Archive for February, 2009


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This is one of the cutest cakes I have ever seen!  (Found via Cake Wrecks, who usually post photos of cakes gone horribly wrong, but occasionally post cakes done unbelievably right, just for the contrast)

Super Cute Dragons

Castles and Fairies

Awesome Dragons (and Unicorns)

How do people make these and then send them out to be eaten?  Who would dare destroy such cuteness with a knife?

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Austenbook is an awesome version of Pride and Prejudice, in the style of a Facebook news feed.

It’s wonderful how one of my favourite books lends itself to so many different re-imaginings, including the recently published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and a movie set to begin shooting later this year, which adds an alien invasion to the classic romance. (I half expect to find out the movie is just a joke, but the book is real!)

The author of Austenbook was inspired by a similar rendering of Hamlet.

Masques by Patricia Briggs

Masques is Patricia Briggs first novel, and is now out of print.  Secondhand copies are going for upwards of $US400 on Amazon.com, so I count myself lucky that I have managed to read it. (It is all my friend’s doing: she joined a group that are sending a copy of Masques around the world so people can read it.  All I did was be friends with her – and be the person who introduced her to Patricia Briggs!)

Masques is set in the same world as Briggs’ second and third novels: Steal the Dragon and When Demons Walk.

Aralorn is a shape-shifter and a spy, sent to determine what is going on with a powerful sorcerer, whose charisma blinds nearly everyone in the surrounding kingdoms to his true (and horrific) nature.  The mysterious Wolf  is her occasional companion.  He is almost certainly human, although Aralorn has only seen him as a wolf.

As the sorcerer’s power spreads, he deposes Myr, a young king whose immunity to magic renders him a threat.  Aralorn and Wolf have separately befriended Myr, and both set out to help him regain his kingdom, and to somehow find a way of defeating the sorcerer.  We see the slow evolution of Aralorn and Wolf’s relationship, and find out about Wolf’s mysterious origins.

The normal fantasy tropes are subtly twisted, as I’ve come to expect from Patricia Briggs; and the characters, the situations they find themselves in, and the lands Briggs has imagined are interesting.  However, I was a third of the way in before I really felt immersed in the story.  While Masques is an enjoyable tale, it is noticeably a first book.

I found the way Aralorn kept talking to her horse to be a clumsy way to let us know what she is thinking/why she is doing something.  Wolf’s background seemed more detailed than Aralorn’s – certainly he is a more rounded and complex character, as well as undergoing the majority of the change and growth.  Not that I didn’t like Aralorn, but she was a little static as a character, and a bit too perfect.  She always seemed to know the right thing to say, the right tone to take, and didn’t even get mentally scarred by her torture; we see it taking time for her to physically get back to normal, but in her head she is remarkably okay.

In common with the other two Sianim books, I found the romantic subplot was not as tidily concluded as the rest of the novel.  This is fine for series books, but for standalones, and as someone who reads romances, it is somewhat unsatisfying.

A personal issue was that I kept reading Aralorn as male, which was really annoying as there is nothing in the writing that would make me think that.  Near the end of the book, I finally figured out my subconscious was associating the name Aralorn with that guy from Lord of the Rings, Aragorn!

I’ve written more than I normally would about what I feel didn’t quite work in Masques.  Masques is so hard to find and there are so few reviews of it, I thought people should know what the book is like, not just what it is about.  I did enjoy reading Masques, but it is the weakest of Briggs’ work.  I recommend that people be patient and wait for when Briggs manages to find time to re-write Masques and finish the sequel Wolf’s Bane.

UPDATE: [April 2010] According to Amazon, the rewritten Masques has a release date of 28 September 2010, and Wolfbane has a release date of 2 November 2010.  I can’t wait!

Other books by Patricia Briggs that I have reviewed: Cry Wolf, Moon Called, Bone Crossed

John from Grasping for the Wind has come up with a Book Review Meme.

Here is how it works: Find a favorite book, movie, or videogame review (Science fiction and fantasy related) that you have written, no matter where it was posted, and add it to the following list. Make sure to repost the whole list, because in doing so, we accumulate what the reviewers themselves think is their best work, and give each other some linkages, increasing everyone’s rankings.

