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A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments (Part 2 – The Warm Up)

It seemed like my first post in this series was pretty popular, so I’m going to add to this by talking about how to warm up before fencing in a tournament.

First off, if your coach has given you specific guidelines about how to warm up, then ignore what I say here and listen to your coach.

The main focus of your warm up should be to get your body in a state where you are ready to fence the event without increased risk of injury. I’m going to take some tips from triathlon here, mainly the adage, “Nothing new on race day.” So for fencing, tournament day is not the time to try out a new weapon, new glove, or new warm up routine.*

I’ll do the first part of my warm up in just my fencing socks/shoes, knickers, and a t-shirt. Sometimes I listen to music, but sometimes I don’t. The first part (footwork) generally takes me 10 to 15 minutes.

When I warm up for a tournament, I use the same routine that I would in practice. Here is my specific set of exercises:

  • Light jog until my legs feel loose.
  • Arm circles until my arms feel loose.
  • Footwork:
    • Stand on guard, bend my knees and ankles. If I’m particularly stiff, just do one advance, one retreat and focus on getting some mobility in my joints.
    • Easy footwork: two advances, one retreat halfway down the strip, then two retreats, one advance until I return to my starting point. I do this maybe 3 or 4 times.
    • Start to throw in slow lunges at the end of the previous footwork drill.
    • Easy attacks: advance, advance, lunge down the strip a few times. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll do more complicated attacks, throwing in jumps, simulate missing and retreating, etc.
  • Weapon circles: This is for injury prevention. I have had problems with tendonitis in my elbow, so this seems to help keep it at bay. I put my glove on and pick up a sabre at this point and just swing it around. I’m not trying to do anything technical, just rotate my wrist and make big circles.

From this point, I may do more foot work or I may not. It depends on how my legs and back feel. You’re going to have to figure out how much to do for yourself. In general, I fence better with more of a warm up. But there are times (where I’m sore from the previous day, sick, or nursing a borderline injury) that I may stop sooner.

After this part of my warm up, I’ll look to do some warm up bouts. There are generally fencers warming up all around. Find people that are in your event and ask if you can rotate in. Generally, fencers warming up will go to 5 and then whomever refereed rotates in.

When you fence warm up bouts, you’re not trying to win. You need to try different things to get all the parts of your body coordinated. Vary your actions and work on getting your timing up to speed.

This is also a great chance to make sure that your electric equipment is all working. If you show up on the strip for the tournament with something broken, you’ll get a yellow card.

Stop when you feel like you’re ready. I try to time the end of my warm up so that I have a few minutes to sit before pools start. You may need to refill your water bottle, use the bathroom, or have a snack.

*Of course if your equipment breaks or fails checks, you may have to use something new. But try to avoid this.

See the rest of the Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments:

Read more about fencing here.

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Book Review – Fire and Blood

I had heard mixed reviews about George R. R. Martin’s latest book, Fire and Blood after it came out, so I approached this one with some apprehension. Sitting at 719 pages, this was going to be a long read.

Fire and Blood is the first half of the history of the Targaryens after fleeing old Valyria and arriving in Westeros. The book is written as a history rather than in a direct narrative style, which may make it a difficult read for some.

I enjoyed the book once I got into it far enough. Despite the way the author has chosen to tell this story, it is still *quite* a story. The Targaryens are all unique characters, and you get to spend enough time with each of them in this book to become invested in many of the outcomes.

Much like reading The Silmarillion, many names are similar within the Targaryen families, so it is helpful to reference the family tree at the back. I wish that the book had also offered a chart of which Targaryens had claimed which dragons, as this became confusing to me in the later half of the book.

Toward the end of this book, we learn about what happened in the Dance of Dragons, the Targaryen civil war. This tragic tale is supposedly the basis of HBO’s current Game of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon. If HBO will allow enough of a special effects budget, I think this will be a fantastic story to watch.

Fire and Blood is only the first half of the 300-year history prior to A Game of Thrones and I’m looking forward to the next part. Use my Amazon link to pick up your copy here. Or if you’ve never read any of the books, start with A Game of Thrones here.

Read more of my reviews here.

A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments (Part 1 – Basics)

I had been writing fencing tournament reports last year, detailing my experiences of the events where I competed and what I thought of them. I couldn’t keep up with the writing, partly because I was just busy, but also because the reports started to feel too repetitive.

This past weekend I competed in the Capitol Clash for the second time. This event was a regional youth and veteran age-group event just outside of Washington, D.C. I was excited to see some of the area’s newer fencers branching out to compete in this larger event, and I even spoke with two women who were curious about entering the event next year. (Read about the 2019 event here).

