Friday, December 20, 2013

Stellar Four's Improbable Christmas Wishes This Year

by the ladies of Stellar Four

Garland available at MariesMarketplace Etsy shop.
Christmas is all about wishing, right? Wishing for peace on Earth. Wishing to find the perfect gift for the person you love the most. Wishing that you heart's desire is wrapped and waiting for you under the tree.

This year, Stellar Four has put together a few of our most improbable wishes in the sci fi/fantasy universe. These are things we know we can't actually have, things that can't actually happen. But oh, do we wish them anyway.

To get this out of the way: We all obviously wish that Firefly had been given a full five seasons before coming to an eminently satisfying and mutually agreed upon conclusion. This is first on every sensible person's wish list, each and every Christmas.

Now, keep reading for the other improbable wishes we're wishing this year.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

December's Read: CLOCKWORK HEART

For the past few months, I have tried to knock a book per month off my TBR list - a book that has been languishing on the shelf for a long time. This month's book is actually a recent acquisition. However, I've been waiting for it to come back in print/become available as an ebook for at least 3 years, so it's waaaaay past time to get this one off the ol' list.


CLOCKWORK HEART by Dru Pagliassotti:

"Flight is freedom, but death hangs in the skies...

Taya soars over Ondinium on metal wings. She is an icarus, a courier privileged to travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately amongst its castes. But even she cannot outfly the web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and intrigue that snares her after a daring mid-air rescue. Taya finds herself entangled with the Forlore brothers, scions of an upperclass family: handsome, brilliant Alister, who sits on Ondinium’s governing council and writes programs for the Great Engine; and awkward, sharptongued Cristof, who has exiled himself from his caste and repairs clocks in the lowest sector of the city. Both hide dangerous secrets, in the city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart."

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

I admit to a bit of apprehension. I mean, I've been waiting for this book for years. I have built up some expectations.

To wrap things up for the year, read on for my thoughts on DELIA'S SHADOW and TARNISHED, my October and November reads.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Last Hurrah! The End of the 52 Book Challenge

There are only thirteen days left in 2013. Get ready, this is the last post about Stellar Four's 52 Book Challenge! I want to hear victory stories, people!

The 52 Book Challenge was an audacious contest with yourself to read 52 books in one year, one book per week. It seemed so easy last winter to agree to the challenge. "52 books? Bah, that's easy!". The reality is far harsher.

So how did you do?

Personally, I WON THE CHALLENGE! I just got up and did a victory dance. It was pretty awesome. I'm on target to read 60 books this year! I have two I'm in the process of finishing and I know they'll be done before Dec 31st.

What do I attribute my success to? A bunch of things. There were a slew of fantastic new books this year that had me on the edge of my seat. I positively flew through them. I also had a Kindle this year, which opened up a whole world of ebook novellas and ebook-only books to read. I also have a daily commute on a train that is perfect for uninterrupted reading time. With these powers combined, I've managed to vault over the 52 book goal. I also read about a dozen more books than I did last year, which is incredibly encouraging.

Which books stand out as my favorites this year? My shortlist includes (in no particular order) Dying Is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann, The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, The Ocean At the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding and Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore. 

Now that I know I can hit 60, I'm going to do the 52 book challenge again next year. Will you join me? Tell me in comments how many books you read in 2013 and if you're on board for the 2014 challenge!
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Twelve Days of Geekmas!

I think we can all agree that the 12 Days of Christmas is an incredibly repetitive, awful song. The only parts people know with any certainly are "FIVE!!! GOLD!!! RINGS!!!" and maybe the French hens. I think comedian Eddie Izzard said it best:
That “Partridge in a pear tree” song, the only bit we like of it is that "Five gold rings!". People go berserk at that point! People come running in from other rooms, singing "Five gold rings!". The rest of it, we don't know; above that, it's just, "Twelve…monkeys mating, eleven… donkeys dancing, ten pigmies farming, nine… socks… a swimming… five gold rings!" This is a human thing. We only like to learn a little bit of a song. We can't be bothered.
 He's 100% correct. That song is a boring old carol that needs to stop being sung. Of course, there is an alternative. A better version of that song that we could all sing. Last year, I gave you the 12 Days of Geekmas; twelve nerdy things to wish our true love would give us instead of more stupid milkmaids and geese.

