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.

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 Grimlock ♥ Vision 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)


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:


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 :)


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 ( 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.) (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.)


Currently reading

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