Saturday, August 1, 2015

Link Smorgasbord, July 2015

Minecraft in Education
Looks like Microsoft is taking Minecraft in the same direction as Steam for Schools with Portal.  I'm pretty excited.

Cory Doctorow Talks About Fighting the DMCA (2 Videos)
I generally find Doctorow very good at explaining copyright.

8 Ways Parents Discourage Their Kids from Reading
This one hits pretty close to home as I experienced many of these from my dad & step-mom (plus a few that weren't on the list - such as getting in trouble for reading too much and having reading taken away from me as punishment).  Not that I really wanted them to read out loud to me after a certain age, but I was mind-numbingly bored by my collection of books at their place.  In 1st or 2nd grade he had me tested for a learning disability, an action that shocked my teacher and my mother... and it came out that the source issue was that I was bored, I had read all the stories in  Sunday School time and time again, and none of my books at his place were high enough reading level.

Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world
Interesting read.

New Arabic Fiction | 15 Must-Read Books From the Middle-East
I find it often takes an effort to find non-US fiction, so I like findings like this.

Book Subscription Service Pulling Some Romance Titles Because People Read Too Many Of Them
I feel like this is the result of being embarrassingly unaware of quite how quickly romance novels are read and quite how voraciously romance fans read.  Which is honestly kind of ironic considering the role romance novels had in the success of ebooks as a format.

Caught In The Middle: Librarians On The Debate Over LGBT Children’s Books
On diverse collections and challenges.

Rereading Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince Trilogy: It’s a Wrap!
On not just the trilogy, but the women who've been writing fantasy and epic fantasy all along.

Library of Congress' Twitter archive is a huge #FAIL
On challenges and issues relating to archiving and the ephemeral nature of much internet interactions.

Laurie Penny on Sherlock: The Adventure of the Overzealous Fanbase
Not a new article, but I just found it.  While it focuses largely on Sherlock, I think it raises some good points about fanfiction and myths.
What is significant about unofficial, extra-canonical fan fiction is that it often spins the kind of stories that showrunners wouldn’t think to tell, because fanficcers often come from a different demographic. The discomfort seems to be not that the shows are being reinterpreted by fans, but that they are being reinterpreted by the wrong sorts of fans - women, people of colour, queer kids, horny teenagers, people who are not professional writers, people who actually care about continuity (sorry). The proper way for cultural mythmaking to progress, it is implied, is for privileged men to recreate the works of privileged men from previous generations whilst everyone else listens quietly.
The Many Sides of Bundling
On the numbers game of bundling ebooks with print.

Judge Blocks Arizona’s Nude Photos Law
The goal of the law is to prevent the publication and sharing of nude photos that lack the model's explicit consent, however it leads to issues with risking felony charges for a large body of works that are classified as newsworthy, artistic, educational or historical.  Bit of a bind if say TIME magazine runs a story with images that under this law would result in felony charges.  Sort of like the whole classification of obscene or not obscene, it ends up not being a clear-cut issue at all.  More here: Antigone Books v Brnovich.

Library Privacy and the Freedom Not To Read
Big data, patron privacy, and libraries.

Amazon convinced the New York City Department of Education to give it $30 million to sell ebooks 
Yeah, I get it, text books are bloody expensive (and heavy).  But I'm also seeing some pretty regular studies that indicate better learning from a physical book based on the ways we interact with page versus screen.  There's also actually a huge accessibility issue with ebooks, that just being able to enlarge text doesn't fix - due to copyright and licensing issues a lot of the things we are allowed to do by law with physical textbooks to accommodate students with disabilities we cannot do with ebooks.

Yeah, you read that right.  It's easier for us to provide accessible content when we're stuck scanning in portions of a text book than it is with ebooks.

Other issues:
  • Financial barriers to the students and families relating to accessing the ebook.  I could be wrong but that article doesn't indicate any sort of inclusion of hardware to read on, so this again assumes that students have regular access to some sort of computer or tablet along with internet access.  The likelihood of a child having a smartphone is rising, but I'm calling bullshit on expecting someone to read a textbook on that thing.  During the school year public libraries get flooded with kids after school lets out who need to use the public computers and/or the library wi-fi in order to do their homework.
  • Limitation of texts available in Kindle format as ebook selection is still broader in EPUB than in what Amazon sells for Kindle.
  • Institutional/lending collection ebooks are significantly more expensive per copy than consumer ebooks, and Amazon isn't one for the simultaneous access ebook lending model.  "Undercutting OverDrive" just means 50 Shades of Grey won't cost $80 a copy.
  • Amazon loves tracking user data so it's not just teachers who can monitor the students.  Hey Big Data, how's it going?
This is pretty awesome.  I'd love to get my library more involved, but I'm not really in a position to make that happen at this time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

[Book Review] The Demon's Librarian

The Demon's Librarian / Lilith Saintcrow

Demons, magic, and kick ass librarians.  How could I not read this.  It even comes with a dedication to librarians (awww).

