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Showing posts from 2018

Unfinished Tales: Return of Silmarillion Blues

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Yeah... remember this little project?

Well, we're starting things up again, so if you want in please join us!

Emily and I will be doing a chapter every two weeks (life is busy, yo), going through Unfinished Tales as we continue reading through Tolkien's works.  So our first posts should be going up on July 1st!


[Book Review] Sparrow Hill Road

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Sparrow Hill Road(The Ghost Roads #1) / Seanan McGuire

Some ghost stories we've all heard, or heard some version of.  Sleep over stories, campfire tales, urban legends.  They change, they fade, but they still make the rounds, even as new stories like the Black Eyed Kids or the Slenderman take root.

In Sparrow Hill Road we get the story of one of those undying ghost stories, in the form of Rose Marshall, the phantom prom date, the vanishing hitchhiker, the girl in the diner.  She died in 1952 when she was run off the road on prom night, and hasn't been able to truly go home since.  Riding the roads, both  mortal and dead, ushering those to their final exit, or helping others find their way home.

Even the dead have something to fear, some of the living have power over them, the Crossroads where bargains are made, and sometimes those who well their souls at the expense of others.  Rose is not only the vanishing hitchhiker, but the girl who got away, her death to pay for another&#…

[Book Review] Brief Cases

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Brief Cases(Dresden Files) / Jim Butcher


So.  Imma make a recommendation here.  Stop reading my review, and just go pre-order the book, or place a hold at your library.

Go on, I'm not going anywhere.

The Dresden Files cast and setting has expanded a lot since the first few novels, and the first few collections of stories.  In Brief Cases we get stories of Dresden's adventures and debacles, but there is also so much more, and the additional voices are fantastic.

Things kick off with a weird West story featuring Luccio and an introduction about how Butcher has an idea for a full series based on this short story.  Let me just say I'm so ready for this.

The stories in this collection span the range from fun to touching to sad.  We learn how Molly got in good with the Svartalves, the price she's paying as a Winter Queen.  We get three stories about "Bigfoot," one about Butters as a Knight, and even get to hear both Maggie and Mouse.

Usually anthologies include a few…

[Book Review] The Sheep Look Up

The Sheep Look Up / John Brunner

I almost put this book down several pages in.  Narrative voices, even those true to the character the story is focusing at the time... can be a challenge, and in this case the book slapped me in the face with racism that made me concerned for the whole story.  The story is a lot more than one character's bigotry, that being a single piece of a multi-faceted puzzle shaped together by different and divergent experiences throughout.  Warring ideologies and biases are central to the overall plot.  The picture it paints of a potential future pulls uncomfortably on many things that resonate as much today as they did when the book was written.

In terms of outlook and despair it puts me in mind of Peter Watts' work, a destructive nihilistic view of humanity's future.  An interesting book, and one that I'm not sure I would have picked and read on my own, were it not for a chance discovery and impulse.
Discussion Fodder: As a book set in a future …

[Book Review] A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time / Madeleine L'Engle

I went with an "easy" read for March, shorter than many of my picks and by and large considered accessible to children.  Going in I remembered the concepts surrounding a tesseract, that the children were helped by something like angels, and there being some dark force that they had to combat.

I actually re-read this in two formats, the graphic novel adaptation as well as the traditional novel.  The graphic novel adaptation is very well done, and I highly recommend it.  The religious aspects of the story stood out starkly to me, which is something that I often struggle with encountering.  At the same time, other concepts stood strong on their own, both of metaphysics and philosophy, and I definitely enjoyed both of those.  Worth the reread, and I wish I had read this when I was in the target audience range.

Discussion Fodder:
What do you think of the attitudes towards Meg and her mother?  What about attitudes towards Charles Wallace?  …

Silmarillion Blues : Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

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For a lot of us, this final chapter is what we started this journey for.  This is the final pieces in the set up for the story of the One Ring that leads us to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Sauron, long sided with Morgoth, claims to repent of his deeds under Morgoth, but not his pride.  So when summoned to Valar for a sentence he departs to hide within Middle-earth and fall back into his old ways.  Meanwhile, life goes on in Middle Earth.  Cultures rise, cities succeed and fail.  Men multiply and "most of them turn to evil."  Middle Earth seems forgotten by the Valar, at least to Sauron, so he moves forward with his plans and manipulations.

