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Book tour and giveaway: THE BLACK TRILLIUM November 16, 2018

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The Black Trillium
by Simon McNeil
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
Confederation rules in Trana—so says the king.
But Fredericton is a long way from the shores of Lake Ontario, and
schemes for power will bring together three extraordinary young
A desert girl who came to Trana looking for refuge but has never found
a home
A privileged city boy dreaming of rebellion and hardened by cruelty
The disgraced heir to the throne desperate to win back his place in his
father’s heart
Sworn enemies or reluctant allies, they all have one thing in common: an
incomplete half of the legendary fighting skill known as the
Triumvirate sword art. They fight for glory, for power, for the
monsters lurking beneath the streets, and for the mysterious society
moving in the shadows of Trana—the Black Trillium.
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Read on for my review, a guest post, and giveaway!



Music Monday: The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses March 21, 2016

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What was that about a weekly feature? My excuse is that I’ve been spending the past weeks sorting through new music. Let’s just say I’ve been putting the task off for a while.


I have a problem.

But enough about what I’ve not been doing. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Toronto performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.


It’s a touring symphony concert playing music from the Legend of Zelda video games. I went in perhaps a bit more experienced than much of the audience – most of the other attendees I spoke with had never been to an event of the sort, whereas I’ve been to Video Games Live four or five times and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy twice, and I had seen at least one preview of Symphony of the Goddesses on YouTube, when they appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last fall.

The setup is much the same as the other concerts. The focus is on the music, with game footage showing the source material shown on a screen above the orchestra. The screen also occasionally showed closeups of the soloists or prominent sections of the orchestra at times, which I felt was a nice touch. It was a quieter affair than the other video game concerts I have been to, with a very brief introduction to the show by the producer, Jason Michael Paul, and a few prerecorded introductions by series producer Shigeru Miyamoto, series composer Koji Kondo, and one other prominent person (who I regret to say I can’t remember offhand). We didn’t hear a word from the conductor or any of the orchestra and mainly they just played the music.

The Legend of Zelda series aren’t necessarily my favourite soundtracks. There are some that I absolutely adore, primarily A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, but overall, I don’t find the music as gripping and certainly not as emotional as Final Fantasy or some other franchises. So, I will admit that while I was very much looking forward to it, I wasn’t necessarily expecting jaw-dropping orchestrations.

Several of the songs performed came straight off the Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary album that came bundled with Skyward Sword when it released – which was full of excellent and very dynamic/bombastic medleys and arrangements of various games in the series and whose main flaw was that the songs were recorded too quiet. However, only half of the songs in the show, at best, were the same renditions, so there was plenty of material new to me. Even the Twilight Princess medley was a little different from the 25th Anniversary album.

The show focused on the main console games, playing little or nothing from most of the portable games – Link’s Awakening, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, etc. – and nothing from Hyrule Warriors (which I don’t particularly lament, seeing as I haven’t played it nor even own a Wii U). There was a very nice mix of source material from the games the show focused on, playing numerous tunes from Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Majora’s Mask, and a couple others. Having a smaller library of music to draw from meant I got to hear more of the situational music that often gets overlooked in place of the main themes.

But ultimately, what that really meant was that a lot of what I heard was straight orchestra performances of music from the games, which was so very satisfying. I hear the music in the game and it has a character of its own and I can tell what the instruments are – and maybe they even sound pretty close – but I am always imagining it performed with real instruments. The battle theme medley, which opened with the regular battle music from Ocarina of Time, illustrated this best for me – it was so accurate to the game and so natural that it took me almost an entire iteration of the song before I appreciated that this is what it was supposed to sound like, not what it did in the game. There was both a great mix of source material and expert arrangements, and the Kitchener Symphony did an excellent job performing them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. Fans of the Legend of Zelda games should certainly check it out and I really, really hope that they release more recordings of the orchestrations, especially the battle theme medley and the Link to the Past medley.


Music Monday: Chronicles of Time March 7, 2016

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In 2013, a group of indie musicians got together to create Spectrum of Mana, a 3-disc album of arrangements from the Super Nintendo game Secret of Mana. I enjoyed that album; some of it was not to my taste, but largely I really liked the songs.

misc_clogocover_natehorsfallWhen I heard that the same group was putting together a new album called Chronicles of Time based on the SNES game Chrono Trigger, I figured it would be much the same. Well, it ended up being rather bigger, to the tune of 5 discs, almost 6 hours of music, and over 200 contributors (!). The album launched a few weeks ago, so it seemed fitting that it would make a good topic for one of my Music Monday posts, and I’ve spent the past several days listening intently to give, well, I suppose as proper a review as I can manage.