Friends, readers, I give you an encore presentation of the 12 Days of Geekmas! Sing along with us!

On the first day of Geekmas, my true love gave to me... 
A Norse god who was very naughty! 
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Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

by Sara N.

Maybe you heard about Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in a post about YA novels that adults might enjoy. Maybe you read about the controversy when it was banned from a Minnesota school library. Maybe you caught its glowing New York Times review.

And maybe you decided to pass because, ugh, not another YA novel. There are so many out there, and after a while, it's hard to separate the signal from the noise to figure out what's actually worth your time.

Let me tell you: This one is.


It's not set in a dystopian future. There are no robots or vampires or magic. There's not even a love triangle. Instead, it's a story about two odd ducks who find each other and fall into the heady rush of first love.

Rowell's exquisite novel, set in 1986, captures the confusion of teenagers navigating the social pitfalls of high school bullies and family expectations while trying to find a way to be with the person who makes their nerve endings crackle. Park is a half-Korean, semi-popular kid who starts sharing comic books on the school bus with Eleanor, the new kid in school whose red hair, curvy body, and weird fashion sense make her a target for the mean girls (and boys) at school. Worse, Eleanor comes from a family mired in grinding poverty, alcoholism, and abuse. Because it's impossible for her to breathe a word about her tender new relationship with Park at home, it becomes a struggle for the two to even communicate, let alone snatch time to be together. A simple, stolen phone call becomes a giddy thrill, and holding hands on the bus carries a weight of physicality and emotional meaning. When they finally can be together — you know, together together — they're some of the most beautifully written scenes I've ever read (and this is coming from a voracious reader of romance novels).

I raced through the book in a breathless rush, alternating between elation and devastation with the ebb and flow of their young love. But these are not the eye-rolling, whiney teenagers who often populate the pages of YA literature. Their reactions to the good and the bad around them are authentic and relatable. You want to hold both of them close to you to protect them from the slings and arrows of cruel teenagers, monstrous stepfathers, and the inevitable changes that come with growing up. You'll relish revisiting the fizz and spark of first love through these two lovely (and at times heartbreaking) teenagers.

Did I say this book had no magic in it? It does. The magic of the connection between Eleanor and Park will linger long after you've read the last page.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Skylanders vs Infinity: A Geek Mom View

Disney Infinity is here, but how does it compare to Skylanders?
A while back I mentioned how much the kiddos love Skylanders. The boychild got the latest Skylanders SwapForce for his birthday and the whole family enjoys playing it. We tried out Disney Infinity while staying with relatives over the Thanksgiving holiday. So which one wins?

With things as they stand today, the answer for us is Skylanders.

Note: I am not a big gamer, but I have spent a lot of time playing the games with the kids. Played both games on Wii.

Sprocket
Skylanders:

Simple, fairly linear gameplay with some side tasks and challenges. Lots of fighting, some search and find, fantastic visuals, with animated sequences in between to propel the main storyline along. The controls are really intuitive. The boychild is just learning how to read and he rarely needs our help to figure things out. This is our second Skylanders gaming experience and it's not hard to see why this is the best-selling game franchise.

The characters are fun. All manner of beasties with all kinds of fighting styles. This is where the real appeal is, collecting all of the fun characters. A select group are able to swap the upper and lower halves to create new character. Some challenges require this. For these characters you can earn new powers for the top and bottom halves, which then can be used in any new being you create. This is probably the kids' favorite part of the game.

Hex
I can't say that there is a 50/50 split among gender for the characters, but there are some kickass female characters. Hex is my spirit animal. Her opening line is "Fear the dark" and when she gains more strength she croons "More power, I love it". I dig her. A lot.

