Cogs and chronometers! Steampunk ahoi!

cogheartUsually I base my choice of books on the title, the genre, the blurb. This book I purely picked because it had a mechanical fox on the cover. I also felt like an easy read, and this is a middle-grade book, so it seemed like something I’d want at this time. I requested it on Netgalley and it got approved. Hurray! Here’s the blurb:

Thirteen-year-old Lily Harman always dreamed of adventure. A strong-willed girl, Lily felt trapped in a life of Victorian stuffiness at her prim boarding school. But after her father-a famous inventor-disappears on a routine zeppelin flight, Lily’s life gets turned upside down.

Now cared for by her guardian, the heartless Madame Verdigris, Lily is quite certain that she’s being watched. Mysterious, silver-eyed men are lurking in the shadows, just waiting for their chance to strike. But what could they possibly want from her?

There are rumors, Lily learns, that her father had invented the most valuable invention ever made-a perpetual motion machine. But if he made such a miraculous discovery, he certainly never told Lily. And all he left behind is a small box-with no key, no hinges.

With the help of a clockmaker’s son, Robert, and her mechanimal fox, Malkin, Lily escapes London in search of the one person who might know something about her father’s disappearance-and what he left behind.

A mystery, adventure, and a strongwilled girl as a protagonist in a steampunk-victorian setting. Lovely! This book could have used a content warning for parental death, gries, and some torture. I was surprised how some of those things were suddenly sprung on me, especially seeing that the book is aimed at 8 tot 12 year olds. What also rubbed me the wrong way is that the gender of Lily is really strongly affirmed a few times. She goes to a girl-school (which makes sense, at that part of the story), but later on a whole paragraph is needed to explain why she wants to get a (technical) education and not just ettiquette and posture, even though she’s a girl. She says she is more of a tomboy, when she wears boy clothes. Her friend Robert even says it’s weird to see her on those clothes. He is also very taken aback when she wears a fancy dress. Just… let Lily be, do and wear what she liked without it being a /thing/. I did like there was no love/crush-subplot going on though.

The story itself is fastpaced, many twists and turns (albeit some are seen from a distance; then again I’m way older then the expected demographic), and lovely ways of using language. I especialy loved the mechanicals and mechanimals (that pun, you folx! <3), with their thematic saying like "cogs and chronometers" and "punchcards and pistons". The description of the world is vivid and descriptive: I could see the scenes play out before my eyes while reading.

The book came out in the UK in 2016, but will be published in the US at the 12th of February. So if you have a kid in your life that can handle some hard topics, and would like to nudge them towards steampunky interests, this might be right up your alley.

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A deepdive into witchcraft: a review of Transformative Witchcraft: The Greater Mysteries

Through Netgalley I acquired this book on witchcraft in exchange for my honest review. I am not a witch or wiccan myself. However, I am interested in parts of paganism, despite me being quite the atheist. Since childhood, witchcraft has always had a fascination for me, so I was curious to learn more, when this book Transformative Witchcraft: The Greater Mysteries by Jason Mankey fell into my digital lap.

On Netgalley, part of the blurb was as follows:

Witchcraft is about more than seasonal rituals and pentacle necklaces; it’s meant to be a transformative path. The rites and rituals of Witchcraft are life-changing experiences, but they are also steeped in mystery. Transformative Witchcraft delves into some of the most persistent mysteries of the Craft and provides insightful guidance for raising energy with a Cone of Power; dedications, initiations, and elevations; Drawing Down the Moon; and the Great Rite.

This book mostly goes into group (or just two person) ritual. What exactly do witches mean with a cone of power? How do they create one? How do certain kinds of rituals look like? the book includes a lot of inspiration for ritual-designing, since there are many rituals completely written out from beginning (the casting of the circle) to the end (the re-opening of the circle). It goes deep into the why and how of certain things, and it gave me a insight in a world I didn’t know much about.

What I really appreciated was the conversational tone (there are personal remarks all over the place) and the continuing confirmation that all rituals and roles within them, can be done by all genders. Wicca can be amazingly stereotypical and essentialist about gender, so this was nice and refreshing. Being non-binary myself, I felt seen.

What I did find hard, which has to do with my scientific and atheist outlook on life, is that the author really, actually seems to believe in all he writes. Energy is a physical thing. The god and goddess are actually real. This is something I prefer to see metaphorically, if I engage in more pagan pursuits. I do believe his experiences and those of many others are real and genuine; except I think the cause of those experience are explained by how our brains are marvellous and amazing in letting us feel things that seem too wondrous to come from within ourselves. But, each to their own. As long as people don’t cause harm to themselves or others, I see no problems here.

