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.

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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.

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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical QuestionsWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A genius is both intelligent and creative. They can not only think outside the box, they envision whole worlds. Often they achieve something ground-breaking, or work to change the views of the world. Randall Munroe’s incredible intelligence and gift entertains millions of people across the world, and most importantly, teaches us dummies about science.

From the writer of the popular webcomic xkcd comes ‘What if’, an answer to real people’s questions. If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive? How dangerous is it, really, in a pool in a thunderstorm? If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce? Using maths, physics and Lord of the Rings, Randall Munroe leaves no stone unturned.

With his quick humour and endearing stick-figure art-style, he answers the questions of a layman without pandering to you. Instead he offers scenarios you can relate to using maths and science to explain life, and people. If you have read his cartoons, you will know his writing well, and he tackles these questions with the same easy and light style that almost has you forgetting that you’re learning something.

The questions cover a range of topics, across all realms of science. His strength is in physics, but his research is detailed and creative, embracing the strange. But given the answer to these hypothetical scenarios, I am certainly glad we live in the world we live in, not one slowly expanding, or covered in moles.

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ChocolatChocolat by Joanne Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Drenched in decadence and sinful enjoyment, a dash of love and overcoming prejudice, and finished with a heaping spoonful of magic, to be served with plenty of chocolate. This is my kind of book.

A chocolate shop opens in the little village of Lansquenet, bringing with it delights and pleasures the locals haven’t experienced in years. They did not expect the impact that owner Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk would have on them, and little did Vianne know how much an impact they would have on her.

A story full of magic and life and overcoming adversity, Chocolat is enchanting and full of temptation. The struggle between decadence and moderation is one we all understand as we decide how we wish to live our lives and what is most important to us. Exaggerated in the form of a catholic priest, Father Reynaud, and the pagan delights Vianne offers, we see that not everything that’s good for our body is also good for our soul.

The language is just as decadent as the story, the descriptions rising and falling, detailing the food until your mouth waters, coupling Vianne’s thoughts with creative and magical metaphors. It all rushes around you like the wind, pushing you forward. Joanne Harris has a gift of making even the mundane seem remarkable.

And this is all rounded off in the wonderfully colourful characters and their simple troubles and interactions with each other. From the roguish Armaund, to the hardened Roux, the troubled Josephine, and the kind Guilliame. Each of them has their own small story, and a life that has turned for the better simply because of the small chocolate shop that opened down the road. Despite their original prejudice and small-minded ways, you quickly connect to the townsfolk of Lansquenet.

An old favourite of mine, and one I know I will return to whenever I need minding of what it’s like to truly live life.

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The ReaderThe Reader by Bernhard Schlink

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The subject of the Holocaust is difficult to tackle in only 215 pages, but Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader makes a far attempt. A 15 year old German teenager has a chance meeting with an older woman leading to a clandestine romance full of secrets and non-disclosure. Years later she is before a judge facing humanitarian crimes as Michael watches as a law student. But even these crimes are not enough for Hanna to reveal an even darker secret.

After thoroughly enjoying the movie, I found a copy of this book on the shelf of a second-hand store and felt compelled to pick it up. Given the performances in the film, I was expecting something grand and remarkable, and was therefore incredibly disappointed when I realised that this wasn’t going to happen. Despite the gravitas of the subject, the writing is simple and direct, allowing me to devour this novel in only a couple of days. It’s certainly a summer read, if you tire of trivial romance. Because of the direct style of the storytelling, Michael can often seem shallow and flippant. He isn’t very relatable, showing very few displays of compassion to anyone except Hanna. The depth of Hanna’s secrets gives her a much more curious dimension, and often make up for Michael’s failings, but when she is no longer the focus, I began to grow exceptionally bored. Fortunately, it’s quite short.

The storyline itself was what drew me in. It’s tragic and daring, and will have you questioning your own morality, and the morality of those involved in the second world war. Hanna’s question, what would you have done, echoes in the pages. If the writing had the depth the plot deserved, those words would likely haunt you.

It was a story of potential, but didn’t deliver the way I hoped. Perhaps a good read for those who enjoy Holocaust stories and have yet to see the film. Nevertheless, it does have a substance, and a subtlety that does make think. A pity that it doesn’t have the depth to make the story feel real.

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… and how those around me influence my actions.

Hello all.

Wow, I haven’t posted since May.

In between moving back from Sydney to Christchurch, changing my relationship status, moving house again, and starting a new job, I guess I haven’t had much in the way of time.

Well, I’m back now. With observations.

So, moving away from a relationship, surrounding myself in old, familiar friends and an office full of new people have opened my eyes to my own extroversion. I feed off the energy of others. Not to say I don’t enjoy my own company, but my mood and behaviour is greatly affected by the mood and behaviour of those around me. This couldn’t be more apparent when I recently moved into my new flat.

During my time in Australia, I spent most of it playing video games. This was partially because my partner was a video gamer and it was an activity we could do together. My love for video games began years ago, and developed independently of him, but I did see an increase in the activity when we moved in together. As soon as I packed up and moved back into Christchurch, returning to the house I grew up in, I stopped playing video games, and found myself demolishing book after book. I had returned to the embrace of the family library, discussing novels with my parents, and relaxing in the evening with my kindle perched on my knee. I played the occasional round of Titanfall with my brother, but it was no longer the immediate hobby of choice.

Now, having moved in with my incredibly nerdy flatmates, I’m spending my off-hours devouring movies, TV and anime. It has been years since I allowed my love of anime to thrive, and it turns out that I have a lot of catching up to do. It also gives me the chance to tackle my nerdy cross-stitch – which is coming along nicely, thanks for asking.

