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text 2018-12-15 16:20
24 Festive Tasks, Door 13 - Advent UPDATED WITH PICTURES
The Sword Dancer - Jeannie Lin

Advent

 

Book: Since today is also the start of COYER Winter, I chose a book off my COYER reading list. I will read The Sword Dancer (Tang Dynasty #4) by Jeannie Lin.

 

Task #1

Here's a picture of my kids' advent calendars for this year.

 

Task #2

British Christmas traditions: going to house/castle/hall to see the decorations, caroling, and pantos!

 

Took the kids to our local National Trust site, Oxburgh Hall, to see the early Victorian decorations. The hall's volunteers get together in late August to rehearse for their free 20 minute caroling show; the last song, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, is a sing-along with audience participation. They put this show on 3x a day on Saturday and Sundays in December. 

 

Joshua went on his field trip to the Royal Theater in Bury St Edmunds and saw a pantomime production of Sleeping Beauty - his favorite part was the dragon (of course). He didn't care for the kissing part. Sophia was supposed to go with her class the next day, but that date turned into the National Day of Mourning, and with no school came no field trip. She is rescheduled to see it in early January. 

 

As a family, we went to see a local pantomime production of Snow White and the Dwarves of Foulden. My friend's oldest son was in the show as fox (woodland creature) and Dipstick, one of the dwarves. Here's a pic of the program.

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review 2018-12-07 04:53
The Sword and the Spirits
The Sword and the Spirits - Robert Denton III

What happens when a company renowned for its tabletop and card games decides to publish novellas based on one of those card games and releases the hardcovers with bonus promo cards? My husband gets suckered into buying them, that’s what.

 

 

I have played Legend of the Five Rings (the new version, not the old version). It’s okay, but I like Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn better and I think they’re similar enough that owning both is redundant. My husband disagrees, and *coughsplutter* dollars later we have a vast array of L5R cluttering our house. (Apparently spreading the cards out all over the place is vital to the deck building process.) At the tail end of his card-buying frenzy (please, God, let it be the tail end), he discovered the existence of new L5R novellas featuring the various clans you can play as, and here we are.

 

The Sword and the Spirits is a decent story and the cover art is pretty, and that’s the best praise I can give it. Either the author assumed anyone reading it would have read the short stories and other supplemental material included with the game and clan decks and expansions (a fair assumption as he’s writing for a very niche market), or he isn’t very good at introductions and exposition. The quality of writing is about what you’d expect from someone used to writing backstory and flavor text for game manuals and cards. It’s serviceable, but also full of awkward phrasing and questionable word choice and jarring transitions. There are a whole lot of instances of random details being inserted for no discernable reason. An attempt at evoking ambiance? Or inflating the word count past short story length? Whatever the reason, there’s a bunch of stuff like this where the prose suddenly verges on purple to no good effect:

 

Tadaka’s eyes fell to the back of the room, where his candle revealed an altar with a lidless lacquered box. His prayer beads were like a windswept porch swing.

 

 

Suffice it to say, whatever editing process this book went through was inadequate. Novels and manuals are different beasts, and if Fantasy Flight used their in-house editors for this project, it would explain a lot.

 

If you’re a fan of the game and you’re not a picky, pedantic lit-snob like me, you might like this book. If you just think the game is okay-ish and you talked yourself into reading this book because you’re not sure your husband ever will and you can’t stand the thought of him paying all that money just for a few promo cards, have another conversation with yourself. Try to talk yourself out of it, if you can. And if you’ve never heard of the game and this book somehow caught your eye, walk on by. There must be far better Japanese-inspired fantasies out there.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-30 16:42
Bloodsong Trilogy by Asa Drake (aka C. Dean Andersson)

I’ve always been an avid reader; a quiet moment to me means a chance to get a chapter or two in.  Back in the 80s while I was in the Marine Corps we had lots of down time on weekends, and thankfully a lot of Marines were into AD&D, so there was that.  Heck- once we even brought our books with us on a week-long field deployment so we could finish a module featuring a vampire named Strahd von Zarovich.  Good times.

 

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I always wonder how much this one would be worth without all my notes marking it up...[/caption]

 

One slow Saturday I went to the PX to find something to read.  I’m a longtime fantasy fan (who isn’t these days, but I’m old so I can stake my claim!) who loves a good hack-n-slash featuring a female protagonist.  Back in the 80s that type of novel was in woefully short supply.  That day I came across two titles that seemed to fit the bill: The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon (also a former Marine- Semper Fi!) & Werebeasts of Hel by Asa Drake (aka C. Dean Andersson- a former Airman, but I won’t hold that against him).

