Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: The Harp of the Grey Rose

Moving onto my third Charles de Lint novel, I've finally found one that I simply loved beginning to end.  The Harp of the Grey Rose (1985) follows a pretty straight forward fantasy fiction storyline; a young man meets a mysterious woman, sets out on a quest, and ends up having a significant destiny.

Even with that, however, the story moved along swiftly and like an excellent fairy tale, kept me either smiling at the great characterization or enthralled by the action sequences.  Having been a little underwhelmed by his first two books, but hanging on as my wife kept telling me that his later books would be right up my alley, I was happy to find this third book was pretty much bang on in terms of what I expect from quest-based fantasy fiction; swift, filled with great descriptions, and intriguing characters (my personal favourite, a bear who also serves as a harper himself).

A great read and strongly recommended.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Genre Character of the week: Nathan Byrn

So recently I've been enjoying reading a lot of the books my youngest daughter is reading, including the Divergent series (one more to go!) and all sorts of others, but a pretty cool one I just finished was the novel Half Bad, by Sally Green.

This Dark Fantasy novel follows a sixteen-year-old boy called Nathan Byrn, who happens to be a son of both a white witch and a black witch.  In the world of the novel, this appears to be one of the worst situations you could find yourself in.

Growing up in a world ow White Witches who rule every aspect of his life with Draconian Measures, Nathan becomes a pretty angry young teen (which, to be fair, is how most people would turn out if raised by people who disliked them in a society that barely tolerates them).

In the world of the novel, there is a massive preoccupation with the possibility that Nathan may grow up into a Black Witch, who would then have to be hunted down and killed by society at large.

As a guy who grew up half native and half white, there's a lot I can relate to in Nathan, a feeling of not quite fitting in and a fear that I wouldn't really be accepted by either side.

The story moves at a very quick pace, and although there were some sections that required a little suspension of disbelief, Nathan is a very relatable young man and I am definitely interested in seeing how his life turns out over the rest of the series as it comes out.

Although the book may be too dark for Elementary or Junior High aged kids, I think High School readers might get a lot out of it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir

So let's talk about The Martian, by Andy Weir.

I actually first came across this book in a local book store on the Staff Picks wall.  Having never heard of Andy Weir (who actually e-published this book a few years back), I simply looked at the cover and thought - you know what?  I don't read enough contemporary science fiction.  I'm pretty great at classic SF, but the recent stuff is all sort of hit and miss with me.

So I cracked open this book on Saturday morning and within about ten pages I was hooked - think (minor spoiler here) Castaway mixed with Apollo 13 and you can get a pretty good idea what to expect from the novel.

The novel itself focuses on a Botanist/Engineer accidentally left behind on a Mars mission (again, sorry for the mild, chapter 1 spoiler), and his attempts to survive on Mars until he can be rescued.

First of all, considering the book is pretty much the definition of hard SF (Science fiction focusing on scientific or technical detail) I was really blown away by just how readable the book was, it felt an awful lot like Scalzi's Old Man's War or Wilson's Robopocalypse for sheer page-turning enjoyment.

If you haven't picked up any SF in a while, it would really be a pretty great place to start, the story is fun, fast paced and definitely thrilling.  I will absolutely be keeping an eye out for what Mr. Weir comes out with next.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Catching Up to my PVR

As the 2013/14 TV season comes to a close and my free time has been on the rise since finishing school, I'm happy to say I'm finally almost down to 50% of the space on my PVR finally being clear.

Which is pretty great as I now have the luxury to choose from the many different series I've had waiting on DVD for a while now.

Having just finished with season two of The Americans (which should definitely be on everyones "to watch" list), my wife and I are now catching up with both Mad Men (only three more episodes until we're up to date) and Grimm (we still have 14 episodes to go, dating back to January 3!)

In the end, I'm currently enjoying a surplus of free time and am finally starting to catch up on my entertainment wish list.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Game Review: Dead Space 3

As a quick side note before I get into this review, I'd like to thank The Parched Page for the loan of the game - having read about my excitement over Dead Space 2, he very kindly sent me his copy of Dead Space 3, and although it didn't end up working (I have a PS3 and it was an X-Box copy), I appreciate the loan none the less - also it showed me just how cool bloggers can be.

On to the game - Like many series, I was intrigued by the first, fell in love with the second, and wanted to like the third a little more than I actually did.  Dead Space was such a creepy, terrifying story which mixed fast zombies and a very Aliens-style vibe to create a truly terrifying story.

Dead Space 2, was a strong follow up, had a lot of sequences that were pretty fantastic (and also horrible), and had some sequences that were really interesting on a more cerebral level as well.

Dead Space 3 (and to be fair, I didn't take advantage of two key aspects - the co-play feature or building my own weapons), put much of the action on a single planet, which took away from the zombies-in-space feeling i liked so much from the first two, and the addition of cultist enemies didn't feel quite right to me - I prefer the man vs. environment vibe of the earlier games, this just del like adding a new enemy class to the game.  I did like the new enemies that moved incredibly fast - they were both strange and challenging.

In the end the game was fun, but I felt a bit of a let down compared to the first two.  A good few weeks of play but I'm not sure I'd revisit it for a while.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: Motherlines by Suzy McKee Charnas

One of my favourite things about working my way through lists of classic science fiction (or any genre fiction, really) is discovering new authors and stories that lead me beyond the list.

The latest example of this for me was Suzy McKee Charnas' 1974 book, A Walk to the End of the World, which focused on a post-apocalyptic world where society had split along gender lines, which men representing a higher caste in a settlement called the Holdfast, and women becoming a means of labour and necessary breeding.

