5 Interesting Links for 01-18-2019

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Innovation (Science)

Using extra-terrestrial labs, scientists have been able to form Bose-Einstein condensates that collapse in seconds on the Earth.

Programming (Early Education)

The title of this article might be eye catching, but the text explores how most programming tools aimed at children teach them the wrong aspects of programming. That approach may hinder their development not just in programming but also in life.

Gut and Brain (Health)

New research points to an even stronger reason to control your salt intake as links to a high salt diet may exist with several autoimmune disorders. Like most things, the focus on salt annoys me because it’s considered standard advice for heart issues. Clinics rarely know what to do with people who are normally on a low-salt diet and so don’t look further for causes. However, for those who are eating out a lot and having many of the new fad treats with rock salt, this is something to consider. (Too little salt causes migraines, dehydration, and other serious issues, which is a large part of my objection.)

Scams (Interesting People)

A glimpse into the mentality and process that led a well-paid security officer to become a mastermind in swindling the McDonald’s Monopoly game.

Technique (Writing)

A look at how to balance intensity of narrative to provide a varied reading experience.

Vizions of the Future

Posted in Education, Health, Interesting Links, Interesting People, Programming, Research, Space, Writing | Leave a comment

To Free a Captured Heart by R.L. Naquin

To Free a Captured Heart by R.L. NaquinThe blurb for this book didn’t quite match the story so some of it confused me at first. But then, if you’d told me this was a book about a djinn and her friends trapped into being guests at a casino, I might have given it a pass. It wouldn’t seem like much could happen of interest. The story does all take place inside a casino hotel and the attached riverboat casino, however, and there is debt involved. The reasons and situations were not what I had expected, though. Instead, this is a strong urban fantasy with an often spunky tone and a lot going on. The main plot is a mystery full of twists and turns.

The story stands alone despite being a late entry in a complex world. I have not read the earlier series and had no trouble enjoying this one. I am considering looking up the other books, though, because the hints dropped in this one are intriguing. While the book has a lovely ending that lives up to the happily ever after promise of romance, I think people expecting a romance novel might be disappointed. If you go in with urban fantasy in mind, you should have a lot of fun with the read.

Like most urban fantasy, there’s a light level mostly in interactions within the team with a deeper, and darker, story underneath. The team is a mix of two djinns, one-half djinn, a wooden golem, and a ghost. Their responsibility is to help souls cross over by gathering them up and sending them on at the depository.

Kam’s team is sent to solve the mystery of why so many souls are gathering here. The costs of doing their job might be high, but the team is intent on saving both lives and souls, so it’s worth it. The master villain behind it all is both childlike and truly villainous for all he doesn’t seem to recognize the extent of his depravity.

What passes as a love story is between Kam and Tahm, both djinns. Kam ran away from home when her family betrothed her to Tahm, a much older friend of her brother. She had a huge crush on him and couldn’t bear being trapped in a marriage with unrequited love. The situation was more complicated than she’d assumed, as we learn throughout the book, but maybe she’s more ready for it now in any case. Despite what I said about this not reading like a romance, there is clear development in their relationship, and I like how it complicates their job.

Tahm’s brother is embroiled in the mystery on the other side. There are many possibilities offered for his role, both bitter and bittersweet, that the team uncovers in their investigation. Ash, the half djinn, has her own complications to deal with. The arrival and departure of other friends made in the earlier series does a good job of showing the true family Kam has made here among the Hidden (non-human intelligences with or without magic) on Earth.

I’ve tried to give you a glimpse of the characters and the strengths in the story without spoiling anything, and it has enough twists to make that difficult. This is a fun read with a very dark underside. It looks at the dangers of power and how something that sounds reasonable, but underhanded, can become unbelievably horrible. Redemption and forgiveness appear as themes as well, along with the love story.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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5 Interesting Links for 01-11-2019

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Society (Role-playing Games)

The re-establishment of Dungeons and Dragons as both entertainment and social engagement when it first seemed to isolate players from society, a sign of how much the world has changed.

Innovation (Bookstores)

An out-of-the-box solution to finding a big enough reader audience to support a bookstore.

History (Film)

For those film and history buffs among you, here’s a collection of films available on the web that give a glimpse into history through the movie camera lens.

Freelancers (Money Management)

While the money management techniques are targeted for authors, they are worth considering for any job with unsteady income flow.

Diversity (Employment)

Fortune Magazine has created a sortable list that ranks the top 100 companies by diversity. There’s a lot of information in this list for both those seeking a more diverse work environment and those studying diversity across different industries.

Box Set 1 The Steamship Chronicles

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The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine ArdenI have enjoyed this series from the start because it sweeps you away into the time of Russia’s transition between old religions and new with all the conflicts and difficulties that involves. Arden brings the chyerti, old peoples, to life while balancing questions of faith, magic, and personhood in a grand adventure with both darkness and amazing discovery. It encompasses a world between times and a battle much bigger than all but a few could realize.

The Winter of the Witch is no exception. It is the perfect culmination of what came before and offers both a harder road and a better solution than I anticipated, leaving me with regrets only because it is the final book in the series. For those of you who wait until a series is complete, now’s your chance to explore a culturally enthralling tale with deep questions to ponder. I cling to a slight hope, though, of a companion novel as Vasya has more adventures ahead of her.

This book contains two intertwined arcs, but the first ends long before the book does. It could have made for a satisfying conclusion all on its own, but when the second arc takes command of the book, it brings the story to a stronger, deeper end stretching all the way back to The Bear and the Nightingale.

The story centers on Vasya as did the previous ones, but she is much more than the wild girl she begins the series as or the witch the Muscovites believe her to be. The chyerti know. They see her potential even when she’s blind to it, but she’s not so blind that she refuses to see when the world depends on her waking up to her role.

Nor is she the only complex character. Whether human or not, the characters live by their own rules, beliefs, and expectations. Some are ghosts, others mushrooms, but they have their own lives. Seeing Vasya navigate between them and her own expectations is fascinating. Her efforts don’t come without a cost though, and sometimes she’s not the one called to pay it. This is a novel where actions have consequences. Power does not equal blamelessness with the cost in madness or regret at the very least.

There are many powerful moments in the book, often around the complexity of the characters, whether it’s the mad priest revealing his doubts and grief in art capable of swaying the Bear, or the gift Vasya gives to Morozko, the Winter King, and what he offers her in the end.

The narrative is one of learning and growing in acceptance. It clashes with both devil stories, and the purity of those who follow the new god and cast down the old. It raises questions about those rules that come from humanity not divine and yet are enforced as though from a greater source. This is not a binary world but one that recognizes good and evil in all things with none innately one or the other. Everything has the ability to choose between the two. It’s beautiful and far from easy as the characters struggle with that ability when circumstances pull them to one side or the other. There’s the same uneasy relationship between old and new traditions with some able to recognize it while others attempt to paint their opponents on either side as evil and never look further.

It’s not just the message that draws me though. The events work out through careful seeding, sometimes allowing me to predict and other times surprising me but in an “of course” sort of way. This speaks to the immersion where the logic of the world is so stable it avoids the easy solution for the right one and makes that choice real to the reader as much as the characters.

Reading the afterword, it’s fascinating to see how Arden blended actual events into the story so seamlessly. This feels like the real answer to questions still being debated by historians. I’m glad I didn’t know the history beforehand because anticipation, good and bad, would have stripped away some of the tension.

Also, since I noted the issues with many POVs in my last review, I need to say Arden similarly uses many perspectives, but they work to tie the different happenings together, building the web in which they’re all entangled, rather than abandoning the other characters.

The book brought me to tears, both of joy and loss. It’s not a simple, or comfortable, read, but that’s only true because the characters came to life and made their grief or wonder my own. I’ll miss the time I spent in this Russia, but I leave it satisfied both in the story and the state the characters have achieved.

P.S. I received this copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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Things That Make Me Smile No.155: A Dragon Out of Glass

A dragon and glass forming. What could be more delightful? The skill and precision of these crafters is simply amazing.

Posted in Art, Music, Crafts, etc., Smiles | 2 Comments