Krazykiwi @ Kiwitopia

I'm a kiwi (the kind from New Zealand) who lives in Sweden. I read a lot.


I sometimes write really long reviews. And sometimes I don't.  I rate books fairly hard, something has to be pretty spectacular and a long time favourite to get a 5. But I'll try to explain why I rated what I rated.


Much books. Very review. Wow.

So Bob Dylan

Interesting and out of the box choice, but I have to agree with the Nobel Committee bringing up the rich tradition of poetry being an oral (and aural) art from antiquity. We no longer listen to Homer and Sappho and hear Beowulf sung to us, but we still read them.


It's a choice that must have been helped along by the equally rich Swedish (or actually, Nordic) history of having a very blurred line between what is a song and what is a poem. From the Viking-era skalds, the poetic sagas like the Eddas, through post-Viking royal chroniclers who kept records of the early Swedish Kings in poetic form through the 11th to 13th centuries,Bellman in the 1700's (often set to music right through the current day), all the way to artists such as Cornelis Vreeswijk, more or less a contemporary of Dylan's, or Lars Winnberbäck producing bitter and barbed social commentary in poetry-masquerading-as-pop-song. Or from another tack, pop band Mando Diao having a monster summer hit in Sweden a couple of years ago by setting a poem by beloved Swedish Poet Gustav Fröding to music.


So yeah, a surprising and unexpected choice, but a very very Swedish one.


(I'd post videos for all the above, but they're all in Swedish. So have some Dylan instead :) (It's Alright Ma, I'm only Bleeding)

Type matters

I'm a total typography nerd, one of my early jobs was copy-editor at a newspaper (I know, hard to believe, my posts are shockingly riddled with typos and errors, but it's true!) and one of my favourite things to do was watch the page designers put together the days editions.


Anyway, I was helping daughter run down sources for a school project, and we came across these two wee short documentaries.


The first is a wee movie about the old Fleet Street presses for the Telegraph in London, used right up until the 80's, which is really cool. It runs about 6 minutes


The other is a 20 minute documentary from Penguin that talks to lots of their type designers about fonts, type design, book design, etc. It's a bit cheesy, but I enjoyed it.


Gone Wild by Ever McCormick

Gone Wild - Ever McCormick

Not awful little romance book, but it could have been so much better. (I hate to say it, but this is the kind of book that's a perfect example of a self-published novel that might have been spectacular if it'd had some love from a developmental editor.) 


Anyway. I really wanted to like this book. The hero is a total doll, and not the typical alpha asshole everyone likes to write about anymore. He tries to boss the heroine around, but she stands up for herself and he backs off, and they (this is really unusual) talk about things. Not all the things, since there's not much romance novel plot available if the MC's are actually communicating well, but most of the things :)


The problem, specifically, the timeline is entirely out of whack and frankly unbelievable. I'm not only talking about instaluuurve (although there's some of that going on too) but the background and previous events just don't entirely fit together. There are only three possibilities:

  1. After being betrayed by her boyfriend (not a spoiler, it's in the blurb), Ina stayed with him for several weeks before breaking up with him, which is out of character and contrary to the text.
  2. The entire thing took two weeks (this is simply impossible, but seems to be the case), see spoiler below.
  3. They were all still living in dorm rooms at college despite having graduated and at least one person has a fancy PR firm job. Yeah, don't think so.


This is where I think a firm editorial hand would have figured out how to either clarify the situation (if I'm misunderstanding it) or fix the inconsistencies, which are so big they totally took me out of the story.


I'm talking, graduating college, finding a job, getting an ultimatum at that job, coming up with a solution in the form of an advertising campaign and getting that advertising campaign in print, in posters, out in the real world all in the space of what seems to be two weeks. While in the middle of a break up. And the "two weeks" part is mentioned specifically, several times. Another character has had time to send out multiple job applications to very big firms (large corporate HR offices do NOT move quickly) and get rejected from all of them. Like every PR firm in the country. In two weeks.

(show spoiler)


There's also a subplot towards the end involving a third party that tries to turn a fairly sweet little "finding yourself" romance into a romantic suspense, and just didn't entirely work (but could have, because it'd been set up very well earlier in the book.


Anyway, I liked this for the most part, and I'd be willing to give the author another shot, for sure. It was just disappointing, so close but not quite there.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North

There's really not much to say about this that other reviewers haven't said sooner and better. And I'm an unabashed Claire North/Kate Griffin fangirl, so perhaps I'm an easy target for her particular brand of literary magic, but in any case, this was spectacularly good.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher (Audiobook narrated by James Marsters)

Storm Front  - Jim Butcher, James Marsters

I just noticed my re-listen dates on this audiobook are both at the end of August. Apparently I get in the mood for this at the end of Summer (I think that's when I originally read the paperback too.)


Storywise, the same as the paperback obviously, nothing to add there. It's far from perfect, but sets up a great world. James Marsters is perfect for Harry he has exactly the right ratio of swagger to self-deprecation, but I get the feeling this was one of his first narrations (I could go look that up but I'm having an attack of lazy.) Sometimes his phrasing is a bit weird, and he has an annoying dialectal pronunciation of the word height that grates on me for irrational reasons involving an ex boyfriend.


Luckily he improves at the same rate Butcher's writing does as the series continues (and the word height doesn't actually appear enough times to make me rip my headphones off in frustration.) So overall, a good start to the series.

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely Fine - Daryl Gregory

My note on this is that it was recommended to me via Bookaneer's Review. So that only took me two years to get around to reading it, and I'm kicking myself. Hard.


I'd review it, but seriously, just go read what she said. My review would just be superfluous over hers anyway :)


Suffice to say, I just went and grabbed another Daryl Gregory book (Pandemonium) immediately after finishing this novella, and I wouldn't be surprised if I end up with a couple or three more over the next few days.

The Rook (The Checquy Files #1) by Daniel O'Malley

The Rook  - Daniel O'Malley

Myfanwy Thomas opens her eyes standing in a park, in the driving rain, surrounded by several bodies, all curiously wearing latex gloves. She has no idea who she is, how she got there, or who they are, and only knows her name because of a letter in her coat pocket. A letter she wrote, to her future self, before she lost her memory.


tl;dr review: This is a great series starter. A very capable and smart, but also very human and compassionately written heroine, in a fantastic and fantastical world, puzzles her way through the mystery that amounts to more or less who murdered her.


I really enjoyed this, and can highly recommend it if you're a UF fan.


Extra crispy bits: No romance in sight, no love triangles, actual capable female characters (yes, multiple of them, and it even passes the Bechdel test by a mile). Not that I don't like romance in my UF, but it's nice to see a book where it's not even necessary. And it's not done pointedly or being lampshaded - these are just who the characters happen to be. This is how you do it, author folks, it doesn't have to be a big deal.


More thoughts:

Take the X-Men and mix it up with a little MI 5 and Charles Stross Laundry files, and you have the Checquy, Britain's secret Ministry of the Supernatural. Myfanwy is not just a member, she's The Rook, one of two members of the Checquy responsible for domestic threats. Alongside her rank the Chevaliers (the Knights), responsible for international threats, above her the Bishops and the lord and lady (because, despite the chess themed structure, you can't actually have a King and Queen when there already is one in the country.)


Steered by the letters and informational dossiers her super-organised and capable former self wrote, the newly awakened person inhabiting Myfanwy Thomas body has to steer her way through this strange world inhabited by people who share one mind for four bodies, can turn their skins to steel, or have hair that can get you high if you eat it. And while her previous self knew that someone would do this terrible thing to her, removing her memories and effectively killing her, she didn't know how, or even exactly when. Nor does she know who, but she reasons it must be one of the other members of the court, the very people she works with every day and considers at least her allies, if not always friends.


Luckily the new Myfanwy is equally as capable and organised as the old was, and manages to literally fake it until she makes it through her first few days.


Things are complicated by the fact that Britain seems to be in the midst of a clandestine invasion by a rival and fairly evil organisation of "enhanced" people, who aim to destroy the Checquy, and who may or may not be related to what happened to Myfanwy.


The world-building is great, the amnesia trope and the letters mean we learn the world alongside Myfanwy and let's the author get away with tons of exposition and backstory in a clever and unobtrusive way. In less deft hands, this wouldn't have worked, but the letters are increasingly a memoir from the old Myfanwy who knows she will be erased and wants her new self to really know who she used to be.


Another interesting twist is along the lines of how much of what and who we are is nature and how much is nurture? Myfanwy V1.0 had a traumatic childhood, manifesting some fairly scary powers and abilities at age 9, being handed over by her parents without much protest to a shadowy government facility for education - a facility where most of the children living there had been there since birth, and so she didn't fit in. She's a loner, lonely, has no family or friends, and is afraid of her own ability, burying herself in being a super-executive instead of a super-hero.


Myfanwy 2.0 has trauma of another sort, she literally doesn't know who she is, but she's also not afraid of herself, or her abilities. Instead she sets about figuring them out, learning to use them, and learning--and pushing--their limits. This Myfanwy isn't afraid to make a friend, or go to a party either. But how much of that can she get away with, before the people around her figure out she's not V1.0 anymore, and what would the consequences be?


This is smart well-written contemporary UF, and I really liked it. For a series starter from a debut author, it's very very good.


I got myself a new job. And it's *perfect*.


tl;dr version: Work at home, flex time, fascinating and progressive tech company, and a decent if not astonishing pay packet (mitigated by the fact I won't have to commute or wear anything but pyjamas to do it.)


I haven't had an actual proper full time job in a couple of years (ok, five, actually, since before I went back to school), I've been freelancing and part timing and cobbling together things which sometimes means insane hours to make project deadlines and sometimes means I had no work at all. But it did mean I often got to work at home, and set my own hours, which I really liked.


So this new job, is like the perfect storm of everything: Still project based, I'll be managing teams for external clients, mostly involving creating multilingual text-to-speech and speech-to-text tech. But instead of freelancing and having to find my own jobs, I'll be part of a huge (really huge) organisation that is bang up to date technology wise. I got the job and get to work at home even though I live in Sweden, most of the clients are in the US, and the company is based in Australia. Any hours I like, as long as I'm available to teleconference scheduled meetings once or twice a week, and the deadlines and quality controls are met :)


I really want to tell you who and what the actual job is but although I haven't signed all the contracts yet, I'm expecting a stack of NDA's. Suffice to say the major client is VERY big, many of you might use the resulting product on a daily basis, and it's not called Siri :)

(show spoiler)


To make this even remotely book related, expect random non-fiction books on tts and AI's to be showing up on my shelves. Also I have to teach myself Python, something I've been actively avoiding for the past 10 years or so. If anyone has a crash course to Python recommendation I'd be happy to hear it (for background, I can C/C++/PHP/shell script/Ruby so I don't need absolute beginner stuff. I just always thought Python was ugly - not enough parentheses and semicolons :)

The Wedding Speech by Isabelle Broom

The Wedding Speech - Isabelle Broom

This story won a competition called the great British Write-Off, and it's very easy to see why.


It takes a pretty deft hand to depict the effect of one half of a lifelong friendship meeting their soulmate, the blooming romance that follows, take that all the way through to the best mans wedding speech and still manage to work in one hell of a twist, all in 22 pages.


This Is very well written. Even on a second read, when I can see the tiny bits of foreshadowing and see exactly how Broom is manipulating me, it still got me.


I actually cried. I'm a hardened old cynic but I swear to god, real actual tears. Maybe I have a brain tumour. Or maybe the story is just really well done.

