Who else played Conker’s Bad Fur Day on Xbox or N64?

I sure as f*** did.

Reading – Pilgrim by Sara Douglass

The second book in the second part of the Wayfearer Redemption series. As it’s a sequel, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say Drago’s life is starting to turn around when Tencendor is going through literal hell. Part of an award winning series, Pilgrim is yet another fine example of Douglass’s skill for plot twists and memorable characters

WatchingWild

Staring Reese Witherspoon, a young woman hikes to confront her difficult past, putting herself before beauty and creating a name for herself along the Pacific Crest Trail. Inspiring, the director uses the wild landscape to convey a meditative and personal story that won’t sit well with every viewer. Who knows, you might even confront some of your own demons in the process.

Playing – Alto (iPad)

A 2D snowboarding platform. With a scenic background and ambient music, ski down the slopes to try and catch escaped llamas. Each level poses new challenges and tricks that you have to complete to advance, unlocking new characters. I’ll continue to play until I can be a llama, riding a snowboard.

Silverleaf, an Italian company who handcraft beautiful silver bookmarks.

So pretty…

… and why I don’t want to put them out.

Welcome to the era of YA.

Never before have we seen the market explode like this. Twenty years ago, young adult fiction was strictly for a young adult market. Ten years ago saw this end with popularisation of Harry Potter, and not necessarily because it ended up on the big screen. In 1999, schools across the world went quiet as the children all found comfortable corners of their playground and broke the spine of their brand new copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s true, I was there.

But now we have almost an overflowing market of stories following teen characters. The popularity of books and their movies such as Twilight and The Hunger Games have planted the seeds for many others to follow in their wake: The Maze Runner, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Percy Jackson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Mortal Instruments, Ender’s Game, Beautiful Creatures, Vampire Academy to name a few.

What makes this extra special is how many of these novels star strong female role models – in the list there, it’s about half. Even if I don’t include the not so strong ones.

There are a number of theories as to why this is the case. One is that we’ve seen an increase in female readership, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. But those genres have always had female audiences, but a distinct lack of female protagonists. To give you an idea of how thin they were on the ground ten years ago, I remember how much my world changed when I was introduced to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe, where all the series attached held strong female protagonists that I could relate to. They were such a commodity that I still remember how excited I was when I discovered them. Today young women I spoilt for choice.

The other argument is that we owe a great big thank you to Twilight. This is definitely a truth I’m trying to ignore, considering few can call Bella a properly strong female character. But I will acknowledge that Twilight helped open YA fiction to the world because of its following, and the female character in the driver’s seat. I would be far quicker to thank The Hunger Games for Katniss Everdeen, and a protagonist that young girls can look up to.

The women in these books are far from perfect – it’s what makes them truly relatable. They’re neither perfect human beings nor perfect role models. In the Songs of the Lioness series, Alana taught us that a girl can only be respected if she dressed up as a boy. In Fault in Our Stars Hazel becomes a more interesting person because of her relationship with a boy. There are instances of Instalove,

Regardless, it’s a blessing. Congratulations everyone, we now live in a world where our little girls have a wide range of characters to look up to in media, instead of the same damsels in distress we were force feed in our youths, and our boys have examples of what a real woman is – someone who is strong and equal and unashamedly herself, not someone who just waits for the man to save her.

I’ve always wanted to keep bees, but never wanted to be a bee-keeper.

So this is just perfect.

Some blokes from Auzzie have come up with a beehive that enables any old person to extract honey without disturbing the bees.

No processing, just honey into jar.

You can still support them on Indiegogo here

Fallout fans are chomping at the bit. There are talks Bethesda will be announcing something at E3 and I know what I’m hoping for.

At least these fan-made videos by Wayside Creations help give me my fix.

Mashup by Ms Tabularasa.

Can you name all the movies?

Reading – A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson

Immediately, this story filled me with a sense of adventure. Writer and nature lover, Bill Bryson sets off to walk the 2,100 mile long Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with his friend Stephen Katz. With a dry irony that comes from spending too many years in England, surrounded by colourful people and unlikely scenarios, it’s an entertaining and educational piece of travel writing that will have you itching to go out and see more of your own country. I myself instantly searched for a trail that ran from Cape Reinga to Bluff in New Zealand. And found one. Next time I have a spare couple of months I might even attempt it! After all, if a couple of overweight, middle age men can, so can I.

WatchingSong of the Sea

A beautifully animated story based on a Celtic myth of the selkie, a creature that lives on the land as a human, and in the sea as a white seal. When Sairose discovers a shell flute that had belonged to her mother, it becomes a connection to a magical world. When she and her older brother Ben are forced to live with their granny in the city, Ben has to step up as an older brother and help his sister complete a quest she’s destined to perform.

An outstandingly beautiful film with nuanced characters, holding on tightly to its mythical roots and Irish culture. Aired at the Toronto Film Festival in the kids program, it’s a story enjoyable for all ages. It was nominated for an academy award but lost out to Big Hero 6. Tough break.

PlayingBravely Default (3DS)

The story follows Tiz and Agnes as they try to revive the temple crystals and hopefully save the world. Winding through the country’s politics, and running from the scheming and murderous Duchy of Eternia, saving the world isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The gameplay is that of a typical JRPG, but solid and enjoyable. Square Enix bring back the turn-based battles of Final Fantasy X, coupled with acquiring job asterisks, much like the dress spheres of Final Fantasy X2. But with less magical-girl costume changes. You level up your character and the jobs separately, enabling fun combinations to suit any play style. It’s easy to pick up and go, and deep enough to give the hardcore players something to sink their teeth into. It’s good to train up a number of jobs to combine different ability combinations.

