Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Thrones and S.H.I.E.L.D.S.: When Does a Character Become Irredeemable?

by Sara N.

A couple of characters have been behaving badly on television recently — so badly, in fact, that it's got me wondering how (or even if) they can ever be redeemed.

Before I get into the details, I need to caution you, cats and kittens: SPOILERS for Game of Thrones through Season 4, Episode 4, ("Oathkeeper"), Marvel's Agents of SHIELD through Season 1, Episode 20 ("Nothing Personal"), and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Introducing the Kids to Discworld

A couple of weeks ago I posted some books that I added to the kids bookshelves in anticipation of summer reading. Of course, you know I didn't stop there. That would be crazy.

Discworld is one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. From the humor to the philosophy to the incredible cast of characters, Terry Pratchett's books are a fixture on my shelf.

The kids have gotten a taste of the fascinating world atop the Great A'Tuin from the Hogfather miniseries, but they really don't get it yet.

They will when we start the Tiffany Aching books. These are young adult books and start at around #30 in the overall series. In her first book, Tiffany is 9, the same age as my eldest, which will have definite appeal. I happened to find the first two Tiffany Aching books combined in THE WEE FREE MEN: THE BEGINNING. For the price of one book you get two. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The blurbage:

"When Tiffany Aching sets out to become a witch, she faces ominous foes and gains unexpected allies. As she confronts the Queen of Fairies and battles an ancient, bodiless evil, she is aided (and most ably abetted) by the six-inch-high, fightin', stealin', drinkin' Wee Free Men.

Laugh-out-loud humor and breathtaking action combine in the books that launched the unforgettable adventures of a determined young witch and her tiny but fierce blue friends."

While I've read most of the Discworld books, I have not read these yet. That makes this the perfect choice for a family read-along.

The kids have missed out on the wonders of Terry Pratchett for too long already. Time to fix that.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Conspiracy Theory: Cats Are NSA Spies

by Megan S.

Cats - hiding in plain sight

So, you changed all of your passwords when you heard about Heartbleed, you switched to using a burner phone, and you swept your place for bugs, yet the National Security Agency is still managing to uncover all of your secrets.  How is it possible?  Well, look no further than your fuzzy, four legged companion.  That's right.  It's your cat.  They see all and now they're telling all to your friendly neighborhood spy organization.

I've got the proof WikiLeaks is too scared to share.
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Friday, April 25, 2014

Please Enjoy the Creepiest Thing You'll Hear Today (or Possibly Any Day)

by Sara N.

Looking for a soundtrack to accompany a waking nightmare? Wanting to spend seven minutes feeling like you're teetering on the brink of madness? Searching for the perfect music to frighten the neighbors or end any party early? Well, dear readers, have I got the YouTube clip for you.

My friend Dave pointed me in the direction of this video from German DJ duo Vinyl Terror and Horror, AKA Camilla Sørensen and Greta Christensen. Put simply, the two women have played Frankenstein with records and record players. They mutilate the records and stick them back together, sometimes out of order, sometimes interspersing different records entirely, and sometimes jamming in other material such as broken glass. They configure the record players to play stacked on top of one another so multiple records play at the same time — sometimes even upside down. The result is a contraption of bizarrely transformed records separated with rolls of tape, their audio contents clashing to create a creepy and uncomfortable listening session. Ever so often, something recognizable as music or a human voice will peep through, but overall the results are ... well, you'll see. Give this a listen.


The first time I played this, I must've blacked out, because when I came to, I was holding a knife and my husband was lying in a pool of blood, which I'm preeeeetty sure is the normal sequence of events after listening to this music for seven minutes. Let me know what kind of results you have at your own home. If you're still curious, you can read more about Vinyl Terror and Horror here.
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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reading Now: Clowns, Gods & Risk Managers

I never have just one book in my currently reading pile. Apart from Stink and the Shark Sleepover that I'm reading with the kiddos, I have three books I'm relishing this week. It's quite the motley crew with clowns and the stuff of nightmares, gods and comedians, and a risk manager dealing with a monster.

NIGHT TERRORS by Tim Waggoner

I vacillate between "Oh god, clowns!" and "this world is pretty interesting." We have a secret organization that fights nightmares brought to life using humans and their own personal nightmare (i.e. clowns). I have to say I instantly identified with our heroine, which helps with the whole coulrophobia aspect.

