Comic Review – Hedra

I picked up Hedra by Jesse Lonergan on a whim because it was short, featured a female astronaut, and I liked the minimalist style of the cover. I’ve been exceedingly busy at work since COVID started, so I haven’t had as much time to read and write as I would like, but I’m going to try to get back to posting some short reviews here again.

Hedra is a purely picture story with no words at all. Despite that, it does an amazingly effective job in telling the story of an astronaut who leaves earth in the aftermath of a nuclear war. What she finds as she travels through space is engaging and unexpected.

I really liked the way the artwork was laid out as well, with every page taking on different variations in the grid seen on the cover. I read this on my phone Kindle App, so I was able to zoom in to see some of the smaller pictures better. I was left a little puzzled by the ending, but overall I enjoyed this book and I would “read” any follow-up to this tale.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I read this book last year and it was one of my favorites for 2019. If you’re looking for something to read that discusses a medical subject that is not related to pandemics at all, then this might be a good one to pick up right now. You can help support this blog by clicking on my Amazon affiliate links.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a journalistic investigation into the origin of the HeLa cell line used in a wide range of medical and biological research.

This book relates the authors search for the origin of the cells and the person behind it. While attempts had previously been made, Skloot was able to finally reach an understanding with the remaining family members to discover the story behind the cells.

Henrietta Lacks was a young African-American women who worked as a tobacco farmer and sought help at Johns Hopkins when she developed cervical cancer. During the course of her treatment, a doctor took a sample of her cells and then proceeded to use them in ongoing research without her informed consent. Mrs. Lacks’ cells were the first that were able to be sustained and grown repeatedly and finally allowed cell culture technology to flourish, leading to numerous discoveries and therapies, even today.

This books delves into the ethics of medical research and informed consent and looks at how our current system for this research has developed. At the time when Henrietta’s cells were collected, these ethical concerns had never been considered. Part this story also concerns racism and how society took advantage of African Americans through medical research.

Henrietta’s remaining family finally learned that her cells had been propagated and sold by biological supply companies, earning a vast amount of profit for everyone except her family. This resentment made it difficult for the author to communicate with them, but she worked to overcome their fears and much of the book is about her relationship with them.

I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was a great book to read and one of my favorites from 2019.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – This Is How You Lose the Time War

I picked this book up on a whim when I was looking for more stand-alone science fiction novels. I haven’t read a lot of time travel fiction, so why not explore a bit?

This is How You Lose the Time War was just nominated for a Hugo in the Best Novella category as well. I wasn’t familiar with authors Amal El-Mohtar or Max Gladstone prior to this. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

The way that this book is structured is unusual in that it is told from the perspectives of two opposing time-traveling agents, Red and Blue. Each one works for their faction to win a war that has raged across alternate timelines. The narrative switches between short scenes in which each agent finds a letter from their opposite, followed by the text of that letter.

I really like the way that this book was written as it was a fresh way to explore this type of concept. The language was beautiful but also a bit inaccessible at times. I’m sure I missed some of the references that the book makes.

The best part of this novel for me were the glimpses of each alternate reality through history, from Atlantis and prehistoric times to fishing villages and space battles. We never get to see much of each one, but the characters experienced just enough to draw me in.

Overall, I felt this book was too long for what it was trying to do. Part of the ending was easily predictable, but one aspect did surprise me. I think that it could have been just as effective though with fewer exchanges between Red and Blue.

This book won’t be for everyone, but as it is a novella, it’s fairly short. I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t going to be one of my favorites.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The City in the Middle of the Night

I am still very much behind on my book reviews, but since the Hugo award nominees were just announced, I thought I’d share my thoughts on those nominated works that I’ve already read. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

So this is a book review of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. This book has been nominated for a Hugo for Best Novel. I listened to the audiobook version of this a couple of months ago. I reviewed the authors previous book, All the Birds in the Sky, here, and it was one of my favorite reads for 2019.

The premise in The City in the Middle of the Night is that people have colonized a planet that is tidally-locked. That means that it doesn’t rotate, so one side always faces toward the sun while the other side always faces away from it. This sets up a rather inhospitable environment where one side of the planet is too hot for people to survive, while the other is unbearably cold.