Currently up to Chapter 3. It’s been awhile since I’ve played a JRPG and I forgot how much grinding is required. Recently picked  up the pirate asterisks.  Need to decide who to train with it, because I want the excuse to yell YARR whenever I beat a boss.

ThresholdThreshold by Sara Douglass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My poor, hapless friends have repeatedly had this book thrust under their noses, followed by angry demands that they find this book and read it. This book renewed by affection for the fantasy genre, and for that I am ever grateful. Sara Douglass, you have now been elevated to one of my favourite authors. Congratulations. I absolutely adored this book.

Threshold is a great stone Pyramid erected by the Magi – an order of sorcerers in Ashdod which seek a union with the One, and believe Threshold will act as a bridge to Infinity. As they near the end of its construction, the Magi purchase Tirzah and her father, two glassworkers sold into slavery to pay off debts. Tirzah has a remarkable ability to cage the glass for one so young, a gift that is quickly noticed by the most severe Magi – the Emperor’s nephew, Boaz.

Upon her arrival, Tirzah realises that there is something seriously wrong about Threshold. She can hear the glass scream. But how can she convince the Magi, especially Boaz, that there is something evil waiting in Threshold, and Boaz is the only one who can stop him.

This was not a book I could put down easily. I found Tirzah to be a strong and curious soul, with a kind heart forged from a youth of communing with the Soulenai through the glass. She is intelligent, yet often naive – a mark of a peasant without any education. She is incredibly practical, and effectively aids in pushing the plot forward without being directly central. As the novel progresses, you begin to really see her youth and uncertainty – Isphet and Zabrze in particular begin to play a greater part in her decisions as she walks a dangerous and serious path. Some have critiqued this ‘destruction’ of a strong character, however I felt the shift to be far more purposeful, and gave Tirzah a lot of depth. Perfect characters annoy me – you can only really relate to one with flaws.

However, it was Boaz who I found the most remarkable. His initial development from the severe Magi into the kinder cantomancer is brilliantly subtle, and then dramatically fast at the end when the capping of Threshold forces Boaz to chose between the two very distinctive sides of himself. The relationship between Boaz and Tirzah is a little dark, and sometimes sent a cold shiver down my spine. From Tirzah’s point of view, it is very much developed through Stockholm Syndrome. Boaz may become a great man at the end, but in the earliest stages of his relationship with Tirzah, he is cruel and manipulative, and a character that could almost make Christian Grey blush. However, this did not detract from the story itself. Threshold is at times a very dark novel, full of the touch of destiny and a power beyond any of the character’s control. This relationship mirrored the general arch effectively, and made Tirzah seem more vulnerable and human that she otherwise may have been.

Despite the strength of the characters in this novel, it was the storyline which drew me in. The sorcery of the Magi contrasted with the magic of the Soulenai, the awful demon Nzame, the sense of helplessness as his influence powered across the city, the sense of foreboding as you waited in Threshold. Everything combined into a heart-pounding ride, full of suspense and intrigue. Physically, it is a light read, emotionally it may feel much harder. Whether you love fantasy, or just want a break from reading Game of Thrones, this is something I would suggest for everyone.

View all my reviews

Last Chance to SeeLast Chance to See by Douglas Adams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It shall be noted that this is by Douglass Adams and Mark Carwardine.

As I read this book, I came across a short interview of Mark Carwardine done by the BBC. The title was “Douglass Adams and Stephen Fry are remarkably similar.” In the article, Carwardine states that he is seen as the other guy beside such well known and intelligent figures. Because of this, I wanted to briefly pay tribute to all the work that he did for this series and for his work in conservation. While reading this book, you very quickly begin to understand that Douglass Adams was really just along for the ride as Carwardine dragged him across continents, pointing out random birds there, fascinating lizards there. It is clear that he is really the brains of the operation.

And that is perfectly understandable. Adams is a science-fiction/comedy writer, Carwardine is a zoologist. Now a rather famous one at that. This is his element. So then, why wasn’t he the one to write the book? Why even bring Adams along?

Well, I’m sure one very large reason is publicity. When the Last Chance to See book and radio series were released, Carwardine was relatively unknown to the public, whereas Adams had already achieved fame with The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. This wouldn’t have gathered the same momentum without the famous face to sell.

But the second reason is that there is something enchanting and endearing in the way Adams tells a story. To most it is far more relatable to be the person pushed and cajoled and dragged up the hill to maybe see a lemur, or to complain a little when they’re stuck in a horrid wardens hut for three days. One other extract that I really enjoyed was Adams description of Carwardine during their tea in the garden of the wardens house in Little Barrier Island, New Zealand. As Adams stood and chatted and drank tea, Carwardine stood in the middle of the lawn, looking up at a tree in an absolute trance. Adams, not quite having the enthusiasm for avian as Carwardine, didn’t really understand what the fuss was about, and continued to drink his tea.

(To be honest, in that situation I would be far more like Carwardine. I was born in New Zealand countryside, and yet I still get excited every time I see one of our native birds. But hey, everyone has their passions.)

The characters and scenery cannot escape Adams’ remarkable wit and creative phrase. Everyone he meets is painted with such colour and cheeky description, that it feels like you’re meeting them too. The setting is always seen in a unique light – in a way that I’m certain no one else has ever seen it before.

Mostly it will make you laugh. Sometimes it will pull on your heartstrings, especially when you remember that about five years ago the last Douglass Adams became extinct, and there will never be another one again.

View all my reviews

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