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.

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.

http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=243972

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

 

600 Hours of Edward

600 Hours of Edward - Craig Lancaster

This could have been a very difficult book to read. It's written first person, with a protagonist with Asperger's, OCD - high functioning but with some fairly severe social issues. His wealthy politician father has bought him a house to live in, and for the past 8 years that's what he's done, lived alone, and fairly happily, going to therapy, keeping to his routines. His father communicates with him primarily through threatening letters from his lawyer, although once a month he goes to dinner with his mother and father, an uncomfortable experience for all.

 

Edward has a fixation on Dragnet (he watches exactly one episode, every night, at exactly 10 p.m., but only the colour episodes, and strictly in order.) He has another fixation on the weather - he's been recording the daily highs and lows for ten years in a notebook, and although he checks the forecast every day, he doesn't really believe them. Edward prefers facts.

 

Edward goes to therapy, and writes letters of complaint - one every day. He doesn't send them anymore though, since the "Garth Brooks incident" which resulted in a restraining order. The not sending them is on the advice of his therapist, who he considers a very wise and logical woman.

 

And into this quietly ordered life, a new neighbour arrives and suddenly Edward's world is tipped upside down. The neighbour's 9 year old son inserts himself into Edward's life and suddenly he has friends - the boy and after a while, his mother. And from there, he begins to reevaluate all his choices, how important to him his routines and orderliness really are, and things begin to change.

 

This could so easily have been handled very wrongly, and to be honest, even by the end of it, I had a niggling worry that it was... inaccurate, at least, although I found Edward charming and somehow relateable and his issues handled sensitively and with compassion, but not covered up. I don't know anyone with Aspergers and/or this degree of social anxiety well enough to really judge for sure. That said, I took a troll around the internet looking for SJW posts of outrage about how awful it was, and found actually the exact opposite - several online reviews and blog posts praising it. So there you go.

 

The writing is rather charming and I think deceptively clever. The initial chapters are, like Edward, very repetitive and orderly. Edward wakes up (and we get a little dissertation on the time, etc), goes about his day, watches his dragnet, writes his letter of complaint about something that happened during the day and goes to bed. Over a few days, the repetitive rythym and routine of Edward's life settles in, and then as Edward's order begins to be upset, so does the rythym of the chapters.

 

It's very funny. Edward's obliviousness about other people's priorities and social niceties obviously sets up some quite hilarious situations, but since they are always told from Edward's point of view and he simply doesn't care who he upsets or what anyone else thinks about him for the most part, there is never a sense he is the butt of the joke.  Edward himself, I found utterly endearing.

 

If you like books that are heavy on plot and action, this one probably isn't for you. It's rather literary in that sense, but it's a fast and easy read - once I settled down to actually start it, I read it more or less in a day.

 

Really the only thing that wasn't a total winner for me was there's possibly a little too much about the Dallas Cowboys (I used to live in Texas. I once got politely asked to leave the Dallas Cowboys merchandise store in Dallas because I asked "Who is this Troy Aiken dude" and the staff were worried a fight might break out :) but it's actually plot relevant, and I dealt with it. 

 

Every month my phone gives me a free kindle book, but I only get to pick from a selection of four, and I rarely remember to even go get one, or read it. I should read them more though, because most of the ones I have read, have been gems. This was no exception, it's probably the best book I've read in months.

 

A review from someone who actually does have Asperger's, that I found interesting:

http://life-with-aspergers.blogspot.se/2009/11/book-review-600-hours-of-edward.html

 

Cows doing cow things where they shouldn't be doing cow things

In a week of momentous events such as Brexit and the fallout from that, this still might be the single greatest thing I've read on the internet all week. Even better than Donald Trump posing the wife of a religious leader next to his Playboy cover for a photo op. Just trust me :)

 

http://www.khq.com/story/32276181/cows-doing-cow-things-where-they-shouldnt-be-doing-cow-things

 

I'm not sure which bit is better. The puns, the random insertion of a link to the song "Cattle Call" or the absolutely hilariously serious TV news video at the start of the article.

 

(Courtesy daughter via the "/r/nottheonion" subreddit.)

Venetia by Georgia Heyer

Venetia - Georgette Heyer

One of the few bad things about having friends on book sites who's opinions I tend to agree with and who write great reviews is that I often have nothing to little to add. In this case, though it worked out great, because I couldn't really figure out what I thought about this book, and Murder by Death pretty much got up inside my head and wrote out all my thoughts. Like seriously, that review is spookily close to all the things I would have written if I had written a review, so you could probably just go read that one!

 

In any case, this one tanked for me pretty early with a very unpleasant introduction between the "hero" and heroine, but since it was a buddy read project I stuck with it, and overall I'm glad I did, because I came to really like them both, and to like them as a couple.