With his One Ring he perceives all things done by the lesser rings, but the Elves were aware of his use of the Ring and so removed theirs and hid them away, refusing to hand them over when he demanded them.  Thes were imbued with the power to ward of the toll of time, and were forged by Celebrimbor, untouched by Sauron even though…

March Read: A Wrinkle in Time

Look.  I made a mistake.  I thought it would be great to re-read the book the month the movie came out.  I know better.  But I have a copy in hand, and it shouldn't take too long to read.

I never read A Wrinkle in Time as a kid.  My first foray into the story was at 17, shortly before going off to college.  It was a neat odd little story to me then, one that I left being well aware that certain parts didn't make sense but that I enjoyed it overall none the less.  So giving it a go again while I play catch up on the rest of my life, the reasons for which are a whole different post!

Silmarillion Blues : Akallabêth

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Here we are in the end, the Downfall of Númenor.  The story tells us of the division of Men, those that fell under the Shadow of Morgoth, those who refused all calls, and those who allied with the Eldar and Valar, known as the Edain or the Faithful.  After the fall of Morgoth the Edain were given a land of their own in the West, enriched by the gifts of the Valar, and they were led to it by a star in the sky.  So begins the history of the Dúnedain.  

The Dúnedain resemble the Eldar in many ways, tall, wise, glorious, long-lived, and with few children.  They grew skilled in crafts and loved the sea, though forbidden to sail further West than they could still see their shores.  To them the Eldar brought the seedling of Celeborn, the White Tree that marks their standards.  Eventually the Dúnedain returned to Middle-earth, unable to sail West.  To the men living under the Shadow, the Númenóreans were glorious and aweful, strong and skilled, bringing back to Middle-earth something resembli…

[Book Review] Tricks for Free

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Tricks for Free (InCryptid #7) / Seanan McGuire
Previously reviewed Chaos Choreography (InCryptid #5)Magic for Nothing (InCryptid #6) Ok folks, I have some really bad news about this book.

There are no Aeslin mice in it.

 But they have their own novella at the end (and it's kind of adorable).

In Magic for Nothing I was a little harsh on Antimony... and what I said still holds true, she needed to grow up and she did.  So now we get an Annie who has learned in a way she never knew before what exactly it means to be a Price, perhaps still with resentment and issues with Verity, but that is tempered with understanding as well.  I like this Annie.

Hiding out from the Covenant (and her family), Antimony has donned an old identity and getting by as an employee at the Lowryland amusement park while she attempts to get her life back together.  Life, on the other hand, has its own plans for her.  Lowryland turns out to be run by a cabal of magic users who offer to teach her to control the fir…

[Book Review] Bingo Love

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Bingo Love / Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge (ill), and Joy San (ill)

I... don't even know where to start summarizing this story or reviewing beyond this: you will cry.  This story brings all of the Feels and will rip out your heart.  And you will love it all the more for it.

Buy, read it, add it to your library, it's worth it.

From the publisher:
When Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met at church bingo in 1963, it was love at first sight. Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid-’60s, Hazel and Mari reunite again at a church bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage. From TEE FRANKLIN (NAILBITER’s “THE OUTFIT,” Love is Love) and JENN ST-ONGE (Jem & The Misfits), BINGO LOVE is a touching story of love, family, and resiliency that spans over 60 years.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in…

Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : XIV. Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath

In this final chapter of Quenta Silmarilion, I would like to propose we rename (or subtitle) the "Quenta Silmarillion" to "Fëanor & Sons ruin everything."

When Tuor and Idril sailed West they left behind their son Eärendil, who likewise heard the call of the sea.  We also know of Eärendil to some extent because of one of his sons, the so called "Half-elven" Elrond.  I'm not sure how being born of a half-elf father and an elven mother makes him a half-elf, but so be it.  So with the aid of Círdan the Shipwright, Eärendil built a shift and explored the sea, leaving his wife behind.