On this planet, humans have struggled to survive along the border between these two extremes. Making their lives even harder, dangerous alien life lives on the planet and the technology that was brought with the original colonists is breaking down and cannot be rebuilt.

The novel is told through the perspectives of two main characters. Sophie is a student in the city of Xiosphant where people’s circadian rhythms are regimented by the government in the absence of normal day-night cycles. She is in love with her best friend, Bianca, but when she takes the blame for her friend’s minor theft, she finds herself dragged from the safety of the city.

Abandoned and left for dead in the night outside the city, Sophie is beset upon by an alien called a Crocodile by the cityfolk. She surrenders herself to the monster, only to learn that the creatures are sentient as it helps her survive the cold and return to the city.

The second main character is Mouth, a member of the Resourceful Couriers, an illegal caravan that trades between cities, risking the dangers of the road. Mouth was once a member of the nomadic citizens, but all her people died tragically, leaving her alone to remember their culture. When she arrives in Xiosphant, she becomes obsessed with obtaining a citizen artifact from the palace. Her own story starts to overlap with that of Sophie and Bianca as Bianca joins a building rebellion and Sophie begins to engage again with the people of the city.

The plot is secondary to the relationships in this book, and while the narrative kept me interested, in the end, I found myself wanting more resolution in terms of the plot that had been building from the beginning. My opinions of each important character changed as I learned more about them and as they made their choices through the story, and they all felt very real and well drawn to me. I didn’t necessarily like them all, but I understood why they behaved the way that they did to each other.

I still enjoyed this book, but not as much as All the Birds in the Sky. It almost feels like the plot needs a sequel, but my understanding is that this is currently a stand-alone book.

Read more of my reviews here.

A Newbie Guide to Fencing (Part 3 – Practicing on Your Own)

I decided to change up this series of posts a bit since no one is having any fencing tournaments now with the coronavirus outbreak. There are a lot of coaches and clubs providing online fencing classes. If you aren’t up for a full class, read on for my thoughts on what else you can be doing to work on your fencing, even when you can’t attend a normal practice.

You can find Part 1 and Part 2 of this guide here:

One problem with trying to do a class at home is that not everyone has a good place for this. Challenges include unsuitable flooring, obstacles (furniture, pets, ceilings, etc.), unreliable internet, or noise concerns with neighbors. Other factors that may be keeping you from practice could include schedule constraints, low motivation, or illness (wash your hands, everyone!).

Many people are constructing creative fencing dummies to practice attack skills. You can also purchase targets from vendors online. However, if there is any single thing that will be most important to maintaining or improving your fencing during this inadvertent off-season, it will be to practice your footwork. Even if you can’t do anything else, keep those leg muscles active.

Here are some further thoughts on how to do some basic footwork practice and stay in fencing shape while stuck at home:

  • Use the best flooring you have. If you’re worried about a lack of cushioning or a slippery surface, go more slowly with your footwork to avoid injury.
  • Put your fencing socks and shoes on for this practice. I tried without once, and it made my plantar fascia hurt.
  • Even if you only have a small space available, that will be enough to stand on guard, take a couple advances and retreats, and hold a lunge.
  • Start simple. Stand on guard. Bend your knees.
  • Use a mirror if you have one around. Check your form.
  • Do a simple drill of two advances, one retreat. Repeat. Do the opposite – two retreats, one advance. Adjust as necessary to stay in your floor space. Set a timer. Go for 30 seconds and then stand up and relax for 30 seconds. Repeat this 30/30 routine several times. The exact number of times will depend on your current fitness.
  • Now do that same drill but vary the speed of the steps. One slow advance, one fast advance, one quick retreat. Or you could do one fast advance, one longer slow advance, and then a quick retreat. You can vary both the speed and the length of each part.
  • If you want to work on lunges, start by just holding a lunge. Time yourself. See how long it takes until your legs fatigue.
  • Add lunges to the simple footwork drills. Two advances, then lunge, then two retreats. Or one advance, lunge, two retreats, then lunge again! Whatever fits in your space. Don’t work on speed if your flooring isn’t great or you are feeling out of shape. Work on keeping your knees bent, staying balanced, and moving smoothly.
  • You can make any of these exercises a set of 20 or 30 seconds with rest intervals in between.
  • Don’t do too much on your first day or two if you haven’t been doing anything.
  • Stretch afterwards. One of my friends offers some stretching videos on her You Tube channel here.
  • Stay active in general. Go for a walk or a run outside. Do you live in an apartment building with stairs that are rarely used? Go run up and down them.
  • Try some yoga. There are plenty of online videos. I have heard good things about this one.