Again, I plan to keep track of all the blogs that link back to me, and I will add the review of choice to the list. If you are one of the early adopters, you can check back here occasionally and add the new ones that get added to the list at your blog or website.

This probably won’t be as successful as the Book Reviewers Linkup Meme, but I certainly would find it useful to know what reviews are considered their best by the writers themselves.

  1. Grasping for the Wind – INFOQUAKE by David Louis Edelman
  2. Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books – A COMPANION TO WOLVES by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
  3. Dragons, Heroes and Wizards – ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb
  4. Walker of Worlds – THE TEMPORAL VOID by Peter F Hamilton
  5. Neth Space – TOLL THE HOUNDS by Steven Erikson
  6. Dark in the Dark – GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY by M.R. James
  7. A Dribble of Ink – THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  8. Fantasy Book News & Reviews – EMPRESS by Karen Miller 
  9. Fantasy Debut – ACACIA by David Anthony Durham Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Overall Review Afterthought
  10. All Booked Up – THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley 
  11. Fantasy Cafe – THE BOOK OF JOBY by Mark J. Ferrari
  12. AzureScape – ANATHEM by Neal Stephenson
  13. The Book Smugglers – THE INFERIOR by Peadar O’Guilin
  14. Besotted Bookworm – PARANORMAL FICTION FEAST by Christine Feehan, Julie Kramer, and Jayne Castle
  15. Renee’s Book Addiction – WANDERLUST by Ann Aguirre
  16. SciFiGuy.ca – THE BLACK SHIP by Diana Pharaoh Francis
  17. Literary Escapism – FOR A FEW DEMONS MORE by Kim Harrison (with spoilers)
  18. Speculative Horizons – THE TERROR by Dan Simmons
  19. Stella Matutina – NEW AMSTERDAM by Elizabeth Bear
  20. Variety SF – MISSION OF GRAVITY by Hal Clement
  21. WISB/F&SF Lovin’ Blog – SEABORN by Chris Howard
  22. Highlander’s Book reviews – A MADNESS OF ANGELS by Kate Griffin
  23. The Old Bat’s Belfry – THE CROWN CONSPIRACY by Michael J. Sullivan 
  24. Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews – THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  25. The Sci-Fi Gene – PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Mieville
  26. Against the Nothing – MAY BIRD AND THE EVER AFTER by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  27. Flight into Fantasy – AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman
  28. Items of Interest – BITTEN TO DEATH by Jennifer Rardin

Rules of Diplomacy

Recently I reviewed Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, a recent addition to my favourite authors. One of the things that I most remember about Princess Academy is the Rules of Diplomacy that Hale came up with and used to great effect in one scene. (Led by the main character, Miri, the girls of the academy defy their tutor and return home for their village’s spring holiday. On returning they negotiate an improved relationship with the tutor for the rest of the academy’s term.)

Rules of Diplomacy

  1. Build on common ground
  2. State the problem
  3. Admit your own error
  4. State the error of the other party
  5. Propose specific compromises
  6. Invite mutual acceptance
  7. Illustrate the negative outcome of refusal and positive of acceptance
  8. Assert a deadline for acceptance

I think most people don’t really know how to deal with conflict; I certainly would prefer to avoid rather than face conflict! Unfortunately, changing from a head-in-the-sand attitude to a mature person who can deal with the tough situations head on, is easier said than done. I find Shannon Hale’s Rules of Diplomacy to be a really good guideline for dealing with conflict.

I think one of the most important rules is ‘admit your own error’. Importantly, it comes before ‘state the error of the other party’.  How often do you want someone to apologize first, making it easier for you to say ‘Well, I didn’t behave very well either, I’m sorry’?

All I need to do now is practise consistently applying these rules to my life. That’s definitely easier said than done!

51 Jokes

What’s black and white and black and white and black and white?

A penguin rolling down a hill.

What’s black and white and laughing?