I was also having a rough week in general and had been sick (literally had a chest x-ray taken the day before the event), and realized that much of what I do during a tournament is automatic after competing for so many years (from packing, signing in, getting dressed, my warm-up, and other habits through the day). I thought it might be helpful to share some tips to newer fencers to help make the day of the event smoother when you get there.

So here is the first post in a series on A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments!

This post will just touch upon a few basics, with no particular focus. I can go into more detail on topics in later posts (send me suggestions)!

  • The time listed for an event is the close of check in. You need to show up about an hour before that to get yourself ready.
  • There are a few things you need to do first when you arrive at a fencing tournament:
    1. Check in for the event.
    2. Find a place to put your bag.
    3. Get your equipment checked.
    4. Get dressed.
    5. Fill up water bottles.
    6. Get your phone out and find the appropriate page on https://www.fencingtimelive.com/ for the event. (Most events use this now.)
    7. Warm up.
    8. Breathe.
  • Tips on bag placement:
    • If you can find out which strips you will be using ahead of time, that is nice to know. Place your bag convenient to the strips.
    • If not, consider these other factors: bathroom placement, your fellow club members, water placement, crowds.
    • You can always move your bag once you learn where you will fence.
  • Events are fenced in two rounds: pools and then direct elimination.
  • Pools typically take an hour (for sabre).
  • During your pool, pay attention to when you’re up to fence. Know your number in the pool.
  • The referee will call out numbers or names. The first name called goes to the referee’s right on the strip. Unless there’s a left-handed fencer. She always goes on the referee’s left. If there are two lefties fencing, then go back to the original number/name rule.
  • After a bout, check the score sheet to make sure the result was recorded correctly. I find an error every year in one event or another. The best time to correct it is immediately after the bout when everyone clearly remembers what happened.
  • After the pool is over, sign the score sheet and shake the referee’s hand.
  • There is a break after pools where you should make use of the bathroom. You have at least 15 minutes.
  • Refill your water bottle between the pool and direct elimination rounds. Sometimes I also eat a snack like a granola bar.

Here are some specific items that I use on tournament day (paid links):

Don’t be afraid to ask if you aren’t clear on the process or on where you’re supposed to go and when. Most fencers will be very helpful because we all want more people fencing with us!

See the rest of the Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments:

Read more of my fencing posts here.

Book Review – Salvaged

Salvaged is a science fiction novel that features more biology than physics, with a touch of romance. Author Madeleine Roux is new to me, but I was interested in this book because I’m always looking for stories that explore the implications of biotech or biochemistry in fictional setups. I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. If you’d like to support this blog, you can pick up your own copy using my Amazon affiliate link here.

Rosalyn Devar has fled her family and her problems and has found a new life working for a salvage company in space. But when her excess drinking is reported, she is given one last chance before being cut loose from employment.

Strange deaths have been reported on a couple of ships recently and now another ship, the Brigantine, has seemingly gone down. Rosalyn is sent to investigate and salvage the vessel, but things are not exactly as expected.

The crew on board the Brigantine has been infected with a strange parasite that has put them into some sort of suspended animation as it tries to control their minds. Rosalyn struggles to discover the source of the parasite while staying alive and uninfected herself.

This was a fun book to read, but the basic plot reminded me a lot of Julie Mao from The Expanse. I’ve only seen the show, so that is what my comparison is based on. This isn’t really a criticism because the plot takes the characters in a different direction that The Expanse story.

I enjoyed this book and read it pretty fast. It also functions well as a stand-alone novel and the ending kept me guessing with how it would end. There aren’t any devastatingly new science ideas here, but it was still a nice exploration of how biology can play a role as a speculative element in fiction.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Bad Blood

This book was not on my radar at all until I watched the Netflix documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. This was the first I had heard of Elizabeth Holmes and her start-up blood testing company, Theranos.

If you don’t know the story already, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of college at Stanford and started her own company, Theranos. The premise behind the start-up was that they claimed to have a new technology that would allow patients to have multiple blood tests performed using only a finger-stick to procure a tiny amount of blood. No more scary needles!

It turns out that Holmes sold the idea to investors and to customers well before actually having that technology. John Carreyrou is the investigative journalist with the Wall Street Journal who uncovered and disclosed Theranos’ massive fraud.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is the story of how Holmes built Theranos and how the company managed to lead on venture capitalists, board members, and customers such as Walgreens and Safeway for several years. I enjoyed this book and found the practices that Theranos engaged in to be shocking and despicable. Much of the information appears to have come from former employees who realized that the company wasn’t going about things the right way.

I did feel like the middle of the book became a bit too bogged down in names and tales from one employee after another, to the point that the details began to blur and felt unnecessary to repeat.

The final downfall of Theranos was fascinating and, given Holmes’ charisma and connections, it is somewhat surprising that she couldn’t continue the charade for even longer.

I listened to this book in audio format and found the narrator (Will Damron) to be easy to listen to and understand. If you’ve seen the Netflix documentary, this book is still worth a read, giving far more detail that it was possible to have in the movie. Even knowing how it ended, I found myself entranced by the company’s downfall. To pick up a copy, follow my Amazon affiliate link here.

Find all of my book reviews here.

Reading Goals 2020

As I look back at 2019 and ahead to 2020, I decided to think through my reading goals. What did I accomplish in 2019? How will I plan my reading in 2020? Here are my conclusions.

2019 Reading Achievements

Goals for 2020 Reading

I plan to read even more for 2020. I love this graphic that you can make over on Goodreads from one of your shelves. This is just part of my 2020 to-be-read shelf. I know that I won’t get to all of these, but having this list all in one place helps to keep me organized and on track.

Just a few of the books I’d love to read in 2020.

Here are my specific 2020 goals:

  • Read 50 books. For this, I count all types of books and formats.
  • Continue to finish, catch up with, and keep up with series I have already started. Upcoming reads include: Otherland by Tad Williams, The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu, The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski, Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda, The Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Seven Kennings by Kevin Hearne, The Throne of Amenkor by Joshua Palmatier, The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett, The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and The Founders by Robert Jackson Bennett.
  • Wow, that’s a lot of series!
  • I would still like to aim for at least 2 classics and 2 non-fiction books. For classics, I’d love to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
  • I would like to read more graphic novels, but I have some of that covered in the series I need to read (above).
  • I need to catch up on my book reviews. I didn’t do very well with these in the second half of 2019.

Well, that’s it for now! What books do *you* plan to read in 2020? Are there other classics you think I should read? Do you have any favorite non-fiction books to recommend? Let’s chat in the comments (click by the date at the top of the post), and remember to follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

My Most Anticipated Books of 2020

I’m pretty happy with how much I read in 2019, but now it’s time to look ahead at my reading for 2020. I think I’m going to stick with some of the same goals: read at least two non-fiction books, two classics, and continue trying to finish or keep up on series that I enjoy.

My goal in terms of numbers is to see if I can read 50 books this year. I managed 43 books in 2019, so while 50 is a stretch, I don’t think it’s impossible. I’m trying to keep myself organized by creating a shelf on Goodreads for my planned reading, but it already contains 100 books. We’ll see which ones I get to!

Here are a few of the books that I’m most excited to read in 2020.

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher

I’m a long-time fan of The Dresden Files series, so I’ve been waiting for this latest release. Peace Talks is book #16 and will be out July 2020. Start this series about a wizard private investigator in Chicago with Storm Front.

The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett

This is actually a series, rather than a single book. I read the first one, The Warded Man, a few years ago and I’ve been meaning to go back to read the entire series. I didn’t get to this one in 2019 so it’s going to the top of my list for 2020.

Circe by Madeline Miller

This book is about the Greek goddess Circe and is a reimagining of her story, told from her perspective. I’ve picked it for my book club for February, so I’ll be getting to this one soon.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

This is the first book in the series on which The Expanse television show is based. I’ve been a fan of the show but I’ve never read the books. Hoping to change that this year.

The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch

This is the latest book in the Gentleman Bastards series and is due out sometime in 2020. I caught up on this series in 2019, and I need to know what happens next. Read my review of the first book here.

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

I really enjoyed All the Birds in the Sky by this author last year (read my review). This book is more science fiction that her earlier novel and takes place on a planet that is tidally locked and I’m curious to see how that is handled.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

I’ve read reviews of this one and it sounds like something I might like: magical school, secret societies, and murder! It’s also a stand-alone novel, so I’ll avoid getting into another series.

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

I started to read The Witcher books in 2019 with The Last Wish and I’m two thirds of the way through Netflix’s show. Sword of Destiny is the second book and, like the first, is a series of short stories.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

I picked this book up at New York Comic-Con and it has dragonriders. I also loved how excited the author was about the story, but I think it could be the start of another series.

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

I think that Peter Hamilton is one of my favorite science fiction authors, writing very long and complicated stories with some unique characters. This is the first book in his newest series.

A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne

I ended up reading the first book in this series, A Plague of Giants, after picking it up at New York Comic-Con also and loved the way this story was told (my review). I received this second volume from Net Galley and I’m looking forward to where the story goes next. Pre-order now for a February 4 release date.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

This book is a portal fantasy and I read some reviews of it that made it sound like something I’d like. Then it was on sale so I picked up a copy. I really like the cover, also.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

A new Hunger Games book! This will be out in May 2020 and while I didn’t love the original series as much as some people, it was a quick and solid read.

That’s hardly all of the books that I’m excited about for 2020. I was tempted to put The Winds of Winter or Doors of Stone on this list, but until I see a definite release date on those, I’m not going to get too excited about them. If you’d like to purchase any of these other books through my Amazon affiliate links it will help support this blog.

See all of my book reviews here.

My Best Books of 2019

Well 2019 is over and I wanted to look back on my year’s reading and pick out my favorites. Since some of these were parts of series, I’m going to limit my picks to no more than one per author. If any of these interest you, use my links to help support this blog (at no additional cost to you).

I’m going to list these in no particular order and reviews are still forthcoming on some of them.

The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton was the final volume in a multi-volume science fiction saga that I listened to as an audiobook. If you like very long and complicated plots stretched across the galaxy, this is a great series. You can find by review here. Start with his earlier book, Pandora’s Star.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was an amazing surprise of a story inspired by the fairy tales of eastern Europe. This is a stand-alone fantasy novel that I listened to as an audiobook. While I had a little trouble adjusting to the narrator’s accent, it ended up fitting the book perfectly. This may have been my absolute favorite for the year. It looks like there is a chance that it will be adapted into a movie as well. You can find my review here.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders was another surprise audiobook pick for me that I chose as part of an Audible sale. I had heard the author speak at New York Comic Con in 2018 and had been interested in her work. This stand-alone novel relates the story of a witch and a mad scientist as they work to save the world. You can find my review here.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second book in the Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch. I also read the sequel, but I enjoyed the plot better in this one, with plenty of swords and female pirates. If you want to start this series, pick up The Lies of Locke Lamora.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot was one of the non-fiction books that I read in 2019 and was a great choice. This book relates the author’s efforts to discover more about Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who unknowingly contributed her cervical cancer cells to science, leading to numerous discoveries in biology and medicine. While the book does discuss the scientific side of the subject, its main focus is upon Henrietta the person and her life and family. I haven’t written up my review on this one yet.

I became aware of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo sometime after the Netflix series inspired by the book spurred articles criticizing the approach in regards to discarding books. Given that I am not the best housekeeper, I thought I’d take a look at this one. I’m glad I did, as her approach to organization has helped me learn to make better choices about what to keep and what to give up (yes, even books). It’s part of the reason why I can sit at a clean (well, half-way) desk and get more writing done now. I have a long ways to go in the process, but I fell better about getting my messes under control. You can read my full review here.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one of two classics that I was determined to read in 2019. I hadn’t been aware of what this book was about and just delved right in. I listened to the audiobook version of this one, narrated by Sissy Spacek. While I was confused at first, once the main plot expanded past the daily life of the children, I quickly realized that this book was about racism and prejudice. I plan to put more of my thoughts into a review soon.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and was published thirty-five years after that first look at her frightening dystopian future. I found The Testaments to be a more enjoyable read than the first book, mainly because it was a bit more hopeful. The scope of the story is greater, with the narration split between three characters rather than just Offred from the first book. If you’re unfamiliar with these novels, The Handmaid’s Tale has been on sale for no free lately.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was my second pick for a classic book to read in 2019. I lucked out this year in choosing classics that I actually liked, which is not always the case. This novel tells about Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who receives a treatment to make him smarter. But this change comes with unanticipated consequences and the ending of this book is heartbreaking.

So I guess that The Giver by Lois Lowry is also considered a classic now, so that’s three for me for the year. This was a quick read that I picked up with no real idea of what it was about. I think I read it in a day and a half, and with the upsurge in dystopian fiction, this book isn’t as shocking as it may have been when first published. However, the story was well-done and I liked how it challenged the superficial utopia of the society in the book.

Anyone by Charles Soule was a pick that I obtained from Net Galley and I had never read anything by this author before. I just reviewed it here. This book was exciting and easy to read, despite the complicated implications of being able to slot your consciousness into another person’s body. I need to read more of this type of action-science fiction because I really like it.

That’s it, my favorites for the year! I’m planning to catch up on my reviews for some of these in the next few months. For now, I’m going to plan my 2020 reading and look at my most anticipated reads ahead.

Find all of my reviews here.

Book Review – Anyone

This book was a random choice for me and turned out to be one of the best books I read this year. Anyone by Charles Soule is a page-turner that asks how the world would be different if you could transfer your consciousness into another person. I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The story in Anyone occurs in two separate timelines. One of these follows Gabriella White, a brilliant neuroscientist, as she works in her home laboratory and accidentally transfers her consciousness into her husband’s body. She immediately realizes the potential ramifications of such a technology and, after figuring out how to return to her own body, fights to make sure that her discovery doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

The second timeline falls twenty-five years later. Annami is a young woman working for the corporation that runs all of the world’s “flash” technology, through which Gabby’s discovery allows customers to hop into other bodies all over the world. Annami is living some sort of double life and has plans for revenge. Initially, her motivations are unclear, but as the book unfolds, the separate plots come together and we learn how the world (and Annami) evolved to reach their current state.

Anyone is not a light-hearted book and the characters suffer through some devastating events. Annami starts out by renting her body out through the darkshare underworld to make a huge amount of cash quickly. She has no say in what happens while in that state and the risks are high. The world depicted in Anyone is dark, and people use the flash for all kinds of underhanded and sinister purposes.

The two separate stories of Gabby and Annami contrasted well and filled in details about the flash technology in a complementary way, making the novel flow well. There is plenty of action to be had, and I found the book hard to put down. The characters also embody a nice amount of diversity that I don’t see as often as I would like.

The revelation at the conclusion was well-done in that it was shocking as I realized what was going on only shortly before the characters did. The only criticism of this book that I can really have was that I thought that the ending was a little abrupt after that.

While I haven’t read any other books by Charles Soule, I will be looking out for his work in the future. If you’d like to support my blog, use this Amazon affiliate link (at no extra charge to you) to buy a copy of Anyone.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Seven Blades in Black

I had never read anything by Sam Sykes, but I liked the description of this book. It featured a woman with a sword, a magical gun, and an attitude, so I thought I might like it. I did acquire this book to review as a courtesy from Net Galley.

Seven Blades in Black is the first book in a new series by Sam Sykes, but you can read the first book on its own and get a solid story. While the main plot isn’t over (by far, I’d guess), the main action of this first book is brought to a close.

Sal the Cacophany is a bounty-hunter with a tragic hidden past. She has tried to put her anger aside so that she can live through each day, but she keeps a list of names of those who wronged her in a pocket, waiting for the day that she can satisfy her vengeance. Meanwhile, she spends her time seeking out renegade Imperial mages known as Vagrants. Having served in the same capacity in her own past, she uses her knowledge to track them down, kill them using a magic gun, and then gathers the Dust from their remains, selling it for profit.

At the beginning of the book, Sal is held captive by the Revolution and is questioned by Governor-Militant Tretta Stern just before her planned execution. The two great powers in the world (the Imperials and the Revolution) have been at war for a long time with little regard for the civilians who struggle in the desolate Scar. Most of the novel is written as Sal relates her recent activities to her captor, forestalling her execution by a few hours and then a few days.

Sal’s tale starts as she tracks down Daiga, a nearby Vagrant. After their fight, she searches his tower and finds a note implying that Jindu, one of the names on her list, is recruiting Vagrants for something sinister. She realizes that she may have a chance to find him this time and the story follows her in her pursuit of her former associates.

Sal inadvertently ends up with two companions: Liette, an artificer and her former/current lover, and Low Sergeant Cavric Proud, a Revolutionary officer who is at first forced to pilot a gigantic armored tank-like device, but later stays because he begins to see his glorious Revolution through a perspective.

While the subject matter in this novel is dark and the protagonist is violent and vengeful, there is a lot of fun in the pages. I mean, Sal rides a giant bird named Congeniality and throws sarcasm around more than is good for her. Her gun, the Cacophany, is a powerful weapon, but also has a sinister aspect to it, communicating to her and becoming upset if she doesn’t kill often enough. But her sword is a plain blade and she has named him Jeff.

This is a long book that requires some attention throughout, but was a satisfying story in a unique setting. When the ending unfolds and the truth of Sal’s past is revealed, I was surprised to find her able to function as much as she does. Her backstory is heartbreaking and with knowledge of Jindu’s goals, she can’t escape confronting it, even beyond her goal of revenge. I’ll definitely pick up the next one in this series.

You can find Seven Blades in Black through my Amazon affiliate link if you’d like to support my blog. There is also a related novella (The Gallows Black) which could supplement your reading, or serve as a sampler before you jump into the longer book. Find other books by Sam Sykes below:

Find more of my reviews here.

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