Book 23 - 2018

Book 23: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers - 364 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Lovelace was once merely a ship's artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has to start over in a synthetic body, in a world where her kind are illegal. She's never felt so alone.

But she's not alone, not really. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall Lovelace, is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that, huge as the galaxy may be, it's anything but empty.


Thoughts:
This book is the stand-alone sequel to Chambers’ debut novel 'A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet'. In my opinion, it is even better than its predecessor. It's a tighter story, with a smaller pool of characters, and it uses one of my favourite story-telling devices - the alternative POV, complementary story approach. This allows for experiences to be echoed, points reinforced, and because of the characters chosen to alternate between, provides for a really nice character evolution.

The first POV is that of Lovelace, or Sidra as she renames herself, the AI on the Wayfarer ship featured in ALWTASAP. Now housed within an illegal body kit, Sidra has to adapt to being a 'person', learning to deal with the limitations that gives her, but also the opportunities. She is provided a home and support by Pepper and Blue, runaways from a planet that effectively enslaves people like them.

The second POV is that of Jane 23, a ten year old girl (initially) who knows nothing outside the factory she works in with a whole group of other girls called Jane. When Jane 23 escapes, she is 'rescued' by Owl, the AI on an abandoned ship dumped in a scrapyard. Owl effectively raises Jane, creating a rather unusual relationship between Jane and AIs in general. Jane and Sidra's stories eventually intertwine, providing for the character evolution noted earlier. It's really beautiful to watch. There are also a raft of really interesting support characters, but what I loved the most was what this book had to say on two topics. The first was tattoos. About 100 pages in, Sidra meets Tak, an alien tattooist, who Sidra questions on the purpose of tattoos. Tak's explanation, for me, is the most eloquent explanation of why people get tattoos, and really resonated with me. I think, if anyone is to ever ask me about why I have my tattoos, part of Tak's explanation could not help but bleed through - the page of dialogue in this book verbalises beautifully what I've probably always known in myself but never been able to express.
The other thing I loved is at the very end, when Sidra explains purpose to Tak. Again, it puts into words something I've probably always felt. I don't know how Chambers' does it, but its a beautiful thing!
There is an echo of Star Trek in these books for me - allegorical story-telling, deep analysis of what makes us human, a general aversion to conflict, and a hopeful perspective on the future. Chambers' story isn't necessarily new (Star Trek covered some of the themes around recognition of AIs a lot in TNG and VOY) but its really nice to reflect on.


23 / 50 books. 46% done!


7171 / 15000 pages. 48% done!

Currently reading:
- Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
- The Help
by Kathryn Stockett - 451 pages
- The House of the Seven Gables
by Nathaniel Hawthorne - 224 pages

And coming up:
- The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
- The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
- The Hiding Place
by Corrie Ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill - 241 pages
Reading

Book 20-21

Magus of the Library, Vol. 1Magus of the Library, Vol. 1 by Mitsu Izumi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This manga is like a love letter to books and librarians. Books in this world literally shape the world and librarians are their caretakers and outrightly magical themselves, just like their charges. The story centers on a six year old boy, Theo, who is different from the townspeople (think renn level tech) who mostly look Middle Eastern/African. He's almost Elfin with long ears and pale ears. It has led to some next level bullying and even his sister suffers from ostracization because of him. They are quite poor. His only solace are books. He loves to read and dreams of being a kafna, a librarian and go to the royal city where there is a library with every book ever.

The problem is the library in his town is sponsored by a wealthy merchant who has broken library rules and has excluded the poor thinking they would mistreat the books. Theo has been banned from reading. And that's when the librarians, all women, ride into his life. One of them befriends Theo and we learn about all the book finding/repairing/etc jobs the librarians do and we learn about Theo, not to mention a prophecy of the magus of the library.

It's an interesting story. It's very well drawn and by the end we've fast forwarded several years to a young teen version of Theo whom I'm assuming we'll spend some time on. I'd like to see more of this one.



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GhostwriterGhostwriter by Lissa Bryan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I remember getting this from the author at the Ohioana book festival and I'm sure I had the idea that it was a paranormal mystery with a romantic subplot. It's straight up paranormal romance and that is so not my jam. I'm not the audience for this. That said, for the most part I did enjoy it.

Sara's life is unraveling. She's withering under an overbearing you can't do anything right mother and a boyfriend who left her with the bills to go get engaged to someone else. She's flat broke and with the slow death of print journalism she's lost her job. The only thing she going for her is an advance to ghostwrite a biography about a minor politician with nothing more than her public speeches and a few bon mots about her life.

In her search for affordable housing, her realtor, Ginny, takes her to an isolated island that her family owns and the only house there used to belong Seth Fortner, one of Sara's favorite authors who died mysteriously in the 1920s and is one of Ginny's relatives. Sara falls instantly in love with the place but once there finds she can't write the book (no motivation) but has all the motivation in the world to poke around the attic where she finds a stash of Seth's letters.

As she gets to know him, the haunting starts and I really enjoyed that. Once it started down the paranormal romance pathway I started losing interest (not because it's badly written but it's just not my thing at all) Of course with paranormal romances you only have a couple of options. The ghost moves on and the romance ends, the living person stays in the house in a relationship with a ghost or they die.

I won't spoil the end but man I was waiting for her to die from liver failure from how much acetaminophen she took. Over all Seth and Sara were interesting characters and if love story between a modern day woman and the ghost of someone who died in the 20s appeals to you, you'd probably like this.



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Locke

Book #16: Dracula by Bram Stoker



Number of pages: 440

This is a book that I read when I was at school, and decided to read again following the BBC's adaptation earlier this year.

I'd forgotten what a hard book this was at times, but remembered its unconventional, and post-modern writing style. Instead of a standard narrative, the book takes the form of a series of journal entries; for the first four chapters, these are all from Jonathan Harker, who is invited to Dracula's castle, not realising his host is a vampire. After chapter 4, there are several narrators, whom Bram Stoker gives different writing styles, and some (chapters from the point of view of Dr. Seward for example) are written densely, to the point where I was occasionally having to go back a few pages to check that I'd not missed anything.

One thing that struck me, upon re-reading this, was that Dracula himself barely appears at all, but his presence is felt throughout the whole book. The only way that I can possibly fault this novel is that, with Dracula now being synonymous with vampires, anyone who reads this will know exactly what the book is about, and also that you can guess how it will end. I was glad I gave this another read, though.

Next book: Seashaken Houses (Tom Nancollas)

Book 22 - 2018

Book 22: Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich - 309 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Trenton, New Jersey, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has inherited a "lucky" bottle from her Uncle Pip. Problem is, Uncle Pip didn't specify if the bottle brought good luck or bad luck....

BAD LUCK
Vinnie, of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, has run up a gambling debt of $786,000 with mobster Bobby Sunflower and is being held until the cash can be produced.

GOOD LUCK
Being in the business of tracking down people, Stephanie, office manager Connie, and file clerk Lula have an advantage in finding Vinnie.

BAD LUCK
Finding a safe place to hide Vinnie turns out to be harder than raising $786,000. Not even local stoner Walter "Moon Man" Dunphy is up to the task.

GOOD LUCK
Between a bonds office yard sale, Mooner's Hobbit-Con charity event, and Uncle Pip's lucky bottle, they just might raise enough money to save the business, and Vinnie, from ruin.

BAD LUCK
Saving Vincent Plum Bail Bonds means Stephanie can keep her job as a bounty hunter--and keep hunting down a man wanted for polygamy, a turnpike toilet paper bandit, and a drug dealer with a pet alligator named Mr. Jingles.

GOOD LUCK
Being a bounty hunter comes with its perks, namely Trenton's hottest cop, Joe Morelli, and the dark and dangerous security expert, Ranger. With any luck at all, Uncle Pip's lucky bottle will have Stephanie getting lucky--the only question is...with whom?


Thoughts:
A Vinnie centric Stephanie Plum novel this time, with Stephanie, Lula and Connie forced to try work out how to save Vinnie from a Bulgarian mobster. This one is Ranger focused as opposed to Morelli, with another apparent break up over nothing for those two. Fortunately Stephanie manages to keep her pants on around Ranger, though it makes me wonder how long it will be before those two sleep together again, and how much she actually has invested in her Morelli relationship. A surprise towards the end might signal progression for Stephanie and the bail bonds office, but I highly doubt it. Still it was fun, a nice quick read, and exactly what I needed after a rough week!


22 / 50 books. 44% done!


6807 / 15000 pages. 45% done!

Currently reading:
- Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
- A Closed and Common Orbit
by Becky Chambers - 364 pages
- The Help
by Kathryn Stockett - 451 pages

And coming up:
- The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
- The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
- The House of the Seven Gables
by Nathaniel Hawthorne - 224 pages
book collector

Book 19

No Rest for the WickedNo Rest for the Wicked by Phoebe Darqueling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is one of those I wish I could give half stars to. 3.5 would be about right. Viola "Vi" Thorne can see spirits even if she doesn't want to. One finds her and begs her to help him and his young bridge. Tobias had come west to California (just a few years after the Civil war) to strike it rich. While he did get some gold, he also got dead. He wanted Vi to help retrieve the gold and give it to his wife, Bonnie.

Against her better judgement, Vi does and ends up meshed up with outlaws, loan sharks and something far worse: her own past. Her good friend and partner (they were con men), Peter's ghost has showed up along with news of her husband's death. Peter has given his life to save hers and Vi heads back toward New Orleans to find his killer even as her unwanted supernatural abilities begin to ramp up. She takes Bonnie, now her fast friend, and a young African American boy, George, who she feels responsible for with her on the train back east.

I liked Vi and her friends. I did have some problems with the plot, nothing major, like the poker game against the bad guys in the beginning because it went on a bit long. I really wanted a bigger reaction from Vi to Peter's death. It seems stronger in the blurb than we actually see on page. This was a friend she done dirty (and I was never really sure why) who died protecting her but it doesn't seem to have that big of an affect on her other than for her to go back east to figure out why he was killed. I just wanted something more I guess. Vi coming into her powers was good though.

I knew when I bought this it was a series but I'm the type who wants book one to be mostly wrapped up before we get to book two. This just ends. We don't even get to New Orleans. Oh she runs into Peter's killer but not there. So the second half of the book is the train ride east but we don't even make it to our destination. We take a side trip to Chicago where Vi is originally from and her family, whose help she needs, still lives. I was fine with that but I really wanted more closer. That's a big thing for me.

Being just a few years post Civil War, you can imagine there is going to be some racism directed at Vi's companions, well George. Peter is also African American but he's a ghost... Also if you don't like epithets, you might be annoyed. You're going to see 'the reluctant medium' 'the relapsed grifter' multiple times. I do want to see what happens next however.




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book collector

Books 17 & 18

Prose and Cons (Magical Bookshop, #2)Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


For the most part I really enjoyed it but there are some of the cozy standards in this that are starting to annoy me (and that's more a me thing and maybe I need a bit of a break from cozies). Violet is helping her grandmother Daisy with their bookstore in New York's wine country not all that far from Niagra Falls. It's a 'magic' bookstore inside a Victorian house with a birch tree living inside it watered by a healing spring and it selects books for people who need it and reading material for Violet that help her to solve cases. Oddly that's not the problem for me. I'm good with that paranormal aspect. I think it's fun.

One of the things that does bug me is the inevitable love triangle. I'm pretty much over that in any fiction genre you care to name. Make them polyamorous or stop bugging me with this nonsense. The two warring love interests for Violet are town mayor Nathan (former boyfriend growing up from a very snooty family) and town sheriff David Rainwater (who is a better match and doesn't treat her as high handedly as Nathan does).

David is a Red Inker, a local writers group member, and they meet at the book store. It's wine festival time and in the Red Inkers Poe reading, one of their number, the nasty-tempered Anastasia is killed within the book store and another of their number, Violet's friend, Sadie, is suspected. Naturally Violet has to try to prove Sadie innocent.

For the most part that was good. But here's where some of the annoying cozy standards come in, like breaking and entering (that goes unpunished even when caught), stupid risk taking (and others calling it stupid in the book doesn't make it better) withholding stuff from the police. It's just part of the genre it seems and it really bugs me.

Overall I do like Violet and her world and this was for the most part a fun read. I'd read more.





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空挺ドラゴンズ 1 [Kuutei Dragons 1] (Drifting Dragons, #1)空挺ドラゴンズ 1 [Kuutei Dragons 1] by Taku Kuwabara

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I struggled with rating this. For me it was more like a two but it's a me thing and I try to rate on the quality of the story. Also part of my issue was I very obviously didn't read the blurb very carefully. I bought this at Books-a-million and apparently my brain shortcircuited when I saw steampunk + dragons + Netflix adaptation or I would have read the blurb better because everything I didn't like was right there in it.

Mika is a draker and our main point of view character (him and Takita, a young recruit). Well let's just leave it with what's actually in the blurb. Dragon's are the whales of the sky and they provide food/leather/building materials etc. Don't get me wrong. I grew up in farm country. I'm very aware of what happens with cows, pigs and so on. That said I don't want to read about watching them being hunted, slaughtered, butchered and consumed.

And that's ninety percent of what this is. It's like Moby Dick without the white whale (yet). I have no desire to read (or watch an anime) about whaling (substitute dragons for whale) and the weirdest part of this was there's a hint that dragons might be sentient (which makes it worse) and that the towns want all the dragon-products but are absolutely awful to the drakers.

There are five chapters in this. Four of them are about Mika and company killing and eating dragons and the last one is about them fighting off airship pirates (I could hear Abney Park in my head reading this one). That chapter was fun because it gave Mika something more than his insatiable desire for dragon meat.

The storyline, is however, well done (hence the third star) and the art is very good. But this just isn't the story for me. I came away very disappointed (and had I read the blurb I could have avoided that so that's all one me).



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Book 21 - 2018

Book 21: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - 435 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
The Black Swan is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don't understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, Antifragile, Skin in the Game, and The Bed of Procrustes. A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives. Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don't know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the "impossible." For years, Taleb has studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. We restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential, while large events continue to surprise us and shape our world. In this revelatory book, Taleb explains everything we know about what we don't know, and this second edition features a new philosophical and empirical essay, "On Robustness and Fragility," which offers tools to navigate and exploit a Black Swan world. Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications, The Black Swan will change the way you look at the world. Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and unusual stories to tell. He has a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory. The Black Swan is a landmark book--itself a black swan.


Thoughts:
This is a really, really important book, but man is it a slog to read! Taleb's idea throws a lot of ideas about forecasting and prediction completely out the window, but his idea makes sense! It's a book that everyone in Finance should read and have to be tested on (though they'd probably changes careers after reading it - and I say that as someone who works in Finance). The main problem, and the reason why I've given this book 4 rather than 5 stars, is that its a hard read. Partly a result of Taleb's writing style, which feels like you are on one of his walks, listening to him talk, as he meanders from scientific fact to story to his point and back again. Taleb acknowledges that his writing style is more storyteller than academic in the acknowledgements and while normally I'd love this, at times it resulted in some of the world's longest sentences, or very odd sentence construction that made it hard to read. Secondly, the content, particularly the mathematical content, went a little over my head at times. This made the story side of the book important, but nonetheless, I still had to put the book down after two or three pages very often simply to absorb what it was telling me. So it took me ages to read it! Putting that aside, Taleb's ideas about the impact of highly improbable events and how we are just so bad at considering these explains much of human history (the end of the Cold War anyone!), and it makes you look back at all you know and reconsider it in light of that. It was also rather gratifying to read about as someone who is often shut down for taking the long term view on things because 'that doesn't matter right now, or is highly unlikely'. The bell curve also gets a beating in this book (yay!) and I know its flaws are a key takeaway for me. Overall, a really important book that could do with a little less bloat in its text to ensure that the message hits the maximum number of readers.


21 / 50 books. 42% done!


6498 / 15000 pages. 43% done!

Currently reading:
- Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
- Sizzling Sixteen
by Janet Evanovich - 307 pages
- A Closed and Common Orbit
by Becky Chambers - 364 pages

And coming up:
- The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
- The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
- The Help
by Kathryn Stockett - 451 pages
malcolm 3 quarters

Books 14-15

Vinland Saga, Volume 9: Fighting for a FutureVinland Saga, Volume 9: Fighting for a Future by Makoto Yukimura

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I feel like we're finally back on a more interesting track. Thorfinn along with Einar, Leif and a few other friends are on a quest to get backing to try to go to Vinland (North America), but there are many obstacles, lack of funding, runaway brides stowing away, savage pursuit, orphaned toddlers and Thorfinn's past coming back to haunt him.

That last one is the one that interested me. Enter Hild, a young woman with a scarred face. She wasn't what women are wanted to be back 1090, she's intelligent, with great skills in engineering but it all comes to a tragic end and she's now a huntress. Thorfinn's childhood was soaked in blood and he was complicit in many atrocities. His desire to never lift another weapon now doesn't change that. Hild wants him to pay for what he's done to her in the past.

She is a complex character that I really enjoyed.

As if Hild isn't bad enough, Floki, Thorkell and the Jomsvikings have caught up with Thorfinn who is now embroiled in their politics and fighting when all he wants is to be left alone to be a merchant and not his father's heir among their violent numbers. The art and history in this is fantastic. Thorfinn is still an interesting compelling character. I'm still along for the ride.



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Bright Young Dead (The Mitford Murders #2)Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I never read the first book but it felt like I had missed many books. There isn't much in this to hook you into Louisa or the Mitford girls (who are real. I'm always a bit iffy on using real people heavily in fictional works but that's a me thing). I have to say I found this rather slow. It felt overly long especially the various points of view, almost if you could have had two novels except of course the storylines eventually dove tailed.

Louisa is the maid to Nancy and Pamela Mitford who are part of the titular Bright Young Things, the one percenters of the 20s. At a fancy dress party thrown by the girls for their friends, one of them ends up dead, thrown from the bell tower and it seems it's Louisa's acquaintance, another maid, Dulcie is to blame. Louisa doesn't believe her but she also has to face she's almost as guilty because Dulcie did rob the young folk as they partied and Louisa unwittingly made this possible. Naturally she wants to prove Dulcie is innocent.

The other storyline follows Guy Sullivan, a young cop looking to make a name for himself (and a potential swain for Louisa) and Mary Moon, one of the few female cops (who weren't much more than secretaries and those handing out tickets etc back then). They're after Alice Diamond (also real) who is the head of the 40 thieves, a girl gang of criminals. It takes them to some of the same places as Louisa is going with her girls like dance clubs such as the 43 (also real).

It sounds like it should be fun but it's so draggy. Louisa spends too much time fretting over the exact same things. I got it the first time. Also she makes so many dumb choices it's hard to really feel sorry for her. This also ends in a way that makes me wonder if it can be called the Mitford Mysteries any more (well provided it goes as Louisa thinks it will. Guess we won't know until next book). I was super excited to find a mystery series set in the 20s but this just wasn't the book for me.



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rose

Book 6: Fire and Blood

Fire and Blood, by George R.R. Martin. Fans of the Game of Thrones  novels and who love delving into history and backstories MUST read this. It reads like histories put together by maesters, and follows the history of the infamous Targaryen family, starting with Aegon I and his conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, about 300 years before the events in Game of Thrones. The segment on the Dance of the Dragons was especially enjoyable, for it was written from the point of view of a maester who is primarily using three sources, and sometimes those sources conflict. It felt like a real history. It reminded me of the Silmarillion, except this is easier to follow and more cohesive. There's supposed to be a second volume, which I hope comes out soon. Would also love to see something like this for the other houses, like the Starks and the Lannisters. Also, I can't give a review without mentioning the incredible illustrations by Doug Wheatley. His charcoal art of the characters and various scenes are amazing. 

Currently reading: Grant, by Ron Chernow, A Woman of No Importance, by Sonia Purnell, and Careless People, by Sarah Churchwell.

Bones

Book #15: Trent's Own Case by E.C. Bentley & H. Warner Allen



Number of pages: 253

This was a completely blind read, also the second in a trilogy of books written at surprisingly long intervals (the gaps between titles are about twenty years). So, in this book, the eponymous Philip Trent has been called out to investigate another murder, apparently because he was one of the last to see the victim alive.

In this case, someone has signed a confession to having committed the act, but Trent doesn't seem to be so convinced, especially as he has (apparently) been framed for it himself.

I personally found this book a bit of a struggle at times; it felt too long-winded, and had too many flashbacks, even a flashback-within-a-flashback at one point. It wasn't the easiest of books to read, especially when it came up to lengthy summing up of the killer's motives. Personally, I wouldn't recommend this one.

Next book: Dracula (Bram Stoker)