Chess used to be your regular librarian, coming across a bit all buns, cardigans, and comfortable shoes at work, with her own life outside where she could let her hair down.  Well, somewhere along the line things went a little wrong and in taking things into her own hands her life goes down the rabbit hole.  Nasty tentacle things that go bump in the night are a good reason to start watching over your shoulder, and little does she know what's coming her way or what newly waking powers she possesses.

Ryan is something of a "hulk smash" alpha male, but it's balanced by his awareness of his need to control his "animalistic" urges.  Rather brooding and over-protective, but his job is literally to be over-protective.


Where do I even start with him?  He's the type of character that I wanted to punch in the face pretty much from the start.  He's the type of character who's only a "good guy" based on his faction, other wise he's pretty much a sleeze doing the bare minimum for his job until something better comes along.  You want him to be a villain so you can hate him without guilt.

Chess is pretty bad ass, she ends up as a damsel in distress situations here and there, but those are largely to being dropped into dangerous situations that she has no preparation for.  When push comes to shove, she will (and does) fight her way out and hold her own.

The cover on this particular edition is all glistening pectorals and other muscles.  I was definitely expecting something bordering into raunchy.  It really isn't, with very light romance and nearly no lusting, and any consummation happening completely off screen.  The focus is on the dark fantasy and danger.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of BelleBooks via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

[Book Review] The Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts / M. R. Carey (Powell's Books)
M. R. Carey masterfully balances narrative and exposition, sharing details and knowledge of the world the characters navigate with a purpose to the plot and the action immediately at hand.  The characters are convincing in their and sympathetic, even if unlikable.  I was quickly drawn into the story and stayed entranced through the end.

The Girl with All the Gifts is the story of the extinction of humanity, and just maybe what comes next.
See full review here.
I am not big into horror (my preferences for LARP settings aside).  I can read terrifying stories without issue during the day, but inevitably as I try to go to sleep my imagination goes into overdrive.  So for me to find a zombie novel about the end of humanity and love it is unusual.  The Girl With All the Gifts was like nothing I had ever read before, so I put it into the reading list as the July pick for the Virtual Speculation Bookclub.  I honestly don't have a really in depth discussion list, but I think it's a great book to read and share.

Discussion Fodder:
  • Did you have any expectations going into this book?  Were they confirmed, were you surprised?
  • What do you think of the setting and world building?  Do you find it believable or too fantastical? 
  • The main characters in the story are all products of their environment, all desperate and flawed.  What do you think of the characterizations and character growth?  Are there villains?
  • Melanie loves the story of Pandora, in what ways does The Girl With All The Gifts mirror the myth of Pandora's Box?  Do you think it's a fitting analogy?
  • The 'hungry' children clearly show intelligence and reasoning, yet they are viewed as not only inhuman but as unthinking and not worthy of names.  Do you think this is a defensive measure, or a state of denial?  Are the children human, or are they something completely other?  How important is the distinction between the children's ability to think and reason versus the full hungries' unreasoning instinct?
  • Did Melanie do the right thing by triggering the spore release?  Are the children humanity's last hope?
  • Zombies traditionally represent various societal flaws and fears, in particular overwhelming mindless consumerism and forced conformity/erasure of individuality.  How does The Girl With All The Gifts match or differ from these metaphors?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

[Book Review] 30 Days

30 Days / Christine d'Abo

Losing someone you love, someone who completes you, is never easy.  Two years ago Alyssa lost her one and only to cancer.  Now a widow in her 30's surrounded by friends happily in relationships of their own and still feeling the loss of Rob, Alyssa is faced with his final urgings that she move on with her life.  As a last gift Rob gave her a set of 30 cards, 30 cards for 30 days of refinding her sensuality, her sexuality, and happiness within herself and others.

When someone new moves in to the neighboring condo, a friendly someone with a cute behind and devilish grin.  Harrison definitely catches Alyssa's eye, and as a temporary resident a relationship is off the books, maybe making him the perfect man to help her get back into the proverbial saddle again.