 

Now, as much as I tried to like Moon’s book, I couldn’t.  The titular character was female practically in name only- she was asexual to the point of almost becoming her defining trait and the story plodded along like a broke down mule in knee deep mud.  Even back then I understood the issues with female leads in SF/F and making her a fully-fleshed person with loves, hates, needs & desires would’ve been tricky at best, but it didn’t even seem like there was an effort made there.

 

Then I read Werebeasts of Hel.  

 

Even though it was the third book of the trilogy, there was enough backstory involved so it wasn’t hard to follow.  Most importantly, I was now dying to read the first two.

Built from Norse mythology & history and billed as the “Heavy Metal of Fantasy” by Publisher’s Weekly, all three books even featured cover art by Boris Vallejo!  In the 80s that was pretty much the Seal of Approval!

 

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Starting with Warrior Witch of Hel, the story arc centers upon a woman named Freyadis whose village was raided by the evil sorcerer, King Nidhug, who served Hel, Goddess of Death.   With her husband and infant son killed & her daughter Guthrun taken captive, Freyadis was subjected to various abuses, bound to a tree and left to die, her infant son’s corpse tied to her breast.  Never passing up an opportunity, Hel offered Freyadis a chance to return as an undead Hel warrior if she would pray to her as she died. 

 

Nidhug, of course, has betrayed Hel by stealing a relic of her power called the War Skull for his own ends.  After enduring even more of Nidhug’s depravities- including in gladiatorial combat- and finding her daughter in Helheim, Freyadis- now known as Bloodsong from her arena fights- is tasked by Hel to recover the War Skull and bring Nidhug down in exchange for freedom.  Must’ve been a Tuesday.

 

Along the way Bloodsong finds allies like Huld- an elf-blooded witch in service to Freya, Jalna- a slave unfortunate enough to catch Nidhug’s attention & Tyrulf- the warrior in Nidhug’s army who’s attracted to Jalna.  Bloodsong also has a very nasty surprise waiting for her when she reaches Nidhug’s fortress.

 

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The second book, Death Riders of Hel, picks up a few years later: Guthrun is discovered to be a witch and studies with Huld while Bloodsong and her friends have forged a life in the aftermath.  A new threat arises from Thokk- a Hel-witch determined to both finish what Nidhug started and convert Guthrun to the dark side.  Thanks to her mistress, Thokk has a way of striking at Bloodsong where it’ll hurt her the most.  Bloodsong forms an alliance with a tribe of shapeshifting berserkers and is willing to pay any price to save Guthrun from becoming a Hel-witch.  But will the lure of darkness be too great for Gudrun to overcome, especially when being lured by a familiar presence?

 

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Werebeasts of Hel takes place years later, but unfolds much the same way.  Years of peace after defeating Hel, life goes on, friends & lovers… then, BOOM!  Third time’s the charm, eh?  An old adversary returns to lead Hel's armies- one who knows Bloodsong's weaknesses and she's hard pressed to stand against him alone.  This time Odin himself provides a little divine assistance and Bloodsong has to forge an alliance with an altogether new breed of creatures to help stop Hel from conquering them all.

 

The best thing about these books is they are what they are.  Nothing fancy or elaborate- it's all straightforward, fast-paced, in-your-face adventure: here's the situation, now let's do something about it!  It’s a gloriously grim & gory Nordic hack-n-slash with good doses of horror and a few splashes of romance tossed in for variety.  This is a bleak, icy world teetering on the edge of apocalypse.  Death lurks around every turn, defeat is all but certain, friends are lost, sacrifices appear pointless and at times it takes all the heroes have just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

 

It’s fucking great!!!  My copies of these are lovingly well-worn for good reason.  I’m glad I found ebook copies to help save them even more wear and tear.

 

Now I’ll admit the omnibus edition doesn’t thrill me at all.  Though the alterations fleshed a lot of things out it was also watered down and a lot of things were added that just flat out confused me.  But it’ll probably do for you if you haven’t read the originals.  If you can find the originals or individual ebooks, get ‘em!  You won’t be sorry!

 

4.5/5 stars

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review 2018-10-30 11:38
The Chicken's Head Rose: "Soul of the Fire" by Terry Goodkind
Soul of the Fire (Sword of Truth, Book 5) - Terry Goodkind


(Original Review, 2002) 


"Hissing, hackles lifting, the chicken's head rose. Kahlan pulled back. Its claws digging into stiff dead flesh, the chicken slowly turned to face her. It cocked its head, making its comb flop, its wattles sway. "Shoo," Kahlan heard herself whisper. There wasn't enough light, and besides, the side of its beak was covered with gore, so she couldn't tell if it had the dark spot, But she didn't need to see it. "Dear spirits, help me," she prayed under her breath. The bird let out a slow chicken cackle. It sounded like a chicken, but in her heart she knew it wasn't. In that instant, she completely understood the concept of a chicken that was not a chicken. This looked like a chicken, like most of the Mud People's chickens. But this was no chicken. This was evil manifest."