Mindfulness and Yoga: yes. This book: meh :(

I should really stop requesting books from Netgalley on yoga and meditation, especially if they’re aimed at beginners. I’ve been doing meditation almost daily for about 8 years, and yoga almost daily for about 3 (and less regular in the 5 years before that). These are topics I am in no way an expert in, but reading most books does not help me much further in my practice, and sadly, this book was one like most

“The Practice of Mindful Yoga: A Connected Path to Awareness” by Hannah Moss is by no means a bad book. I’ve read the e-book version on my phone, and it’s well put together, visually. The yellow-ish pages, the stylistic picture of someone in a lotus position, the bordered exercises.

The content is also not bad. It’s quite well written, and does go back to the main sources. It does feel like it tries to say too much sometimes, for a beginners book, and not enough for a more practised practitioner. I also feel it focuses more on mindfulness then yoga, and not enough on how yoga is mindfulness . This point is mentioned, but then seems to be disregarded when she dives into mindfulness itself.

Also, it’s hard to tell people how to do yoga, without pictures. I think that’s the main lack of this book. There is a nice yoga sequence described in the end, which ties all the former exercises in the book together, but extra visual cues would have been nice.

All in all, this book is just… not it. It feels too broad to be a good book for beginners, especially seeing the lack of pictorial descriptions of the yoga-poses. And for more intermediate practitioners like myself, it’s too basic. I think one would be better of reading a good book on mindfulness (The Mindful Geek comes to mind, or Mindfulness: In the Maelstrom of Life) and go for your yoga to Youtube, for Yoga With Adriene or Sarah Beth Yoga. That’ll teach you more and better.

Get Thick. I mean it.

So, how do I describe this book, to have you all get it and read it? Probably it’s not enough if I say this might be the book that I’ll look back on in the end of 2019, and that it will have had the biggest impact on me. Maybe if I tell you that I rarely (virtually) underline sentences in books, and here I kept highlighting things. Societal analysis and critique:

How is it that we have laid bodies down in streets, challenged patriarchy in courts, bled for fair wages and still inequalities persist? The easiest answer is that racism and sexism and class warfare are resilient and necessary for global capitalism.

And beautiful imagery like:

But my soul remembers my grandmother’s memories.

On the website of the book, the following is written:

WELCOME TO THICK
A Community for Team Too Much.

A friend once told me that I was “extra.” She joined the teacher who called me “Ms. Personality,” the men who called me “thick” and a world that penalizes black women who are too much of one thing and not enough of another. Because the universe has a sense of humor, richly-layered lives generate the nuanced theories of change that we all desperately need.

THICK celebrates complex lives, nuanced ideas, and hard answers to complicated questions. And, it is a celebration because what could be better than taking up space in a world that shrinks the best of humanity to its lowest common denominator.

Take up space. It is our birthright.

‘Thick – and other essays’ consists of 8 essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom. I needed time between reading them because they were intense. Not all the same kind of intense, but reading about racism and sexism and how they all intersect, and how black women in particular are systematically pushed out of the public space of the world, is just a harsh reality to read about.

The essays “In the Name of Beauty” and “Black Girlhood, Interrupted” hit home the most. The first because of how she writes about a experience she had after writing a piece in which she calls herself ugly, that created a massive backlash, mostly from within the community of black women. She then analysis why she wrote what she wrote, using an framework of embedding beauty in capitalism, and intersecting this with race in how beauty is always white, and heteronormativity, and also touching upon the influence of social media. Woah! The other essay hit me, because reading on sexual assault (a definite content warning for that one) is always hard for me. It also shows how pervasive rape culture is, seemingly especially so within black communities. And how common it is for women to experience sexual assault in some way, shape or form. This is something I knew before reading this, but it brought this point home, again.

The book also challenged me. As a European white human, well versed in feminism, but less well versed in issues of race, I felt I lacked context sometimes. I don’t know exactly if that’s mostly because I’m white, or because I’m European. I guess it’s a combination. I guess that many people reading this, are also white and European. Don’t let this stop you, but let it encourage you to read it. Did I tell you already I love this book and that you should definitely read it?

A venture into a cute manga, by an unexperienced manga-reader.

blissfull

Cover of Blissful Land #1

I rarely read manga, comic books or graphic novels. They don’t work well on my kindle (since that’s a paperwhite, and the resolution is just not the best, even if the illustrations are not in color), I prefer not to read on my pc or even my phone. That leaves paper versions, and those I just…. forget about?