Christine d'Abo perfectly captures the grief and loss, the struggle of maintaining a sense of normalcy, the feelings of guilt when you realize the ways in which you have healed and moved on.  She also created an incredibly hot and sexy story.  The plot progression falls within expectation, with quickly developing emotional connection, attempts to ignore true feelings, and ultimately a happy relationship.  30 Days surprised me in the best way possible, proving to be convincing and well written (well, I'm not completely convinced on the whole bit involving a grapefruit...), portraying grief and healing without becoming sickly sweet.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Kensington Books via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Challenge - Recommend Away

Normally I wouldn't classify recommending books as a challenge, but A Throne of Books over on Booklikes has presented a very through list.  The fact that they're not all necessarily "favorites" in said category makes it a little bit easier.

I made this a little harder on myself by limiting to just books I've read and trying not to repeat books or authors, since often a single book fits in multiple categories.  For example, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance clearly works for both "unreliable narrator" and "character with mental illness," but I liked it better under wanderlust.

Some of my choices may be a bit odd, but I'm pretty happy with myself for coming up with something unique for each with the self-imposed restrictions.

1. Favorite books in all categories - The Last Unicorn / Peter S. Beagle
2. Start to a series - The Atrocity Archives / Charles Stross
3. By an author who's written over 5 books total - The Deed of Paksenarrion / Elizabeth Moon
4. Classic Literature - The Hobbit / J. R. R. Tolkein
5. Banned Books - Catch-22 / Joseph Heller
6. Featuring an assassin - Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1) / Robin Hobb
7. In a world with Dragons - Dragon Prince / Melanie Rawn
8. Male Main Character - Alif the Unseen / A. Willow Wilson
9. Female Main Character - He, She, and It / Marge Piercy
10. Retelling of another story - Beauty / Robin McKinley
11. Book with a Gorgeous Cover - Ink and Bone / Rachel Caine
12. Debut book of any author - Ancillary Justice / Ann Leckie
13. Fantasy in general - Uprooted / Naomi Novik
14. Finale for a series - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows / J. K. Rowling
15. Graphic Novel - Transmetropolitan / Warren Ellis
16. That you paid over $15 for (and was worth every penny) - Lost Girls / Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie
17. Published after 2010 - Ready Player One / Ernest Cline
18. Featuring a Princess/Prince or Queen/King - Kushiel's Dart / Jacqueline Carey
19. Thriller - Cthulhurotica / Carrie Cuinn (ed)

20. You read because it was a bestseller - The Last Werewolf / Glen Duncan
21. Involving drugs - Junky / William S. Burroughs
22. Memoir - She's Not There : A Life in Two Genders / Jennifer Finney Boylan
23. Favorite completed series as a whole - Otherworld / Kelley Armstrong
24. Book with witches/warlocks - The Necromancer's House / Christopher Buehlman
25. Historical Fiction - The Golem and the Jinni / Helene Wecker
26. Ugly Cry book - Watership Down / Richard Adams
27. Realistic Fiction - Strip Tease / Carl Hiaasen
28. Dystopia - The Windup Girl / Paolo Bacigalupi
29. Time Travel - Slaughterhouse-five / Kurt Vonnegut
30. Elf or Dwarf Main character - The Goblin Emperor / Katherine Addison
31. Favorite incomplete series either by you or not yet finished by author - The Dresden Files / Jim Butcher
32. Literary Fiction - The Handmaid's Tale / Margaret Atwood
33. Non-Fiction (Anything, cookbook, self-help, etc) - How to Shit in the Woods : An Environmentally  Sound Approach to a Lost Art / Kathleen Meyer
34. Middle Grade Novel - Haroun and the Sea of Stories / Salman Rushdie
35. Includes sword/knife fighting - The Princess Bride / William Goldman
36. Something mysterious is afoot - Souless (The Parasol Protectorate) / Gail Carriger
37. Diverse Reads (main character non-white/non-straight) - None of the Above / I. W. Gregorio
38. Wanderlust book - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance / Robert M. Pirsig
39. Unreliable Narrator - Fight Club / Chuck Palahniuk
40. Character with mental illness - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest / Ken Kesey
41. Sci-fi in general - Nexus / Ramez Naam
42. Paranormal Main Character - Moon Called / Patricia Briggs
43. Horror - Horns / Joe Hill
44. Books with murder in them - The Killer Wore Leather / Laura Antoniou
45. Set in a time of war (real or fictional) - Of Bone and Thunder / Chris Evans
46. Set in the place you live - Running With Scissors / Augusten Burroughs
47. Book with servants in some manner - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance #1) / N. K. Jemisin
48. Book eventually adapted to a movie - The Cider House Rules / John Irving
49. Book you've read more than once - Six Moon Dance / Sheri S. Tepper
50. A Good Zombie Book - The Girl With All The Gifts / M. R. Carey
51. A love storyDust / Elizabeth Bear
52. Set in space - Blindsight / Peter Watts
53. Multiple POV - Snow Crush / Neal Stephenson
54. Erotic for people who don't read erotic novels - Carnal Machines / D. L. King (ed)
55. Written by an author who has died (recently or a very long time ago) - Good Omens : The Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes Nutter, Witch / Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
56. Written by an author who is still living - Neverwhere / Neil Gaiman
57. Childhood favorite - 101 Dalmations / Dodie Smith, The Phantom Tollbooth / Norton Juster
58. A long book (Let's say at least 450 pages minimum) - The Name of the Wind / Patrick Rothfuss
59. Young Adult book in general - Little Brother / Cory Doctorow
60. Adult book in general - The Night Circus / Erin Morgenstern