I hope this is helpful! Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions. And follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

Read more of my posts on fencing here.

Book Review – Binti: The Complete Trilogy

I read Binti: The Complete Trilogy last fall as a book club pick and enjoyed it a lot. Binti is a character in a series of novellas by author Nnedi Okarafor and this volume brings all three of the novellas together in one book, with a bonus new story included. Please follow my Amazon links to help support this blog.

Raised in a traditional village amongst her Himba people, Binti leaps at the chance to attend Oomza University off-planet. Her decision upsets her family, but she believes that the chance to study at this prestigious school outweighs their concerns. Before she can even get there, her ship is attacked by the Medusae and everyone but her is killed.

Binti must communicate with the Medusae and prevent a catastrophe at the university while she struggles to personally deal with the aftermath of the slaughter. Each story in this book takes place at slightly different times, but they all follow logically. Eventually we see how Binti deals with her decision to leave home and how her people receive her when she returns.

The new story in the book is a pleasant tale and adds a little to the characters of the other students at the university. Overall, I really liked how Binti viewed the world as a character. Even though she rebels to some extent by leaving home, she is still one of the Himba people. Her unique outlook makes her character more real and her struggles are based in trying to reconcile her relationships with the universe, her family, and her people.

I don’t know if there will be any further Binti stories or not. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but doesn’t rule out another tale. If you want to just start with the first novella, you can find that one (just titled Binti) here.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Red Seas Under Red Skies

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. You can read my review of it here. (Please click on my Amazon links to help support this blog.) In keeping with my recent goal to finish or catch up with series that I enjoyed, I set out to read the next two books.

This review is for Red Seas Under Red Skies, book 2 in the Gentleman Bastards series. You should read the first book as it is important to know what happened to the characters before this one. However, the plot of this book is relatively contained and doesn’t absolutely require knowledge of the past events.

Locke Lamora and his best friend Jean Tannen have fled their home of Camorr in the aftermath of the events in book 1. Now destitute, Locke sinks into a drunken depression and resists Jean’s attempts to rouse him. They eventually start anew in the island city of Tal Verrar, known for its gambling and games. The story is told in alternating timelines to depict this, much like in book 1.

The two thieves flaunt the rules, of course, and scheme to break into the legendary vaults of the Sinspire. At the same time, they are recruited to work for the Archon of the city in a way that they cannot refuse. After trying to play both sides against each other, the plot leaps to the Sea of Brass, where Locke and Jean have to pretend to be pirates, never having sailed a ship before.

Of course their ruse doesn’t fool the real pirates, and things just get more interesting from there. I have no idea how all of these plot threads were brought together at the end, but somehow they were. The ending was satisfying but also heartbreaking, leaving some things up in the air for the next book.

The pirates are basically the best part of the book. There’s swashbuckling, sword-fighting, sailing, and ship battles! The characters were great, and the author works Locke and Jean into their lives perfectly.

I have already read the next book, The Republic of Thieves, so look for that review soon. Despite the devastating events that occur, there is much humor and enjoyment to be found in these books as Locke and Jean scheme to outdo themselves with each successive heist.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Three-Body Problem

While one of my goals since 2019 has been to finish reading some of the series that I’ve started, I can’t help but read books by new-to-me authors, which often means starting new series. I have also been trying to read from a more diverse selection of authors, so one book that I had been interested in was The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Cixin Liu. This book is one of the most popular science fiction novels in China, and is book one of a trilogy (Remembrance of Earth’s Past). The translation by Ken Liu brought the book to English-speaking audiences and it won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2015.

This book gets its name from a famous physics problem that tries to model the motion of three celestial bodies. I had never heard of this, and this is one reason why I like to read hard science fiction. It encourages me to look things up and to learn more about the world.