 

I think the high point is Heyer's characters, they are so very vivid, even most of the side characters. Despite the fairly dense language, when it comes to drawing a character portrait she actual does so quite economically - it's entertaining to look at just how clear a picture we all had of Clara for instance, when she appears only very briefly in the book. Aunt Hendred is another example, she's really not described in great detail and really isn't in the book for very long, but from her dialogue and her behaviour I feel like I know her intimately. And the language, once you get into a rhythm with it, isn't so hard.

 

More to the point I think I discovered why everyone likes Heyer so much. I've picked up a few "just like Heyer" regency romances over the years, and more or less hated them all, so I always figured I'd probably dislike the original Queen of regency herself. Actually, it's a case of the typical "just like..." falling very far short of the mark. I'm definitely going to try some more of her books. I am thinking of picking up The Grand Sophy, as that's another that was mentioned as pretty universally loved.

 

In the end, this went from a bare 2 after the blackberries at the start, to an easy 4, and there are very very few books I have ever read that have turned my opinion like that. Like MbD though, I thought the ending wrapped up just a little too quickly - unlike modern books which could often stand to lose 50 or 100 pages, I actually thought this one could have done with another 20 pages or so in the final chapters.

 

And really finally: I think this book wins any prizes going for "most uses of the word orgy" in a book without any actual sex. It's impressive.

Reading progress update: I've read 99%.

Venetia - Georgette Heyer

This library book darn near killed me (Large Print Hardcover) which left me in a dilemma most of the week: Too big and heavy to cart on the train, too big to lie around in bed with, since my wrist isn't up to holding that much weight -- but I badly wanted to keep reading!

 

So I just gave up and bought the e-book. I figured I was enjoying it well enough it was worth it, and I'm glad I did, because I spent half of today curled up on the sofa with a fleece blanket and the cats (And my laptop just within reach with the annotations link up!)

 

I'll write a proper review this evening, and by then I'll maybe figure out how to rate it. (Because I have, of course, read 100%, not really 99% :)

Bronze Gods (Apperatus Infernum #1) by A. A. Aguirre

Bronze Gods - A. A. Aguirre

The "male female detective steampunk duo" is nothing new, but I found this a nice take on it, primarily due to two things: The worldbuilding, and the detective work.

The world is rather different to the usual steampunk (or UF) fare. Instead of a psuedo steampowered advanced Victorian England, this is set in the world of Hy Breasil, which used to be fairyland. It provides an actual explanation why there is magic in the world, why there is a complete mashup of cultures as well as, and perhaps most importantly, both why technology seems stalled at the steam era and why the magic that is left is weak and growing weaker.

In short, people washed up in the fairy world over the centuries, from all over the "real" world--the two main characters names appear to be slavic and japanese--but eventually in such numbers and bearing cold iron that they overwhelmed the natives. Some 200 years ago "The Architect" managed to close the veil between the worlds, preventing further influxes of people, but also preventing them bringing newer technology and science with. While some of the fae interbred with the usurpers, and fae or "ferisher" blood still runs, stronger in some families than others, most people are pretty much normal humans and the Summer and Winter clan are greatly reduced. It is above and beyond the most well thought out premise for a steampunk world I've yet come across.

Secondly, the detective work. One of the main characters has Ferisher blood, but his only power is to read emotions (which he can use both on people and to gather information from crime scenes) and using it gives him blinding headaches and an increasing addiction. Although useful, it's costly, and slightly illicit so while it gives leads it's not proof enough for a court. His partner on the other hand, is the first woman Inspector (i.e. detective) and has had to work her way up from the bottom.

She is very serious about her work, and while she uses every advantage she can get, including her partner's readings, she backs them up with actual detective work: Gathering evidence, following down every lead, being methodical and careful to dot every i and cross every t, knowing that most of her peers are simply waiting for her to fail. While this is still a fantasy novel, it's nice to see some real attention paid to the actual mystery and characters actually trying to solve it rather than flailing around and coincidencing themselves into the answers. Although to be fair, there's a bit of that too, but only a little bit.

Less successful for me, is the romantic aspect. There is no romance to speak of in this book, but there's clearly going to be because I haven't seen this much unresolved sexual tension since David and Maddy at Moonlighting. On the one hand, it's handled quite nicely in a lot of ways. These two have been partners for three years, they've come to depend on each other and understand each other, for good and for ill, and they are fast friends. That a period of intense stress and absolute dependence on each other to simply stay alive puts them both in a position of contemplating what more there could be is actually pretty natural. But for me, it just is a little too much "oh angst" in "... he thought to himself" asides, and given we are seeing alternating POV's here we get it from both sides. My tolerance for overt angst is pretty low (which is why I don't read YA), and personally I found it hammered home a bit hard. Given that every other reviewer on the planet seems to find it a swoonworthy luuuurve for the ages (or they hated the book), it's probably me, not the book.

Overall, it's a solid fun read. Less angst and it would have got a 4 star. And I'll definitely read the next one.

Venetia annotations

I posted a link (http://rmdavi.people.wm.edu/Venetia.html) already, and while it's good it doesn't cover all the chapters. Since Venetia and Lord Damarel (and Aubrey!) throw around so very VERY many literary allusions and all seem to be very well read, the link above is a treasure trove for figuring them out, if you're like me and want to know what the heck they're talking about.

 

I was going to post it on my next progress update, but it's really too good to wait for that (my work day just started, but I suspect I will not be getting much reading done tonight.)

 

http://www.heyerlist.org/notes/venetia/annotations.html (link is also the title, but I always forget that and stare at these url posts trying to figure out where the actual link is.)

 

Reading progress update: I've read 11%.

Venetia - Georgette Heyer

It's Sunday! I remembered to start reading the book! (I'm surprised, my self-organisational skills seem to have fallen to zero the last few months!)

 

And now that's enough exclamation marks.

 

I seem to have acquired a large print library book, which is highly entertaining. It's also very huge and heavy and my three-times-broken wrist complains a lot, so I'm probably going to only manage a couple of chapters a day.

 

First impressions: Venetia is full of spunk and really has had the short end of the stick, but seems to have made the best she could out of it so far. And she's just met our hero, who in typical regency romance fashion was acting like a complete tool during the whole encounter. 

 

Oh but sparks were flying, already. So far so good.

 

I also rather liked the observations about the dog, Flurry :)

 

The language and style was a little difficult initially, having just come off a bunch of contemporary UF! but I found myself settling into it, so it's not that hard.

 

(This helped: http://rmdavi.people.wm.edu/Venetia.html - annotations for quite a lot of the VERY thick on the ground regency pop culture allusions, literary and artistic and general background info.

 

I had another one as well, similar, but covered some things not on that page, but I lost the link or rather, I can't remember which browser history it's in. Although I did recognise a few of the poetry snippets and other quotes myself it was very far from all of them.)

 

 

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians - Lev Grossman

I remember reading some essays of Lev Grossman's online and being a little enchanted with his writing. I've been meaning to pick up this series for about forever, but somehow never got around to it. Then daughter and I watched the Syfy series of The Magicians and rather liked it - sulky nerdy Quentin, shy stuck-up Alice, damaged and wild-eyed Julia, belligerent Penny and the fabulous pair of Margo and Elliot. So I thought I'd finally read the book, although I was aware the plot was wildly different.

So, I read the book. And I'm non-plussed, because I really liked the TV series much, much better.

Quentin here is not just sulky and nerdy, he's flat out whiny and self-absorbed to a ridiculous degree, and so so jaded. Alice is cripplingly shy, but has no edge to her. Penny practically isn't in the book (boo! TV Penny is great) and Julia even less so, and really only Elliot and Margo I mean Janet approach the same level of characterisation. And this is absolutely not me complaining about the fact they're different--I'm one of those weirdos who loves the LOTR books and the LOTR movies--but rather complaining about the fact they are all mostly as unlikeable as hell and when someone dies in the book, I simply don't care.

On the bright side, Grossman is a very engaging writer as always, and that is really the only thing that kept me reading. And I get it, I've read his explanations, that they're unlikeable, to a point, on purpose. It just didn't work for me. I didn't hate the book, and I'll read the other two, I'm certainly not regretting the time spent (and in fact, I found this a fast and easy read, because again, as mentioned, Grossman is a good writer.)

So pros: Excellent writing, great worldbuilding.

Cons: I just didn't give a flying fig what happened to the characters.

 

Conclusion: Watch the TV show. And read some other Lev Grossman writing, unless you find the idea of this one particularly enchanting.

 

ETA; A thought: Even if you didn't like the book, give the show a try. It takes until episode three or so to really settle in, but the plot is WILDLY different to the book, making all the characters older (Brakebills is a grad school, not a university), and it has an actual plot that creates some urgency. Relative to the book, all it really shares is some character names (and not even all of those)

Runestone
Runestone
Viking ship grave
Viking ship grave

I thought a few people might like to see why I didn't get my book finished on the weekend: Daughter and grandma dragged me off on a bike ride to go visit this: The first picture is a runestone, standing right on the side of the road just outside the ship. I forgot to write down the exact translation but it is basically "These three guys raised this stone in honour of their friend, the fourth guy", except with names. The second is a viking grave, with standing stones (they're about chest height on me) arranged in the shape of a ship. Whoever was buried there was probably very important.

