Review: Red Rising


Posted on : 1/03/2020 02:24:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Red Rising Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a 3-star DNF review.

I received this as part of the Hugo awards packet in 2015. The story/writing was OK. The world-building had some interesting aspects.

I just could not connect with any of the characters or their situation. There were better things to read, and so I did.

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Review: The Legion Awakes


Posted on : 1/02/2020 09:13:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Legion Awakes The Legion Awakes by J.R. Handley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great first book by a new author and US Army veteran. Captures the mil-sf genre very well.

Can't wait to get to book 2

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[adding on over a year later]

This is the first book published by a US Army vet and his wife.  They are a team.  He is using writing as a way of processing his time in the Army.

Our protagonist awakens from some sort of hypersleep and is put to work training new recruits.  He uses what are considered "old-school" methods of training to get better performance out of his recruits.  They are pretty lazy and marginally competent when he picks them up.  But soon he has a platoon that is coming along nicely. 

The high point of the training exercise is when his new unit is tasked with being the sacrificial lambs for an annual training exercise for the larger unit.  They come up with a plan that takes out that larger unit.  The scene is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge" movie.

And then the world goes pear-shaped.  Our protagonist and his unit have to figure out who the bad-guys are and how to protect those needing protecting.

The author gets military service 100% right.  It even tastes right.  He then tosses in a bunch of new technology.  One of his very capable underlings re-programs the unit that produces clothes.  As a result, another...equally capable.....underling is caught wearing some "cute" panties instead of the standard-issue stuff.  Sometimes a girl just wants to be pretty even if it is just for herself.

It's a "new army" and our protagonist has to adjust to them as much as they have to adjust to him.

His unit ends up re-tasking and repurposing a lot of technology so that they can fight more efficiently.  That hard work pays off in the end.

While some of the later entries in the series didn't land as well for me, this is an outstanding book that is worthy of much broader attention.

2019 - A Year In Quilts


Posted on : 12/31/2019 08:44:00 PM | By : Dann

I began the year working on a quilt for my mom that is supposed to look a bit like a stained glass window.  The technique is really pretty simple.  I was about 60% through that process when the start of my quilting year got turned around.

One of our nephews and his girlfriend announced that they were expecting in the spring.  So the stained glass quilt got put aside in favor of the "old reliable"; log cabin.  Shortly after beginning that quilt, I had a colleague at work announce their pending arrival.

So I was two quilts behind before the end of February.  The quilt for our nephew's son, Jayce, was done in the early spring.  Just in time for our youngest son and another nephew to announce that they (and their girlfriends, natch) were expecting as well.

So I'm three quilts behind headed into summer.  The quilt for my colleague's daughter-to-be was finished barely in time for her arrival.  This was a new (to me) pattern that had a very modern look that is supposed to evoke the Death Star from Star Wars.  I'll probably try it again in the future.

Then things got a little busy.  My dad ended up passing in July.  So the quilt for our other nephew's daughter, Charlotte, ended up being finished a little after she was born.  Better late than never.  But the summer was pretty busy.  Another log cabin completed.

Heading into September, I figured I had a pretty good handle on the schedule.  One more baby quilt for our youngest son to make and then mom could have her quilt completed by Christmas.

And then, surprise!  Our oldest son and his girlfriend called us early.....I mean morning to let us know we were about to become grandparents for the first time.  In September.  Not December.

She had a pregnancy that was so secret that she didn't even know about it until about 12 hours before Emma was delivered.  While we were tickled pink with her arrival, that added an unexpected quilt to my year.  What's a guy to do but get some new fabric and get on with it.  Which I did.  Three log cabin quilts this year alone!

And then it was back to the quilt for our youngest son's daughter, Ella.  It was done in the nick of time.  I finally had a chance to work some fabric that I had been eyeing at the fabric store for a few years.  I think this fourth log cabin of the year turned out nicely.

But that left my mom's quilt as an incomplete for 2019.  It's a little closer to being done now and should be completed by mid-February at the very latest.

