YouKneeK

My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy.  Occasionally, I also read horror, thriller, and mystery stories.  For more info about me than you could possibly want, check the "My Profile" link on the right-hand column.

Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, #1) - Susanna Clarke

This was a very uniquely told fantasy story.  It’s set in England (mostly) in the early 1800’s, and the author tells it in an authentic-sounding manner.  It mixes in a bit of the real world with the fantasy world, and uses some archaic words like “shew” (show) and “chuse” (choose) to add flavor.  There are also a lot of footnotes that add depth.  The tone of the story, combined with the footnotes, often made it feel a little more like I was reading a historical text rather than a fictional story.  Well, aside from all the magic and stuff, of course. :)  There’s also some humor.  It’s a somewhat dry humor that comes in large part from the despicable characters populating the story.

The basic story is that true magic hasn’t been seen in England for a very long time.  When the book begins, we’re introduced to a bunch of argumentative men who call themselves “magicians” but in fact have never cast any sort of spell.  They just study the history of magic, but they don’t practice it themselves or know of anybody who does.  Then we meet Mr Norrell who, much to everybody’s surprise, is a “practical” magician – he can actually do magic.  Mr Norrell has decided to make it his goal to bring magic back to England. But Mr Norrell does not have the type of personality you might expect, nor does he go about things in a way that might seem most effective to a rational reader.

It was an interesting story, and the writing was impressively done, but I was never very absorbed by it.  It’s far more character-based than plot-based, which isn’t a problem for me, but there weren’t too many truly likeable characters in this book and some of them were downright awful.  The book is broken up into three parts.  The first part features mostly despicable characters, the second part gives more page time to some of the more likeable characters, and the third part picks up the pace of the plot more significantly.  I thought the book steadily got better and better, but I still found it easy to put down.  For all the depth and authenticity the author put into the setting and the characters, I wasn’t too thrilled with the magic itself.  There seemed to be no real or consistent rules and, at times, it seemed terribly overpowered.

This book is 850 pages, not counting the footnotes that were all counted as page 850 in my Kindle edition.  The footnotes made up the last 7%, which would be about 64 pages.  So yes, this book was slightly tome-ish!  If anybody reads this on a Kindle, be careful because some of the footnotes get cut off in the pop-ups.  Many of the footnotes are quite long, some being practically short stories rather than ‘notes’.  When reading on the Kindle, you can follow the link to go directly to the footnotes to make sure you’re seeing it all.  In my case, I chose to read the book on my tablet instead, even though I don’t normally use it for reading.  It was just a little easier, plus the footnote indicators stood out better on a color screen with their blue numbers and I didn’t want to miss any.  I’ll be very happy to get back to my Kindle, but my tablet did give a slightly more realistic “weight” to my tome. :)

I have a couple of more specific comments that I’ll need to put within spoiler tags:

I thought the most interesting parts involved secondary characters.  I was very interested in Childermass.  I wish he’d played a more prominent role in the book, but the air of mystery surrounding him was part of his appeal.  I also enjoyed the parts with Stephen Black quite a bit.  Segundus was also interesting, what little we saw of him.

Jonathan Strange was somewhat likeable, certainly far more so than Mr Norrell.  He was rash and a bit self-absorbed, but I liked his openness and his desire to spread knowledge.  He seemed to have good intentions, even though his carelessness was sometimes a problem.  Mr Norrell, on the other hand… ugh!  Setting aside the fact that most of the problems in the book were the result of his selfish choices, he just had a horrid personality.  I hate information hoarders, and he took it to extremes.  He tried to suppress other magicians not out of genuine concern that they might cause harm, but because he was afraid somebody might equal or surpass his skills and siphon off some of his credit.  He wanted all the glory for himself, and he cared more about his own pride than the greater good.  He irrationally worked against his own stated objective of bringing Magic to England by actually suppressing it.   Ok, yes, he struck a nerve with me. :)  I guess that says something for how well-written he was if he managed to evoke so much dislike from me.

It was a little surprising to me, at least at first, that Norrell became so fond of Strange’s companionship, but I guess it makes sense that he would enjoy his first opportunity to converse with somebody who shared his interest in and aptitude for magic.  Given Norrell’s history of dishonesty and selfish behavior, I imagine he will hinder Strange rather than help him solve their little curse of darkness, out of a desire to keep Strange all to himself.

(show spoiler)



Whew… I guess my review was a bit of a tome itself!

Review: Childhood's End

Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke

This was my first time reading any of Arthur C. Clarke’s work, and I started the book without knowing what the story was about.  When I read a well-known classic, I expect to find familiar plot elements that I’ve seen in more modern works.  In this case, I don’t think I’ve encountered a story quite like this, although I’m sure there are some out there somewhere. 

 

The first chapter did seem like a very familiar story.  In that short chapter we learn that the U.S. and Russia are having a space race, each only weeks away from launching ships to explore our own galaxy.  Before the chapter is over, both countries lose the space race when a fleet of alien ships suddenly shows up and takes position over all the major countries of Earth.

 

So that sounds like a story that’s been done to death, but it doesn’t go in the direction you would probably expect.  Despite being more unique than I expected, my interest fluctuated drastically throughout the book.  There were story elements I was very interested in, and there were times when I was fully engaged in trying to guess explanations for certain things, but there were many other times when it was a struggle to push through. 

 

This is a far more plot-driven story than character-driven.  In some cases the characters weren’t very likeable, and in other cases we just didn’t get into their heads deeply enough to really understand them.  The story took a rather bizarre turn that I didn’t care for as it approached the end.  From that point, it was rather bleak and disturbing.  The writing came across as a little stilted to me, not just the dialogue but the narrative as well.  It wasn’t drastically so, and it’s hard to put my finger on the specific reasons I felt that way.  I don’t think it was the age of the book, because I’ve read other books from around this time period without having the same impression.

 

I’ll likely try some more of Clarke’s work in the future.  I already have a copy of Rendevous with Rama, so that’s likely the next one I’ll try once I decide to cycle back to this author.

Review: Carpe Jugulum (Discworld Book 27 of 53ish)

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

Carpe Jugulum is the sixth and final book in the Witches subseries of Discworld. This has been my favorite Discworld subseries, mainly because Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have been so much fun, so I’ll miss it. This is also the first subseries I’ve completed, unless you count Ancient Civilizations which consists of two loosely-related books grouped under that heading in The Discworld Reading Order Guide.

The title is a pretty good hint about the story: Carpe Jugulum, seize the throat. I’ll let you use your imagination to figure out the premise. :) This one had a good story, but it wasn’t quite as funny as some of the earlier Witches books. It did have humor, but I think it was just missing more Granny Weatherwax. She played an important part in the story, but she didn’t get much page time. On the other hand, Agnes is a fun character and she featured prominently along with Nanny, so I was happy about that. Magrat shows up a little bit too, but she’s far less annoying than she was in the earlier books. This book also contains a bit of a follow up to one of the earlier books, Small Gods, and that was fun to see.

My only other comment needs to go behind spoiler tags. Don’t click if you haven’t read the book!

With this being the last Witches book and with all of the false foreshadowing, I spent most of this book worried that Granny Weatherwax would be dead or something by the end. It isn’t too often that I feel any sort of real suspense when reading a Discworld book, but I did this time. I was happy that she was still alive and well by the end.

(show spoiler)

Review: The Sea and Little Fishes (Discworld "Book" 26 of 53ish)

The Sea and Little Fishes - Terry Pratchett

The Sea and Little Fishes is a cute short story in the Discworld universe, featuring Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  It can be found for free here.

 

In this story, we see what happens when somebody accuses Granny Weatherwax of not being “nice”.  Sometimes you don’t really want what you think you want…  This was a fun story, featuring two of my favorite Discworld characters.

Review: The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood Book 2 of 2)

The Shadowed Sun - N.K. Jemisin

The Shadowed Sun is set ten years after The Killing Moon.  Each story stands alone, but there’s a larger story arc that ties them together.  At the end of the first book, I had felt slightly unsatisfied because things were wrapped up so quickly.  It tied up the main plot but left me with a lot of questions about what the repercussions would be.  This second book gave me what I had been looking for by showing me what those repercussions were, and by then going on to deal with those repercussions.  I felt more satisfied with the ending of this book, particularly in terms of the larger political situation.

 

The Shadowed Sun focused on a different set of main characters, although some characters from the first book did make an appearance.  I won’t mention any names, since that could spoil the first book.  I liked most of the main characters in this book, but I think I was slightly more attached to the ones in the first book.  Story-wise, this book felt more fleshed-out to me, probably in part because it was the longer book, and maybe partly because it had the world-building from the first book to support it.  On the other hand, it became more romance-heavy than what I typically prefer toward the second half and I thought that dominated the plot a little too much.

 

In the end I enjoyed both books about equally, but each had different strengths. It was definitely a great series to end 2016 with, and I look forwarding to trying more of Jemisin’s work at some point in the future.

Review: The Killing Moon (Dreamblood Book 1 of 2)

The Killing Moon - N.K. Jemisin

I’ve been hearing good things about this author, but this was my first time reading any of her work.  I was pretty impressed.  The story and the characters grabbed me right away and held my attention to the end.  There are some morally-ambiguous plot elements, as opposed to a story where it’s very clear what’s right, what’s wrong, and what to root for.

 

This is one of those books that will exasperate some people, at least in the beginning, because the author throws a lot of unfamiliar terms, names, and places at the reader in rapid succession.  It’s nothing more than what epic fantasy fans are used to, though, and everything starts to make sense pretty fast.  It helped that I was reading it on my Kindle and could search for past occurrences of a word to remind myself of its earlier context.  There’s a glossary in the back, but I didn’t see it until the end, and I tend to avoid them anyway for fear of spoilers, however slight they may be. 

 

The general premise of the book is that a few people called “Gatherers” have the gift of helping people die peacefully, by sending the person’s soul into a peaceful dream world before killing them.  The theory is that this is only done for willing people who are very sick or elderly, or for evil, corrupt people.  But what if this power is abused?  There’s much, much more to the premise than this, but learning the details throughout the story is the fun part so I don’t want to spoil it.

 

At 418 pages, this book felt really short.  Part of that was of course because the story was so interesting that it was a quick read.  However, a large part of this book’s apparent shortness was because I wanted more meat and detail to expand on the world-building, history, and characters I was introduced to.  I would have liked to see the characters wrestle a little more with some of the moral ambiguity, and I also wanted a more drawn-out ending.  Things seemed to be resolved a bit quickly, and I wanted to learn more about how the characters we had been following and the greater civilization around them would change as a result of the events. 

 

I’m hopeful that maybe I’ll get a little more closure in the second book, if only by seeing what the state of affairs are in the next book.  I plan to start the next book later tonight, although I’m not likely to get much more reading time in before I have to go to sleep.  Happily, another four-day weekend is around the corner! :)

 

As a side note, I think this is the fastest I've been able to publish a review here on BL in months.  It's not perfect yet, but it does seem like it's improved over the last few days.

Review: The Last Continent (Discworld Book 25 of 53ish)

The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett

The Last Continent is the sixth book in the Rincewind subseries of Discworld.  For me, this was one of the more average Discworld books.  I don’t normally fall asleep while reading, but the cat and I took a few short naps while reading this book. :)

 

Rincewind has accidentally become stranded in a remote area of Austral… I mean, in Ecksecksecksecks.  While Rincewind is innocently going about his business of trying not to die of starvation or get poisoned by giant spiders, a talking kangaroo tries to enlist his help to fix a problem.  You see, something has happened to stop the rain and apparently Rincewind is the only one who can set things right.  No worries.

 

I liked the story, but it wasn’t a page-turner for me.  There was plenty of humor as usual, but not as much that really made me laugh out loud.  Rincewind is always a fun character though, so it was nice to see him again.  Some of the humor went over my head because there were clearly Australian cultural references that were unfamiliar to me.  Actually, until reading this book, I didn’t even know that “no worries” originated in Australia.  I hear it quite a bit here in the U.S. now, but the first time I started noticing the phrase was during discussions with my European colleagues.  I had thought maybe it was a UK thing.  My Kindle educated me with a relevant Wikipedia entry when I highlighted one of the many, many occurrences of “no worries” in the book.  So at least I learned something new!

Review: This Book is Full of Spiders (John Dies at the End Book 2 of 2)

This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It - David Wong

First of all, look at that cover.  On second thought, if you’re afraid of spiders, cover your eyes and scroll on by.  I really like it, and I don’t normally take much notice of book covers.  Pictures don’t usually do much for me; I’d rather have 1000 words.  But apparently I like pictures of books with holes that have book-page-spiders crawling out of them.  Who knew?

 

This book is the sequel to John Dies at the End.  Each book tells a complete story that stands on its own, although there are some fun references to the first book that would go over somebody’s head if they hadn’t read it.  This second book has the same crazy humor combined with goriness, crudeness, and silliness, but I did think it was toned down a little bit as compared to the first book.  On the other hand, I’ve now read almost 900 pages of this author’s writing, so I may have just built up an immunity.  Or brain damage.

 

I didn’t think this plot was as unique and strange as the first one, but it still had its own unique flare and it was told well.  In fact, I may have been more absorbed by this story simply because it wasn’t quite so bizarre.  It definitely wasn’t devoid of craziness and fun, though.  With this book I don’t see much harm in a brief synopsis, as long as I leave out all the juicy details: The story is basically about the zombie apocalypse coming to a small town in the Midwestern U.S., but with the not-really-zombies caused by not-exactly-spiders.  Normally I hear the word “zombie” and reflexively reply with the word “ugh”, but this isn’t one of those tedious types of zombie/monster stories.  I get bored if a story primarily consists of characters running from scary monsters, finding a temporary refuge, getting found by scary monsters, and running from scary monsters again.  This book has an actual story, and it never once felt tedious.

 

The first book had been told primarily from the first-person perspective of the narrator.  In this book, our main characters aren’t together for large portions of the story so the reader gets to spend some time in the heads of the other main characters.  I enjoyed that because I felt like I got to know those characters better, and I enjoyed not being confined to a single viewpoint and a single chain of events.  On the other hand, I wished the characters were together more often because I think they’re more fun that way.

 

One semi-spoilerish comment:

It seems pretty pointless to persist in calling the town “Undisclosed” to discourage tourists, considering the entire world has been watching news about it for days.  The town is likely to be a household name for years.  But then, the narrator does make references to potential readers 200 years from now, so maybe he’s trying to prevent tourism in 200 years. :)

(show spoiler)

 

In summary, there were some things I liked better about this book as compared to the first book, and some things I liked less.  On average, though, I think I enjoyed them about equally.  I may have to check out some of the author’s other work someday.

Review: John Dies at the End (John Dies at the End Book 1 of 2)

John Dies at the End - David Wong

This book was on a list from which I pull many of my reading selections.  Every time I noticed this title on that list, there was always a brief pause while I speculated about it.  Is John the main character?  Does he in fact die at the end of the book, or at the end of something else?  Is it a physical death, a metaphorical death, or a spiritual death?  Is it a complete lie?  I had many, many other theories, but I knew absolutely nothing about the book itself.  When the Kindle edition went on sale a month ago, I grabbed it so I could finally get some answers.

 

I’d believed this was a fantasy book, but it reads more like a horror story to me.  I could see reasons to classify it as either horror, fantasy, or science fiction, depending on which parts stick out the most to the reader.  I’m happy that I went into it completely blind, and I think a large part of the fun in reading this came from not knowing what to expect, so I’m afraid to try talking about the plot.  The story is crazy anyway, and the only way I could make it sound very sensible would be to explain things that aren’t revealed until near the end.  I’m going to limit myself to this: The main characters in the story are two early-twentyish males who are completely immature.  They get caught up in some… strange events.  Chaos ensues.

 

I’d be afraid to recommend this book to anybody, and yet I wish everybody I know would go read it right now so I can find out what they think when they’re done. :)  Most of the time, I was completely wrapped up in the story, but once in a while I would pause and think to myself, “Ok, now that’s just ridiculous.”  But even though this book has a lot of crazy stuff in it, the story still felt coherent and interesting.  It isn’t one of those stories where the author throws in every crazy thing he or she can imagine to the point that it overwhelms the story. 

 

There were some inconsistencies, most of which I blame on the unreliableness of the narrator rather than on problems with the writing itself.  There’s a lot of goriness, cussing, and crude humor.  There was also a lot of clever and truly funny stuff, and the story completely sucked me in.  It's told in a slightly non-linear fashion, which helped keep it interesting.  It wasn’t a terribly scary book, but there were some parts in the second half that did start to creep me out a little.  I think it probably depends on what scares you.  I could easily see other people being freaked out by completely different parts that didn’t bother me at all.  This is a complete story without any cliffhangers, but there were some interesting reveals near the end that I hope will be dealt with in more detail in the sequel.  The sequel is definitely the next book I intend to read.

Review: Jingo (Discworld Book 24 of 53ish)

Jingo - Terry Pratchett

Jingo is the fourth book in the City Watch subseries of Discworld.  When I first started this subseries, I didn’t think I was going to like it very much.  It’s grown on me, though, and I think it’s now my second favorite after the Witches subseries. 

 

In this book, a disagreement between fishermen in the middle of the sea between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch triggers buried resentments and prejudices among citizens of both places until it appears that war is inevitable.  As is common with this subseries, there was a little bit of a mystery involved, and that helped keep the story more interesting. 

 

Pratchett often uses humor to impart some sort of a message, and I thought this book was one of the better examples of that.  He used humor to point out the ridiculousness of how people tend to divide themselves into “us” and “them” and vilify the “them”, assuming the worst about their intentions and beliefs.  There were a lot of very funny moments, and yet those ridiculously funny things weren’t so terribly far from the behavior of real people in our world.

YouKneeK’s Tome on Bookish Site Plans

Warning: This is a really long post.  It contains pretty much everything I’ve been thinking about regarding bookish sites and future plans over the past several weeks, compiled into one ginormous tome. :)

 

I’ve made a few comments to other people, but I haven’t yet written my own blog post.  I still needed to test various things and make decisions, and I just haven’t had sufficient time to deal with it.  There are still things I haven’t made my mind up about, but there are also some things I’m pretty sure about, so I decided it was time to get a post out there.  Now maybe I can stop posting long comments on other people’s blogs since I’ve now presumably gotten everything off my chest that I could possibly ever want to say. ;)

 

 

LibraryThing

This is the site I’m unexpectedly the most excited about right now.  I’ve been echoing reviews there for three years but, because you can’t comment on people’s reviews, I didn’t see it as a social site.  I originally intended to let my account sit dormant once I reached the maximum # of books (201) for a free account.  There is a $25 lifetime membership fee to shelve unlimited books, but Grim recently put up a post letting people know of an easy way to get a free lifetime account now.

 

Here on BookLikes, we’re accustomed to having our primary communication take place via comments on our posts.  On LibraryThing, most socialization happens in groups.  I found a group called The Green Dragon where, along with some general discussions, members can create their own reading journal thread if they want to.  Although the group is geared toward science fiction & fantasy, many people post about other books.  Some people, in fact, post very little about SF&F in their threads.  People also post random things about what’s going on in their lives, pictures, etc.  Whatever they want.  And people reply.  Kinda like a blog, right?  If you stretch your imagination a little bit?  It’s just not as fancy, and you can’t give it pretty backgrounds and stuff, but I’m not an artistic person so this suits me just fine.

 

I set up a reading journal thread of my own, if anybody is a member and wants to follow it.  They’re very friendly, chatty, and eager for fresh blood. 

Here’s my reading journal thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/243153

And here’s my profile page: http://www.librarything.com/profile/YouKneeK

 

Goodreads

This was the first bookish site I joined and, although I have my complaints, I expect I’ll continue to use it.  I often feel lost in the crowd on Goodreads but, in many ways, that crowd is its main advantage since they have more extensive crowd-sourced data.  In particular, I find their book pages useful, and especially their series pages.  I’ve gained a few friends here and there (not counting duplicates from BookLikes), and I receive occasional comments.  I’m also a member of a SF&F group that’s reasonably friendly, although I don’t post much there.  They have an awesome group bookshelf, though, which is a major source for many of the books I choose to read.  It has a diverse selection of SF&F books that were chosen by members for group reads over the years.

 

My profile page is here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/25923230-youkneek

 

WordPress

This is the one I’m completely undecided on.  I was never very enthusiastic about this as a solution for me personally, because I just feel like a formal blog is more work than I really want to take on.  I came to BL in spite of its blogging format, not because of it.  But, since I ended up enjoying BL so much, I felt like I should at least give WP a fair try and make an educated assessment about whether or not it’s for me.

 

This past weekend I started playing with it a little bit.  I didn’t do much.  I posted a few reviews to figure out how I would want to format things, I played around with a lot of different settings to see what was available, and I followed Bookstooge so I could get an idea of how things work from a Reader perspective.  He helped me get my confusion about comment notifications sorted out.

 

I think WP could definitely work for me if I decided to go that route, but I’m on so many other sites already and I have some degree of investment in all of them.  I think I’d rather just work on building up my interaction on the sites I’m involved in already rather than trying to get involved on a completely new-to-me site. 

 

So I guess, now that I've typed all this out, I've made up my mind.  If BL doesn’t work out, or if I drop another site for some reason, then I may look more seriously into setting up a WP blog.  But for now, I think I’m just going to leave it as a back burner idea.  At least now I understand how it works instead of being completely clueless, so I'll be more prepared if I have to make decisions about using it in the future.

 

Many, Many Random Thoughts About BookLikes

Like others, I’m taking a “wait and see” approach with BookLikes.  I’ll continue interacting here at the same level I have been.  I still think BookLikes has an awesome format, and I’ve really enjoyed the interaction I’ve had here.  Mentally speaking, however, I don’t really think of BL as my primary site anymore.  Last week, I took all references to my BL account off of my profiles on other sites.  I used to hope that random people checking out my profile would see those references and come follow me here instead of there, since I considered this my home site.  Now I’m equally happy to be followed wherever people want to follow.

 

There are both reasons to be hopeful about the future of the site, and reasons to be skeptical.

 

On the hopeful side:

* Posting on their blog.  Finally, after almost a year.  Even when we received our periodic “don’t worry, everything is fine, we’re here to stay” posts, they never posted on their blog.  They would reply to the conversations in the Bug Reports thread and ignore our requests for public blog posts.

 

* Less dismissive replies.  Kate’s replies to the understandably frustrated comments on the BL blog have been apologetic, and less dismissive than previous staff communication has been.

 

* Timelier replies (maybe).  From what I’ve seen, staff has been replying in a timelier manner.  (Even replying at all is an improvement at this point!)  While the site was down, I saw some people complaining and/or asking for updates on the Facebook page, and replies usually showed up within a couple hours or so.

 

* They must not want to kill the site.  This was something I had seriously been wondering about for the past few months.  I thought they were just going to let it stagnate until everybody gave up and left, then shut it down.  At least the fact that they tried to come in and talk to us once they realized so many people were leaving shows they haven’t given up on the site. 

 

On the skeptical side:

* Lack of proactive communication.  Based on this post from Scarlet’s Web and some of its comments, BookLikes didn’t figure out on their own that members were upset and that maybe they should come talk to us.  Their post came after some members managed to get Kate’s attention through other channels and asked her to post.  Also, during the site downtime, they didn’t communicate on the other channels (such as Facebook) until after people complained or asked for info.  Somehow they just still don’t seem to grasp the idea that members don’t like to be left in the dark.  Even if they can’t tell us “the site will be up in an hour”, just a periodic post letting us know they’re working on it would help alleviate some of people’s frustrations.  If they still can’t grasp the most basic concepts of communication on a social site, how can they possibly turn things around?  This kind of thing might have been sufficient, if annoying, in the old days, when people were positive about the site.  It is nowhere near sufficient now that people have so many frustrations and doubts.

 

* Questionable attention to the site.  Related to the above… they had to be told members were leaving?!  Maybe they were already aware, I don't know, but communication didn’t start until after other people told them.  Even if they couldn’t be bothered to scan their feed now and then, site usage statistics would surely have been a dead giveaway.  

 

* Vague communication.  BL hasn’t told us anything about their long-term intentions for the site.  They said they’re “running and broadcasting here and on social channels”.  They also said (in a comment) they’re “working to fix the technical problems that have a major impact on the site performance and the bloggers' experiences.”  So they’re communicating again, they’re broadcasting posts on other social sites such as Facebook again, and they’re trying to solve the biggest technical issues.  This really isn’t new.  They were still broadcasting on other social sites long after they started ignoring us.  Every now and then, staff came on and talked to us and claimed they would keep communicating.  They also resolved (eventually) whatever biggest technical issues were frustrating users at the time, such as the notification bugs.  I want to know what, if anything, is going to be different in the near future.

 

Of course solving the biggest technical issues should be their number one priority right now, but then what?  Do they only aim to regain the status quo we were living with earlier this year, with minimal communication but a workable site?  Is that sufficient anymore, now that many of us have begun investing our energies elsewhere?   They haven’t said they plan to fix all our problems after they fix the major ones.  They haven’t said they plan to give us new features.  They haven’t said they plan to get out there and advertise and actively work toward attracting more members.  Of course, they haven’t said otherwise, either.  Maybe they do plan to do all of those things.  If so, they need to tell us.  I’m not asking for a detailed business plan, I just want to know what I can be excited about in regard to BL’s future.

 

We don’t even know much about what kind of staff they have on board.  All we know is that Kate is communicating with us, and at least one technical resource is working on technical issues.  That resource could just be a consultant for all we know.  Do they have staff who can manage servers, maintain databases, and write code?  Is anybody handling marketing?  If they don’t have that kind of staff yet, do they plan to hire people eventually?  This month?  This year?  Only if the site starts making them more money?

 

I just feel like there's an awful lot of unknown-ness surrounding BookLikes right now. 

 

Random Thoughts on Following Other People on Random Sites

One thing in particular I’m still trying to find the time to do is go through the list of people I’m following here on BL, see who has left entirely or made a new place their primary site, and see if I could or should follow them on a different site where we’re both members.  It’s been hard to take time to do this when I’ve still been trying to get myself sorted out, but I’ve also been worried that everybody will be gone before I get the chance to deal with it.  I’m on vacation starting Friday, so I’ll probably find the time in a week or so.

 

I’m still not crazy about the idea of following people on multiple sites, assuming it’s mostly the same content being posted.  It just makes the feeds more unmanageable.  In particular, I’ve caught myself skimming through my feeds too quickly on both Goodreads and BookLikes because I want to get past the duplicate content, and sometimes I catch myself scrolling past new content from the people I’m not following in both places. 

 

But there's also some value in following people on multiple sites right now, to avoid losing contact while everything is in flux and people are still sorting out where they really want to be for the long haul.  Still, following people in multiple places really isn’t something I want to do over the long term.  After several months, once things seem more settled, I’ll probably compile a list of who I’m following at more than one place and cut out duplicates.  Once I get to that point, I’ll likely reach out to individuals to see which place they prefer to be followed at, and let them know what I'm doing so they can do the same with me if they choose.

 

The End of the Tome

Ok, that was a lot of rambling and ranting and raving.  But, on the bright side, I couldn’t *possibly* have anything else to say after all this, right?!  I need to get to sleep shortly, and I’m not sure how much spare time I’ll have in the morning before work, so I apologize in advance if I’m slow to reply to any comments.  I promise I will eventually!

Review: The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin

The Lathe of Heaven is a standalone science fiction story by the same author that wrote the Earthsea series.  The writing style seemed so different to me that it felt like it was written by a different author.  The premise was great, the ideas and questions were thought-provoking, and the execution was… well, I don’t know.  It never really grabbed me.  I would get interested for a short period of time, then my attention would wander and I’d have to put the book down to do something else.
 
The book is about a character who can literally change the world with his dreams.  Occasionally, he has a dream that is particularly vivid and powerful and, when he wakes up, he has two sets of memories: the memory of what existed before his dream, and the memories of a past that he never lived through.  The rest of humanity only remembers the new set of memories.  What would happen if this power could be harnessed?  Could you get rid of famine, plague, racism, and war?  Would it be moral to do so?  What would the consequences be?

I really liked the premise, and the story was interesting.  I liked the main character pretty well, although his passivity annoyed me at times.  The other main character in the story annoyed me to no end, as intended I think, with his arrogance and his inability to see beyond his own narrow perspective.  And his incessant monologues.  I think those monologues were one reason why I kept losing interest in the book.

This is one of those books that doesn’t give you all the answers, ever.  There are unreliable characters interpreting what’s happening, so you’re never quite sure if what they say is accurate, mistaken, or an intentional deception.  The ending is also pretty fuzzy in terms of how (or if) anything was resolved.

Review: N0S4A2

NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

N0S4A2 is a standalone horror story written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King.  This was my first time reading anything he’d written.  Maybe it’s because I read a lot more fantasy than I do horror, but this book felt as much like a fantasy book to me as it did a horror book.  I guess that line is a little blurry, at least in my mind.  There were definitely elements of horror to it, but I never felt scared, not even a little bit.  I expect it might bother others, though, especially mothers.  Maybe all those horror books I read in junior high left me a little numb…

There are several characters in this book, but the one I thought of as the “main” character was a girl named Vic.  She starts off as an 8-year-old, but grows into an adult over the course of the story.  Vic has a special skill.  She can find lost things by riding her bike over a non-existent bridge.  Clearly there’s a lot more to the explanation than that, but I don’t want to spoil the fun.  Meanwhile, kids are being kidnapped and taken to a place called Christmasland, where they can have all sorts of fun forever and ever... as long as they don't mind becoming deranged.  I didn’t know when I started this book that I was picking such an appropriate time of the year for it!  If horror books tend to bother you, though, you might not want to read this book until you can safely go through your days without hearing any Christmas music anywhere.

I liked this book, for the most part, but I also have complaints.  I liked the general story, and I liked the characters.  Sometimes I was annoyed by their decisions, but I didn’t feel like they were doing stupid things just because the author needed them to do stupid things so he could move the plot forward.  At times I couldn’t put the book down, but there were also times when it felt like a slog.  There were a few cases of what I call Omniscient Gut Syndrome, which is one of my pet peeves.  This is that dastardly disease that causes a character’s gut to be all-knowing.  The gut tells the character, and thus the reader, that something is true even though there hasn’t been any tangible evidence.  The character “just knows” it’s true, or “feels that it’s true”, or “her thought feels right to her”.

I also thought there were a lot of small details that didn’t quite fit correctly, and some plot threads that were really far-fetched even within the confines of the fictional story.  These things dragged me out of the story and niggled at me throughout the day when I wasn’t reading.  I could come up with my own explanations for many (but not all) of them, but I felt like I was doing some of the author’s work for him.  

I have a couple examples in the spoiler tags.

 

The whole idea of Maggie’s tiles fell in the far-fetched category for me.  They weren’t clearly defined and therefore seemed mostly like a plot device to help steer the story.  Where does the info come from?  How could the titles “chatter” about Vic for months in advance and yet not know the least useful clue about other things?  I guess one could really ask the same question about Vic and her Bike – how does it know where to go?  In the case of things that got lost when she was around, you could say her subconscious remembered what happened to them and thus helped her direct the bridge.  That explanation doesn’t work to explain how she used her bike to find Maggie the first time, though.

Another big one for me was the way the map of Manx’s inscape roads showed up on the cops’ iPads when they tried to locate Wayne’s cell phone while he was in Manx’s car.  Technology doesn’t work that way.  You can’t just magically have a map show on an iPad with labeled street names unless somebody has first created that map.  Not only that, but technology certainly can’t pinpoint somebody’s location on imaginary roads.  One explanation could be that Manx somehow caused them to see that image, just like the denizens of Christmasland made Vic think she was hearing phones ringing.  But what would that accomplish?  It would only lend credibility to an otherwise insane-sounding story if Vic wanted to try explaining it to anybody, and it would in fact help Vic herself feel confident that she wasn’t crazy so that she could make better decisions about how to handle the situation.

(show spoiler)


I did like the ending.  I had thought it was going in one direction, one that’s entirely too typical for horror stories in my experience, so I was happy when it ended up differently than I’d expected.  I’m giving this 3.5 stars on BookLikes and rounding up to 4 on Goodreads.

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

This was my first experience reading anything by Atwood and, as I often do, I went into the story without knowing anything about it.  It was really interesting and engrossing.  It had some quirks, but mostly those quirks gave the story character and made it more interesting rather than being annoying or distracting.  

The story takes place in the U.S., but women have lost all their freedoms.  Childbirth rates have been drastically reduced, and a woman’s only true value is in their ability to have babies.  A woman’s role in society is dependent on a combination of her childbearing abilities and whether or not she’s married to a powerful man.  If a powerful man has a wife who can’t bear children, he’s given a handmaid to take up the slack.  Our main character lived through the transition period.  She grew up with freedoms along the lines of what would have existed when the author wrote the book in the 1980’s, but the society began to change when she was an adult.  How this change affected our main character, and how the change came about in the first place, is what this book is about.

The story is told in the first-person present tense, by a woman who appears to be recounting her story verbally.  She goes off on rabbit trails, she skips back and forth in time, and sometimes she starts to tell us something and then decides she doesn’t want to talk about it and leaves us hanging.  Sometimes she tells us something and then says “no, that isn’t actually what happened”, as if she’s caught herself in the act of trying to make things sound better or more dramatic than they were, and then forces herself to be honest.  It was really very well done, this written simulation of somebody telling a story out loud.

We’re never explicitly told our main character’s real name, although I thought it might be possible to figure it out by comparing a list of names mentioned at the end of the first chapter against some of the names she refers to in the third person throughout the story.  There’s only one name from that list that she never mentions, which therefore may have been her own name, but there are also reasons to believe that may not have been the case.

Because of the nature of the story, with the narrator skipping around between older events and more recent events, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in the beginning.  The gaps are slowly filled in as the story progresses.  As long as it’s written well, that kind of a story-telling device works really well for me.  I like it when not everything is revealed in a linear fashion.  I enjoy pondering the questions, trying to guess the answers, and then the satisfaction of finally getting those answers.

This is a pretty dark read.  A lot of bad things happen, and there isn’t a lot of hope or very many bright spots throughout the story.  I want to say it’s not terribly graphic, but there were a couple of scenes that were particularly awful.  I don’t think the wording was that explicit, but the author still made it so clear what was happening that my imagination had no problem turning it into something more graphically disturbing.  There is also a lot of ambiguity, particularly in how things end.  We’re left not really sure how things turned out for our main character, but we have two main possibilities and evidence that could support either conclusion.  This would normally annoy me, but really I just thought this whole story was very well done and I enjoyed thinking about what might have happened.

If anybody else reads this for the first time, make sure you don’t miss the “historical notes” at the end.  They’re fictional notes, and they’re a critical part of the story.  I was reading this as an e-book.  Normally, when you reach the end of a Kindle book, you get a pop-up recommending other books you might be interested in.  There may be some further back matter past that, but the story itself is expected to be over.  I got that first pop-up just before the “historical notes”, making me think the story had ended there.  Fortunately, I’m in the habit of paging past that first pop-up and at least glancing at the back matter, so I didn’t miss it.

 

I have to run to work now, but I look forward to reading the reviews from people I follow who have read this once I get back home!

Review: Hogfather (Discworld Book 23 of 53ish)

Hogfather - Terry Pratchett

It finally happened.  I finally made it up to Hogfather in my Discworld reading list.  I was a bit early for Christmas, but at least I reached it within the general winter holiday time frame.

 

Hogfather is the fourth book in the Death subseries.  The Hogfather, for those uninitiated in the madness of the Discworld, is the Disc’s version of Santa Claus.  He delivers gifts to children on Hogswatch Night.  There are problems this year, though.  The mysterious beings known as the Auditors have hired the Assassin’s Guild to kill “the fat man” and now the Hogfather is missing.  Death decides to fill in for him, and he really warms up to the role.

 

This book was quite funny; there were a lot of parts that made me laugh.  One of the things that was starting to get tiresome to me in the Death subseries was the way Death always seems to be in the middle of some internal crisis, shirking his responsibilities while others take up the slack.  This book was a nice change of pace from that.  Although Death did occasionally lose sight of his “real” responsibilities, he was taking up the slack for somebody else this time and he took the whole thing very seriously.  I thought he was more fun to read about in this book than he had been in the previous Death books.

 

This story, on the other hand, seemed like one of Pratchett’s more disjointed stories.  There were a few different pieces to the story, and they did all tie together, but the ties were pretty tenuous.  This was one of those stories where you may be told something happened and why, but it still doesn’t seem terribly sensible or logical.  I know, I know, this is the Discworld.  Things aren’t supposed to be sensible and logical.  But I like sense and logic. :)  For the most part, I was able to just enjoy the humor in the current part of the story I was reading without thinking too hard about the over-all plot.

Review: Cold Steel (Spiritwalker Book 3 of 3)

Cold Steel - Kate Elliott

This is the final book in Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.  It was more entertaining than the middle book, which I thought had a lot more boring and tedious parts.  There was one aspect of the story that I feared would be stretched out for the entire book, but it was wrapped up earlier than I expected so I was happy about that.  The story held my interest better than the second book and equally as well as the first book.  There was a minor thread or two that never really got tied up, but the ending wrapped most things up pretty well and I was satisfied with it.  

As far as the series itself goes, it was pretty good, but it had several annoyances as I’ve mentioned in my reviews for the previous books.  The story was entertaining, for the most part, and I liked the characters.  I also enjoyed the character-driven humor which seemed to increase as the series progressed.  I did think things often happened too conveniently, and with a few niggling inconsistencies here and there.  I think, if I hadn’t had such fond memories of this author’s Crossroads trilogy, I might have enjoyed this series a little more for what it is because my expectations wouldn’t have been as high.  I did enjoy it, but I was a little disappointed by it too.

 

As a side note, for those of you who have been waiting for me to get to Hogfather… that one’s next up on my list. :)  I have to leave in a few minutes to spend Thanksgiving with family and I’m not sure how late I’ll get back.  I doubt I'll be able to get very far into it until tomorrow.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S., and Happy Thursday to those of you who aren’t! ;)

Currently reading

The Globe: The Science of Discworld II: A Novel
Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart
The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales (Knickerbocker Classics)
Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm