Moar Carrot’s Book Review

In today’s shameless promotions, we’ve got an independent author Leonard Petracci.

For those who are unaware, there is a website called Reddit and within their many forums is a Writing Prompt. People post the theme/scenario and anyone who wishes can submit their flash fiction. Sometimes they become longer, becoming mini-novellas posted under that topic in itty bitty chapters. Occasionally, the Muses take them and a novel is born from a simple prompt.

Personally, I tend to favor the science-fiction prompts as they provide entertaining escapism from the World of Today(tm) and it’s many uncertain political woes. That means you might find more of these Reddit Authors being shamelessly promoted her in the future. Who doesn’t need a good read?

So, onto The Bridge: A Science Fiction Survival Story

It only comes in Kindle format, what with that independent author status and all. For $2.99 I thought I got a good read. The concept (writing prompt) was simple – generation ship heading to a planet and over time the inhabitants lost understanding and knowledge of who they were, where they were going, and even the technology of the ship itself.

I think the main character could have been fleshed out a bit more, as most of the story was from his perspective, but you still got a real sense of his feelings an motivations throughout the story. The culture shifts on the generational ship from spacefaring to….not spacefaring…seem very plausible given the limitations of their environment and what was necessary to keep society alive. Some of it was shockingly cruel, but if it was a question of life and death, what other option would there be?

I have to admit to practically skimming the last few chapters in a desperate race to get to the ending to see how it all played out, so the minute details are lost to me, not that I would give you a detailed summary of how it ended anyway. Take the fact that I sped read it as an indication of how tightly the story had me.

I give this book a “Speculative Anthropology” – which only sounds boring to the non-nerds. I’ll add “With Spaceships” for the rest of you.

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Carrot’s Book review: Surprise Edition

A week ago, no sooner I finish my glowing praise of The Name of the Wind“>, than UPS drops off a package at my door.  I hadn’t remembered ordering anything and none of my family or friends ‘fessed up to sending me anything.  In the padded envelope was nothing but a book.  No letter or invoice or anything explaining whyfor this book arrives or whence it came!  Exercising my big smarty brain, I read the label for a clue and got only that it came direct from Penguin Publishing.

Maybe I signed up for some free give away?  I have no idea, but obviously the Universe wanted me to read this book and perilous is it to ignore directives from the Universe when they are so blatant.

So the book – Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands.

I can sum up this book in two words –

Arab Gunslinger.

No seriously!  Stick with me on this!  It’s a fantasy novel, so it takes place in a fictional desert kingdom with a Sultan and far eastern magical myths like djinn.  It’s very careful not to imply fictional Islam, so there are no Imans or Mosques, going for Holy Men and Prayer Houses instead.  Some standard social issues are present, such as polygamy and women having little to no power in their own lives.

Which brings us to the wild west aspect of it all.  Our tale starts out in a desperate small mining town, rife with all the problems that a small desperate mining town has – scarcity of water, scarcity of options, the men give their lives to the mine and women suffer the brunt of their hopelessness in a one horse town where not even the monthly train runs through.

Our heroine is desperate to escape the gritty emptiness of life here and the awfulness of her impending future.  Dressed as a boy (naturally) and gifted with uncanny aim with a gun (heresy!), she exchanges an empty unhappy life for endless danger as she naturally falls in with the rebellion.   Because of course there’s a rebellion, all tied up with the mines, an allied/occupying foreign kingdom (that seems awfully western with their blond hair and blue eyes), and the struggle to retain the magic/identity of the kingdom/people without losing their soul.  There’s even a train heist!  Because Arab Gunslinger, duh!

I’m sure there’s a little subtext in there on the magic vs technology side of things, but the magic part really didn’t show up until later in the story and I presume it will be further explored in the following books.

Overall?  I expected it to be very tropey what with the YA label and a girl hero, but it wasn’t.  It was very engaging, handing me a few surprises along the way, making it an even more enjoyable story than initial assumption.  If ever you were looking for a book that would actually break the molds and play a strong part in that whole “Representation Matters” I couldn’t suggest this book fast enough.  Faux Arab Heroine.  What more could you want?  This should be read in school, except for the fact they never seem to offer fantasy as a literary choice.

I give this book a Make Your Kids Read It, because when I’m so delighted by an pro-active non-timid girl hero in a setting far underutilized in the writing world, then obviously my kids need the exposure as well.  Especially in this current world where women and our Middle Eastern brethren are never considered heroic.

Back later, I have to hand the book off to Alpha.  He was asking for it last night.

Carrot’s Book Club

Just finished Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind”. I have been trying years to get around to reading it as I had yet met a fellow book lover that did not rave about it.

I feel like any raving I might do about it is just redundant. It has been so very very long since I was at a point in my life where I looked forward to bedtime; that scheduled hour or two where I’d curl up with my dozens of pillows and viciously run through as many chapters as I could swallow before my eyes grew fuzzy and an adult’s sense of responsibility forced me to a reasonable hour’s sleep to be somewhat functional the following day. I’d think about the book during the day, trying to predict where the plot might lead based on the clues I had already read the night before.

Would I dare say lyrical? There are some books for whom the story is compelling while the writing is weak, forcing you to slog through dreary narration so you can learn what you need to learn and get closure on what could have been a far better tale. There are some books that the dialogue is witty and you enjoy the characters as you would old friends, but there is no significant adventure and you see the end coming long before you’ve even come to the middle. This book had both real people and real adventure and perfectly musically paired.

So real, I was made uncomfortable by a repeated failure to overcome something so simple as monetary debt! Perhaps that is nothing more than personal experience with the topic, but it was unsettling and made me fearful for the character. There were times I grew impatient with the character’s inability to choose the simple solution to his woes, but seeing as how at the time of the telling he was only a teen boy, perhaps that would explain overly complex solutions that only brought more hot water.

I also grew impatient as the remaining chapters dwindled and I realized that it was not a stand alone book. There would be no ending for this tale, not even in an intermission partial closure, or a season ender to tie the plots together. Not so much a cliffhanger as the commercial break with still more show to go. I had been putting off buying it – restlessly waiting for my turn at the library’s wait list to get a copy – but now I see that I can’t do that for book two and must, as soonest possible moment, head out to purchase the next one (and of course the first one so my shelf has a complete set).

I’m giving this book a Carrot Rating of Two Hands, as in it’d take that to pry it away from me.

Date Night with Diablo

Husband had gotten a copy of Diablo III for Xbox One. The last time I played Diablo, they had just come out with the expansion pack for the second one. I ended up in a lan party with not-yet-husband and friends where we played through from character creation to finally boss in a marathon 14 hr session.

You have no idea how much street cred that buys a chick. Even now.

Also, after 14 straight hours, your ears will hear the roar of monsters exploding and gold dropping for hours afterwards. Not to mention the aforementioned actions etched on your retinas making the drive home a little difficult. I’m sure that’s material somewhere for some pamphlet on the dangers of video game playing.

But onto Diablo III

The hardest part of any game, as any true gamer knows, is the character creation. I really wanted to play a demon hunter, I really did. Seemed to be a little obvious given the overall theme of the game and probably very useful. Know why I didn’t? Her high heeled boots. Seriously. I get that this is nothing more than digital escapism fighting the denizens of a fantasy hell and my suspension of disbelief is expected in the process of slaughtering the rotting undead to acquire magical loot. But I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to envision slinking through haunted woods and cursed ruins in my perfect kitten heels. What are they, Spiked Heels of Eternal Comfort +3? Peep Toes of Never Turning an Ankle, Just Undead +2? Espadrilles of Strength +5?

So I went with the barely clothed mage. Because she had sensible footwear. It’s the little things that really speak to a character.

Oh, did you know you can customize your character banner too? It was only the ridiculousness of it all that kept me from making it magenta with hearts, but I was sorely tempted and Husband was itching to start playing. Fear me, for I am the foretold Mage of the Bearclaw Butterfly tribe and you can call me….

Muffin.

Because nothing strikes fear into the twisted souls of the undead like Muffin the Mage.

To the important stuff – the graphics are beautiful, but I expected as much. I’ve only played through a few quests (on Hard mind you, because Easy seemed ridiculous even for casual play) but the maps are nice and twisty and the undead ravenous. Not a whole lot of loot dropping – compared to my dim memories of Diablo II so long ago – but I haven’t found it to be an impediment to upgrades and acquisitions.

The skill trees are taking some time to figure out with slots for everything and the various triggers/buttons of the Xbox controller eventually getting it’s own power. I feel like I’m playing piano moving through my various magics waiting for my mana to replenish or everything to get close enough to be hit with my area affects. I’m still a little awkward on getting everything active and running, but I really like the ability to compare the items I find with the things I’m already wearing as it makes the min-maxed wardrobe easier to put together.

My favorite part of the game, though, is the fact that Husband and I can play together. Diablo on my own is kinda a mindless grind. Follow the map, slaughter, loot, repeat. With a party in play, the evil ratchets up, so it’s even harder to plow through, but a lot more fun.

Highly recommended for those Gamer Dates.

A few stolen moments

I used to be a prolific reader.  I could power through a book in twenty four hours if given the appropriate leisure time and the book in question was a much anticipated release.  My daily long commute on public trans, much needed lunch breaks, the dragging empty hours of filling a quiet office during evening shifts were all hours that were filled with a never-sated need for reading.  My work bag contained a change of clothes, my lunch and at least three paperbacks at all times.  You never know when you’d finish one at midnight and still have four hours of your overnight shift in perfect solitude.

My library probably deforested a small country.  I’m sorry.  I really am.  This was pre-Kindle days and my local library only had so much in my preferred genres of fiction-based entertainment.  Especially the way I plowed through entire shelves.  I promise that every book I couldn’t give away or donate was recycled.  Honest.

Anywhoo – finally giving up gainful employment to be the Stay Home to my first two children had me dreaming of days when I could knock out a few chapters during nap time or after I put them quietly to bed early in the evening.  Or, dare I dream, be that confident put together mom on the playground sipping her coffee and reading her hardcover while her darling angels ran around playing nicely with other children.

Unprepared for the realities of toddlers that didn’t nap – refusing to sleep at all until exhaustion kicked in! –  and then needing constant handling on the playground to keep the city from calling animal control on me, it has been years since I’ve been able to read a book in short enough time for me to remember how it started once I finished it.  I’ve been lucky to read two books in a year for lack of interest, focus, and time.  I’m glad to say I’m getting better and getting back to reading.  It has help that, in the time of becoming a Stay Home and now, technology has gotten so much more exciting and making it easier to access books!  Now I just have to fight the lure of other online time wasters to actually go read….

But here it is!

It was lent to me – Kindle to Kindle! – by another reader friend who wanted someone versed in the old school D&D tabletop gaming.  His lady wife had read it but, never having  played any sort of RPG, felt she might have missed some of the fine nuances of the genre.  So I gave it a go.

It starts as a classic Game World vs Real World and how they bleed over.  It was a fairly popular trope at some point or at least it seemed like I read a lot of “Gamers play module and end up in other universe totally by accident” books somewhere in the late 80s/early 90s.  From there it takes the predictable character evolutions and swaps them up.  Swaps them up realistically even!   As realistically being subjective in a world of orcs, dragons, and magic sword, of course.  The characters were real and engaging, both the characters and the “characters”, for those of you having enough tabletop/larping experience to understand the difference.  The motivations were not ham-handed or contrived and the solutions were clever.   I really enjoyed it.  So much so that I’m currently on the third book! In three months! Can you believe I’ve read so much in so short a time! I can feel my brain coming alive with imagination!

Edit! (Sorry – I probably should have included the link to the second book too, to save you the time of trying to hunt it down.)

Shameless Promotions

In the spirit of full disclosure, the owner of the following company is an old grade-school chum of mine from a time long enough ago that my kids don’t believe it actually existed.  He started a company and out of the goodness of his heart, gifted me with some candles.  Not expecting this kind of spontaneous largess, I felt that it was my karmic duty to give my opinion of them.

The company is called the Wisconsin Candle Company.  They’ve got more than candles- assorted delicious looking bath sundries and beard oil for those of you who sport the glamorous facefur – but I can only speak of the delightfully smelling candles, of which I received three:

Autumnal Pumpkin: The usual fall-flavored candle, smelling of yummy warm spices oddly not heavy on the cinnamon or cloves.  Perhaps nutmeg is what I’m smelling?  It warms the room without being overpowering or cloying.

Vanilla Beans & Nectarines:   I have yet to burn this one, but just opening the tin exposes a lighter scent, more fruity than vanilla and it makes me think of alcoholic girlie drinks on the veranda.  My mouth is watering with the sweetness of it.  Again, not heavy or overpowering.

Balsam & Cinnamon:  More balsam than cinnamon, which I’m thankful for.  A house smelling of cinnamon rolls would trigger a sweet-tooth bent on carnage.  A clean scent, not as green as I would expect, but fresh.  A good one to burn if you’ve got a fake Christmas tree in the works, you can pretend you have some of that outdoorsy winter feel good smell without your carpet full of needles.

So yeah, give them a try if you are at all the candle enthusiast or need holiday and/or host(ess) gifts.  They’re very Wisconsin local, but obviously they do ship.  Thanks in advance.

wcc

Shameless promotions

I’m in New Zealand now and so I am likely raving about a product that many of my State Bound friends will never know the joy of.  Unless they travel.  Which I endorse.  Especially if they take me with them.

At any rate, I do adore a nice basket of fish and chips because who doesn’t?  Heretics, maybe.  However, I never understood the love of vinegar on said fish and chips.  I don’t understand vinaigrettes.  I don’t understand vinegar anything unless I’m using to it make pickles.  Then I understand the beauty of vinegar.  But for other food items?  There are so many other condiments to use that the unpleasant vinegar taste need not be involved.

Until my gracious hosts introduced me to Ma Prenzel’s.

garlic-vinegar

I’ve only enjoyed this particular vinegar sauce out of their assuredly equally amazing range of products.  I was delighted to find that it does not taste like vinegar at all!  It is garlic and salt and rich smoke and thick deliciousness on the tongue.  The flavor is full, not bitter or sharp.  I had it on a burger.  I had it on my fries.  I had it on everything they served me that night except for the chocolate.  But I bet it would have been good on even that, but it seemed like I should not insult my hosts by dipping fine chocolate into garlic vinegar sauce.  I’m imagining that it would pair perfectly with those big soft pretzels.

As of my hunt right now, they do not offer this fine product back home.  I have not yet checked to see if it is possible to ship overseas and not sell my children to make the cost.  Is it very probable that this particular culinary delight will remain a fond memory of an unforgettable trip that is not likely to be repeated.  If you are traveling in New Zealand, I highly recommend you sample and bring some home if possible.

Not your grandpa’s Old Spice

The boys are old enough now for those “hygiene” talks at school and have been bringing home sampler deodorant products for the very manly middle schooler. Gamma, thinking this is awesome, decided the bodywash was actually lotion and has come downstairs reeking of Old Spice “Bearglove”. She’s quite pleased with herself.

I find it hilarious that Old Spice (of all things) is now the hip cutting edge fragrance of whatever generation is following the Millennials.  Post Millennials?  Anywhoo – I think the creative department in charge of naming conventions was just having a field day.  Maybe they came up with “Swagger” to start to compete with hyper-macho Axe product line. But “Bearglove”? And then there’s the rest like “Foxcrest” and “Hawkridge”. That sounds less like youthful men prowling the urban ‘scape in search of adventure and more like a gathering of Victorian lordlings meeting up at the gentleman’s clubs for cigars and cards.

(scene opens in the cigar lounge)

Lord Foxcrest: “I say, did you hear that Hawkridge challenged Bearglove to a duel? Over a shopgirl, no less!”

Sir Krakengard: “Good heavens, Foxcrest! I told you the man was a total bounder. We never should have let him in here!”

For what it’s worth, I actually enjoy the scent of Bearglove.  Swagger too – which seems to be the most chosen sample for Jr. High boy hygiene swag bags – but just the deoderant.  The body wash is a bit much, especially when your five year old daughter is slathered in it, but actually kind of pleasant when used judiciously.  We all know that boys under a certain age use nothing judiciously.  I’d recommend giving them time to air out and the scent dissipating before coming into close quarters.  Presuming, of course, they’re inclined to shower or use any cleaning products once in there.