I have an incredibly diverse list of hobbies, ranging from politics and science to linguists, to languages and media, to art and aesthetics, and across a vast range of nerdy pop culture. I don’t like these things to seem smart, or to pick up guys, or because I’m indecisive, or because I’m not particularly passionate about anything. (Yes, I have been accused of all of those things). I like so many different things because I am genuinely interested in so much.

Admittedly, this doesn’t really have a point – it’s a brief rant to all those haters out there who have at some point accused me of not being a real gamer girl, or only acting like a geek, or not being particularly smart, or just making me feel like I have to pick one thing to spend all my time and efforts in, and never again enjoying anything else. It’s my damn life. I’ll love what I love, and I don’t need someone coming in, attempting to steer my own thoughts.

 

</rant>

Now here’s a picture of a kitten, and a promise to have something geeky up soon.

… and why I have a God complex.

A game review of Banished.

I think I have a God complex.

If I look back over the years, on the games that I have played obsessively, most involve watching tiny animated people whizzing around on daily business, as I watch from my comfortable computer chair, carefully adjusting their little world to my liking. And, when I get sick of them, I just lock them in a tiny room and delete the door, or cut off their access to a hospital, or unleash a great plague upon their world and watch as society crumbles into chaos.

Like I said, God complex.

But Banished is different. You begin with a little society of about ten families who have been kicked out of their original home and are forced to settle in a remote and isolated world. You set them to work, chopping down trees, mining rock, and gathering resources; achieving those short term goals until you can build them their means to survive. Sometimes it takes time – you don’t quite balance everything perfectly, and half your town dies of starvation on the tenth winter. But you re-build, and watch generations grow and work and die so their children may have a better tomorrow. Your heart goes out to these people.

Which is why it is all the more devastating when things go wrong.

And things go wrong all the time, whether it be disasters, disease or your own incompetence. Then you are forced to watch as gravestone after gravestone pops up on screen, and you flounder, trying to adjust your workers to continue with the manner of living your citizens have become accustomed too. Because, of course, as more of the town dies, not only do you fail at the overall aim of survival, but the fewer workers you have to gather your resources . It is an unforgiving game, and one I sometimes find genuinely difficult. Your success can be utterly dependant on how you play the first ten minutes. What is more important – clothing, or tools? Emotional support, or medicine? Food or shelter?

However, the later game mechanics can be just as cruel. Farms cannot be farmed indefinitely, and will eventually decrease their yield. Fishing wharves will slowly deplete the population of fish. Iron and Stone will also vanish from the world, and you’ll be forced to build giant holes in the ground until you run out of room. And room is precious, as you need forests for lumber, and to collect the necessary herbs used in medicines. Very much like Tropico, SimCity and other games of this particular simulation genre, it whittles down into a numbers game. You have to balance various factors to maximise resource production, and attempt to prevent a feedback loop from ruining your best laid plans. For example, you have to keep up logging production, otherwise you may not only run out of firewood and have your workers freeze to death, but your supply of tools may run out first, reducing resource production all over the bored, including firewood. And your workers will still freeze to death.

The systems have been expertly linked, creating a level of frustration and determination that makes Banished so very rewarding. I never expected that I would punch air the first time I managed to creep my population past the five-hundred mark, but I felt a sense of pride in my self-sufficient little community. It is a game of surprising empathy and rich mechanics, devoid of allegiance to any particular society. It’s just you, and your people, against this little world. And together, you have to overcome the odds, and survive.

Originally posted on Nerdy But Flirty:

As George R. R. Martin continually tries to remind us, it can be hard being born a woman. And yet, so many of his own characters manage to stand up and make use of their talents, despite his constant attempts to strike them down and put them in their place. If you’ve read the books, you can truly appreciate how much stronger these ladies are on our screens, and how, despite their writer, they overcome their obstacles with just as much strength and intelligence as all of those men.

Lady Margaery of House Tyrell

margaery-house-tyrell-34317575-500-700

In her unrelenting attempts to become a Baratheon, the beautiful Lady Margaery is determined to join House Tyrell to the royal family. With the doddering Mace Tyrell as her Lord and father, it’s clear who the brain behind the whole operation really is. Beneath her pretty and kind exterior is a cunning and calculating seductress who knows how…

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…and why it’s going to take every ounce of my being not to spoil it for anyone.

Yes, sorry, I’m one of those fans. I’ve read all the books. So believe me when I tell you that Game of Thrones Season 4 is something I have been waiting for since I read A Storm of Swords. You thought last season was good? Oh kids, you aint seen nothing yet.

Despite my love-hate relationship with George. R. R. Martin, I thoroughly enjoyed the final half of the third book. The pacing was fantastic, the characters were just awesome and shit got real. And not always by simply cutting the heads off a few main characters. Although, that still does happen. I guess it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones otherwise. Don’t worry, I promise I won’t spoil anything – but I will say that the third book has some of the most intriguing storyline progression since the dragons showing up.

Season 4 begins rather peacefully. Tyrion awaits the arrival of House Martel, King Joffery is prancing around like a prat, Daenerys is marching on some poor unsuspecting town with her slave army and dragons, Dario has somehow changed his face, Margery is preparing for her wedding, Sansa is crying, Jamie Lannister realises that things are a little different since he left, and Tywin is still the best contester for the Westeros Father of the Year award.

However, Tumblr and the rest of the internet have finally realised something that I have understood since book 1. That House Martel are just badass. Prince Oberyn, you handsome viper – you are everything I dreamed and more. But it was meeting the first Sand Snake, Ellaria Sand, that got me really excited. Although House Tyrell is ruled by some very cunning ladies, and House Targaryen’s last hope is on the Mother of Dragons, the Sand Snakes of Dorne are some of the most fearsome ladies in all of Westeros and beyond.

“Have you ever been with a Prince?”

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