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey, Jefferson Mays

Audiobook narrated by Jefferson Mays


Plot summary: James Holden is the young XO of bottom of the barrel water hauler working the asteroid belt when his ship inadvertently springs a trap and is destroyed, leaving Holden and four crewmembers stranded on a shuttle, and no idea who did it or why. Josephus Miller is a worn out cop on Ceres Station, tasked with a "favour for a shareholder" case meant to keep him busy and out of the way, that turns out to be much, much bigger than that. And eventually the two cases turn out to be just one, throwing the two of them into a spiral of events that put them centre of a solar system wide conspiracy that could be the end of humanity itself.

I've read this before and liked it pretty well, but listening to the audiobook was quite a different experience. First time around, Holden came off to me as unlikeable, self-righteous and arrogant, and Miller was my hero - in love with a girl he'd never met, but had come to know while researching and tracking her all across space. Listening to the audiobook I had almost the opposite reaction. Holden is in way over his head, and while he's still self-righteous and a bit arrogant, he seemed much more likeable, and I got more of a sense of a guy just trying to keep his crew alive and do his best. A lot of his more stupid actions (like you know, starting an interplanetary war by accident) make much more sense seen through that lens. Holden believes in people, and humanity, and thinks everyone will eventually do the right thing - he's an idealist.

Meanwhile Miller is clearly increasingly unhinged, but still much better at seeing the big picture and much more of a cynic, not willing to believe humanity will do the right thing without some incentive, which might be by necessity a gun to the head. Yet he's still the hero in the end, the one who finally figures out how all the puzzle pieces and puts himself on the line to try to save a species (his own) that he's long since given up hope on, when even Holden the idealist isn't willing to sacrifice himself.

On the TV Show, which inspired me to re-read (or listen) to the book: It's very well done. It changes the plot substantially, and covers only the first half of this book in season one, but it's well worth sticking with. I love the use of the belters patois (also done very well in the audiobook), and the whole class/power dynamic is great. The show is a little more brutal than the book actually is, so if that put you off, the book might work better.

Overall, having read/listened to both, I can highly recommend the audiobook.

Reading progress update: I've read 30%.

Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven, Mark Vietor

I used to have a bit of a thing for those disaster movies. Towering Inferno, etc. All the way up to Armageddon (I like Armageddon. I can recite great chunks of dialogue from it I've seen it so often.)


The sciency stuff, still pretty good though. I could actually listen to this narrator read just the bits about what's going on out in space for hours, it's like a grand Sagan-style documentary almost. It's just the characters, the plotting, the pacing, the storyline and all the rampant *ism that isn't working.


This hasn't aged well *at all*. I doubt I'll finish it - I'd rather go read some KSR I think.

White Noise by Don DeLillo

White Noise - Don DeLillo

I don't know why but I just can't get this book finished. I've tried several times, and even buckled down and tried the audiobook (which went better), but I get 20-25% of the way through and just lose interest in the characters. The MC/Narrator in particular is just so ridiculously smug about everything.


I think I'll try again, but I need to give it a break. Perhaps a winter book, not a spring/summer one. So consider this non-review a reminder to myself why I actually want to retry this one.


Some of the writing though, is just terrific and I can see why this is well liked. A little hard to grab quotes out of an audiobook but this one grabbed me enough to relisten and write it down, a perfect description of a dog day afternoon near the end of summer:

"The air was a reverie of wistful summer things, the last languorous day, a chance to go bare-limbed once more, smell the mown clover"

While the younger kids come off a little too "Dawson's Creek dialogue", the older teenage son reminds me strongly of trying to have an argument with my own teenagers with their inexorable ability to twist logic (and reality) to their own whims. Unfortunately, he's fairly rarely seen or heard from, certainly not enough to keep me reading, and he's still a couple of years too young at 14 to really be having most of these conversations. 


Even so, as a parent, finding yourself asking increasingly precise questions trying to get a straight answer out of an obstreperous teenager while they proceed to bend semantics in order to avoid giving one is all too familiar.