The penguin who pushed him!

For more jokes watch this awesome video of 51 jokes in four minutes.  There’s bound to be at least one joke that’ll make you smile!

 

Shannon Hale is one of the authors I’ve found though Pollyanna’s Booklist.  Princess Academy is a Newbery Honor book, and is aimed at a slightly younger audience than the rest of her books, but it is still just as satisfying a read for an adult.

Miri lives in a small mountain village with her father and two sisters.  One late autumn day, it is announced that the prince will choose a bride from the village and all eligible females are to attend a academy to prepare for the princes’ choice in spring.

The girls are isolated and the competition among them becomes fierce as they first learn to read and write ; then history, economics, diplomacy and deportment.  The tutor is harsh, forbidding visits home and treating the girls badly.  Miri’s intelligence and character lead her to fight against the tutor’s injustices, and as Miri begins to discover a silent way to communicate called quarry-speech, danger threatens.

Princess Academy is an unpredictable and multi-layered story, with well-drawn characters; even the tutor is realistic, with understandable motivations.  Miri’s journey, as she begins to understand the complexity of the world and other people, is fascinating to follow.

Princess Academy was the first Shannon Hale book I read, six books later, she is now one of my favorite authors.  (Just don’t ask how many favorite authors I have!)

Other books I have reviewed by Shannon Hale: Rapunzel’s Revenge

New Page – Read in 2009

When I decided to put book reviews on my blog, I thought I would review every book I read.  I soon realised that writing a review takes quite a bit of time (around three hours),  I read too many books and I didn’t necessarily want to review everything anyway!  But I still wanted a list of everything I’d read, just out of curiosity.  I’ve previously only estimated how many books I read, it would be nice to have some accurate data.

To solve this problem I’ve added a new page: Read in 2009.  These are my guidelines:

  • Only include books that are read properly, not skimmed, or just looked at
  • Books I tried to read and didn’t finish get an DNF
  • Books are counted in the month I finish reading them

So far January has 16 books and February 10 (and one DNF).  January may not be completely accurate as I’m having to remember back a whole month!

* DNF = Did Not Finish

72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life

From Zen Habits (a really interesting site) comes an article on how to simplify your life.  Author Leo Babauta says:

there are really only two steps to simplifying:

  1. Identify what’s most important to you.
  2. Eliminate everything else.

He then goes on to list 72 ideas that we can use to simplify our lives, recommending that people focus on the suggestions that apply to them and only try to implement one change at a time.

Streamline your life. Many times we live with unplanned, complex systems in our lives because we haven’t given them much thought. Instead, focus on one system at a time (your laundry system, your errands system, your paperwork system, your email system, etc.) and try to make it simplified, efficient, and written. Then stick to it.

Make a Most Important Tasks (MITs) list each day. Set just 3 very important things you want to accomplish each day. Don’t start with a long list of things you probably won’t get done by the end of the day. A simple list of 3 things, ones that would make you feel like you accomplished something.

Develop equanimity. If every little thing that happens to you sends you into anger or stress, your life might never be simple. Learn to detach yourself, and be more at peace.

Just three of the suggestions that I found useful!  Read the article 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life and find the ideas that appeal to you.

Dinosaur Comics is this awesome web comic, written by Ryan North.  He uses the same template for each strip, with only the words changing.  The main character is T-Rex, he’s young, immature, excitable and interested in ideas.  His friends, Utahraptor and Dromiceiomimus, are more sensible and down-to-earth.

I am totally failing to communicate the intelligence, humour and sheer joyous fun of these comics, so, to find out if Dinosuar Comics is your cup of tea, take a look at:

Everything I think can be altered!

I had the strangest dream last night…

Why am I here?

Oh! And mouse over the pictures for extra goodness!

And for extra extra goodness, there’s an in-depth and fascinating interview with Ryan North here.  How are Computational Linguistics and Dinosaur Comics related!  Discuss the use of exclamation points and other punctuation!  Find out why we should be afraid of cephalopods!  (After reading the interview, I felt liberated in my use of exclamation marks – can you tell?)