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

[Book Review] A Murder of Mages

A Murder of Mages / Marshall Ryan Maresca (Powell's Books)

A gaslamp fantasy of Sherlockian flavor filled with magic and murder, A Murder of Mages starts off a new series following the investigations of Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling.  The story jumps right in, almost with the feeling of a sequel, with Satrine's intricate and well-established backstory bringing her to where she is now, complete with expertise, fears, and motivations.

The world itself is fantasy, but could just as easily be any of the re-imagined magical Londons that populates the literary world.

The constabulary is a man's world, with women mostly present in support roles.  But Satrine has the skills, and the chutzpah to claim the title of Inspector.  Minox Welling is also a bit of an oddity, not just for his focus on details to the point of obsession and conspiracy theory, but as an uncircled mage.  He has the power, but not the training nor the membership within the fellowship of a Mage House.

When someone starts murdering magicians and leaving their bodies for anyone to stumble across, Constables Rainey and Weilling may be both the best and the worst people for the job.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Friday, July 17, 2015

[Book Review] Bound with Honor

Bound with Honor  / Megan Mulry

This is not a historical/regency romance.  Rather it is "regency reimagined" which allows for regency window dressing with some vague nod to expectations of propriety.  There are references to the expectations of society, but the characters live in a little orgastic oasis where loving polyamory is the norm.

Perhaps it is a child's duty to be embarrassed by one's parents, certainly not all of Kinsey's children were enthusiastic about their parents openness regarding sexuality.  If that's the case, Lord Archibald Cambury fulfills his duty admirably, wanting nothing more than the opposite of the intimate relationships of his closest family.  His mothers are splendid, and his sister is quite happy with her two husbands, but all he want is a single, proper, wife.

The lovely Selina Ashby could be that very wife: demure, lovely, and intelligent.  Or at least Archie thinks she is demure, and is both shocked and horrified to discover that she's a very forward and sexually eager young lady.  To say that he is shocked by her actions is an understatement, and Archie re-evaluates her suitability as both a potential wife and mother.  Then later when he learns exactly how close Selina and Beatrix are, he feels as if his world is falling apart.  Fortunately, his own dear friend Christopher is there to bugger some commons sense into Archie.

If I was to do a review for twitter on this book it would be: "Prudish Lord rejects hedonistic lifestyle & fails to grasp double standards until fucked into understanding."

I'll be honest, the fact that Archie has a pretty well established long-term, if casual, relationship with Christopher, yet is utterly unaccepting to the point of incomprehension of Selina's relationship with Beatrix when she even tells him upfront annoys me.  The first real breakthrough Archie and Selina experience quite explicitly involves Christopher in the most intimate of ways.  Add in all of the other less traditional relationships of his family and the fact that everyone else knows exactly how close the two ladies are makes it all the more ridiculous.  Though perhaps Archie's biggest failing throughout the whole book is having an utterly prudish world view when anything involves him.  His mother is in a loving relationship with another woman, his sister has two 'husbands,' and he even has a dear male friend who he is ever so intimate with.  Get over yourself, Archie.

Read for salacious adventures and overly dramatic conflict.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.