A Quilt for Ella


Posted on : 12/31/2019 08:14:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

So short story long, back in the spring, our youngest and his girlfriend announced that they were also having a baby. This was to have been our first grandchild.

If you've read about Miss Emma's quilt, then you know how that expectation worked out.

We spent some time looking at fabrics.  Two of them, pink and purple squares, were ones that I had seen before and had been wanting to try in a quilt.  They posed a bit of a challenge due to the tiny square pattern in the material.  It is quite difficult to cut perfectly parallel successive strips of material from a 40" wide section of fabric.  I ended up cutting 2 1/2" wide x 20" long strips.  Most of the cuts pretty well match the pattern of the squares.

In the end, I was pleased with the result.  And as with Emma's quilt, the backing material for Ella's quilt was a plushy fabric that didn't bunch (much) when sewed.

Miss Ella's Quilt - Finished

Miss Ella's Quilt - Detail

Miss Ella - Her Own Self
We think she's a keeper

Papa Josh and Miss Ella
Catching a little shut eye.

A Quilt for Emma


Posted on : 12/31/2019 04:28:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

So here we are late in 2019.  You may have picked up on the suggestion under Charlotte's quilt entry that there was another quilt in the works. not that quilt.

So late in September, we received an early morning call from our oldest.  His girlfriend was in labor.  He didn't know she was pregnant.  She didn't know she was pregnant!  There's a longer story there, but the doctors and nurses went to great lengths to express to us that this situation was not as unusual as you might think.

We received another call a couple hours later.  It was still a long way before our alarms were set to go off.  She was dilated to 3.  Off to the hospital we went!  About 6 or 7 hours later, our first grandchild, Emma came into the world.  She was a little early.  The doctors thought that she was at about 34 weeks when she was born.  Her first day was a little rough.  But she was out of the neonatal unit and safe at home a week later. 

She's pretty her old man.  Her mom, too, for what it's worth.

The only problem is that when I went to sleep the previous night, I had not planned on any extra quilts for 2019.  And now I was planning on another quilt for 2019!

I opted for another pink/grey combination.  It turned out pretty well.

The backs of quilts are always a bit of a challenge for me.  It's hard to come up with something that is visually interesting while also being easy enough to sew.  This time around I opted for a pink/grey synthetic fabric that felt a little plushy.  The fibers weren't crazy long, but they are long enough to be soft to the touch.

My beloved bride thinks I should use soft materials as they will be in contact with the baby's skin.  I think the backing material worked pretty well this time around.  I might have to keep looking at that fabric for future baby quilts.

Miss Emma's Quilt - Finished

Miss Emma's Quilt - Back

Miss Emma - her own self.  Almost 3 months old.
We're still tickled pink to have her in our lives.

A Quilt for Charlotte


Posted on : 12/31/2019 04:04:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

A different nephew and his girlfriend also ended up having a baby this year.  We found out about this in the spring.  I had completed one quilt, had a second one in the works, and now a third (or more) racked up in rapid succession.

I wasn't sure what to do for Charlotte.  But knowing that a little girl was coming and knowing that I still had some special fabric left in the stash pile, I just dove in and put together fabrics that I had available.  You may recognize one or two fabrics as being in prior quilts.

I really hate working with flannel.  It isn't dimensionally stable.  You can cut a 2 1/2" wide strip and end up pushing and pulling it so that it ends up being 1/8" on either side.  A continuing set of 1/8" errors is really a pain in the backside when you are piecing the larger squares together.

The "special fabric" was the white flannel with the tiny red roses.  My mother-in-law had purchased a whole bunch of that material with the intent of making nightgowns for two of her granddaughters when they were in the 4 to 6-year-old range.  Both are in their 20s today.  Neither of them got a nightgown.

Mom is gone now.  She is greatly missed.  Now I have/had the material.  As this would be another of her great-grandchildren, I thought it would be a good use.

Charlotte's Quilt - Finished

Charlotte's Quilt - Detail

A Quilt for Chloe


Posted on : 12/31/2019 03:50:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Immediately after finishing Jayce's quilt, I started to work on one for Miss Chloe.  A friend at work was working to produce Chloe, so I thought it would be OK to produce something to keep her warm once she got here.  Chloe and her momma made it through safe and sound.

Instead of doing another log cabin quilt, I took a stab at a little different pattern.  This one is supposed to be inspired by the Death Star from Star Wars.

Is there another Death Star outside of Star Wars?

I picked up the pattern in a quilting magazine because it has a really cool modern art feel to it.  I think it turned out OK.

Chloe's Quilt - Pre-Quilting

Chloe's Quilt - Detail

Chloe's Quilt - Finished

The partial circles were a bit of trouble.  I had to learn/re-learn some things to make them come out correctly.  But this was a fun pattern.  I expect that I will try it again in the future.

A Quilt for Jayce


Posted on : 12/31/2019 03:34:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

One of our nephews and his girlfriend had Jayce much earlier this year.  So I put aside my then (now current) quilting to begin working on one for Jayce.  His mom was interested in an animal theme for Jayce.  The result is below.

Jayce's Quilt

Jayce's Quilt - Single Panel

I think it worked out pretty well.  He's a pretty cute bugger, too!

Review: The Court of Broken Knives


Posted on : 12/31/2019 03:24:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

The Court of Broken Knives The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been meaning to give this book by Anna Smith Spark a try for a long time. Several grimdark oriented groups have raved about it. And Anna is a sparkling addition to some of those groups. But now I have to separate the work from the author.

This is a 4-star review of this book. In reality, I think it is more of a 3.5-star book. The world-building was interesting. There were cultural clashes between characters that suggested some decidedly different bases for their respective nations/cities.

Spoilers lie ahead...

One protagonist appears to be descended from some sort of deity-like person that once ravaged the world. All their ancestors wanted to do was to kill. By the end, those qualities are apparent in abundance in the protagonist. God-kings do not fall far from their proverbial trees.

The other protagonist was chosen at random to be a high priestess who committed ritual human sacrifice on a regular basis because her religion says that such sacrifices are needed so that humans can still be born, live, and die. If she were to stop, then no one would be born and no one would die. There isn't any evidence to support that faith within the text. However, it does seem that she possesses some extra-human abilities as a result.

They come together and fall in love. He passionately. She reluctantly. He sees no flaws in her. She sees many in him. But in the end, two beautiful but scarred people must be in love.

With her love as the motivation, he moves to reclaim his position within his family. This turns out poorly for pretty much everyone near him. He has the ability to instill a sort of blind bloodlust that causes people to kill whoever happens to be nearby if an enemy isn't more available. The flows.

While it has been a few years, this book reads a lot like Michael Moorcock's Elric stories. That is meant as a strong compliment.

While I had a pretty good idea about what makes the various characters special by the end of the book, it ended with me wondering if I really cared enough about their success or failure to want to continue the series. I never found a positive perspective to root for. There weren't any gems covered in grimdark grime. It was just blood, blood, blood and death, death, death. [read it to get the reference]

A second issue is that we spend a lot of time inside the character's heads; looking longingly at someone or plotting their next move. I am less attracted to spending pages upon pages on internal monologues.

There are several large and small scale political intrigues that unfold along the way. There is a broad range of characters with a diverse set of conflicting interests. The author adroitly manages all of those competing plot lines.

Fans of the grimdark subgenre should definitely give this book a try. It may connect better with you. Most of the elements of a fantastic read are there. And the series may unfold in a way that is more enjoyable than this single entry permits.

I probably won't find out for myself anytime soon.

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Review: A Little Hatred


Posted on : 12/19/2019 09:33:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

A Little Hatred A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a solid 5-star review.

Joe Abercrombie returns to his First Law world with the next generation of characters. As usual, this is a tour de force of fantasy that manages to present several POV characters in various situations; ranging from political intrigue to the hack-and-slash of combat.

Added into the plot this time are class elements unfolding within the context of a developing technologically driving industrial movement. Lives are inexorably altered as changing technology alters the basis of power; lifting some while others find their traditional existence to no longer be viable.

All of the subplots are told through the actions of a broad range of multi-motivated characters. Joe is a master of the grimdark subgenre requirement of creating characters that are neither purely good nor purely evil. They simply have motivations that are, at times, at cross purposes. When you are enthusiastically cheering for a character on one page and lustily cursing them a few pages later, then you know that you are in the grip of a masterful author.

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Review: The Forever War


Posted on : 12/19/2019 09:33:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

The Forever War The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review.

How might time delays influence the fighting of interstellar war? That is the overlying context of this story as the protagonists continually survive (barely) armed conflict with a poorly understood enemy. They hobble back home and by dint of survival end up promoted and in charge of the next armed contact with the enemy.

The relativity of time due to light speed travels means that there are thousands (tens of thousands!) of years for technology and battle doctrine to develop between battles while the combatants are traveling to and from the points of combat. The conflict ends up being a series of engagements leap-frogging through time.

Until they come home one day to find that peace had been declared. It is implied that the entire conflict may have begun in error; the enemy was poorly understood and they equally misunderstood humanity.

As might be expected of an author with a military service history, the book gets the relationships in the military just right; both the personal and doctrinal aspects. The subtextual message emphasizing the importance of understanding others is also handled deftly.

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Review: The Last Wish


Posted on : 12/19/2019 09:32:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Last Wish The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a weak 4-star review.

This is the first in the series and is really more of a collection of short/medium length stories. The writing was solid. The characters were engaging. However, it is, at best, a fractured narrative.

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Hugo 2020 - Nomination Pool


Posted on : 12/19/2019 09:32:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

My personal "short list" of works to be nominated in 2020

Novel -
Mark Lawrence - Holy Sister
Damien Black - Pilgrim's Storm Brooding??
Joe Abercrombie - A Little Hatred
Martin L. Shoemaker - The Last Dance

Series -
Mark Lawrence - Book of the Ancestor
Mark Lawrence - Impossible Times
Damien Black - Broken Stone Chronicle
Dave Duncan - King's Blades

Semi-Prozine -

Editor Short -
P. Alexander - Cirsova
Adrian Collins - Grimdark Magazine

Fancast -
SinCast by Cinema Sins
The Disney Story Origins Podcast
The Horror Show with Brian Keene

Fan Writer -
Colleen McMahon - Wandering Through The Public Domain Series - hosted by File770

Long Format
Witcher Season 1
Carnival Row Season 1
The Mandalorian Season 1
[Per the rules, you can nominate works of shorter than 90 minutes in the short format category; i.e. single episodes of longer series.  Alternatively, you can nominate an entire season under the long format category.  Both series told larger story arcs across their respective series.  Both are worthy of consideration against more traditional movies that will be nominated in the long format category.]

Review: Blood Heir


Posted on : 11/29/2019 05:03:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Blood Heir Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a 3-star "did not finish" review. My experience with this book is a huge mixed bag.

ARCs of this book led to a social media firestorm that bullied the author into withdrawing the book so that it could be fixed. Apparently, her expression of slavery as viewed through her inherited cultural traditions/narrative did not support a US-centric view of slavery. I'm not sure if the book was changed/edited from the ARC version.

The general hook for the book was good enough for me to want to read it even though YA oriented works aren't my primary (or even secondary) interest. Bought the book. Made it roughly halfway through.

The author did a fantastic job of creating a unique fantasy world with reasonably consistent rules for the fantasy elements. She also did a good job of developing characters that are compelling and interesting. I hung in there for a while just based on the main characters.

Unfortunately, the story was devolving into "wish fulfillment" territory. The final straw for me was when the one protagonist began to adjust his behaviors simply because the other protagonist was....something. Strong? Moral? Pretty? There certainly isn't a justification for the apparent change in his behavior other than "isn't she special".

A backward look at the narrative revealed several things that happened just because it served the narrative rather than because the characters had skillfully/cleverly managed an obstacle.