 

These are both at Åsa Gravefield, out on the island (Selaön) very close to where I live, although it's one of those things you live right by and see all the time and never get around to taking photos. Behind where I was standing to take the pic of the ship arrangement, there's a huge graveyard with 30 odd burial mounds and maybe 100 standing stones. Of course I forgot to take a pic of *that* either (although, after a thousand years, it looks very like a hillside with some bumps and lots of rocks.) I will try to remember to take a picture of it in the spring though, because it's been preserved carefully for several hundred years, and it's a riot of plants and wildflowers in the spring, some of which are close to extinct anywhere else.

 

Following that one road, there are 20 actual runestones along a 10km stretch and several more nearby, which is I think the most concentrated patch of them left in the country (for those who have forgotten, or don't know, we're one island over from Birka, the original Swedish viking capital, and this area has been settled since at least the bronze age - for someone like me, who can trace written history from my home country only 160 years, and with my maori tradition tracing settlement back only 8-900 years, the idea that people have lived right here for thousands of years is really quite astounding. The fact all this history is on display, and virtually untouched right where it's always stood, even more so.

 

(ETA: That works a lot better if I ATTACH THE PICTURES doh.)

3 Dead Princes by Danbert Nobacon, illustrated by Alex Cox

3 Dead Princes: An Anarchist Fairy Tale - Danbert Nobacon, Alex Cox

So, if any book review ever needed a soundtrack, it's this one. That, and this is pretty much the explanation why I picked it up: Political ideology wrapped up in fairy tale allegory isn't exactly my normal reading fare.

 

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTjC6rxHz8g if the embed doesn't work)

 

Danbert Nobacon is one of the members of the British anarchist punk band Chumbawumba, which most people probably only know from the above song, but they've been around for over 30 years. He's the bald guy with the bullhorn in the video above btw. Anarchist punk doesn't even begin to describe them - they're anti-fascist, pro-feminist, pro gay rights and rather infamous. Notably, unlike many seminal punk bands, they're really good musicians too!

 

In one of my favourite stunts, they once took £70k from GM to use a song of theirs in a car ad, and gave it straight to an anti-GM lobby group :). Danbert himself is pretty famous for tipping a bucket of ice water over the head of the then Deputy Prime Minister during their performance of Tubthumping at the Brit Awards (think the Grammys) - a performance that also featured them changing the lyrics of the chorus to "New Labour sold out the dockers, and they'll sell out the rest of us".

 

Alex Cox is equally punk, but he's a film maker: If you're my age, you'll likely remember or at least heard of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, although he's taken to making avant garde/indie films since the 80's. They're quite a pair.

 

In any case, this is a book I picked up purely because I saw who the authors were, with almost no idea what the book would be about.

 

So the story itself, here's the blurb again:

 

Princess Stormy lives in a semi-detached castle with her family and a Fool. When an unhappy neighboring kingdom decides to invade, Stormy must go on her quest, meeting giant Cats, Mermangels, Giggle Monkeys, a Gricklegrack, and Flying Lizards on the way. Oh, and she kills three princes. But that's by accident, and anyway it's their own fault . . .

 

While it takes the form of a fairy tale, it satirises, subverts and inverts and converts it just as you might expect given the authors. Stormy (a nickname, she's actually Princess Alexandra) lives with her father the king and her stepmother, who is very much not evil. Alex is effectively set up to go on a quest for "an accidental adventure", with the Fool for company, and that's exactly what happens. On the way, as you'd expect, she makes new friends, new discoveries, and eventually returns home and saves the kingdom from invasion. And yes, there's the three princes. But it was totally their own fault.

 

It's clearly informed by typically British humour, like Monty Python and Douglas Adams, and in places it's very funny. While it purports to be an anarchist fairy tale, it's also a supremely feminist one, and if my daughters were of the age where they still instantly picked up and read things I handed them, they'd both be getting a copy. As they have regrettably passed that age, I'll still send them a recommendation and note they can borrow mine if they want.

 

The illustrations are fantastic, like a wild cross between Maurice Sendak and a little of the Tenniel Alice in Wonderland illustrations. I loved them, there's a couple I would buy as posters.

 

Finally, this is actually a serious little book, despite it's gleeful silliness. There's a very easy to read section at the end that lays out Anarchy as an ideology (despite the book itself touting "Ideas before ideology", Anarchy is of course an ideology itself). It talks about Kropotkin and evolution and symbiosis and cooperative behaviour between not just humans, but interspecies examples, and it's actually a pretty good intro.

 

Actually, I can't really decide what to rate this. The fairy tale itself, before reading the authors note, I think a 3. It's cute, and funny, but I think perhaps I didn't quite "get" it as much as I should have. Having read the note, I realised how much I was actually thinking about the story, and gave it another half star. And just writing this review, I'm thinking about it even more, and wondering if it shouldn't go up to a 4.

 

It's also a little hard to recommend. I think you'll know just from this review if it's something you would enjoy or not. All I know is, I did - even if I can't figure out how much!

Currently reading

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