jessicasteiner: (Save the World)
I've just recently finished a novel by one of the authors that was an instructor at the Out of Excuses Retreat, Nalo Hopkinson.

I'd never heard of her before the retreat, and it was a true joy to get to know her and hang out with her and her adorable spouse at the airport for a few hours at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I asked her what I should start with, if I wanted to read her work, and she told me to read Sister Mine.

Sister Mine is about a pair of black conjoined twins who were separated at birth. The girls' father and paternal family are nature gods! And the girls live in Toronto. I loved the weaving of modern life and mysticism together in this book, and the unique ways in which the characters use magic and interact with the world. The dynamic between the two sisters, as well as between them and their bizarre family, was interesting and multi-faceted, and a delight to read.

I heartily recommend Sister Mine, especially if you like Urban Fantasy. If you're bored of the single sexy white girl Main Character thing that is so ubiquitous in urban fantasy these days, Sister Mine totally breaks that mold.

What are you reading these days?
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
Today I bring you a much-delayed review I was asked to give of Starship Grifters: A Rex Nihilo Adventure. The author provided me with a pre-release e-book copy of the book, which is published by 47North.

Starship Grifters is the story of a half-insane space-faring con artist named Rex Nihilo, who travels the stars looking for ways to pad his pocket book. He's always in debt, pursued by the authorities, getting into unbelievable adventures, and nearly getting himself killed. The story is told from the POV of his robot, who has a program fault such that any time she has an original thought, she shuts down and forgets what she was talking about. This creates some delightfully odd moments in the narrative.

I honestly didn't know what to think of the story for the first chapter or two, but it sucked me in despite myself. I found myself laughing out loud at quite a few points. It's written in the quirky and satirical vein of the Hitchhiker's Guide, and as a long-standing Douglas Adams fan, I was originally skeptical of anyone who was trying to follow along in those footsteps.

However, Kroese won me over, and I eagerly look forward to the sequel.

I want to thank Kroese for approaching me to do this review. It's a book that I likely wouldn't have found on my own, but I hope this review prompts more people to check it out.
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
I downloaded John Scalzi's Redshirts from Audible.com. The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, which is a treat to listen to for a lifelong trekker like myself.

Redshirts is basically the story of a bunch of ensigns on a starship, rather like the Enterprise only, yanno, not. On this ship, away teams are pretty hazardous for people like this. There's a lot more to it than that, but I don't think I can say anything further without spoiling some of the best bits. You'll just have to read it for yourself.

This is the first of Scalzi's books that I've read. I get the impression from reading his blog that he writes a variety of things, but if any of his other books are like this, I may have to read more of his work. Redshirts is a great story, nerdy and clever, and has interesting characters.

I enjoyed most of Wil Wheaton's narration, though there were a few rough bits where it knocked me out of the story. With such a large cast, a narrator who was able to better differentiate between the different characters' voices would have probably helped a lot to keep things straight. But I love Wheaton so much I don't actually mind the few hiccups.

I believe quite a few people didn't like the ending. Specifically, Scalzi didn't just end the book, but tacked on three codas, from the perspective of other characters, tying up plot threads. Personally, I loved them. It allowed Scalzi to wrap up a few important threads, and I found the overall experience of the book more satisfying with that resolution. I'm sure there are other ways he could have accomplished the same thing, but this was neat.

Overall, if you like popcorn science fiction/space opera, and especially if you geek out over Star Trek, this is highly recommended
jessicasteiner: (Constructive Criticism)
During my vacation, I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I'm vaguely aware that there was a movie, which I haven't seen. I just thought the book sounded neat, so I read it.

I read it in ebook format, on my Kobo e-reader. In this historical fantasy novel, an old secret journal is uncovered which reveals that Abraham Lincoln - yes, that Abraham Lincoln - was secretly a vampire hunter.

I have a funny feeling that there may have been pictures and/or formatting that didn't translate into the ebook version, but I could be wrong. I haven't checked a physical copy to determine if it's true. If so, I'm sad, but it didn't hugely impact my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, I found it very interesting and engaging. It's a fun, quick read, and I read the entire book in an afternoon.

I don't know much about the American civil war, and it was interesting to learn something about this historical event that I never studied in school. The author did a good job working real history and the "secret history" in together so that you could almost (but not quite) believe that it was really true that vampires existed in civil war era United States.

Also (spoiler) Abraham doesn't have sex with any vampires!

Worth checking out, especially if you enjoy historical fantasy and/or vampire novels that aren't just about sexual wish-fulfilment.
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
I had a crazy day, today, so I suspect this post is going to be pretty short. Oh well.

A couple of months ago, I made a post about Coursera, a website where one can take free university courses on a variety of subjects. I was pretty excited about the idea, and I'd signed up for a half a dozen different courses. The courses are taught primarily through the watching of videos, the doing of small assignments and the taking of quizzes.

Now I've completed four courses, and I thought it was time to talk about it again.

Overall, I'm really pleased about this discovery, and I think I'll continue to take Coursera courses for as long as it holds my attention.

I've taken a course on pharmaceuticals, a course on genetics, one of international criminal law, and one on nutrition. In all four courses, I've learned some pretty amazing things.

I wound up quitting the Pharma course halfway through, because I found that I'd learned the few things I wanted to learn, and the requirements for course completion were far too rigorous for it to be worth it to me to actually get the certificate of completion. But the other three courses I stuck through and received certificates for.

There's really no downside to Coursera. If you're not enjoying the course, you can always quit. There's no cost and really no spam. The courses range from sciences to computers to social subjects, and more.

The main thing to be cognizant of is checking the syllabus to see what the completion requirements are and taking a realistic look at your life. There was a period when I felt pretty overwhelmed, which was part of why I quit the one course. I don't think I could ever manage more than 2-3 courses at a time. The nutrition course was a huge time suck, because there were so many videos, but I stuck it through because I was learning so much that was really valuable to me. Right now I'm in the midst of a science fiction and fantasy literature course, which is also a big time investment, since I'm having to try to find time to read all these great stories. But I'm enjoying it and trying not to stress about being constantly behind.

Be aware of your limits and don't attach too much importance to it, and I guarantee you'll learn a lot.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
It's been a while since I did a review! I actually read this book quite a while ago and I've been meaning to do a review but the moment just didn't come until now. Anyway, off we go.

I learned about this book on the Daily Show, when the author, Brené Brown was interviewed about it. I downloaded I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power from Audible, and it can be found: here.

It's a non-fiction book about the impact of shame on people, and how to overcome feelings of shame in yourself. Brown explores what shame is, how it impacts people in a negative manner and whether there's any redeeming quality to shame, and various methods with which to deal with shame and prevent it from having a negative impact on your life.

I don't know if listening to the book improved it over reading it. Sometimes the experience of listening to the words being read to me made it more powerful, but there were aspects of it - statistics, lists and the like - that occasionally made the spoken word more difficult to follow. I think this is pretty much inevitable with non-fiction work of this type. I did find the reader to be very good, though I think it would have been a nice touch if it had been Brown herself, especially since the book is written largely from her perspective.

I found it a difficult book to listen to, but also extremely rewarding. Through the stories shared by Brown, of hundreds of people she's interviewed, I could recognize things in my own life which make me feel shame, and explore that feeling in a constructive way. It's incredible how insidious shame can be, and from reading the book, I see that while guilt and regret can be constructive, there's no positive aspect to feeling shame. Shame demoralizes and holds people back.

There were times when I cried listening to it, but overall I'm glad that I got myself through it. I do feel as though my life has been improved from the read.

This book comes highly recommended.

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Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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