“Rain is a noun. Is there rain here, in this precise locality, at whatever time within the next two minutes that you choose to respond to the question?”

“If you want to talk about this precise locality while you’re in a vehicle that’s obviously moving, then I think that’s the trouble with this discussion.”


Keith Moon Stole My Lipstick by Judith Wills

Keith Moon Stole My Lipstick - Judith Wills

Judith Wills left home at 16 and talked her way into a job writing for a pop music magazine at the height of the swinging 60's in London. This book tells her story from the 1968 through 1975, working for Fab 208, writing about pop stars, music, and fashion.


Almost all the stories about the shenanigans backstage are new to me and most of them are fairly innocent. But while it's got it's charm, I seem to have a knack lately of picking up non-fiction books that just don't have any meat on the bones. Late 60's/early 70's London wasn't only bright neon fashion and the Osmonds and happy go lucky partying, but you'd think so. The odd way the pop tales are contrasted against the very much darker inserted flashbacks of Judith's fairly awful childhood, makes this a little disjointed to read. And she seems oddly unhappy with what is, after all, pretty much a dream job.


It makes it up to 3 stars because, as said, not too many people are writing new things about the behind-the-scenes of this era, most of it's already been written (and rewritten) so it was fun to read things I hadn't heard a hundred times before. But I was a little disappointed overall.

Mother, Can You Not? by Kate Siegel

Mother, Can You Not? - Kate Siegel

Short book of essays based on an Instagram account documenting the crazy text conversations between a mother who feels "Helicopter" isn't strong enough to describe her and prefers "Drone Mother" and her now adult daughter.


For a book based on a social media account, it's not bad, in fact it's pretty charming. But Ms. Siegel's mother is an absolute treasure. Feminist, protestor, animal lover, respected TV director since the 80's, and clearly utterly fearless. 


The glimpses of the real woman you see are much more interesting (and possibly even funnier) than reading about how mortifying Kate finds dealing with her outspoken directness. In the end, there's not really much meat here (although, the story about how Kim Friedman coopted her teenage daughter to steal a cat from a shelter is pretty hilarious.)


Like other reviewers I'd rather actually read a book by her mother, or even a straight up biography written by Kate - she is an engaging writer and her mother is a spectacular subject, I would definitely read that book.

Cover goodness

Beautiful Intelligence cover, with dancing robots When I saw this I immediately thought of  but let's be honest, even for the rest of us, this is flat out beautiful.  


I don't know much about the book, but it's a while since a cover made me want to find out as much as this one.


(No Grave for a Fox: A Beautiful Intelligence novel - Stephen PalmerAnd if it's any good, it has a followup, named "No Grave for a Fox"   )

The free monthly Samsung book

I mentioned in my last review that my phone gives me a free book every month, and someone asked me privately how that happens. I figure others may not know about this either (took me ages to notice it) and it's a nice offer.


If you have a Kindle account and a Samsung device of pretty much any kind, and you make a Samsung account (a really good idea anyway, because their "Find my mobile" service is faaantastic and free), you can go to the Galaxy Apps store and download the "Kindle for Samsung" app.


Kindle for Samsung is in every other way exactly like the normal Kindle app, except once a month it lets you pick one book out of a selection of four free books offered by Amazon. There's generally a fantasy or sci-fi, a "literary" and a thriller type, and the fourth is often chick lit or women's fiction although it does vary. Most months I look, there's at least one that I'm more or less likely to read.


These aren't loans, the books are completely free, lending enabled, Whispersync if it's available, etc. So even if you don't read on your phone, it might be worth grabbing the app there just to check out the books.


There's a thread here at Mobileread where you can look back at the kind of books that have been offered, but of the few I've remembered to actually get and read (blame my memory, not the selection) I've been pretty impressed.

(post #176 has this month's ones, for instance)


Currently reading

Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey, Jefferson Mays
Progress: 15%
Tiassa by Steven Brust