Guess what comes next!

If you guessed Fëanor's sons ruin everything, you are correct!  They go storm the castle, slaughtering the defenders and ruining Sirion.  Elrond and Eros are taken captive, but Elwing is rescued by Ulmo... yet again demonstrating that no one ever listens to the powerful figures they should.  Elwing, in the shape of a bird, reaches her husband, …

Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : XXIII. Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin

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Why no, I didn't completely forget to do this post... (yes, yes I did).

After looking at Húrin and the fall of Doriath, we now look at his nephew and the fall of Gondor.

Tuor was raised in fosterage among the Grey Elves, until they sought to make their way to the Havens of Sirion, and he was captured by the Easterlings.  There is something of a literary tradition at work here, a Hero captured and enslaved, only to escape before meeting his Fate/Doom.  After three years in thraldom he escaped and proceeded to make life a living hell for the Easterlings, until their king placed a price on his head and Ulmo called on Tuor.  And so Tuor makes his way to Belegaer the Great Sea, where he met Ulmo who bade him to seek out the hidden kingdom of Gondolin, gifting him with a cloak to hide him in shadow from his enemies, and with a message for the Elves of Gondolin.

Well, what happens next falls within a bit of a pattern.  Tuor goes forth, and gives Ulmo's message/warning to Turgon, High K…

February Read: Chill

Dust by Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite novels, and was one of the easy selections for when I started doing this book club thing.  But while I reread Dust with some frequency, I think I only read Chill (Jacob's Ladder #2) once, immediately after purchasing it.  There's a good chance that my reading of it was too colored by my expectations and memories of Dust, a younger me wanting the exact same thing as before, only new and different.  Similar to  my experiences with American Gods and Anasazi Boys, except Chill is a true sequel.

What I remember is that this is a story of after and of pushing through.  The Jacob's Ladder is again in motion, reduced through deliberate effort and through the abuse of its rough relaunch.  Similarly, the characters are in a state of flux, challenge, and recovery.  Perceval struggles with the unwanted mantle of Captain, the cost of power and conflict, and the ghost of Rein that now lives in the AI of the ship. Tristen and Benedick go from …

Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : XXII. Of the Ruin of Doriath

Wherein Morgoth spreads the misery though puppetry.  Releasing Húrin to the world after years of captivity, he aims to increase strife among Men and Elves.  His reception is varied, with his own people shunning him as in league with Morgoth.  Even the Eagles state that "Húrin Thalion has surrendered to the will of Morgoth."  This reception makes me think of Gandalf speaking of how to treat Gollum, and the importance of mercy.  I wonder how this story would have changed if people had shown him kindness and acceptance, while acknowledging that Morgoth had his plans for Húrin still.  But again, that is often the beauty of the "curses" Tolkien lays against his characters, their fated doom often not of divine or infernal end, but the result of deliberate action and self-fulfilling prophesy.

We some of what could have been, when Melian speaks kindness in face of his twisted perceptions and grief, but it leaves Húrin bereft of purpose and so he passes away.  It also happen…

Webinar - by me!

So in a few weeks I'm presenting a webinar for the Massachusetts Library System!

Disability on the Shelf – Looking for Representation in Library Collections
When asked, we all can think of a book, movie, or TV show that features a disabled character, but we don’t often think about the representation itself. With diversity and representation increasingly a part of our Collection Development practices, it is important we don’t continue to overlook this aspect. In this webinar, we invite participants to learn about disability, to gain an awareness of representation, and learn vocabulary and resources to evaluate materials.

Learning Outcomes:
Introduction to disability as a facet of diversity representation Concepts of disability Awareness of tropes, stereotypes, and representation in popular media Vocabulary to discuss and evaluate materials Resources Interested?  Sign up here: http://calendar.masslibsystem.org/event/3893912

[Book Review] We

We / Yevgeny Zamyatin

Several things drew me to We.  Comparison to 1984 is unavoidable, yet it predates it by several decades. A science fiction dystopia written in 1921 Russia that is still being read and discussed today seems like the type of foundation literature I should be familiar with.

The book is definitely an interesting read, pulling on themes we expect to see in any modern literary dystopia with investigation and discussion of what it means to be an individual.  It is also difficult to read, a short novel that makes use of uncomfortable descriptions and has passages that are undeniably racist.  What remains is to untangle what is relic of the environment in which the book was written, what is an aspect of the horror of the setting, and what is true bias of the author.  Philosophically interesting, but for me the discomfort rides heavy even if took minimal space in the text.

Discussion Fodder:
What aspects of this book are due to its dystopia setting, and what aspects are due…

Virtual Speculation 2018 Picks

So begins another year and another set of books to read, hopefully you'll join me.  The selections this time around include three long-overdue rereads, one a sequel to a book I picked my first year, and eight books that have popped up and looked particularly worth reading.  There were actually a good half-dozen more titles at various points I had meant to jot down for this list... and apparently never did so.  Hopefully they'll come across my desk again some time soon.  Otherwise, we'll see how this goes!  I only vaguely know what to expect for most of these.

February: Chill / Elizabeth Bear
March: A Wrinkle in Time / Madeleine L'Engle
April: The Sheep Look Up / John Brunner
May: Islands in the Net / Bruce Sterling
June: The Shore of Women / Pamela Sargent
July: The Forever War /Joe Haldeman
August: The very best of Kate Elliott / Kate Elliott
September: Infomocracy / Malka Older
October: Lovecraft Country / Mike Ruff
November: Autonomous / Annalee Newitz
December: The…

Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : XXI. Of Túrin Turambar

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As previously related, Húrin was captured and his family cursed.  Now we get to read about it "in brief."  It's worth mentioning that The Children of Húrin exists as its own novel.

As it stands, this is a story of mistakes, pride, and overall bad decisions.  Maybe at some point folks will start learning to listen to Maia.  I'm considering just calling Melian "Cassandra" from now on.

Túrin was sent into Thingol's fosterage, where he does well until news of his mother and sister stopped, and he went searching.  On his return he was worn, unkempt, and probably not in the best head space... and a councelor decided to be petty and a few clashes ended with Saeros falling into a chasm and Túrin deciding he was an outlaw rather than risk judgement and imprisonment.  He goes a little edgelord there, becoming the captain of outlaws and naming himself Neithan, or "the Wronged."  Seriously, dude?  Then when Thingol sends someone out to make sure Túrin kno…

So much for taking it easy

A few months ago, I mused that I had a lot going on.  Truth be told... I did.  Maybe that led indirectly to the misjudgements of time and work load that led to where I am now.  Whoops.

Gaming-wise things have quieted down... with some regular contributions to the monthly Sabbat game I help run, and apparently writing Regional Plot when I get horrible ideas for our monthly Space game (that I do not help run).  I am attached to a few large projects, but they're on the back burner until things kick off in a bit.  Thankfully.  Panic for all of that is due to start this summer most likely.

Professionally things are quite interesting.  I'm in the middle of trying to write (and appropriately beat into shape) an essay for a professional publication on immersive play in libraries.  I was hoping to have it already done but things keep being busier than expected.  On top of that next month I'm giving a webinar on disability representation in libraries.  This shouldn't be a big de…

Silmarillion Blues : Quenta Silmarillion : XX. Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad

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We start out with Beren and Lúthien in their (literal) new life together, visiting their family and then leaving to live their own life (and reproduce) "until all tidings of them ceased."

And then we go on to a different story.    Maedros takes heart from the deeds of Beren and Lúthien in their blows to Morgoth and tries to unite the different Eldar peoples to stand against him.  Sadly, sons of the father and all that, this is less effective than it could be, though they make a showing.  Also, I think we can all agree showing up and making ultimatums rarely goes well, so haughtily demanding that Thingol hand over the Silmaril or become their enemy.

What follows is a hot mess.

Morgoth has his plans, the Elves do their best to out-think and overpower them.  Unexpected aid shows up, but the forces are also drawn in when they should stay back.  The Elves might have had a chance but for betrayal by allies.  The Dwarves stood against dragon fire and foe, but Balrogs struck down the…