The album was set up in much the same way as Spectrum of Mana, with almost all instrumental arrangements covering a wide range of the source material, organised per disc by genre, with a lot of accompanying artwork. There’s a lot of live instruments, a lot of collaboration, and the production quality is very high.

The first disc largely consists of the type of standard rock arrangements you often hear from indie arrangers, particularly live ones. There’s a track or two in acoustic, a little bit of funk and jazz/fusion mixed in (as well as one R&B track that wasn’t to my taste), but generally, there’s a strong focus on electric guitars, bass, and drums, not too heavy – runs on a scale roughly from AC/DC to 90s alternative rock – and generally fairly upbeat. There’s a good variety in the sounds for as consistent as it is overall and I love the directions some tracks took the source material, particularly “Runnin’ in Circles” by Ivan Hakštok & streifig and “Critical Heat” by Grospixels.

The second disc has a lot of the same musical theme as the first, though it adds in a bit more variety to the typical rock model with some electronica and a touch more of the jazz/fusion and funk from the first disc. There’s also a three-part chiptune medley from Derris-Kharlan, who had a similar medley in one part on Spectrum of Mana. While I’m starting to get tired of chiptunes, Derris-Kharlan gives it a lot of depth and movement and after giving both a chance, I’ve ended up thoroughly enjoying both. Overall there’s a lot of depth of sound in both this disc and the entire album, and the arrangements here are solid. I’m always impressed when a musician can take a less than 10-second source and expand it into a full song, so one of my favourites was “Norstein Bekkler’s Song of Horrors” by, once again, Ivan Hakštok, as well as “Epoch ~ Wings of Time” by Kirby’s Dream Band and “First Tentacle of Mars” (a play on the original title “First Festival of Stars”) by the group of musicians known as DROIDEKKA.

The third disc moves away from the electric guitars and heads more into new age, with a bit of jazz, orchestral, and Latin mixed in, and even a wonderful string quartet arrangement that utilises the instruments to their fullest potential. I thoroughly loved this disc, and every track is staying in my collection. Once again, there’s both great variety and great arrangements, and it’s hard to pick just a couple favourites.

The fourth disc is the jazz section. Where there’s been hints of it in the previous discs, it jumps to the fore in these tracks, ranging from lounge to swing to blues to salsa and beyond. This ended up being my favourite disc, which came as a bit of a surprise, since I’m all about the new age. There’s just so much movement, excellent arrangement of the source material into sometimes entirely different styles, great horn/sax solos, and such big sound that a lot of these tracks make me smile just to hear them. I absolutely loved “Primevil” by Eight Bit Disaster and “Cantina Automatica” by XPRTNovice (which I discovered last year from a different website, but I loved it so much I have no qualms at all with paying to have it again, and also contains some great humour for fans of the game).

The fifth disc got a bit heavier with more punk rock/heavy metal type arrangements. Several of these tracks were a bit too heavy for my taste, and I ended up not enjoying more of this disc than the others. I still liked more of this disc than not, particularly “Arena Rex” by Midee (featuring Ailsean, finbeard, norg, prozax & Snappleman).

Overall, it turned out to be a very strong album with a lot to like. I ended up keeping almost 80% of the tracks in my collection, and for almost five and a half hours of quality music? I’d say that’s worth $20. Fans of Chrono Trigger will most likely get a lot of enjoyment out of this album, and if you’re a fan of the Chrono Trigger soundtrack and jazz music, you should definitely check it out.

If you’d like more of an idea of what to expect, the group released a name-your-own-price preview disc over at Bandcamp. The full album is available via Loudr and iTunes, and you can get full information on the songs at the project website.

Photos, cont. February 7, 2010

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Also, my latest literary accomplishment.

War for the Oaks, Emma Bull – Eddi McCandry is a struggling musician in Minneapolis who gets approached by two fey creatures, who have chosen her to appear on the battlefield between the two factions of Faerie, thus imparting her mortality to those present.  Despite her objections and the danger into which she is immediately thrust, they persist, a mischievous phouka accompanying her as both bodyguard and escort as war brews.

