside of the dome are immediately surrendered to the police when caught.  

In the middle of all this is Ellie, a young girl whose parents were caught on the other side of the dome.  She works in a comics shop with Otto.  When a young comic girl, Ava, is found in the shop, everyone panics and the shop is lit on fire.  Ellie, Otto, and Ava escape, and end up embarking on a journey to return Ava to her world (and hopefully find Ellie's parents along the way).  

I really, really enjoyed Crossovers.  It was a really interesting look at what could happen if our world collided with the fantasy world of comics (in a very District 9 kind of way).  The one issue I had with it was that I didn't really know who any of the characters in it were (although there was a list at the end with thanks to people whose characters appeared in this, so that was helpful).  I loved the ending, and can't wait to read more of Ellie's adventures!

Friday, January 7, 2022

Noor

 


For my first book of 2022, I decided to read Noor by Nnedi Okorafor, one of the library books I have out.  I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in her Binti series, so I was looking forward to more of the same.

Noor follows Anwuli Okwudili (or AO as she prefers to be called), a young woman who was born wrong (and later in a freak accident which made everything worse).  Against the wishes of her family and the larger society, she's had many cybernetic upgrades, which allowed her to walk.  But the larger society of Nigeria looks at her as a freak and devil as a result.  So one day when she goes to a market, one which she always thought was quite safe, where the people knew her, a group of men attacked her.  She fights back, and kills them.  Fleeing for her life, she makes her way north towards the desert and the Red Eye, a disastrous sandstorm that has cropped up on Earth that is similar to Jupiter's Great Red Spot.  Taking herself offline, she fully intends to just go and die.  But she encounters a Fulani herdsman named DNA and his two remaining cows (GPS and Carpe Diem) who have also just escaped from their own tragedy.  And so they end up on the run together.

While the book is short (I think it's only 211 pages), I felt like it trudged forward, even during what should have been the faster paced action scenes. Which was odd, because then suddenly the book just seemed to end abruptly.  I will admit though, I did really enjoy the end, despite it feeling so hasty.

I also felt like it didn't spend enough time with the characters of the book.  I had a pretty good feel for AO, but I felt like I was being told about her, rather than being allowed to connect with her on an emotional level. That was true of the other characters too (although as you moved away from AO, I felt like you had less and less of a feel for anyone, including DNA).  

All in all, I found Noor to have some interesting ideas, particularly about identity and fitting in, but it just never came together as a whole for me. :(