But I saw Blissful Land on Netgalley and it was just so pretty, and the blurb so interesting, that I could not help myself to click “request”. Here’s the blurb:

Khang Zhipa is a 13-year-old doctor’s apprentice living in a mountain village in 18th-century Tibet. One day, when he gets back from collecting medicinal herbs, he finds a bride-to-be and her wedding party will be resting at his home for the night. The bride’s name is Moshi Rati and it turns out she’s actually Khang Zhipa’s fiancee from another land, here to stay! Enjoy this heartwarming slice-of-life tale woven by a kind-hearted boy and his mysterious bride.

I was slightly disappointed that the rest of the manga was in black and white. As I mentioned, I rarely venture into this area of books, so this might be a common thing. Even in black and white, the pictures are stunning. Lots of nature and detail. It made for a very peaceful read.

The stories in itself were homely and peaceful too. It is indeed slice-of-life, where you see how the doctor’s apprentice goes about his day, gathers herbs (his passion) ans makes medicine to help his fellow-villagers. The research done on this shows in the details, with explanation of the herbs used and how the medicine is prepared.

What I disliked, was that the pacing seemed off. The stories move at a slow pace, but then you get a unexpected SUDDEN resolution of a problem. Sometimes I also seemed to lack some cultural background to really grasp things. Like why are Khang and his fiancee allowed to go off by themselves for an overnight camping trip? My western view of the 1800’s and their purity culture raises an eyebrow there. You can’t blame the author for this, but maybe the translator could have added some explanations points like these. The genderessentialism also irked me (“women are fragile and complicated! Men don’t understand them!”), which is just a personal pet peeve.

I think I’d like to read the next volume, mostly because of the lovely imagery and my love for depictions of calm daily life.

“The witch that needed a gender 101 class” and other stories.

I’ve been following Ana Mardoll on twitter for ages, but never read one of xer books (my TBR is SO long, and I try to not acquire more books, also for financial reasons), but when I saw the following tweet, I could not help myself:

So on to Netgalley I went, and requested and send to kindle I did. Here’s the blurb:

Destiny sees what others don’t.

A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny.

From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.

And I loved it. The stories had a lovely length befitting to the story. The only one that I wished was a bit longer, was the last one, about a little girl going to a dragon to have a wish granted. I just wanted to see what kind of adventures she would have when she was older, since she was so brave and sure as a toddler.

It’s amazing to see how genderessentalist tropes and fairytales get turned on their head, when a protaganist isn’t cis gendered, or falls outside of the gender-binary. It was lovely to see stories where the gender of the main character was a plotpoint, but not a problem (except for one story, where the near family does not accept the gender identity of the protagonist, but even there the problem is not that the protagonist is trans, but the problem is that his father finds that hard to accept. And even that is not the main issue in the story).

I’ve learned that witches and dragons and sorcerers really need to take a gender 101 class if they want to see their curses actually be successful in the long term. And this also rekindled my love for fairytell retellings. And realised that stories about non-cis characters are really validating to my own non-cis gender identity. More please! Maybe I should lift my selfimposed book-buying ban…

The Quantum Magician: hell of a hard sf heist

Netgalley kindly gave me the book The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken in exchange for a honest review.

First, the blurb as goodreads gives it to us:

Belisarius is a quantum man, an engineered Homo quantus who fled the powerful insight of dangerously addictive quantum senses. He found a precarious balance as a con man, but when a client offers him untold wealth to move a squadron of warships across an enemy wormhole, he must embrace his birthright to even try. In fact, the job is so big that he’ll need a crew built from all the new sub-branches of humanity. If he succeeds, he might trigger an interstellar war, but success might also point the way to the next step of Homo quantus evolution.

This is a heist-story, in a hard science fiction universe, a load of science/techno-babble somewhat based in actual science, aliens that are more then just green humanoids, and space opera feels to it.

I really enjoyed this book. The fast pace, as is becoming of a heist, makes for a quick read, and the characters and their backstories are fascinating. I actually liked the little insights in the lives and characters of the book, more then the actual heist part, which had just a bit too many technical convoluted explanations. You meet all the people in this book at a midpoint in their life. They’ve done things before Balisarius pulls them in, and will do things after (if they make it…). I loved the kind of humans that were developed: the homo sapiens (humans, just like you and me, but then… in the future!), homo quantus (their brains are basically quantum computers), homo pupa (designed for religious awe towards their “gods”. This gets… creepy quickly. Content warnings for torture and medical procedures apply) and the homo eridanus (they’re deep sea dwellers, and can’t live without intense water-pressure, which has created it’s own kind of religion with lots of cursing included).

So, if you like a read that will keep you on your toes because of pace, characterization and scienc-y stuff: grab The Quantum Magician! It got published October 2nd 2018, and so you should be able to find it at any (digital) bookstore near you ^^