It’s a story that’s been done, but it’s important to note that in this case, it has been done since, rather than before.  Further, this is a story that’s done very well, with good depth and concepts that are clearly steeped in actual mythology.  The characters are refreshingly real and believable, the story is gripping, and the narration has a grungy flavour that’s really catching, especially in the opening of the novel.  It’s difficult to gracefully pull off an ordinary character suddenly discovering/approached by magic that has been always present and hidden in the real world, and while this book didn’t do it perfectly, it was still very acceptable.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it.

More books February 2, 2010

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Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder – Another Tor.com promotional ebook, this tells a story of politics, intrigue, and treasure hunting on a sealed-in gaseous planet with almost no gravity, where man-made suns equal freedom and power.

While this book boasted a refreshingly unique backdrop, the setting was really all this story had going for it.  The rest of it wasn’t bad, but none of the characters was really gripping and the character-related surprises/plot points – e.g. revelations, deaths – seemed for the most part haphazardly thrown in.  I found the tension wanting and the story only just enough to carry it along.  None of it was weak enough to lose me, as I did read it through, but looking for at very least a compelling story, it didn’t shine.

That said, the original setting was well depicted; the way gravity is a precious commodity reserved for rotating ships or stations and its effect on the various parts of what make up the planet were explored satisfactorily, and the use of all three dimensions in action scenes well thought out.  It’s not enough to sell the novel on its own, but it was an interesting read.

The Mirror Prince, Violette Malan – I found this on the clearance rack at my local big-box bookstore and I cannot walk away from a $2 book.  This tells the story of a college professor in Toronto whose life is turned upside down when he learns he is an exiled prince from the land of the Sidhe – faeries – and who is being hunted for the talismans he protected in his past life.

Had I read this as an ebook with no inside cover blurb, I might have looked at this book differently.  As it were, the blurb didn’t really sell the book properly, as what it described was not what it was really about, which was the impending war between two factions of the Sidhe – a term which wasn’t even mentioned in at least the last 2/3 of the book.  It starts off as regular-joe-goes-into-a-fantasy-world, but quickly transitions into standard fantasy, and for reasons I can’t quite define, I couldn’t really get into the fantasy part of this book.  It was as though someone who doesn’t normally write fantasy was giving it a shot.  The setting didn’t really draw me in and I wasn’t overly interested in the characters.  Also, while its presence in the setting seemed natural enough, the use of Capitalized Words for titles/terms/emphasis was a bit overdone.  It didn’t have quite enough of a fairy tale quality to it to count as that, but it wasn’t fleshed out enough to make good standard fantasy.  Again, it wasn’t a bad book, and I certainly don’t begrudge the price tag.  But, it’s not an immediate recommend.

The Time Traveller’s Wife January 17, 2010

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The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger – Henry DeTamble has an affliction which causes him to spontaneously travel through time at random moments.  His hectic life and coping mechanisms are turned upside down when he meets Clare Abshire, who shows up and tells him that she has known him all his life, and that in his (linear) future, they are married.  Their relationship endures and struggles through years as he learns about her, both in the present and in the past.

I’d heard enough about this book, of course, and it had been on my reading list for a while, so when my mother-in-law offered to lend it to me, I was happy to oblige, and I can understand why it’s so popular.  The story was compelling and excellently laid out, very emotional and very enjoyable.  I was somewhat impressed – and admittedly, a little envious – that the stars were more learned than me, something I don’t often see in books, especially not in a way that doesn’t seem haughty or in-your-face.  I was also impressed with the way the author laid out a very non-linear story – not just in regards to jumping through time, but in the fact that in the present story, there is no particular climbing action or goal that the story is working towards – in a way that still firmly kept my interest and made it seem linear.

This book did have a very specific literary nature to it; two days after finishing it, it’s still a great book, but aside from the basic concept and and its particular cast/layout it’s more or less standard drama, without much that really stands out on its own.  That said, I found the writing very engaging and I’ll admit that few other books have made me cry while reading them.

All told, I would certainly recommend this to just about anyone.

Reiffen’s Choice October 29, 2009

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Been quiet on the creative front, but I am working on the cover image for the catgirl calendar, and November is starting in a few days.  I will be writing the sequel to Aurius for NaNoWriMo.  I had never planned for there to be a sequel to it, but Jake’s story simply wasn’t over.

For now, the latest book I read:

Reiffen’s Choice, S. C. Butler – Three children live a peaceful life in a quiet mountaintop manor when two of them, a displaced heir to the thrones of two kingdoms and his friend, are kidnapped and the former whisked off to the stronghold of three great, evil mages.  Paired up with a dwarf and a shape-shifting bear, the other two travel a difficult journey underground to rescue him.

This was a really enjoyable read.  Right from the beginning, the story drew me in, the opening introduction to the world setting an easy pace before the conflict begins.  There was something distinctly classic about the author’s voice, yet he set up a very rich, unique world in this novel.  The whole story is fairly slow-paced, but the tension is ever-present and left me wondering what was going to happen next.  It’s pure escapism and was really a delight to read.  I’m looking forward to reading the second in this trilogy.

Three months’ reading June 16, 2009

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… has not equated to much, in my case.

Farthing, Jo Walton – Now over halfway through the ebooks offered in Tor.com‘s pre-launch promotion last year, I reached this alternate history novel taking place in a mid-20th century in which the second World War resolves in a truce with Germany, not victory for the Allies.  The story is a murder mystery surrounding a group of British politicians instrumental to the peace terms with the the Third Reich, along with the London detective who investigates the case.

This book very nearly lost me right after the first chapter, as it set up the main character and narrator for half the novel, an obnoxiously vain and self-centered upperclasswoman, despite her claims and – admittedly – desires not to be.  There was enough of interest to keep me reading, and the first chapter was the worst of it, but I didn’t really enjoy reading most of the novel.  I can appreciate the thought that went into the setting and such, but the story and particularly the characters failed to captivate.  Also, though I hesitate to fault the author this, the writing was almost painfully British, really shoving it down my throat in what seemed to me an equivalent to a flag-waving, gun-toting American saying “y’all” all the time.

It wasn’t a badly written novel, per se, but it certainly wasn’t to my taste and wasn’t what I was looking for in a story, and I wouldn’t recommend it as such.

The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson – Earlier this year, I read Mistborn by this same author, the free ebook of which I also received in the above-mentioned promotion from Tor.com, and I loved it so much that I had to pick up this sequel, and second in the Mistborn trilogy.  Continuing where the first book left off, this book concerns Vin and company’s struggles to continue in the aftermath of the Final Empire, something that is made particularly difficult in the face of the nightly mists turning deadly and multiple besieging armies coming down upon them.

I had high expectations for this book after reading Mistborn, and it did not disappoint.  The story was woven remarkably, the tension and action were amazing, I got to see new sides of characters I had already grown to know and love through the first book, and it was so exciting and unpredictable that at times, I really had a hard time putting it down.  As a writer myself, I can only imagine the amount of preparation it must have taken to weave together every aspect of this novel to make it what it is, and I could go on for pages about everything Sanderson did right here.  I honestly cannot praise this book enough and there is nothing about it that I think could be improved upon.  Like Mistborn, this book is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read, and I recommend it first and foremost to anyone who enjoys reading fiction.

That said, if you plan to read The Well of Ascension, read Mistborn first.  In fact, if you have any intention of reading Mistborn, don’t even read the blurb on the back of The Well of Ascension, as it gives away the entire ending to the first book.  Sanderson did an effective job of making this novel self-contained, as was his intention in an interview I read with him, but of course, all the surprises of Mistborn are given away in short order in the second book, and Mistborn was every bit as amazing as this one, perhaps more so when you have both books leading up to a singular conclusion.  Find an ebook, check the library, borrow from a friend, but seriously, read these books.

Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, William E. Deal – I don’t normally read nonfiction, but I came across this title when I was trying to find a good resource on the topic some few weeks ago and ordered it in to my local library.  As the title suggests, it’s a general guide to the various aspects of life in Japan from 1185-1868, commonly known as the Medieval and early modern periods.

I found this to be a very useful resource with great information on the subject.  It’s more or less an introduction to the topic, without going overly into detail regarding any particular matter, but it provides an excellent basic view of life in Japan and covers every aspect of life that I can think of, including history, warrior culture, demographics, religion, daily life, art and architecture, and more.  The information provided was easily palatable without being dumbed down and each topic was covered pretty evenly.  In addition to the information the book itself provided, each chapter ended with a list of recommended reading for more information on the subject, though some listings I found confusing – occasionally there would be nothing but a date – and along with a bibliography at the end of the book, there was a list of museums outside Japan with notable Japanese collections.

I found this book both very helpful for my own research and a very interesting read on its own merit, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about the subject or even those with a casual interest in it.  In fact, reading it has me interested in some other books listed on the back cover in the Handbook to Life series, such as those on ancient Rome, Aztec, and Renaissance.