I want to get Roller Brawl too. She looks very cool. Girlchild is on board. We already have Sprocket who creates her own weapons of destruction to take down foes. And they're all reasonably dressed.

You will likely finish this game quickly, although I do think it is more challenging than Giants.

Then you get to play it with a new character, and the fun goes on...

Infinity:

You would think that with the wealth of beloved characters and worlds at their fingertips, that Infinity would have the edge. Yeah, about that...

See, what good are all of these fantastic fantasy worlds if you waste space on ones like Lone Ranger.

Yes, out of all of the Disney properties, they chose to have a Lone Ranger world. What. The. Hell.

There are two main playing options. You have the individual character worlds, where only characters from those worlds can play, then you have the Toy Box where you can build and develop your own adventure and honestly I haven't spent enough time with it to really give a thorough review. I was that bored. And so was the kid.

It felt like the creators said, "Oooh, Skylanders is popular, so let's have characters, and look over here, all the kids are into Minecraft, so lets have some building levels too." Wrap it up with clunky, non-intuitive controls and what could have been a load of fun became a quick lesson in frustration. We never got out of the teaching moments of the game. I wonder if in the final battle it would still be trying to get you to learn something new about the controls.

It says on the box 10+, and you do need to be able to have strong reading skills to do this game. And that's fine, I guess. However, the boychild picked up Minecraft within 10 minutes and it didn't cost $75. Also, by the time he is 10, he will want a stronger game than this.

Note: I'm focusing on the boychild more in this review because Infinity did exactly zero for the girlchild.

The worlds were a bit more our speed. You have set challenges and the game tries to help you complete them. And help you, and add more suggestions, and god help you if you don't follow the suggestion because then you might have to start the level over again. Once or twice or (cough) ten times.

The starter pack comes with The Incredibles, Monster University and Pirates of the Caribbean worlds and figures. Of the three, The Incredibles was the most fun. Pirates was all right, but honestly, we've been playing LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean and that one is just better. There were also no female characters in the starter pack.

There are extra characters you can buy who don't have their own worlds, but can be used in the Toy Box and have a unique challenge. One of these is Jack Skellington. The most obvious sign for me that Infinity missed the mark with it's world choice was when the boychild excitedly put Jack on the portal, visions of Halloweentown dancing in his head, only to have the crushing disappointment that there was no Nightmare Before Christmas world. He put Jack away and went back to The Incredibles. There are 20 years of fans of Tim Burton's phenomenal movie. My kids grew up watching it. They would play the hell out of a game with Oogie Boogie and Santa, but no, it is not to be right now.

What about Neverland? Sure, Peter Pan is an older flick, but we've all seen it and with the kiddos watching the Disney Fairy movies and Jake & the Neverland Pirates, there is a whole generation waiting to go flying over Captain Hook's ship. Or what about a Disney Princess world? Think of it: being able to team up Mulan and Merida to take on Maleficent.



But no. They just want to invest in worlds of recent movies. Except for The Incredibles. Whoever pushed that one through was genius because it was all that saved Infinity for me and gave me hope that they could do better in the future.

So, will I be adding Infinity to our home game system? Not until they come up with better worlds.

How about you? Has anyone had a better experience with Infinity?



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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Case of the Bah Humbugs

In two weeks, it will be Christmas. It's a sobering thought to all of us who still have to finish our shopping and who eye the online shipping cut offs warily.

Two weeks! When did this happen? Who let this happen? There are bell ringers in the streets, stores are decorated for the holiday, and Christmas specials are the only things on TV. It's the most wonderful time of the year. Apparently.

Not for me, though. This year, my Christmas spirit seems to be completely missing. Usually by this point in the season I've watched Miracle on 34th St and White Christmas approximately one trillion times, eaten all the gingerbread cookies and listened to nothing but "Fairytale of New York" and "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch". But not this year. I haven't watched one Christmas special, not eaten one spicy baked good or sang off key about a mean green Dr. Seuss character. What is wrong with me?

With two weeks to go, I am anti-Christmas. I don't feel holly OR jolly. I don't jokingly answer my cell phone asking what people's favorite colors are. I'm just... dead inside. Why has the Christmas spirit forsaken me? I have a major case of the bah humbugs.

So, I ask you loyal readers, what are your tried and true ways to get into the swing of the holidays? Do you get blitzed on egg nog? Do you watch every Christmas movie known to man? Or am I doomed to be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve?
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Stellar Four's Toasty Tootsies

by Megan S.


If it's as cold (or colder) in your hometown as it in ours, you're probably trying to keep all of your extremities from the clutches of Jack Frost.  We're staving off the frostbite in these cute little skull slippers. Yep, the ladies of Stellar Four have been friends for years and, like a lot of good girlfriends, we end up owning some of the same articles of clothing.  Sara and Kathy have both made galaxy print duds.  Meg and I have matching fox sweaters and Bride of Frankenstein pendants.  This is the first time, however, so many of us have owned the same thing so you know they've gotta be good.

You can grab these super cute faux fur lined booties from Target for just $19.99.  And, if you do, we'd love to see photos of you wearing 'em too!  Email 'em here or post 'em on Facebook or Twitter.
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Monday, December 9, 2013

Give the Gift of Geek to Girls

by Megan S.


'Tis the season of toy drives for underprivileged children and my favorite is California mattress chain Sleep Train's Secret Santa collection efforts for foster kids.*  It's become a tradition between me and my mom over the last several years to pick out the most awesome and pocketbook friendly toys we can find to donate.  I usually search high and low for something geeky to give, but I was happily surprised to see that a number of excellent STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) toys are available this year.

Here's what I chose and a few of my other favorites all under $30...
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Friday, December 6, 2013

Book-Inspired Items to Add to Your Christmas Wish List

by Sara N.

Is your mom sweetly requesting more Christmas gift ideas for you, or is that just mine? If so, there's still time to put these book-related lovelies on your wish list! These run from affordable items to serious splurges, and they're all covet-worthy.







(That's the Dewey Decimal System number for fairytales, of course.)





Read on for more bookish gift ideas!

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

When Serials Come Together

A while back I had a post on discovering serials (stories that you get in installments). Two of my favorites, Clean Sweep and Indexing are complete and ready for you to read right now - no waiting required!

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper #1) by Ilona Andrews

Something is killing dogs in Dina's small Texas suburb. The other residents think it is a mountain lion, but Dina knows it is something that the mundane humans around her aren't ready to deal with, and that werewolf Sean Evans needs to do something about it. Dina is not your usual B&B owner. She is an Innkeeper with magic of her own, a ferocious little Shih Tzu named Beast, and a broom you do not want to mess with. Her establishment caters to offworld and non-mundane visitors. Innkeepers are known for their neutrality, but Dina is not going to stand by while something snacks on her neighbors. Throw in vampires, an alien assassin, great action and some killer banter and you have another fun Andrews' adventure.

The characters are great, the humor is ever-present, and once again team Andrews has a unique spin on werewolf and vampire myths. The world is fantastic. There is also a subtle reference to Andrews' Edge series (that made me happy). There is so much that can be done with these characters in this universe and I can't wait to read more in this series. In fact, one of my favorite parts about reading the complete story is in the Acknowledgments where you learn that more Innkeeper will be coming in early 2014. I am so there.

So, you might say, I read this for free on the Ilona Andrews website, why should I buy it? The free serial was a working draft, so the finished story is more polished and flows a bit better. There is additional content, about a chapter, and includes an epilogue. Also, we have artwork from Doris of Disanthus. I really loved seeing her take on the different characters. Especially Caldenia. I love that crafty character. It's worth it for me as I know I will re-read this story. Also, I want more Innkeeper.

[received a review copy]

Amazon | B&N | Additional retailers & print version coming soon, check the official site.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

The Narrative wants to keep alive the fables we all grew up reading. However, things usually don't end up happily ever after. A Sleeping Beauty wanders into a hospital and soon everyone around her is asleep for 100 years, and that's just if you're lucky. Fairytales are a truly destructive force on the world, and it is up to the agents of the ATI to protect us. There is a Snow White on the verge of her story, a wicked stepsister trying to resist the call to do in the good guys, a cobbler making things work, and an ordinary guy whose family was ripped apart by the Narrative's collateral damage. Things have been going on as usual, until the team falls into a conspiracy to change things up and let the Narrative come out on top.

I love the whole theme of fairytales in the real world. I adored Sloane, the halted wicked stepsister. Snarky as hell but underneath lies a daily struggle that has been going on for longer than you realize. Some installments are more thrilling than others, something that hits you more when you are getting the story in bits. Now that you can read it in its entirety, it likely won't be as noticeable. I mean, it makes sense to have a breather right after two chapters of constant action.

I noticed the first couple of chapters to be a bit repetitive in some areas. Not so bad when you have 2 weeks between installments. Might be more of an issue when you are reading straight through. I did find that it smoothed out after the beginning.

The end is very fast and a new character is introduced, so I am really hoping there will be more in this world, although there is a conclusion to the story. There is hope.

Amazon Kindle | Paperback (Pre-order)



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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Silent Night, Unholy Night

Christmas is fast approaching (oh dear god NO) and that means the annual bombardment with Christmas carols. My office uses them as hold music in December, the stores and shopping malls play them at insane volumes, you literally can not escape the hordes of little drummer boys and harking angels. The reindeer are legion.

Thankfully, some fine people out there have decided to make Christmas carols suck just a touch less by revealing the REAL reason for the season; Cthulhu!

Join me under the cut for the best Christmas carols this side of R'yleh!

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Are you LEGO-Experienced?

I mentioned in last week's thankful post about the family's trip to LEGOLAND California. We went, we saw, we built, we danced to disco in the elevators, and all around had a fantastic time.

I would note that I have a kid who is obsessed with LEGOs and the older one does not like roller coasters. Baby is cool with whatever. The ideal age range seems to be 5-7, although there were older kids who enjoyed themselves. I did come across some of the more jaded of the tween set, though, and I had to move away quickly before they sucked all the joy out of the immediate vicinity.

If you hate the idea of being around very loud running children, then this is not the place for you. If you have a need for speed, this is not for you. If you still break out the LEGO building blocks and are fine with sitting on the sidelines while your kids drive a car or boat or build a robot, then you are the target demographic.

I've been to the Disneyland Resort more than a few times. LEGOLAND is smaller, less crowded, but has fewer rides for older kids/teens or adults who love coasters. There are also fewer high capacity rides, so although it is less crowded, you'll still find lines. They were still shorter than what we experienced in the House of Mouse. It's also cheaper than spending the day at Disneyland, so there's that too.

We started our stay by checking into the LEGOLAND Hotel. Given the horror of Southern California traffic we decided to drive up around lunchtime, stay overnight in the hotel, then head into the park the next day. This was an excellent plan. The hotel is a playland all in itself.

A dragon overlooks the entrance and a veritable river of LEGOs awaits you. There actually is a "LEGO pond" right next to registration filled with LEGOS. The boychild jumped right in. Then, the LEGO-brick road leads you to the pirate ship and castle, with more LEGOs to play with, a belching ogre, and a few other little surprises.
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Monday, December 2, 2013

Yule Cat: That Ugly Christmas Sweater Might Save Your Life

by Megan S.


Count yourself lucky if you find an ugly sweater, homemade bunny suit, or six pack of tube socks under the Christmas tree with your name on it this year.  The well-meaning gift giver may have just saved your life.  Jólaköttur, Iceland's mythic feline answer to Anna Wintour, could gobble you up if you aren't sporting new duds on December 25th.

Move over Krampus, there's a new vintage Christmas monster in town - the original grumpy cat.
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