I also learned about the Chinese Cultural Revolution by reading this book. If you’ve never learned that part of history, it is worth looking into and doing some reading. This event has been likened to the Holocaust in terms of the lives lost and the discrimination that occurred at that time. So while the characters in the book are fictional, the historical setting for parts of the story is not.

The narrative follows a couple of characters, but the central protagonist is Wang Miao, a nanotech scientist. An unknown force seems to be interfering in science and working against progress all around the world. Miao ends up playing an immersive video game where he must solve puzzles on a strangely changing world, unlocking hints to what is really going on.

Most of the characters in the story are scientists, but one of the most interesting characters is a police investigator who spurs Miao to investigate. The different threads of the plot come together toward the end of the book and even though this is the first book in a trilogy, enough is revealed to have some resolution by the end.

One thing that I learned after finishing this book was that the original Chinese text had been told in a different order. The sections detailing events during the Cultural Revolution had been in later parts to help reduce the chance that the book would be censored.

I am glad that I read this book, but I doubt that I will continue on with the series. I never really identified with any of the characters and found the anti-humanity themes off-putting. The concepts were interesting but there wasn’t enough to encourage me to keep reading.

Read more of my reviews here. Oh, and please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

Book Review – Master of Sorrows

Master of Sorrows by new author Justin Travis Call is the first book in a fantasy series (The Silent Gods). I received an e-book of this novel from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Please click on my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

I picked this book up because I loved the cover and the description in the blurb sounded very unique.

You have heard the story before – of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.

But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same?

What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?

This concept was in line with some ideas that I’ve had for some of my own fiction and I love to subvert some of the typical fantasy plots and themes. However, I found that this book didn’t do enough in that respect.

Annev is a young man who lives in a strangely isolated village, where he studies and trains to become an Avatar of Judgement, along with some of his best friends. This training involves solving obstacle course-like puzzles, practicing combat skills, and learning about artifacts and magic. However, the use of magic is forbidden, so the goal of the Avatars is to search out dangerous magic items and lock them away so that no one can use them.

As Annev nears the end of his training, the rivalry between him and other students heats up, as the rules state that only one acolyte can graduate to the level of Avatar. Annev has to pass his trial, but feels guilty that if he succeeds, then his friends must fail. He searches for a way to bend the rules while keeping ahead of his enemies.

This part of the book took much longer than I had thought it would. Most of the story occurs in Annev’s village, and we never get to see much of the outside world. The main narrative is broken up by short sections that relate the mythology of the gods, but I had trouble making this relevant to the current events in the book (although it does come together more at the end).

Overall, Master of Sorrows read more like a traditional fantasy quest-style tale than I had wanted. And while Annev has some dark aspects to his character and a huge secret, he is still a good person at heart. He tries to do the right thing all along, and while that engenders sympathy and makes me want to root for him, I’ve read that story many times before.

Master of Sorrows is the first book in a series but still reaches a satisfying conclusion to most of the events relevant to this volume. The greater story still needs to be told, and Annev’s ultimate fate is still unknown.

Read more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – The Last Human

Well since I’m stuck at home more than normal with the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m going to catch up on writing some book reviews. This one is for a new release, The Last Human, by Zack Jordan. I received this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this page.

I thought this book sounded like fun, but I went into it knowing little more than that. Sarya is the last human in the galaxy and her existence has been hidden, since humans are notorious as one of the most dangerous species in the universe. Her “mother” (as far as she knows) is one of a violent protective insectile species and has kept the secret of Sarya’s true nature.

One day, trouble comes looking for Sarya, and she must flee this unknown hunter while trying to hide her true identity. She ends up on a renegade ship with strange aliens and searches through her mother’s memories for clues about her past.

I wanted to like this book, but I struggled to maintain my interest, giving up about a third of the way through. The protagonist, Sarya, was engaging and appealing, but then the point of view of the story changed and I couldn’t connect to the rest of what was going on at that point. While I may have been able to push on and get back to Sarya, I was having such a hard time getting through this one that I gave up.

The writing was clear and easy to follow, and the society in which Sarya lives was inventive and amusing. So this book may appeal to many, it just didn’t work for me.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Previous Older Entries

Follow Blog via Email

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 283 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: