Friday, March 9, 2018

New Tolkien Book: The Inklings and King Arthur

It's setting up to be a good year for Tolkien books so far.

The latest one I've discovered came out a couple of months ago:

The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of BritainThe Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain
Ed: Sørina Higgins
Apocryphile Press
Copyright Date: December 2017

The product description:
In the midst of war-torn Britain, King Arthur returned in the writings of the Oxford Inklings. Learn how J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield brought hope to their times and our own in their Arthurian literature.
Although studies of the “Oxford Inklings” abound, astonishingly enough, none has yet examined their great body of Arthurian work. Yet each of these major writers tackled serious and relevant questions about government, gender, violence, imperialism, secularism, and spirituality through their stories of the Quest for the Holy Grail. This rigorous and sophisticated volume studies does so for the first time.
This serious and substantial volume addresses a complex subject that scholars have for too long overlooked. The contributors show how, in the legends of King Arthur, the Inklings found material not only for escape and consolation, but also, and more importantly, for exploring moral and spiritual questions of pressing contemporary concern. —Michael Ward, Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and co-editor of C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner
This volume follows Arthurian leylines in geographies of myth, history, gender, and culture, uncovering Inklings lodestones and way markers throughout. A must read for students of the Inklings. —Aren Roukema, Birkbeck, University of London
Definitely a book I'm adding to my "wish-list"!
None of the names are ones I recognize - but I admit that until recently I've focused more on the "big name" Tolkien scholars like Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey. At any rate, the Table of Contents I found on the Goodreads page for The Inklings and King Arthur looks intriguing:
Introduction—Present and Past: The Inklings and King Arthur.
—Sørina Higgins

Texts and Intertexts
1. The Matter of Logres: Arthuriana and the Inklings.
—Sørina Higgins
2. Medieval Arthurian Sources for the Inklings: An Overview.
—Holly Ordway
3. Mixed Metaphors and Hyperlinked Worlds:
A Study of Intertextuality in C. S. Lewis’ Ransom Cycle.
—Brenton D. G. Dickieson
4. Houses of Healing: The Idea of Avalon in Inklings Fiction and Poetry.
—Charles A. Huttar
5. Shape and Direction: Human Consciousness in the Inklings’ Mythological Geographies. —Christopher Gaertner

Histories Past
6. From Myth to History and Back Again:
Inklings Arthuriana in Historical Context.
—Yannick Imbert
7. “All Men Live by Tales”: Chesterton’s Arthurian Poems.
—J. Cameron Moore
8. The Elegiac Fantasy of Past Christendom in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur.
—Cory Grewell

Histories Present
9. Spiritual Quest in a Scientific Age.
—Jason Jewell and Chris Butynskyi
10. The Stripped Banner:
Reading The Fall of Arthur as a Post-World War I Text.
—Taylor Driggers
11. “Lilacs Out of the Dead Land”:
Narnia, The Waste Land, and the World Wars.
—Jon Hooper
12. “What Does the Line along the Rivers Define?”:
Charles Williams’ Arthuriad and the Rhetoric of Empire.
—Benjamin D. Utter

Geographies of Gender
13. “Fair as Fay-woman and Fell-minded”: Tolkien’s Guinever.
—Alyssa House-Thomas
14. Beatrice and Byzantium: Sex and the City in the Arthurian Works of Charles Williams. —Andrew Rasmussen
15. Those Kings of Lewis’ Logres:
Arthurian Figures as Lewisian Genders in That Hideous Strength.
—Benjamin Shogren

Cartographies of the Spirit
16. “Servant of All”: Arthurian Peregrinations in George MacDonald.
—Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson
17. Camelot Incarnate: Arthurian Vision in the Early Plays of Charles Williams.
—Bradley Wells
18. “Any Chalice of Consecrated Wine”:
The Significance of the Holy Grail in Charles Williams’ War in Heaven.
—Suzanne Bray
19. The Acts of Unity: The Eucharistic Theology of Charles Williams’ Arthurian Poetry.
—Andrew C. Stout
Conclusion—Once and Future:
The Inklings, Arthur, and Prophetic Insight.
—Malcolm Guite
I'll also admit that my reading and book-buying habits have been directed more towards J.R.R. Tolkien and scholarship about his life and works. However, I'm working on expanding from there, and this definitely looks like a book to get. All I know about most of the other Inklings comes from the Humphrey Carpenter book of the same name, although recently I've bought another book or two on the topic.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Blue Planet II Narrated by David Attenborough

Blue Planet II - Take a Deep BreathBlue Planet II was just released on DVD, Blu Ray and 4K UltraHD on Tuesday and all I can say is "WOW". I've only watched the first two episodes so far, but it is absolutely spectacular, every minute of the show.

The product description is as follows:
In recent years, our knowledge of what goes on in our Ocean has been transformed. Blue Planet II uses cutting-edge breakthroughs in science and technology to explore new worlds, reveals astonishing creatures and extraordinary new animal behaviors. As we journey through our deep seas, coral reefs, open ocean, green seas and coasts we share these extraordinary new discoveries. But we now know that ocean health is under threat. Never has there been a more crucial time to explore our remotest seas, and to examine what the future will hold for our blue planet.  
I've loved everything by David Attenborough that I've seen so far, and to date, Blue Planet II is no exception. I loved both the original Planet Earth series, along with The Blue Planet - both of which I have on DVD, but the clarity of the 4k viewing for this one and the new Planet Earth II that came out last year just blows both of those away! I raved about the first two and his Wildlife Specials series in this post a few years ago.

The filming in this one is just spectacular - they've managed to capture some truly glorious waves with the light glowing through as just one example from the first episode. That doesn't even begin to cover watching a school of Giant Trevally catching birds in flight, or looking at a very, very strange looking deepwater fish which has a transparent head that it looks through, the Barreleye fish. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one since I watched the episode earlier this evening.

David Attenborough shows us so many things about our own planet that I think we'd never see without a show like this. How about the twilight zone and the midnight zones of our ocean? Without the specialized equipment he has access to, there's no other way to see it - and there's so much beauty hidden down there and almost unknown! What's more, we're destroying more and more of it as we go!

The next episode on the first disc is going to be just as spectacular I think. Where the first episode was an overview of the oceans in general and the second episode looked at the deepest waters in more detail, the third episode is going to be focused on coral reefs around the world. I'll admit to having a soft spot for those - especially after my two visits to Hanauma Bay in Hawaii. Watching this episode will probably bring back some fond memories.

Blue Planet II Soundtrack - CDNifty! Some searching just showed me that there is a CD version of the soundtrack for this show available too! The music is just as spectacular as the footage for these two shows. Of course, I have a particular fondness for the music of Hans Zimmer, who did some of the music for these shows, so your opinions on this may vary.

With Planet Earth II, we ended up having to go with an iTunes version. Maybe I'm just really old-fashioned, but I have a strong preference for having a physical copy of my music - and I know I listen to far more music from CD's than I do my phone. Of course, having said that, I now see that there is a CD version for Planet Earth II as well. Go figure!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Interesting article on e-readers and their future

I just finished reading this article on the future of e-readers: Is the E-Reader Dead? (not e-books I have to note) and I'm wondering what your opinion is.

Personally, I hope not! I love my Kobo Glo e-reader! I've been using one since the very first generation Kobo came out - which I think was around 2010? I still have my 2nd gen one around somewhere too. For a while I used a Kobo Vox, but I've happily gone back to the e-ink e-readers for several reasons.

The primary reason I've returned to the e-ink e-reader - I bought my latest one a couple of years ago, the Kobo Glo HD is the battery life. Overall, my opinion since is that I love it - the touch screen, ability to read footnotes, and the adjustable light, but overall the battery life!

I can take it on a week-long camping trip and not have to worry about running out of battery and reading-time. What's more, I don't have to read with a flashlight/headlamp at night either in the tent or by the fire. Personally at night I find that 2-4% brightness for the lighting works well, which is also dim enough that it doesn't always bother my camping partner.

I compare that with my iPad, which has about a ten hour battery life before I need to recharge it, or my old Kobo Vox which was about 6-8 hours of battery life and slow! Or at least looking back on it it seems slow.

One of the best things with the e-ink e-reader over using an app on my phone/tablet - besides it's habit of sucking battery-power - is the ease of loading the many non-Kobo e-books I have on my computer - the early Honor Harrington series thanks to the CD that came with the hardcover edition of War of Honor, similar collections from other CD's, electronic ARC's and even small-site purchases of e-books. Run those into Calibre, make sure they're in the right format, and then load them onto the e-ink reader.

If I'm doing the same thing with books on my iPad e-reader, I have to do the format checks, then e-mail the e-pub file to myself and then download it into the Kobo app on my iPad. Much more of a hassle in my mind. However, there may be a faster method that I'm not aware of.

Maybe it's a personal thing, but I like having a dedicated device for reading - I remember with the Kobo Vox how easy it was to read for a few minutes then get side-tracked with the games I'd loaded onto that device before coming back again to read for a bit more. Reading on a dedicated device reduces that temptation - though the fact I'm generally carrying a phone with games on it mitigates that.

For the most part, while I prefer paper books, the one thing I can't deny is the convenience of an e-reader of any sort for books like The Mists of Avalon, or The Deed of Paksenarrion - both books that are 800 pages plus, and often over a thousand pages each. Forget taking something like that traveling! Camping or otherwise. Even when traveling, I'm spoiled for choice, with probably a hundred e-books or so with me. Despite that, I'll still carry a couple of paper books too - no way I'm going to risk my e-reader taking it out on my kayak. An inexpensive mass-market paperback that I bought used - and can find again easily? That I'll take, sealed inside a zip-lock bag.

One of the other bonuses with e-books is the "instant gratification" factor. Finished one book and want to read the next in the series? Go online to the store and purchase/download it right away. No having to order the book and wait for it to come in. I will admit to buying some series this way for exactly that reason.

And finally, there's no need to be embarrassed by a book cover any more. Romance novel? No-one's going to see it and judge it - especially if you have a cover on your e-reader. Racy cover? same thing. Again, I have a couple of series that I'm only buying in e-form for just that reason.

Really for me, the dedicated e-ink e-reader really comes down to three main points that raise it over the e-reading apps for phones and tablets (though I'll admit to using the app on my iPad, and I also have the Kobo app on it, though I rarely use it).

First of all, the battery life - it's challenging enough keeping my phone and iPad charged when camping. Having a device for a pastime I do a lot of where I don't have to worry about the battery is a really big plus (I'll easily read for two or three hours a day sometimes).

Second is the convenience of being able to quickly and easily load on non-Kobo or books.

And the third point in favor of the e-ink e-readers: No screen-glare! Which does actually raise a fourth point - how easy it is to read on an e-ink screen under any lighting conditions - bright sun in sunglasses? no problem. Dim shade? Easy. Late at night? Simple. It's so much easier on my eyes. What's more, the e-ink readers give you more control over how the text is laid out on the page/screen I've found. More font-options, margin and line-spacing controls as well.

Overall, as you can see, I'm really hoping that the article linked above isn't correct in it's predictions.

What's your take on the issue?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

More Book Buying!

Yep, I seem to be buying books rather than reading this month. Bought a couple more yesterday - one based on a recommendation from a mailing-list discussion thread, and one I'd meant to buy a few years ago - this one I special ordered. Also I bought a tribute-book/biography for Gord Downie of Canada's Tragically Hip music group.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter FrankopanThe Silk Roads: A New History of the World
Peter Frankopan
Copyright Date: 2017 (Reprint)

The product description:
“This is history on a grand scale, with a sweep and ambition that is rare… A proper historical epic of dazzling range and achievement.” —William Dalrymple, The Guardian 

The epic history of the crossroads of the world—the meeting place of East and West and the birthplace of civilization

It was on the Silk Roads that East and West first encountered each other through trade and conquest, leading to the spread of ideas, cultures and religions. From the rise and fall of empires to the spread of Buddhism and the advent of Christianity and Islam, right up to the great wars of the twentieth century—this book shows how the fate of the West has always been inextricably linked to the East.

Peter Frankopan realigns our understanding of the world, pointing us eastward. He vividly re-creates the emergence of the first cities in Mesopotamia and the birth of empires in Persia, Rome and Constantinople, as well as the depredations by the Mongols, the transmission of the Black Death and the violent struggles over Western imperialism. Throughout the millennia, it was the appetite for foreign goods that brought East and West together, driving economies and the growth of nations.

From the Middle East and its political instability to China and its economic rise, the vast region stretching eastward from the Balkans across the steppe and South Asia has been thrust into the global spotlight in recent years. Frankopan teaches us that to understand what is at stake for the cities and nations built on these intricate trade routes, we must first understand their astounding pasts. Far more than a history of the Silk Roads, this book is truly a revelatory new history of the world, promising to destabilize notions of where we come from and where we are headed next.
Based on the description, and the discussion where it was recommended, this looks like it'll be an interesting read - just not sure when I'll get to it. I'm so busy with work right now that I'm barely reading anything at all.

I also ordered myself a copy of:

The Emperor's Agent - Jo GrahamThe Emperor's Agent
Jo Graham
Crossroads Press
Copyright Date: 2013

The product description:
Courtesan, actress, medium . . . spy. 1805: Europe stands poised on the brink of war. Elza is content with her life in the demi-monde, an actress and courtesan in the glittering society of France's First Empire, but when her former lover is arrested for treason, Elza is blackmailed into informing on her friends and associates. She has one alternative-to become the secret agent of the most feared man in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte! France's invasion of England is imminent, but a spy in the camp of the Grand Army threatens the secret plans. Taking the Emperor's commission to catch the spy means playing the deadly game of spy versus counterspy. However, this is no ordinary espionage, but backed by the power of the witches of England determined to hold England's sea wards against invasion. Only an agent who is herself a medium can hope to unravel their magic in time-with the life of the man Elza loves hanging in the balance. From the theaters of Paris to the sea cliffs that guard the Channel, from ballrooms and bedrooms to battlefields corporeal and astral, Elza must rely on her wits, her courage, her beauty, and her growing talents as a medium for she must triumph-or die!
If my memory serves, The Emperor's Agent is the sequel to The General's Mistress, which I read back when it first came out. I think it's time for a re-read to refresh my memory of events before I read The Emperor's Agent. My understanding is that these two books are loosely connected to the Numinous World series (Black Ships, Hand of Isis and Stealing Fire).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

And another new book arrival

I'm starting to run out of ways to title these posts. Anyway, the final book in last month's ordering/buying spree arrived this morning.

The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe - Ed. Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo KarrasThe Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe
Ed. Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras
Oxford University Press
Copyright 2013 (reprint 2016)

The product description:
The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe provides a comprehensive overview of the gender rules encountered in Europe in the period between approximately 500 and 1500 C.E. The essays collected in this volume speak to interpretative challenges common to all fields of women's and gender history - that is, how best to uncover the experiences of ordinary people from archives formed mainly by and about elite males, and how to combine social histories of lived experiences with cultural histories of gendered discourses and identities. The collection focuses on Western Europe in the Middle Ages but offers some consideration of medieval Islam and Byzantium.

The Handbook is structured into seven sections: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thought; law in theory and practice; domestic life and material culture; labour, land, and economy; bodies and sexualities; gender and holiness; and the interplay of continuity and change throughout the medieval period. It contains material from some of the foremost scholars in this field, and it not only serves as the major reference text in medieval and gender studies, but also provides an agenda for future new research.
With all of the other history books I've bought recently, I don't know when I'm going to have a chance to really get into this one, but it's one I really wanted to add to my collection. I'm hoping it will start to fill some gaps in my collection - which is fairly heavily focused on the U.K. and on the Crusades (for which interest I thank a couple of really good teachers I've had, and also my interest in historical fiction). Many of the remaining books are former textbooks I've kept since my university student days. Still, it's time to branch out a bit, and this is a start.

I know I've had quite an interest in women's lives during the Medieval period - part of my interest in people's day-to-day lives. and that's the direction I've been taking my library to an extent.

Anyway, it's time to step back from my ever-growing bookshelves, and refocus on this book.
Looking at the table of contents, there are essays on: Women and Gender in Islamic traditions, Women and Laws in Early Medieval Europe, Slavery, Gender at the Medieval Millennium, Women and Gender in Canon Law, Urban Economies, Gender and Daily Life in Jewish Communities and so many more articles.

I have the feeling that I'm going to be wishing I'd bought the hardcover version and not the paperback - despite the fact that I can't really justify ether purchase with the number of unread books I already have.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

More Newly Arrived Books

Yesterday I picked up two more books I'd ordered last month, and also ended up buying two other books - one a planned purchase, but the other was spur-of-the-moment. Endcaps in my favorite bookstore can be dangerous to the budget!

The books are (ordered books first):

The Disposessed - Ursula K. Le GuinThe Disposessed
Ursula K. Le Guin
Harper Voyager
Copyright Date: 1994 (reprint)

The product description:
Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. he will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.
This is one of the books I ordered after I heard about Ursula K. Le Guin's death. I'd been meaning to read more of her books, and never got around to it.

A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin
HMH Books for Young Readers
Copyright Date: 1968

The product description:
Originally published in 1968, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea marks the first of the six now beloved Earthsea titles. Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance.
It's been a very long times since I read this one and it's sequels. Long enough to be honest that I don't remember any of the story-line or plot points, just that I did read it as a kid. As a result, I am planning to include this one on my unread fiction books list.

Into The Fire - Elizabeth MoonInto The Fire
Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey
Copyright: February 2018

The product description:
In this new military sci-fi thriller from the Nebula Award–winning author of Cold Welcome, Admiral Kylara Vatta is back—with a vengeance.

Ky beats sabotage, betrayal, and the unforgiving elements to lead a ragtag group of crash survivors to safety on a remote arctic island. And she cheats death after uncovering secrets someone is hell-bent on protecting. But the worst is far from over when Ky discovers the headquarters of a vast conspiracy against her family and the heart of the planet’s government itself.

With their base of operations breached, the plotters have no choice but to gamble everything on an audacious throw of the dice. Even so, the odds are stacked against Ky. When her official report on the crash and its aftermath goes missing—along with the men and women she rescued—Ky realizes that her mysterious enemies are more powerful and dangerous than she imagined.

Now, targeted by faceless assassins, Ky and her family—along with her fiancé, Rafe—must battle to reclaim the upper hand and unmask the lethal cabal closing in on them with murderous intent.
Into The Fire is the sequel to Cold Welcome, which I have to admit I haven't read yet - time to dive back into the world of Kylara Vatta - possibly from book one, Trading in Danger. It also has a great cover image!

The final book I bought was a complete impulse buy:

Victoria The Queen - Julia BairdVictoria The Queen 
Julia Baird
Random House
Copyright Date: October 2017 (reprint)

The product description:
The true story for fans of the PBS Masterpiece series Victoria, this page-turning biography reveals the real woman behind the myth: a bold, glamorous, unbreakable queen—a Victoria for our times. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, this stunning new portrait is a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.


Victoria the Queen, Julia Baird’s exquisitely wrought and meticulously researched biography, brushes the dusty myth off this extraordinary monarch.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. In a world where women were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping conventional boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include fresh revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings vividly to life the fascinating story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning.
Thanks to the show The Crown, I've gotten a lot more interested in the British Royal Family, so I couldn't help but pick up this book. Now I've just got to find the time to read it (along with the several hundred other unread books in my collection). 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Two new books arrived

Silence Fallen - Patricia BriggsSilence Fallen
Patricia Briggs
Copyright Date: January 2018

The product description:
In the #1 New York Times bestselling Mercy Thompson novels, the coyote shapeshifter has found her voice in the werewolf pack. But when Mercy's bond with the pack--and her mate--is broken, she'll learn what it truly means to be alone...

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against Alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes--only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in a foreign country.

Unable to contact Adam through their mate bond, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a supernatural war.
I've got to play catch-up with this series! I'm sure I haven't read the last book, but I'm not sure about the one before that (though technically it's part of the Alpha and Omega spin-off and not the main line of the series, the Mercy Thompson books).

Nonetheless, I think it's time to do a re-read and catch-up - this has been one of my favorite urban fantasy series since I picked it up (around the time Bone Crossed came out I think).

The other book I picked up yesterday was one by Ursula K. Le Guin:

The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le GuinThe Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ace Books
Copyright: 1987

The product description:
Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction—winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.A lone human ambassador is sent to Winter, an alien world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants can change their gender whenever they choose. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters...

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
I've not read much of Ursula K. Le Guin's books, other than the first three or four of the Earthsea series, and that was so long ago that I've forgotten all of it. So, after hearing of her death last month, I ordered several of her books - ones I'd meant to read, but have yet to get around to. This was the first of those orders to arrive.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Tea Infusing Spoons

Okay, I am officially nuts. Feel free to say that if you want, but yes, I am about to rave about tea infusing spoons.

Over the years since I've become a tea drinker (favourite variety being the Murchies Orange Spice loose leaf variety), I've gone through more than a few different infusers: Tea balls, ceramic mug infusers, metal mug infusers, and my favorite has quickly become the tea infusing spoon when making single mugs of tea.

For pots of tea, you can't beat the old-fashioned tea ball - at least most of the time. I've had a run of bad luck with those lately, with my latest few leaking enough tea leaves into the pot that I practically have to pour through a strainer.

As I'm usually making my tea by the mug, I thought I'd try something else. I've had a couple of the ceramic-based infusers with silicone handles. They worked well enough, holding just enough tea leaves to make that mug of tea without wasting any, but there's one big downside to the lot of them:  getting the used tea leaves out when you're done. The opening's too small for fingers to pull the leaves out and they stick inside. Gravity's certainly not going to do the job! I've spent too much time trying to pry the drippy messes of leaves out with a spoon handle with mixed success - to the point where I was deliberately selecting other varieties of tea in bags rather than using the infuser.

Last year I saw one of these tea-infusing spoons for the first time and decided to give it a try. I haven't used the ceramic infuser since! No more spilled tea leaves when I'm trying to fill it - just pinch the handle and scoop the tea out with the spoon itself. No more spoon handle trying to scrape the used leaves out at the other end of the process either! Squeeze the handle open and give the whole thing a smart rap against the edge of the compost bucket and the wet leaves fall out in a mass. There are no edges for the leaves to get caught up on either or to make it difficult to clean.

After a year of use (including leaving the leaves in over several hours at a time while I re-steep them for new mugs of tea), there's no signs of rust either, which is more than I can say for some of the regular tea balls I've had over the years!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

New arrival to add to my Tolkien Collection - There Would Always Be A Fairy Tale by Verlyn Flieger

Guess what arrived in the mail today! I'd actually forgotten I'd ordered it, so it was a nice surprise:

There Would Always Be A Fairy Tale: More Essays On Tolkien - Verlyn FliegerThere Would Always Be A Fairy Tale: More Essays On Tolkien
Verlyn Flieger
Kent State University Press
Copyright Date: December 2017

The product description:
Devoted to Tolkien, the teller of tales and co-creator of the myths they brush against, these essays focus on his lifelong interest in and engagement with fairy stories, the special world that he called faërie, a world they both create and inhabit, and with the elements that make that world the special place it is. They cover a range of subjects, from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings and their place within the legendarium he called the Silmarillion to shorter works like “The Story of Kullervo” and “Smith of Wootton Major.”
From the pen of eminent Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger, the individual essays in this collection were written over a span of twenty years, each written to fit the parameters of a conference, an anthology, or both. They are revised slightly from their original versions to eliminate repetition and bring them up to date. Grouped loosely by theme, they present an unpatterned mosaic, depicting topics from myth to truth, from social manners to moral behavior, from textual history to the micro particles of Middle-earth.
Together these essays present a complete picture of a man as complicated as the books that bear his name―an independent and unorthodox thinker who was both a believer and a doubter able to maintain conflicting ideas in tension, a teller of tales both romantic and bitter, hopeful and pessimistic, in equal parts tragic and comedic. A man whose work does not seek for right or wrong answers so much as a way to accommodate both; a man of antitheses.
Scholars of fantasy literature generally and of Tolkien particularly will find much of value in this insightful collection by a seasoned explorer of Tolkien’s world of faërie.
I'm looking forward to reading Verlyn Flieger's newest book on Tolkien, and yet I have to admit that even though I own most of her other Tolkien books, I have yet to actually read them! Anyway, this one is destined for both my Unread Tolkien books list, and my latest Tolkien collection post. Hopefully I'll be able to get around to reading it (and some of her other books) in the near future.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Lick of Frost - Laurell K. Hamilton

A Lick of Frost - Laurell K. HamiltonA Lick of Frost (Merry Gentry #6)
Laurell K. Hamilton
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 2008

The product description:
I am Meredith Gentry, princess and heir apparent to the throne in the realm of faerie, onetime private investigator in the mortal world. To be crowned queen, I must first continue the royal bloodline and give birth to an heir of my own. If I fail, my aunt, Queen Andais, will be free to do what she most desires: install her twisted son, Cel, as monarch . . . and kill me.

My royal guards surround me, and my best loved–my Darkness and my Killing Frost–are always beside me, sworn to protect and make love to me. But still the threat grows greater. For despite all my carnal efforts, I remain childless, while the machinations of my sinister, sadistic Queen and her confederates remain tireless. So my bodyguards and I have slipped back into Los Angeles, hoping to outrun the gathering shadows of court intrigue. But even exile isn’t enough to escape the grasp of those with dark designs.

Now King Taranis, powerful and vainglorious ruler of faerie’s Seelie Court, has leveled accusations against my noble guards of a heinous crime–and has gone so far as to ask the mortal authorities to prosecute. If he succeeds, my men face extradition to faerie and the hideous penalties that await them there. But I know that Taranis’s charges are baseless, and I sense that his true target is me. He tried to kill me when I was a child. Now I fear his intentions are far more terrifying.
Remember when I was commenting on the lack of resolution a couple of books ago? They were all building up to this one! And what a resolution! I couldn't put A Lick of Frost down for long. I just had to come back and read some more.

This time, because I'm back-to-back reading the series, I found that I didn't have the problems I did reading it last time (probably with a year or so gap from reading the previous book).

A Lick of Frost is the sixth book in the Merry Gentry series, following on Mistral's Kiss. The first book in this series was A Kiss of Shadows.

Some of the many plot threads were tied up in A Lick of Frost, but not all of them, and I can't wait to get into the next book to find out how things are going to play out next. Intercourt politics are definitely becoming a big issue for Merry and her guards, and we're seeing how it plays out in the human world. It was rather nice being back in the human world for this one, after a couple of books that were almost entirely set in Faerie.

I also really enjoyed getting some more hints at the impact an openly known of magical world has had on history. There have been quite a few references to fears of another Seelie/Unseelie war, and now I know why. Apparently, somewhere in Europe in that world there is still a massive crater left from the last one! Yikes!

Not suited for everyone, but by now, that should be clear about almost all of Laurell K. Hamilton's books as she tends to be both explicit and graphic at times. However, if that's not going to bother you, these are turning into great reads for the most part.

I know I felt that Mistral's Kiss was too short in my last review, but this one didn't feel that way at all. It's not as long as the first four books in the series, but A Lick of Frost was still longer than Mistral's Kiss by a little bit. I think the difference might have also been due to the amount going on in the book.

Definitely a read that I enjoyed, and I'm looking forward to starting the next book in the series, Swallowing Darkness.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mistral's Kiss - Laurell K. Hamilton

Mistral's Kiss - Laurell K. HamiltonMistral's Kiss (Merry Gentry #5)
Laurell K. Hamilton
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 2006

The product description:
I am Princess Meredith, heir to a throne of faerie. My day job, once upon a time, was as a private detective in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, princess has now become a full-time occupation.

My aunt, Queen Andais, will have it no other way. And so I am virtually a prisoner in faerie–trapped here with some of the realm’s most beautiful men to serve as my bodyguards . . . and my lovers. For I am compelled to conceive a child: an heir to succeed me on the throne. Yet after months of amazing sex with my consorts, there is still no baby. And no baby means no throne. The only certainty is death at the hands of my cousin Cel, or his followers, if I fail to conceive.

Now Mistral, Queen Andais’s new captain of the guard, has come to my bed–defying her and risking her terrible wrath in doing so. But even she will hesitate to punish him in jealous rage, because our joining has reawakened old magic, mystical power so ancient that no one stands against it and survives. Not even my strongest and most favored: my Darkness and my Killing Frost. Not even Mistral himself, my Storm Lord. But because Mistral has helped to bring this magic forth, he may live another day.

If I can reclaim control of the fey power that once was, there may be hope for me and my reign in faerie. I might yet quell the dark schemes and subterfuges surrounding me. Though shadows of obsession and conspiracy gather, I may survive.
Mistral's Kiss is the sequel to A Stroke of Midnight and is the fifth book in the Merry Gentry series. This one I remember reading before, back when it first came out. However, I don't remember much about it from that time other than my annoyance at how short the book was. When all the previous books were at around 400 pages or more each, and this one finishes up in only 330 (according to Amazon), it's quite noticeable! I also remember it being a very quick read (in that I was able to finish reading it in a couple of times waiting at the bookstore).

This time, I was reading Mistral's Kiss on my Kobo - and yes, I still found the book to be much shorter than the previous books. That's actually one of my frustrations with a few series - consistent book lengths, then the author starts sneaking in novellas (at the same price as the regular books), either as shorter books with the same size font or what looks to be regular length books but padded with large line-spacing, font-size and margins. I don't know if it's just me that feels cheated when I get a book and it turns out to be much shorter than it originally looked, but I do.

As I noted in my post on A Stroke of Midnight, very little time actually passes within this book. In fact, I think it's still the same day that was the subject of the last book! On the other hand, we do see more of the goblins and the Sluagh, and we learn a bit more about how magic works in this world. Also, this was another book that kept me turning the pages until the last page of the book.

Again, I noted in the previous book the quantity of sex to be found in the latest Merry Gentry books. That is a theme that holds true in this one as well. On the other hand, anyone surprised at the amount of sex needs to take another look at the end goal for these books (or at least one of the end goals) - which is for Merry to be pregnant. The only way for that to happen is via intercourse. Still, it seems like the major subject of the last two books has been sex.

I've noted in previous reviews the way the open existence of something like Faerie can impact the world's history - and we get some more hints at that in Mistral's Kiss - something I found to be quite fascinating.

No vampires, werewolves or other werecreatures that I'm aware of in this world - just Faerie (in all it's variations) and human psychics/magicians. It's one of the things that makes the world of Merry Gentry quite unique in my reading experience. The other is how widely known/unhidden the world of magic is. One of the main plot-points I know of in most urban fantasy novels is the need for secrecy, if not for all of the supernatural/magical elements, at least for some of them in varying amounts.

Overall, I'm definitely enjoying reading this series. I just hope the books get longer again.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Stroke of Midnight - Laurell K. Hamilton

A Stroke of Midnight - Laurell K. HamiltonA Stroke of Midnight (Merry Gentry #4)
Laurell K. Hamilton
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 2006

The product description:
I am Meredith Gentry, P.I., solving cases in Los Angeles, far from the peril and deception of my real home–because I am also Princess Meredith, heir to the darkest throne faerie has to offer. The Unseelie Court infuses me with its power. But at what price does such magic come? How much of my human side will I have to give up, and how much of the sinister side of faerie will I have to embrace? To sit on a throne that has ruled through bloodshed and violence for centuries, I might have to become that which I dread the most.

Enemies watch my every move. My cousin Cel strives to have me killed even now from his prison cell. But not all the assassination attempts are his. Some Unseelie nobles have waited centuries for my aunt Andais, Queen of Air and Darkness, to become weak enough that she might be toppled from her throne. Enemies unforeseen move against us–enemies who would murder the least among us.

The threat will drive us to allow human police into faerie for the first time in our history. I need my allies now more than ever, especially since fate will lead me into the arm of Mistral, Master of Storms, the queen’s new captain of her guard. Our passion will reawaken powers long forgotten among the warriors of the sidhe. Pain and pleasure await me–and danger, as well, for some at that court seek only death.

I will find new joys with the butterfly-winged demi-fey. My guards and I will show all of faerie that violence and sex are as popular among the sidhe as they are among the lesser fey of our court. The Darkness will weep, and Frost will comfort him. The gentlest of my guards will find new strength and break my heart. Passions undreamed of await us–and my enemies gather, for the future of both courts of faerie begins to unravel.
Another book by Laurell K. Hamilton that I more or less raced through - at least when I was actively reading it. I did stop part-way through to finish reading The Crown companion volume and review it. Still, this series has me captivated right now (I don't think I've been reading books at this kind of speed for a few years now, though I can't say for sure).

A Stroke of Midnight is the sequel to Seduced By Moonlight, and the first book in the series is A Kiss of Shadows.

By this point in this series, I don't think it'll be spoilers to say that there is a lot of sex in this book - and a fair bit of violence too. The fact that a 400+ page book covers only a few days (at best, some estimates I've seen suggest that it's less than a day in real time), rather says something along those lines. Nonetheless, I couldn't stop turning the pages, although I do agree with some of the reviews I've seen elsewhere suggesting that the wrap-up of the book came along a bit too fast at the end, and didn't really resolve anything either. However, that opinion comes along only after reading the book. While I was reading A Stroke of Midnight I wasn't thinking about any of that at all. I just wanted to know "what happens next?".

These days it's pretty rare for me to read more than about two books in a series without taking a break to read another author or book in between. I'm on to book five now - with the only break being to finish the last third of an already in-progress book. For a series to hold me this long, I really have to say  "Bravo!" to the author!

I also want to note that while I'm reading this series, I'm also wanting to read more on the "real-world" legends of Faerie in our world, to get a feeling for the way legends, fairy-tales and myths take on the Seelie/Unseelie divide and faerie magic. I do know that the other author/series that's used the two courts in novels have had a very different take on them (That being the SERRAted edge series co-written by Mercedes Lackey). I find - and this is probably more of a personal thing for me - that when I see different authors displaying very different takes on the same topic, I often want to know more about the reality/source materials and what they show.  Yeah, I'm an amateur historian, and maybe that shows in this tendency of mine.

Despite the muttering I did earlier in the review, I want to repeat that A Stroke of Midnight kept me turning the pages, and I'm heading right into Mistral's Kiss next.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen

The Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen - Robert LaceyThe Crown: The Official Companion Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen
Robert Lacey
Crown Archetype
Copyright Date: October 2017

The product description:
The official companion to the Emmy-winning Netflix drama chronicling the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and starring Claire Foy and John Lithgow, The Crown by Peter Morgan, featuring additional historical background and beautifully reproduced archival photos and show stills

Elizabeth Mountbatten never expected her father to die so suddenly, so young, leaving her with a throne to fill and a global institution to govern. Crowned at twenty-five, she was already a wife and mother as she began her journey towards becoming a queen.

As Britain lifted itself out of the shadow of war, the new monarch faced her own challenges. Her mother doubted her marriage; her uncle-in-exile derided her abilities; her husband resented the sacrifice of his career and family name; and her rebellious sister embarked on a love affair that threatened the centuries-old links between the Church and the Crown. This is the story of how Elizabeth II drew on every ounce of resolve to ensure that the Crown always came out on top.

Written by the show’s historical consultant, royal biographer Robert Lacey, and filled with beautifully reproduced archival photos and show stills, The Crown: The Official Companion: Volume 1 adds expert and in-depth detail to the events of the series, painting an intimate portrait of life inside Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. Here is Elizabeth II as we’ve never seen her before.
This was a captivating book! That's honestly my gut reaction on turning the last page. It pairs with the series very well, being structured around the episodes of season one. Essentially, Robert Lacey has laid out the real events that formed each episode, giving more details and background information - including where the show-writers have chosen to make things up or condense them to a noticeable level.

There are a mixture of photos from the show and also the real archival photos of the Queen's life included in the book - in fact, that's where my only real grumble comes in with this book - the lack of captions on a lot of the inline photos in the text. That's something that I don't care for in a lot of books, the lack of captioning. Still, this book is definitely lavishly illustrated with many inline photos and also two sections of color photos on glossy pages.

Another helpful feature included in The Crown book are the numerous one and two page biographies of the secondary characters we see in the show - including who the actor/actress playing them was. Yes, of course the main focus of the book is Queen Elizabeth, but still, for those of us too young to remember the events Seasons One and Two are based around, this is a very helpful thing - especially when it comes to the various politicians in the show. I know I found myself scratching my head more than a few times on watching, going "who is this?" with some of the secondary politicians - Churchill, was of course, quite evident and I think John Lithgow did an amazing job portraying him - one of my favorites from Season One!

Well written, and not bogged down in the details at all, though there was plenty of detail - after all, this book only covers the first eight years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, I'm looking forward to whatever the author puts out to go with Season Two (which was outstanding to watch as well).

By the way, for those people not subscribed to Netflix, The Crown is now available on DVD/Blu-Ray, and it is very, very worth watching (really for me it was the only reason we subscribed to Netflix two years ago). Also available are the first two season soundtracks (I'm listening to Season One now and loving it a lot). I will admit to being a sucker for most of Hans Zimmer's music and he did the theme for The Crown - and I suspect had influence on the rest of the soundtrack, as there are parts of it that remind me of the music from The Last Samurai.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Seduced By Moonlight - Laurell K. Hamilton

Seduced By Moonlight - Laurell K. HamiltonSeduced By Moonlight (Merry Gentry #3)
Laurell K. Hamilton
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 2004

The product description:
 I am Meredith Gentry, P.I. and Princess Merry, heir to the throne of Fairie.
Now there are those among me who whisper I am more.
They fear me even as they protect me. And who can blame them?
I’ve awakened the dazzling magic that’s slumbered in them for
thousands of years. But the thing is, I can’t figure out why.

My aunt, the Queen of Air and Darkness, is no longer distracted by her usual sadistic hobbies. Her obsession has turned unwaveringly to me. The mission to get me pregnant and beat my cousin Prince Cel to the crown is taking longer than expected. Even though I spend each night with the Queen’s Ravens, my immortal guards, no child has come of our decadent pleasures. But something else is happening. My magic courses through me uncontrollably. And as I lock my half-mortal body with their full-Sidhe blooded ones, the power surges like never before.

It all began with the chalice. I dreamed of it, and it appeared, cool and hard, beside me when I awoke. My guards know the ancient relic well—its disappearance ages ago stripped them of their vital powers. But it is here with us now. My touch resonates with its force, and they’re consumed with it, their Sidhe essences lit up by it. But even as they cherish me for this unexpected gift, there are those who loathe me for it. Me, a mongrel, only half fey and part mortal. The Unseelie court has suffered for so long, and there are some who would not have it weakened further by an impure queen. My enemies grow in number every day. But they do not know what I am capable of. Nor, for that matter, do I. . . .

In Seduced by Moonlight, Laurell K. Hamilton brings the dark, erotic reign of the immortal fey to a startling new depth. Full of sensuality and the consuming anticipation of latent powers unleashed, this world of gods, shapeshifters, and immortal souls is unveiled in all of its supreme magnificence and its treacherous deceits. 
Remember back when I reviewed A Kiss of Shadows, the first book in this series and I noted the lack of violence compared with the Anita Blake books? Forget I said that. Forget I even thought it. I'm shaking my head at myself on that one after reading Seduced By Moonlight.

At any rate, Seduced By Moonlight, the third book in the Merry Gentry series, following on A Caress of Twilight was another "couldn't put it down" book - up to the point where I was forced to by the need to recharge my Kobo. Then it was right back into the read.

This book has very little to do with the "real" world as it were, being much more focused on the politics of the Seelie and Unseelie courts and also on the interpersonal relationships centering around Merry. And believe me, that is enough to keep the book going and fascinating! However, I'd say this series might not be for everyone. There are quite a few points where it gets pretty graphic - both sexually and in terms of violence. By this point though, that shouldn't be much of a surprise to fans of Laurell K. Hamilton's writing.

As I said, this book is quite focused on the interpersonal relationships and politics of the Faerie courts. On top of that though, there's other things and powers at work. Merry doesn't have a clue what's going on and neither do her guards - or us for that matter. That was one of the aspects of the book that really gripped me on this read through - watching the lot of them coping with the unexpected.

Lots of questions left for the next book too (A Stroke of Midnight). I really want to get into reading that one, but at the same time I'm kind of feeling like I should go back to some of the other books I've got on the go, so no idea of what I'm going to be reading next.

One thing I found really neat at the end of Seduced by Moonlight - this one may just be me and my love of research though - is that Laurell K. Hamilton has included a list of the books she's used in researching the Merry Gentry series. Given that I'm currently hunting (or trying to) down material on British mythological creatures and beings for an idea/project of my own, I'm very happy to see this right now. The next thing on my to-do list is going to be googling the various titles and finding more information on some of those books. Thanks!

Believe it or not, one of my favorite things to see in a novel (esp. historical fiction) is a listing of research sources when appropriate. All too often for me, reading a novel with a basis in fact (or mythology as in this case), I get quite curious about the reality of the situation - such as it is. Seeing what the author has used for source material can be quite intriguing.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Caress of Twilight - Laurell K. Hamilton

A Caress of Twilight - Laurell K. HamiltonA Caress of Twilight (Merry Gentry #2)
Laurell K. Hamilton
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 2003

The product description:
“I am Princess Meredith, heir to a throne—if I can stay alive long enough to claim it.” After eluding relentless assassination attempts by Prince Cel, her cousin and rival for the Faerie crown, Meredith Gentry, Los Angeles private eye, has a whole new set of problems. To become queen, she must bear a child before Cel can father one of his own. But havoc lies on the horizon: people are dying in mysterious, frightening ways, and suddenly the very existence of the place known as Faerie is at grave risk. So now, while she enjoys the greatest pleasures of her life attempting to conceive a baby with the warriors of her royal guard, she must fend off an ancient evil that could destroy the very fabric of reality. And that’s just her day job. . . .
After finishing my read-through of A Kiss of Shadows the other day, I rolled right into A Caress of Twilight, ending up finishing this one in just over a day as well. Currently I'm well into the third book in the series, Seduced By Moonlight, with books four through seven waiting on my Kobo.

On this one I found myself comparing main characters - mostly Merry Gentry - to the lead characters in some other urban fantasy novels I've been reading lately: the Anita Blake books, Mercy Thompson from Patricia Brigg's books and to some of the female leads I remember from a few different paranormal romance novels. Of course, the one she's the most like is Anita Blake - it makes a lot of sense as both characters are written by the same author. And yet, in some ways the world Merry Gentry lives in feels closer to that of the Mercy Thompson books than the world Anita Blake lives in - probably the wider presence of the Faerie world.

The other things I kept thinking about as I was reading A Caress of Twilight were about how much the need for secrecy can change the story-plots. In most urban fantasy novels/series the supernatural is either completely secret or sometimes partly known about, but public knowledge is still a newer thing. The Merry Gentry novels are really the first series I've seen where it seems that the supernatural side of the story has been publicly known about from the distant past, and it's interesting how that knowledge changes the whole fabric of the story. Trust/distrust, politics (current and past) along with treaties, again current and past all shape the world the characters move through. However, much of the human politics is at a very very background level. Most of the politicking going on in these books - at least in these first ones - is inter-fey, and the lengths they'll go to can be quite shocking.

I'm also enjoying watching Merry figure things out about herself, her past, those around her and her ever-varying relationships - something I've grown rather used to from Laurell K. Hamilton is the variety of relationships her characters engage in - and what they're willing to do at need. However, I suspect that this aspect of her books is not for everybody.

Definitely though, I recommend reading A Kiss of Shadows before reading A Caress of Twilight or any of the later books in this series - the background knowledge is more or less a requirement.

Any book I've bought more than once has to be at the very least a decent read - and this is my second purchase of A Caress of Twilight. I last read it back when the book first came out. Long enough ago now that the read was almost as though I'd never read it before.


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