I think there is a lot in this book that make it worth reading....if all the reader is looking for is a light read that doesn't require a lot of deep thought.

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Review: Thank You for My Service


Posted on : 11/13/2019 01:58:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Thank You for My Service Thank You for My Service by Mat Best
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's be clear. I hate Mat Best. Were it not for the wholesome existence of James Mattis, Mat would have laid destruction to the planet years ago.

In this case, he cost me 3 nights of sleep as I just couldn't put his book down.

More seriously, Mat could have written all sort of books. He could have continued his public persona. He could have told a bunch of bloody war stories. He could have made himself to be a larger than life hero.

Instead, his book tells the tale of almost everyone that has ever served in the US military. We do what we do to help the team win. We try to be better people every day. And we try to make our corner of the world a little better.

Mat just has a modestly larger corner than the rest of us.

Want to hear about the blood-n-guts of war? The book has some of that. Want to hear about harsh training? That as well. Want to hear about honest and earnest patriotism? In there. How about the challenges of leaving the service and finding a new purpose for life? That, too.

Most importantly, Mat describes how the average servicemember just wants to serve honorably and make the world a better place. And he does it while making you smile.

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Review: Pilgrim's Storm Brooding: A Sweeping Dark Fantasy Epic


Posted on : 11/13/2019 01:57:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Pilgrim's Storm Brooding: A Sweeping Dark Fantasy Epic Pilgrim's Storm Brooding: A Sweeping Dark Fantasy Epic by Damien Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a 5-star review. That is a good description of my experience.

Damien is back at the top of his form with the third installment in this series. The plot continues as various faiths that have spent centuries in conflict now find themselves either ready to commence all-0ut war or to work together to fight off the larger impending evil.

This installment does a couple of things very well. One is that there is less focus on rape. My biggest criticism of the second installment is the blase attitude towards rape. The second is that Damien has done an excellent job of recalling past events without bogging down the current narrative progress.

This is a fun read that is worth your time....and money!!

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Review: For Steam And Country


Posted on : 11/13/2019 01:56:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

For Steam And Country For Steam And Country by Jon Del Arroz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review. It just wasn't good enough to get to 3-stars.

This is a steampunk that includes a lot of stereotypical twirling of mustaches. The steampunk aspects were presumed. The dialog wasn't bad. It just wasn't good enough to get me into the characters.

On the positive side, there weren't many grammar/spelling errors in the few chapters that I managed to choke down. The other positive is that I got the book during a time when it was free. So all I lost was some time.

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Review: Darkness on the Edge of Town


Posted on : 8/12/2019 09:07:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Darkness on the Edge of Town Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a 3-Star review. That's a good description of my experience.

Residents of a town discover that a dark curtain has descended on their town. The curtain blocks out the sun, moon, and stars. No one that enters the curtain ever returns. Those that enter it can be heard screaming in agony...for a time.

Faced with living for some unknown time confined with their neighbors, the town quickly...and in my opinion a little bit inexplicably....becomes self-destructive. It is suggested that the force behind the curtain is telepathically encouraging the self-destruction. The book doesn't provide enough context for each individual to know if that force is planting an new seed of destruction or encouraging something that was already there. As a group of humans, it seems like it was something already there. But we never get to meet most of the characters before the curtain came down, so it is impossible to know how they have fundamentally changed after it came down.

This is sort of a cross between Lord of the Flies and Stephen King's Beneath the Dome. In fact, this book was published a few months after Beneath the Dome.

I was halfway through the book before I had enough interest to want to finish it. I'm a huge fan of the author's podcast and wanted to give his books a try.

There were very few reasons to have any emotion for or against any of the characters. They have little history upon which to base an emotional connection.

There isn't any real building of suspense. The dark curtain falls. Things become steadily, progressively worse. There really aren't any huge surprises once we get to the worst condition. The violence borders on being mundane because it is expected.

While I'm sure that I'll be reading more of the author's work, I have no desire to revisit this book.

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