Out May 27  Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

LAST GOD STANDING by Michael Boatman

God has quit his whole "god-gig" and is living as a human and stand-up comic. This leaves a bit of a power vacuum, of course, and will likely doom the world. I usually like books that deal with various pantheons and generally muck around with mythology, so I'm digging this story.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

TWO SERPENTS RISE by Max Gladstone

I adored book 1, Three Parts Dead, with it's mix of gods, magic and courtroom procedural, so I was really looking forward to book 2. Set in the same world, but with different characters, this one follows a gambler and risk manager as he deals with a monster and an at-risk water supply. Of course, things are only going to get worse and riskier. I really like the integration of our modern professions in this mystical world.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

If you haven't tried THREE PARTS DEAD, it's $2.99 on  AmazonKobo 

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sextastic Mr. Fox

While I enjoy a fun romance novel every so often, I definitely do don't erotica. Mainly because I think it's kind of boring. 50 Shades of Yawn. Sex isn't fun to read about. There are only so many ways you can put all those words into sentences. It all gets repetitive. Even when I read romance novels, I kind of skim over the sex because I'm always like "who cares that the Countess du'Obbressey is doing Clive, the stable boy? They left that part about Lord Willinghamfordshire on a cliffhanger and I want to know if he escapes the bandits!".

As you can see, I am bad at reading romance novels. I'm worse at reading erotica. "Ugh, who cares about all that bondage, did the sub do well on that job interview she had last chapter?". I want to read those books for the characters, not for the sex. (Is "reading romance novels for the characters" the new "reading Playboy for the articles"?)

You can imagine my apprehension when I heard an author I adore, Delilah S Dawson, had dipped her toe into the world of self-published erotica. I was torn. I LOVED Dawson's amazing steampunk Blud novels but... erotica? I figured taking a peek couldn't hurt and threw her first two books in the Geekrotica series onto my Kindle and hoped for the best.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's Easy Being Green with this Delightfully Random Earth Day List

by Sara N.

Today is Earth Day, and in celebration, here's a totally random list of my favorite green people, places, and things from comics, movies and TV.

Poison Ivy

The Green Lantern's bling

The Incredible Hulk

The Credible Hulk

She Hulk

Keep reading for many, many, many more ...
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Monday, April 21, 2014

Sock It To Me

by Megan S.

Lilly wonders how she could ever have thought eating all those salmon flavored jelly beans was a good idea.
Well kids, another Easter has come and gone and we here in the S. family are experiencing the crash that comes after a sugar high.  I've had more than enough ovum-shaped confections to last me 'til next year,* but I'm still craving candy-colored goodies.  Thank goodness I stumbled upon these adorable, brightly hued geeky socks over at ModCloth.

I want them all.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

A Guide to (Mostly Evil) Bunny-Themed Jewelry, Clothes and Other Goodies

by Sara N.

The Season of the Bunny is upon us. Last year, Megan warned us about the evils of their hoppy legs and twitchy little noses. This year, I'm celebrating them instead with a collection of bunny merchandise that mostly features rabbits that are up to no good — with a few positive role models mixed in for good measure.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Adding to the Bookshelves

Using the Scholastic book fairs at school, coupons from B&N, sales on Amazon and some of my ebook settlement credit, I've been steadily adding new books to the kids shelves in preparation for summer reading.

Annnnnd maybe I'm passing my book hoarding onto my children. I can live with it.

This week, THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY by Django Wexler arrived. A girl, a mysterious library, and getting sucked into books. Literally. We've already started reading it. Still in the early chapters but liking it so far.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound
Also newly discovered, the Samantha Sutton series by Jordan Jacobs. Book one, THE LABYRINTH OF LIES, is on the shelf. The description says it's "Indiana Jones meets Nancy Drew." Yes, please! Action, myths, mystery and archaeological adventure, this is perfect summer reading.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor is set in Nigeria where a young albino girl feels completely out of place until she discovers she has magical abilities. Okorafor is a phenomenal storyteller, so I'm very interested in this tale. The kids are also into learning about different parts of the world and other cultures. Throw in the fantasy and we have a perfect fit.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin is a fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore. It follows a young girl and her fantastical journey to find the Old Man of the Moon. Lin has quite a few books that I'm interested in getting for the kids, but I thought that the journey aspect as well as the Chinese folklore would most pique their interest right now.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound
THE POWER OF POPPY PENDLE by Natasha Lowe looks adorable (yes, I'm totally judging the book by its cover).  I took the book to school to show the girlchild and her friend was drawn to it right away. She's getting a copy for her birthday next month. A powerful witch who doesn't want to be a witch, even though her parents and teachers tell her she should. She'd rather bake. Includes recipes.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

**Another phenomenal source of recommendations for fantasy for young readers is this SF Signal Mind Meld.**

What books are you adding to your shelves for summer reading?
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hogwarts Is Here!

Are you a muggle that's always been a little sad that your Hogwarts letter never came? Did you get sorted at Pottermore, only to be disappointed by the site's lack of anything to really do? Well friends, you are in luck because Hogwarts Is Here!

Hogwarts Is Here is an incredibly ambitious fan project that dreams of a digital Hogwarts designed like an online college. Finally embracing the digital age, Hogwarts has made it's courses available online so muggles can gain the same education as their wizard friends. You receive your own Hogwarts acceptance letter and a whole schedule of courses. There's no sorting involved, you pick your House and work to gain points. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that my house, Slytherin, is currently leading the point total for House Cup.

What makes Hogwarts Is Here stand out from other fan projects is the fact that you actually have to take the classes! You can't advance in the game without doing homework, writing essays and taking tests! That sound you just heard was one Hermoine Granger fainting from sheer overwhelming joy.

That's right, when you sign up to become a student at Hogwarts you REALLY become a student. You're given books, dorms and a class schedule. None of the courses are exactly strenuous though they can be challenging. My day has been spent getting texts from my sister complaining that she got a C on her Potions quiz and lost her house points (she's a Gryffindor. I'm the black sheep of the family). If you progress enough with your classes you even get the opportunity to take your O.W.L.S and N.E.W.T.S! When you become a third year, you can also begin to write for the school paper, the Daily Owl!

Like any website that involves being even vaguely social, you get a profile page and your points and scores are displayed proudly. Besides the classes, you also get to set up a Gringotts Bank account and buy books, potions and wands. The site is free so the money is as imaginary as your degree will be.

The site is being hammered right now by all the activity as people sign up to begin their illustrious wizarding careers but it's worth the wait! After an influx of publicity from muggle publications like Slate, Buzzfeed and Mashable they are adding additional servers and professors to handle the load of new prospective students.

Join other wizards and witches and get ready to do some homework! Harry Potter fans are the best fans because we find doing fake home to be incredibly exciting.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a three hundred word essay for Defense Against the Dark Arts class due. 
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How Frozen Should Have Ended

Like most of the world, I am currently still obsessed with Frozen. It was a well crafted movie with killer songs and a great cast. What's not to love?

Even better are the parodies that are still coming out about it. They range from "eh" to outrageously creative. This is one of the latter.

From the twisted, terrible minds that have brought us the "How It Should Have Ended" animated series on Youtube comes "How Frozen Should Have Ended" and it's EXCELLENT.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Secret's Out, Megan Loves "Twisted Miracles"

by Megan S.

I'm absolutely horrible at keeping secrets, so I'm pretty proud of myself for keeping this one for as long as I have.*  I purchased AJ Larrieu's new novel, Twisted Miracles, and I loved it.

So, what was with all the sneaking around?
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Funding a New Adventure in Kate Milford's Arcana

I adore Kate Milford's writing. Her middle grade (but still enjoyable for adults) books are full of intriguing characters and marvelous adventure, with the right mix of darkness and hope.

The work-in-progress cover.
Last year, Milford launched The Arcana Project, funded on kickstarter and resulted in an amazing story and artwork (the artists include illustrator Andrea Offermann and very talented reader artists). She is back again with Bluecrowne. You can view the Kickstarter page here.

There are still 2 weeks to go and the project is about 44% funded. At 50%, the bonus short stories start.

A little bit from the page (and Kate) about the history of the project:

"Bluecrowne is the second self-published (print and digital) book in the Arcana Project series. The Arcana Project books take place in and around the world of my traditionally-published novels The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands, and the forthcoming Greenglass House (Clarion, 2014) and The Left-Handed Fate (Holt, 2015). For those who've read my earlier books, Bluecrowne will act as a sort of connector from those books to the two that are coming out next. However, Bluecrowne is a stand-alone novel. It is not necessary to have read any of my other books to read and enjoy it.
The big idea:

As I explained last year when I launched the Arcana Project with The Kairos Mechanism, I want to experiment with self-publishing as a way to promote and enhance traditional releases by providing extra content to readers in the form of complete, related tales. I want to create these extra stories in ways that involve readers directly, and to use resources that support independent bookstores. In 2014 and 2015 I have two books with new protagonists that are (sort of secretly) related to the world of The Boneshaker. Bluecrowne is your road map to how they are connected, and also a stand-alone story in its own right. With your participation, it will be released in April.

The Kairos Mechanism (Arcana #1), was funded and published in September of 2012, and it got some fairly impressive accolades from folks at Kirkus, Bookslut, and BoingBoing. It was nominated for the Cybil Awards and included in BoingBoing's holiday gift guide as well as NYPL rock star Betsy Bird's 100 Magnificent Children's Books of 2012. People liked it, is what I'm saying. Kickstarter backers received a digital edition with a bonus short story. The illustrated edition included original art from fifteen young artists (see below for more on the Illustrated Kairos). Good times were had by all.

So now it's time for Volume 2."

Awesome story by a gifted author + phenomenal artwork from Andrea Offermann and reader artists = SO MUCH WIN

I'm still a relative newbie to the whole kickstarter phenomena, but so far have had excellent luck with all of the projects I've backed.

If fantasy rooted in folklore is your thing, might I suggest reading THE BONESHAKER and THE BROKEN LANDS, and then hopping over to Kickstarter to back BLUECROWNE.

Kate Milford:

THE BONESHAKER  Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

THE BROKEN LANDS Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

Note: Although there is a note in the "Rewards and Money Stuff" about mailings to bloggers, I am not in that company. I am just a happy reader and a backer of the project and I'm not getting anything extra for posting this.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The 20 Best Siblings in Science Fiction and Fantasy

by Sara N.

Have you appreciated your siblings enough recently? If not, now's the time; April 10 is National Sibling Day.

Let's keep that festive mood for this completely made-up occasion going by celebrating the good (and so bad they're delicious) examples of siblings in science fiction and fantasy books, movies and TV shows. Read on to see if your favorites make the list.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Checking In With The 52 Book Challenge

Hello and welcome to your first 52 Book Challenge check in! Where are your book counts?

For those not in the know, the 52 Book Challenge is a way to challenge yourself and read 52 books in 2014, roughly one book a week. Books, e-books, short stories, novellas and graphic novels count but magazines, single issue comics and web articles don't. Last year I read 59 and a half books so my target is a little higher.

This week is the 15th week of 2014 (where does the time go, I ask you?) so you should have 15 books under your belt to be on pace. I'm at 15 right now, which puts me below where I should be if I want to beat my total from last year. I started the year off rough with a severe book ennui that left me with no desire to pick up a new volume of anything. That ennui has been shattered by an outpouring of incredible new science fiction novels that have been like a cattle prod to my imagination. I'm currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir, which Sara reviewed last week and I agree with her review. It's an intensely engrossing novel. It's so good that I nearly missed my train stop reading it... and then strongly considered continuing reading and missing my stop entirely because I literally could not put it down.

My other reading challenge is going incredibly well. On January 1st I started a re-read of all seven Harry Potter books. I haven't missed a day yet despite being laid low by a four-week long plague in March. I dutifully read a chapter every single night. It's actually a nice, relaxing activity that gets me ready to sleep. It hasn't been all shine and rainbows though. My sleeping habits are pretty poor and I've found myself staring down the barrel of a forty page chapter at 1am on a Tuesday night and regretted everything. Overall it's been really fun re-reading them and noticing things I completely missed when I was younger and noting the differences between the film and the novels. I just started on book 5, The Order of the Phoenix.

So how are you doing with the 52 Book Challenge? Only 37 weeks left!
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Your Guide to the Best Dive Bars in the Multiverse

by Megan S.

Wouldn't you like to get away where everybody knows your name and, if they aren't glad you came, they're at least not totally opposed to the idea?  Have you considered getting a beer at a dive bar?  Neighborhood pubs are a great place to rest and relax with your closest buds over a cheap cocktail and maybe avoid the destruction of the planet or, conversely, plan to take one out.  Either way, you have some fantastic choices to pick from in the multiverse.  Here's a guide to a few of our favorites.
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Friday, April 4, 2014

On Not Reading the Final Book in a Trilogy: Understandable or Incomprehensible?

by Sara N.

We here at Stellar Four don't always finish what we start. Earlier this year, Megan 'fessed up to bailing on my beloved Harry Dresden. And I, too, have stopped reading long-running series when the sequels kept diminishing in quality and there was no end in sight. (In other words, see ya, Sookie Stackhouse. Stop calling, Sandman Slim. It's not me, it's you, Anita Blake.)

This is a very good trilogy. The ones I'm about to discuss are not.
That said, only a masochist wouldn't bother to pick up the final book of a trilogy, right? I mean, you've put all of that time and emotional energy into reading the first two installments, and the final book of the series is going to wrap up all of those dangling plots and put a THE END on the story and its characters. You'd have to be nuts not to find out how the story all pulls together, obviously.

Yeah, that's what I always thought, too. Yet a number of trilogy enders are being published this year, and I just don't care enough to read the final installments. Let's run down why.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tea Time

The weather is getting a bit warmer, but as the latest rainstorm drove home, we still have plenty of days where all you want to do is curl up with a comfy blankie, a good book, and a lovely cuppa tea. Whether with friends or alone, it's always tea party time.

Green, black, rooibos, white, oolong, chai, I do adore a good cup of tea. I also covet many mugs, cups and infusers. And lots of tea-inspired clothing.

Here are some tea time treasures I have on my want list.

I don't mind a little weaponry in my teacup. Perfect for those days when you need to prepare to unleash a can of whoop-ass on the world.

Fabeled Axe tea infuser from ThinkGeek
 This octopus tea infuser is just too adorable.
Diving Octopus tea infuser from Plasticland
Of course, we need some Doctor Who on the list. I've seen Doctor Who teapots, and Doctor Who mugs (I have the disappearing Tardis mug), but this was new to me:
Tardis tea infuser from ThinkGeek
More tea-inspired goodies after the break.
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The New Golden Age of Science Fiction

Every year I try to branch out a little more and read outside my comfort zone. Being open to new types of books can be surprisingly hard but I've tried to keep an open mind. I've discovered romance novels I love after years of looking down my stupid nose at the genre. I've found amazing works of non-fiction that keep me on the very edge of my seat like the best suspenseful mystery. I dove into the early years of fantasy novels and came away with an appreciation of what became the foundation of all the current series I love. So many of my favorite books owe so much to the likes of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Elric of Melnibone and the Books of Amber.

There was one genre that always seemed to elude me, though. Try as I might, the building blocks of science fiction were beyond me. I have no idea why dragons and sorcerers make more sense to me than space ships and aliens but I've never been able to keep myself afloat in science fiction. I've read the greats like Asimov and Banks, but I never stuck with a book for long. Even John Scalzi's brilliant Old Man's War took me longer than I'd like to admit to finish just because I couldn't truly get into the world. Add "miltary" or "space opera" into the sci-fi mix and I was well and truly lost. It's embarrassing to admit as a rabid fan of sci-fi and fantasy works. Maybe I wasn't reading the right science fiction? Maybe I had to wait for the right moment.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My April Read: FIRELIGHT

Where did March go? I think I misplaced a few days or weeks there. I suppose that technically this is supposed to be a prank-filled day, but I'll leave that to the professionals.

It is time to get another book off the shelf, a book that has been languishing and in need of attention. This month it is:

The blurbage for FIRELIGHT (Darkest London #1) by Kristen Callihan:

"Once the flames are ignited . . .

Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family's fortune decimated and forced her to wed London's most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity . . .
Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it's selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can't help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn't felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask."

 What I've gleaned so far about this: the male lead is cursed, takes a bride but thinks he can't have her because of said curse, tries to protect her all the while unknowing that she is a kickass firestarter who is more than capable of taking care of business. Romance, action, danger, you know it.

Yes, please!

How about you? Are you in or have you already read it?

FIRELIGHT: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

Kristen Callihan:

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