In "Soul of the Fire" by Terry Goodkind.


Goodkind is responsible for the worst thing ever written by a human being; the now legendary evil chicken scene (quote above).

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-10-28 12:00
A must have for scholars, researches, and WWI enthusiasts.
The Great War Illustrated 1918 - William Langford,Jack Holroyd

Thanks to Alex, Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a Hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Despite my interest in the topic, and although I have read some books and watched some movies on WWI, I am not very knowledgeable about it, and I am more familiar with WWII, which feels (and is) much closer. I recently read and reviewed, another one of the books published by Pen & Sword, which explored a historical topic through pictures from the period, and I found it a great way of learning about the era by bringing it to life.

When I saw this book, the last in a collection of five volumes, one per each year of WWI, I was curious. Although I had seen pictures from WWI, they were mostly of soldiers, who had posed in uniform for their families, or political figures, and when I think about war photography, I think of WWII, the Spanish Civil War and later conflicts. This particular volume contains over a thousand photographs, including some in colour, maps, and drawings, of the various campaigns of 1918. The authors explain that some of the images are well-known (I was only familiar with some of the politicians, well-known figures, like T. E. Lawrence and Wilfred Owen, and some of the royals), but they had never been presented as a full collection or in an organised manner. The images are numbered and people interested can obtain copies from the image library in the Taylor Library Archive, and that makes this book a great reference for scholars and other people looking for visual documentation from the period.

The volume is divided into eight chapters: 1) Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids – Naval War, 2) The German Spring Offensives –The Kaiserschlacht, 3) Salonika, Mesopotamia, Palestine, 4) The Italian Front, 5) Battles of the Aisne and the Marne Rivers, 6) Americans at Cantigny, Château-Thierry, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, 7) Battle of Amiens – The Hindenburg Line – Advance to Victory, 8) Some Consequences of this Global War. Although the big protagonists of the book are the photographs, the text guides us through the campaigns, including also the original captions from newspapers, the citations for the medals they received, and some observations that help us understand the sequence and the consequences of the events.

Although I knew that in WWI there had been a lot of destruction (of lives, animals, and buildings) because of the use of weapons unknown until then, the impact of seeing pictures of towns and cities completely destroyed, of mustard gas attacks, tanks, planes, aerial pictures, dead soldiers and civilians, and famine is overwhelming. And the stories… From inspiring bravery to incredible cruelty (or perhaps it was just a strong sense of duty, but what would make a commander launch an attack two minutes before the armistice was due, resulting in thousands of dead men on both sides is beyond my comprehension).  As I read some of the captions of the pictures and the stories behind some of the photographs, I could imagine many books and movies inspired by such events and individuals (and I am sure there are quite a few, but not as many as there should be).

I marked pages containing stories I found particularly touching, inspiring, or almost incredible, too many to mention, but I have randomly chosen a few of them to share as a sample.

The caption to a picture of plenty of smiling men brandishing their knives in page 222 explains that they are Italian soldiers of the elite Arditi Corps ‘the Caimans of the Piave’. ‘They numbered around eighty and were trained to remain in the powerful currents of the Piave for hours. Carrying only a Sardinian knife –the resolza – and two hand grenades, they acted in a communication role between the west and east banks of the Piave.’

There is a picture on page 260 of a worker with the Y.M.C.A. serving drinks to American soldiers on in the front line, and it says that one centre at a railway site served more than 200000 cups of cocoa to soldiers each month.

The book also remembers civilians who died, like those working at the National Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell that was destroyed on the 1st of July 2018, with 134 civilians dead and 250 injured.

There are stories that are the stuff of movies, like that of The Lost Battalion, the 77th Infantry Division, cut off by the Germans for five days, who were eventually relieved, but had by then lost half of the men.

Or the one of Corporal Alvin C. York ‘–later sergeant – at the place where he systematically began picking off twenty of the enemy with rifle and pistol. As an elder in a Tennessee mountain church at the beginning of the war, he was a conscientious objector, but then changed his mind to become the most efficient of killers.’ (405) He took the machine gun nest, four officers, 128 men, and several guns.

There are amazing feats by men of all nations and horrific devastation as well. The last chapter serves as a reminder of the heavy price imposed on the losing side and the consequences derived from it. The peace would be sadly short-lived, as we all know, and some of the issues of sovereignty that seemed to have been solved then would resurface once more a few years later.

In sum, this is a book for people interested in WWI (the whole collection is) at a personal level, invaluable for researchers, as it provides a good reference to a large body of archival images, and it is packed with bite-sized information that will provide inspiration to many writers and scholars. Another great addition to Pen & Sword military catalogue and one that I thoroughly recommend.

 

 

 

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