The second novel in the series, Motherlines (1978), focuses on the main female character from the first book and her life outside of the Holdfast.  Like a lot of sequels, I really enjoyed how quickly the novel moves into actual story and character development, as the world-building aspects of the series were largely dealt with in the first novel.  Where Motherlines works best is with the two societies of women the main character comes across and how they both strive to exist free of men in a world where science has largely fallen away and children are a highly treasured commodity. 

The book was great, I found myself swept along the story of the main characters life and will definitely be picking up the third book in the series The Furies, next month.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bookmonkey vs. Stairs

In my recent quest to get healthier I've joined an Alberta-based website called, which is a fun way to keep track of your activity, whether through walking (the primary activity on the site) or through any number of other activities, such as flights of stairs.

So apparently we (humans) should be aiming to not only walk 10,000 steps a day, but also do 10 flights of stairs a day - as a baseline.  Also one of my coworkers informed me that for fitness purposes you should only be counting the flights you go up.

Also, UWalk has a game inspired series of accomplishments on the site that you can collect as you go, such as: 10,000 steps a day, or 10 flights a day, as well as cumulative steps taken goals (walked 100 miles, etc.), but the two accomplishments that shocked me the most were:

1) Walked 75,000 steps (60 Km) in a day - that's 37.28 miles for my readers in the States
2) Climbed 250 flights in a day - which clearly sounded insane to me.

But, as a guy always up for a challenge, I thought I would give it a shot.

So on Monday I climbed 30 flights of stairs, and yesterday (Wednesday) I climbed 40.


Now I'm not one of those fancy running guys who take the steps two at a time, and right now I'm taking a breather after every three flights, but still - that's a lot of steps!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review: Moonheart

Following up his first novel, The Riddle of the Wren, I've just finished his second novel, Moonheart: A Romance (1984), and although I liked it, it definitely felt a little too busy for a romance.

Following three connected story lines, Moonheart involves a young antique shop owner following a mystery, a folk singer/mystic attempting to find a missing friend, and a story of a small group of people trapped in a house that has travelled elsewhere.

Like his first book there are a lot of concepts going on here including: time-travel, mysticism, fantasy creature, etc., in addition the story has (for me) a neat mix of Canadian culture and both European and First Nation mystical beliefs.

The problem with the book for me is twofold; first it's the kind of thing I would have loved as a teen - I think that if I had read this in junior high or high school I might have listed it as a personal favourite, but coming to it in my 30s, it just seemed a little too busy for me.  Secondly, it was a really long and complicated read for "a romance".  Having read a number of romance novels over the years, I found Moonheart to be a little long and the romance aspect was a little too complicated.

Still, I found it to be a fun read, and as although I though the male characters were a little better sketched out than the female characters, it was a pretty good read overall.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

Mother's Day in the Bookmonkey household has been pretty cool this year.

Our kids (21 and 16) left early to help ensure their mom could sleep in and then we ran a bunch of errands that my wife has been meaning to do lately.

Oh yeah, and also there was bacon.

So pretty much a great Mother's Day, Bookmonkey-style.

Hoping all of my readers (and my reader's mothers), have a great day today.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

So Harlan Ellision circa 1975 just told me how to read his book...

…and seriously, as a long-time reader of horror and other dark genres, I'm think I'm going to follow his advice.

In his 1975 collection, Deathbird Stories, he begins the book with a Caveat Lector (literally, Let the Reader Beware):

It is suggested that the reader not attempt to read this book at one sitting. The emotional content of these stories, taken without break, may be extremely upsetting. This note is intended most sincerely, and not as hyperbole. - H.E.

It's interesting for me, as someone who has only read one Ellison book to date (his 1975 nonfiction book The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion on Television), how quickly I'm willing to take his warning at face value.

For me, horror novels are always personal favourites, but rarely do they pack the same punch as horrific short fiction, which can shockingly drive or insidiously worm elements or themes directly into my mind and leave afterimages of themselves for years to come.

So although Deathbird Stories was going to be my next read, I think I'll actually slow myself down to one story a day and pick something else to be my primary focus, because honestly - if Harlan warns you about something, you better darn well listen.

Monday, May 5, 2014

So I know what I'm doing this fall...

One of my favourite parts of the current television season coming to an end is the adverts for upcoming shows starting this fall.

Lets take for example Gotham (airing on Fox) - a prequel series to Batman which focuses on young detective Jim Gordon and his early days as a cop in Gotham City.

Although I will happily admit to being a long-time Batman fan, one of my favourite series is Gotham Central, which focused on the police in Gotham City and how exactly they would interact with the Batman and all of his terrifying enemies - it took something most people were quite familiar with and looked at it through another lens (also if you haven't read Gotham Central - go do that now).

I'm sure there will be a lot more stuff coming out this fall that will peak my genre-loving interests, but I've got to say that right now, I'm pretty darn excited to see what Gotham is going to be doing this fall.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Movie Review: Haunter

A few months ago a coworker suggested this might be a movie I enjoyed, so when I saw it at my local library, I decided to give it a shot.

So Haunter is one of those great little horror films that works best with audiences who don't really know what to expect from it; if you like scary films, it's definitely worth a watch and the less you know about the plot and premise the better.

On a scale of scary ranging from Goosebumps up to the genuinely creepy, get-under-your-skin films like Prince of Darkness, The Conjuring, or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Haunter sits quite nicely near the Goosebumps end, definitely scarier than those (although the stories featuring that creepy marionette still freak me out), but not so terrifying you're unlikely to sleep afterwards.

What it really is however, is a great little horror movie that I think both of my daughters would have loved as young teens - a performance by Abigail Breslin as the main character and a really intriguing concept kept the film surprisingly fresh for me.

Definitely worth a watch.