June 8th, 2012


#23: Stop the world, I want to get off

Randall Stross's Planet Google reminds me a lot of an unfortunate encounter I had a long while ago with a distribution of Linux, prompted by my need to pull some files off a comp whose Windows installation had become corrupt. The Linux OS could rotate between four different desktops; boasted about forty titles in its Games folder; and even came with a tea timer installed (with separate settings for green, black, and fruit-flavored tea). There was no end to the impressive widgets on the program. What it could not do out of the box, however, was write files to a blank CD - you had to go to the command line and write a mini-program to access that function, and I never actually got it to work. Certain computer folks, I've noticed, are particularly blind when it comes to practicality - in their programming endeavors, they're so occupied with whether they could that they don't stop to think if they should.

Planet Google impresses in its chronicles of the neat-o inspirations and windfalls that made the company such a staggering success - such as how its search function started to take off just at the dot-com bust, enabling Google buy up server space at bargain-basement prices just when it needed it - but frankly, those details are blurred out by the author's jaw-dropping lack of perspective. He's still stuck in that late-'90's MICRO$OFT WINDOZE MIRITE mindset where MS is the undisputed kaiser of the computing world; Google, in his mind, is the plucky David out to knock this Goliath his mixed-metaphor throne, and anything they do in pursuit of this endeavor is not only justifiable but laudable. Admittedly, the privacy issues surrounding Google have become a lot more prominent in the four years since the book's publication, but even in 2008, Stross should be aware that it's Google, not Microsoft, that stands astride the future in possession of awesome worldwide corporate clout and a staggering amount of info about our personal lives, and that antics like disregarding copyright on every book in the Michigan State library and tracking the content of private e-mails to sell ads in its quest to "organize the world's information" are going to come across as more ominous than charming. But no: every time it dawns on Stross that Google's actions might be construed as malfeasance, he runs to the reader crying that see, see, Mom, what Microsoft's doing is so much worse!!! - even if it isn't nearly, and even if it in fact doesn't even relate to the issues at hand.

It's hard to understand how a New York Times reporter could be so easily distracted from the hard questions about the implications of Google's dominance. The book still performs an unsettling service, though, for its disturbing vision of the company's brave new world. Is that what Google wants for its planet - an army of adulant, unquestioning sycophants to put a bright face on its omnipotence and omnipresence? If so...well, see the post title.

Book #45 The Princess Bride

Author: William Goldman
Title: The Princess Bride
Genre: fantasy, fairytale, romance, adventure
My rating: 4/5

Once upon a time came a story so full of high adventure and true love that it became an instant classic and won the hearts of millions. Now in hardcover in America for the first time since 1973, this special edition of The Princess Bride is a true keepsake for devoted fans as well as those lucky enough to discover it for the first time. What reader can forget or resist such colorful characters as

Westley . . . handsome farm boy who risks death and much, much worse for the woman he loves; Inigo . . . the Spanish swordsman who lives only to avenge his father's death; Fezzik . . . the Turk, the gentlest giant ever to have uprooted a tree with his bare hands; Vizzini . . . the evil Sicilian, with a mind so keen he's foiled by his own perfect logic; Prince Humperdinck . . . the eviler ruler of Guilder, who has an equally insatiable thirst for war and the beauteous Buttercup; Count Rugen . . . the evilest man of all, who thrives on the excruciating pain of others; Miracle Max. . . the King's ex-Miracle Man, who can raise the dead (kind of); The Dread Pirate Roberts . . . supreme looter and plunderer of the high seas; and, of course, Buttercup . . . the princess bride, the most perfect, beautiful woman in the history of the world.

S. Morgenstern's timeless tale--discovered and wonderfully abridged by William Goldman--pits country against country, good against evil, love against hate. From the Cliffs of Insanity through the Fire Swamp and down into the Zoo of Death, this incredible journey and brilliant tale is peppered with strange beasties monstrous and gentle, and memorable surprises both terrible and sublime.

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book 17

Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
angst. beach read, high school, romance
3/5        - worth the read

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.

After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn't interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be - especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.

Lizzie is happy about her friend's burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles's friend, Will Darcy, who's snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn't seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it's because her family doesn't have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk - so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway?


I read this in a few hours. It was a light, fun read. I couldn't help but picture Matthew Macfayden and cast while reading. Which was awkward because they were just high school kids. Plus, I had this British accent in my head the whole time.

book and cup

#60 Manja - Anna Gmeyner (1938)

Anna Gmeyner the author of Manja began writing her novel in 1938 while living among a community of European exiles in Belsize Park in London. She had come as a refugee to London in 1935. According to Eva Ibbotson, Anna Gmeyner’s daughter, in her preface to the 2003 Persephone edition Manja was inspired by a one paragraph newspaper report about the fate of a twelve year old girl in a German town.

The novel with its somewhat controversial beginning was well received at the time it first appeared written under a pseudonym. However I think that reading it now – knowing what we do about what happened in Europe in the years after Anna Gmeyner was writing lends it a greater poignancy.

“….Her story is one of heart-breaking poignancy; and although it is individualised with a truly imaginative vitality, we are convinced that her fate is only too typical of what is happening to hundreds of children in these outrageous times” ( 22nd September 1939 Manchester Guardian)

The novel takes place in a German town between the years of 1920 and 1933. In 1920 Germany was a broken country – struggling to recover from the four years of World War I. Manja is a novel about five children, Manja a young Jewish girl from Poland, and the four boys who are her friends. The novel opens with the stories of the conceptions of each of these five children. The families from which these boys come each represent the different political strands that existed in Germany at this time. One is a son of an idealist doctor, one the son of a Nazi, another of a Marxist, while the fourth is the son of a rich industrialist who believes his money may protect him from his part Jewish heritage. It is Manja who unites these boys – and this story is in part the story of their parents and of Germany in the years that lead to the raise of Nazism – but it is also the story of this friendship set against a terrifying backdrop. Manja shows the boys the constellation of Cassiopeia – five stars – which becomes the symbol of the friendship between the children. It is inevitable that their friendship is tested – that the evil that surrounds them at the end of 1933 intrudes – and the reader fears for Manja.

“I know what you mean,” he cried eagerly. “A long time ago at school there was a beetle in the yard, on its back. I turned it over so it could crawl, but there were some boys who kept on turning it back to make it wriggle. Those kind of people are different,”
“But there are so many of those kind of people.”
“Yes, aren’t there? There are suddenly so many,” he agreed. “But Manja if we and everyone like us are cowards, then all the beetles in the world will have to stay on their backs,”
Manja said nothing but pressed his hand. “You’ve turned over a beetle,” she said presently, “it’s crawling again.”

Somehow though, the story is never depressing, gently brutal perhaps – and very powerful. The children meet each Wednesday and Saturday – at the wall – which is all that remains of a house that once stood above a river. In the waste ground of these ruins the children are, for a time, able to enjoy the innocence of childhood. They are growing up however, and the times are changing. I hesitate to say too much that could result in spoilers as I know there are other Persephone readers out there who may be intending to read this one soon. Gmeyner captures the changing times, the fear and hate that pitches neighbour against neighbour with what feels like bone chilling authenticity. Suffice to say I will continue to think about Manja and her fate for a long time.
books are magic

Books 69: Unclean Spirits by M. L. N. Hanover

US cover
Book 69: Unclean Spirits (The Black Sun's Daughter #1).
Author: M. L. N. Hanover, 2008.
Genre: Urban Fantasy. Demons.
Other Details: Paperback. 373 pages.

Following the murder of her Uncle Eric, Jayné Heller finds that her view of reality is completely over-turned. First, she learns that her late uncle was extremely rich and she has been designated as his sole heir. More shocking though is the revelation that magic and demons along with other supernatural beings actually exist and that she has inherited another kind of legacy in the form of her uncle's unfinished business with a sinister cabal of wizards named the Invisible College. The College is led by Randolph Coin, a ruthless individual who sees Eric's heir as a threat to be eliminated by any means.

This threat forces Jayné to halt her natural inclination to spend, spend, spend her new-found riches and to come to terms with this altered view of reality. She also has to learn to defend herself. She is aided in this by a small group assembled by Eric, who seek to protect her and to bring her up to speed in terms of the complexities of Eric's world. Among the group is the Aubrey, a rather dishy bloke whom Jayné finds herself strongly drawn to.

UK cover
What attracted me first to the series was reading of Hanover's depiction of demonic spirits as 'riders', which brought to mind the loas of Haitian Vodoun. I certainly enjoyed this novel; finding it an intelligent urban fantasy full of action and thrills with just enough complicated romance to make things interesting without dominating the plot. Jayné is an appealing lead with a wry sense of humour. While at the opening she is disillusioned and drifting through life, she soon finds reservoirs of strength and courage when put to the test. There is also an interesting supporting cast. Without doubt this was a promising start and I am looking forward to seeing how Hanover continues the story and his further developments of the concept of riders.

I had purchased the US mass market paperback a couple of years ago though finding myself loving the first book opted to buy others in the series in their 2012 UK editions. I found the difference in the cover art between the US and UK editions interesting. The US cover is a lot more dramatic, showing Jayné looking very sexy dressed in leather in a fighting stance. In contrast, the UK cover is much more understated and shows Jayné in silhouette with the Colorado setting for the novel centre stage. One reviewer called the UK cover 'bland' but I actually quite liked it especially in terms of the colour palette used.

Chapter 1 - Unclean Spirits - Orbit Books website.
death, death reads

Book 70: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

UK cover
Book 70: First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson #1).
Author: Darynda Jones, 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy. Paranormal Romance. Ghosts.
Other Details: Paperback. 310 pages.

Charlotte Davidson has a day job as a private investigator but she discovered at the tender age of five that she was the Grim Reaper tasked with assisting the corporally challenged to deal with their unfinished business and encouraging them to then cross over. So when three lawyers from the same law firm are murdered they naturally come to Charley to help find their killer. Meanwhile, Charley has been having a series of vivid erotic dreams and has a sense that there is more to them than just wish fulfilment.

I had heard quite a few good things about this series and it didn't disappoint being both fun & sexy with an intelligent, sophisticated protagonist in Charley Davidson. I was a little confused at the outset about Charley describing herself as 'The' Grim Reaper in contrast to other fictional ghost whisperers such as TV's Melinda Gordon (I miss Jennifer Love Hewitt's wardrobe!) or Meg Cabot's Mediator. The reason for this distinction is revealed in the course of the novel. Interestingly, on Jones' website she says she had initially planned for Charley to be "more like a sarcastic version of The Ghost Whisperer" and her then agent said that had been done to death and urged the change in reaper status. I am quite interested to see how Jones develops this aspect.

US cover
As I am currently listening to one of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, I could see a certain similarity in personality between Stephanie and Charley. Both share a sassiness and sense of humour as narrators that appealed to me. I could see from from other reviews that I wasn't alone in making this connection. Both women come across as warm-hearted and I enjoy spending time with them as they recount their adventures.

Again, I was interested in looking at the differences in cover art for the UK & US editions. The UK edition has the model chosen to represent Charley in a coquettish pose. The US cover is more dramatic with its silver and white colour scheme but only shows the lower half of Charley's body and a small scythe. I am with _ocelott_ in finding the trend for cover art featuring models with no heads or showing only body parts disturbing (her recent post on genrereviews Off With Her Head! explores this). Saying that, I do feel that the use of colour in the US edition works better than the rather generic cover for the UK edition, which could be interchangeable with any number of paranormal romances.

'First Grave on the Right' on Darynda Jones' website - contains Chapter 1 excerpt.