Archive for November, 2013

What with Doctor Who and the arrival of my new Kindle HDX, this has actually been a very quiet reading week.  I have been rereading Crewel so that I can follow on with the newly released Altered.  

Added to my library this week
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, which I picked up in Kindle format.  This seems an intriguing story about time travel and consequences.  It’s been getting good reviews on GoodReads and Amazon so thought it would be worth checking out.

Upcoming releases

Dangerous Women by George R.R. Martin.  This is a collection of short stories collected and edited by George R.R. Martin, by various contemporary fantasy writers with a theme of strong, independent women.  It sounds an interesting read.

Lending a Paw – A Bookmobile Cat Mystery by Laurie Cass.  This is new series of cat based mysteries, which I love.  I’ve not read this author before, but I do like the genre.

That’s all I have for you this week folks.

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As I may have mentioned a time or two recently, the 23rd of November was the 50th anniversary of the British sci-fi show, Doctor Who.  The BBC released a significant number of documentaries, interviews and special episodes to mark the event.  For me, three highlights were An Adventure in Space and Time, The Night of the Doctor minisode and the multi-Doctor Day of the Doctor 50th anniversary episode.

Day of the Doctor written by Stephen Moffat 
Genres: Sci-Fi 
Format: iTunes Season Pass, Blu-Ray DVD 
Starring: Matt SmithDavid TennantJohn Hurt
Length: 75 minutes Buy from Amazon • iTunes 
five-stars 

There are full spoilers below for all three, so please join me after the cut.

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Today was release day in Canada for Amazon’s latest tablet, the Kindle HDX and mine was delivered as anticipated.  As always with Amazon, the setup was very easy.  Find and enter my WiFi details and the device recognised me.

It is a lovely device to look at – it is a little more compact than the original Kindle Fire HD which I have. The HD screen is gorgeous.  It has a warmer tone than my the original and text is very crisp and clear.  One thing I noticed which really made me happy is that the earphone jack now is fully compatible with my Apple EarPods so that I can start and stop my audiobooks/immersion reading with those.  The placement of the volume and on/off buttons are different and that did take a bit of finding.  I’m sure I’ll adjust quickly though.

I added the origami cover (in purple for those who are interested.)  While it’s cool looking, I discovered that unless you fold it up even when you’re holding it in your hand, the buttons are all but inaccessible.

I will say that the Fire 3.1 OS did take a little getting used to coming from the original Fire.  It took me a bit of time figuring out where everything was.  The device is very very responsive to the extent that the Silk browser may actually be usable.  I almost never used my original Fire HD to surf the web because it was painfully slow.

It came with the latest updates of Cloud Collections and GoodReads which are both excellent.  Navigating my way around my enormous Kindle library is no longer a chore on the Fire.  I’m still not 100% convinced that they are fully synchronised – I’m pretty sure they don’t match on my Kindle Paperwhite and new Fire HDX.  All in all though it’s a huge improvement in content management.

For those of you with an account on Amazon.ca, MayDay isn’t available.  My account is linked to Amazon.com so I was able to test this out.  It worked pretty much as advertised.

One feature I could not get to work at all was the screen mirroring with the Playstation 3.  I have both but for the life of me I couldn’t get them to pair.  After using MayDay, it appears because my PlayStation is registered in Canada, there is no Amazon Instant Video application available.  So it seems that is yet another feature unavailable to Canadians.

It’s still a very nice device although for Canadians I suspect the more open Nexus 7 may be a better bet.  We certainly don’t get the full value of the Kindle in the way our US cousins do.

It’s always fun when you pick up a great read unexpectedly. I first saw Crewel by Gennifer Albin on the Tor website, where they were offering the first five chapters for free. The concept seemed very fresh (although reminiscent of the Three Fates from Greek/Roman mythology – can’t go wrong with an age-old story) and intriguing so I picked up the free five chapter sample.

Before long I’d finished the first five chapters, and happily bought the full book. It really sucked me in. The premise of a girl who has the power to literally weave people’s life stories and that of her region proved as intriguing as my initial reaction and I really like where Albin seems to be taking this in the next book in the series. The characters were engaging enough, with about the depth you’d expect from a young adult novel. Adelice is no Arya Stark, but then again she’s no Bella Swan Cullen either. The novel is written purely from Adelice’s point of view, so she – and the reader – are never entirely sure which of the people she meets can be trusted. This increases the tension nicely.

This is in a similar vein to The Hunger Games, and if you enjoyed that, you will certainly enjoy this. It’s well worth reading

I gave Crewel five stars out of five

 

Happy Doctor Who anniversary week everyone!  I apologise in advance for any non Doctor Who fans among my readers – I’m still on a major Doctor Who mania at the moment! It will pass, honest.

Day of the Doctor written by Stephen Moffat
Genres: Sci-Fi
Format: iTunes Season Pass, Blu-Ray DVD
Starring: Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt
Length: 75 minutes
Buy from Amazon • iTunes
five-stars (anticipated)

As I mentioned last week, I picked up the iTunes season pass for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebration.  Although neither An Adventure in Space and Time nor The Day of the Doctor have been released yet, I have been enjoying the other items on the pass such as the reboot Doctors revisited.  It would have been nice to have had The Night of the Doctor on the Pass as well, but never mind.

I thought I’d write down my thoughts and predictions for the 50th and Christmas specials so that you can have a good laugh at me once it’s aired.  I’ve not seen any spoilers (except for how Matt Smith regenerates) – they’ve done a good job keeping it under wraps – so I’m just basing it on previous episodes, the Night of the Doctor, the trailer and some comments by Moffat.  The main comments of Moffat’s I’m thinking of here are that “the name of the Doctor” also refers to the Doctor’s reputation and that the 50th will set up the next 50 years of Doctor Who, i.e. that it’s a gamechanger.

We know that “the fields of Trenzalore and the fall of the Eleventh” as well as that of the Silence is still waiting.  We know that the Time War is a key focus of the 50th in which it is assumed some version of the Doctor committed double genocide by pressing the button that destroyed the Daleks and the remaining Time Lords.  It’s clear from the trailer for the 50th that Eleven knows this day is coming (because his previous Hurt incarnation witnessed it earlier in the Doctor’s time stream) and is dreading it.  We know from A Good Man Goes to War that Eleven has a propensity for excessive violence and River goes so far as to warn him that the meaning of “Doctor” could change if he doesn’t rein in his impulses.  Eleven says in The Name of the Doctor that the name a Time Lord chooses is a promise he makes and that John Hurt’s Doctor broke his promise.  From the minisode The Night of the Doctor we know that the Hurt Doctor’s chosen name is The War Doctor and that McGann’s Doctor chose his next incarnation specifically to end the Time War.

Putting all of this together, I believe we’ll learn that the promise Hurt broke was the promise to be strong enough to end the Time War.  From the trailer comment by Hurt that “good men are born in fire; it’s the privilege of lesser men to light the flame” I think it will be down to Eleven to push that big red shiny button we see in the trailer.  Hurt will have done all the setup but, without River talking him down, having to make that choice will break Eleven somewhat.  It may even go so far that Ten, Hurt and Clara have to actually imprison the mad Doctor at Trenzalore.  The happy, feely Christmas special will be all about bringing Eleven back to sanity so that he can die/regenerate at peace with himself.  I feel the Silence issue will be that until now the Doctor’s violent/genocidal streak has been kept secret so that people look to him for help.  I believe that is what will be broken so that we’ll see more of the Cass type of reaction “you’re no better than a Dalek.”  I think a major theme of the Capaldi Doctor will be restoring the Doctor’s good name.

So there you go!  Do you think I’m onto something?  Let me know in the comments.  I guess we’ll find out in a few days!

Added to my library this week

Since the copy of The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom I won from GoodReads has not yet arrived, I picked up a copy from Audible.  To be perfectly honest, I’m really not enjoying it so far.  It has more overtly religious overtones than The Time Keeper that I did enjoy.  I will of course do a full review when/if I finish it

On one of Audible’s daily deals this week I picked up Her Royal Spyness, the first in the Royal Spyness series.  It sounded an amusing concept and is narrated by Katherine Kellgren whose narration I’ve enjoyed before.  I’ve not listened to it yet, but of course I’ll let you know my thoughts.

From Amazon I picked up  Catty Corner (Humorous & Romantic Magical Cool Cats Mysteries) by Mary Matthews.  It was free on Kindle, so decided to add it to my library.

What have you added to your library this week?  Let me know in the comments.

 Some time after its publication, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was revealed to have been written by none other than J.K. Rowling.  It was published under a pseudonym to allow the book to stand on its own merits and not that of its author.  Until the revelation, it was selling slowly but surely and gathering positive reviews.   It is difficult, if not impossible, to review this book without being aware of its authorship now that the secret is out.  I would like to think though that I would have enjoyed the book as much whoever wrote it.  It is a solidly written book, much more engaging than The Casual Vacancy which was written officially by Rowling.

The Cuckoo’s Calling tells the story of Cormoran Strike, an ex-SIB private investigator hired to look into the apparent suicide of model Lula Landry.  Initially it appears an open and shut case of suicide, but Strike’s client, Landry’s brother John Bristow believes she was murdered.  Strike is ably aided and abetted by his temporary secretary, Robin.  

What I liked

Meticulous planning.  One of Rowling’s strengths as a writer is her detailed, long-term planning.  In Harry Potter, minor throwaway lines in book two tend to take on major significance in book six. This same planning is ably demonstrated in The Cuckoo’s Calling.  The clues to resolve the mystery are scattered throughout the book and are there for a sharp eyed reader to pick up.  

Likeable characters.  I really enjoyed reading about Strike and Robin and thought they were engaging and realistic.  Strike comes across as shrewd and level headed while Robin’s efficiency and enthusiasm for the field of investigation complemented his skills perfectly.  I appreciated that a man and woman were shown as working together well without the added layer of sexual attraction that is all too often a plot device in many modern novels.  The mutual respect and admiration between Strike and Robin comes across beautifully.

Writing style.  While not as witty and funny as the Harry Potter novels, I did enjoy the writing style.  It was immediate and engaging and kept the story moving along.

The pace.  The story moves along at a good clip, with narrative tension maintained.  

The narration.  The Cuckoo’s Calling was narrated by Phillip Glenister, who did an excellent job.  I particularly enjoyed his soft Cornish accent for Strike.   Here’s a sample

What I didn’t like

There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about The Cuckoo’s Caling.  I found it an excellent read and gave it four and a half stars out of five.

 

 buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes or Audible

Following on from yesterday’s announcement of the latest update to the Kindle Fire HD operating system, Amazon and GoodReads announced an update today to the Kindle Paperwhite second generation software which brings Cloud Collections and GoodReads integration as well as Kindle Freetime.  Both Amazon and GoodReads have posted press releases on the update.  Note that this is only available at this point for the second generation of Kindle Paperwhite released earlier this year.

As with the Kindle Fire update, you can choose to wait until the update is sent to your device automatically, sometime over the next few weeks, or you can go to the update page, download the software and install it manually.  I chose to install manually, and the instructions are very clear and very easy.  It took me all of about 10 minutes to update my device.

GoodReads Integration

This was announced along with the Fires and Paperwhites and was something I was particularly looking forward to.  I’m very active on GoodReads (check out my profile) and was excited about a tighter integration with Amazon.

When you update the software you see the new G GoodReads logo on the top menu and when you click are prompted to connect your accounts.  You then have access to your GoodReads account on your Kindle.

Screenshot 2013 11 19T13 39 26 0500

When you share a selection it is shared to GoodReads too as well as Facebook and/or TwitterScreenshot 2013 11 19T13 37 28 0500

One of the most useful features is the ability to add books purchased from Amazon to GoodReads if you have not already done so

Screenshot 2013 11 19T13 44 20 0500

Unfortunately at this point, the only shelves you can add them to are the Want to Read, Currently Reading and Read shelves.  I hope that integration to your other shelves is provided in the future.

When you finish a book you are invited to rate it on both GoodReads and Amazon.  This is something I’m really happy about – it saves rating the book twice on two different applications.  What I’m not certain about is if this will automatically switch a book from the Currently Reading shelf to the Read shelf.  I have asked GoodReads the question and will keep you posted.

Screenshot 2013 11 19T13 49 44 0500

This is an excellent start to the Amazon/GoodReads integration.  I would like to see it go further with full integration of user-defined shelves to the application.  It will certainly save me some time when I am rating books. What would be even better would be to synchronise your GoodReads shelves with your Cloud Collections.  Whether it’s worth upgrading to the second gen Paperwhite for this update (it’s unclear if this update will come to the original Paperwhite) is probably a matter for personal consideration.

Cloud Collections

I’d not paid much attention to Cloud Collections as I do most of my reading on the Paperwhite and the Kindle Fire.  Until yesterday there was no way of managing your books on the Fire so I was content with the collections on the Kindle Paperwhite.  However when both are synced I can see this being a very powerful tool.  You can see here on this screenshot that the faded grey books are ones that I had put in this collection on another device but had not yet downloaded to this Paperwhite.

Screenshot 2013 11 19T12 05 14 0500

All in all this is a wonderful update to the Kindle Paperwhites, and well worth downloading and installing, especially if you’re active on GoodReads.  If you have just the one Kindle device and are not on GoodReads it’s less exciting.

Are you excited about this update?  Let me know in the comments.

Amazon and GoodReads have just announced the release of the Kindle Fire OS 3.1 which brings GoodReads integration, Cloud Collections and other features to the new Kindle Fire HDX and HD second gen.  It can be downloaded from the Amazon updates page or you can wait a couple of weeks for it to hit your device automatically.  GoodReads also has an article on its blog about the update.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to review this for you until next week when my Kindle Fire HDX is due to ship to Canada – I currently have the first gen HD for which the update isn’t yet available.  There is no mention yet of the update for the Kindle Paperwhite first or second gen, which is also supposed to get a GoodReads update.  

I am very excited about this update as I love both Kindle and GoodReads.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do together.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve is a historical novel that tells the story of Stella Bain, a young American woman serving as a volunteer in WWI France who wakes up in hospital one day with no memory of her identity or her past. It follows her struggle to discover who she is and then to reclaim her life.

What I liked

Engaging characters.  I really enjoyed reading about the character of Stella and those who help and hinder her.  She was well written and I felt absorbed in her story.  The actions and reactions of the characters seemed authentic and consistent.  I am not familiar with shellshock, but I can easily imagine its playing out as it did in Stella Bain.

Beautifully drawn setting.  The setting changes from a WWI field hospital to post war London and America, and each of them was wonderfully detailed and described. Each was very different, but well written.

Nicely executed concept.  Sometimes amnesia story lines can be very cheesy – think Teri Bauer in 24 – but it was well grounded and developed in Stella Bain. I’m not personally familiar with the psychology behind shellshock, but I felt the author had done her homework and it seemed believable and more realistic than other amnesia stories I’ve read.

What I didn’t like

The writing style.  Stella Bain is written in the third person present tense (Stella does this, she sees so and so) which is not a common choice for an author.  Writing in the present tense can give a sense of immediacy to a story, but it’s more often seen in the first person.  Presumably, in Stella Bain this is meant to convey that only the present has any meaning for Stella given that she has no memory of her past and her future is uncertain.  For me, however, it didn’t really work.  I found myself becoming involved in the story in spite of this choice rather than because of it.

The love triangle.  I wasn’t very happy with the way the love triangle played out.  I disliked that the first seeds of the romance were sown while one of the parties was still married to a sympathetic woman he claimed to adore.  While it may be realistic, I prefer that a kind and gentle character doesn’t have to be killed off so that the  lovebirds can come together. 

I wasn’t certain how many stars to give Stella Bain.  It’s not quite four stars, but better than three and a half.  So three and three quarters?

 buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes or Audible

One of the books I read this week was one I was given free to review by the author, State vs. Lassiter by Paul Levine.  This is a legal mystery/thriller in which trial lawyer Jake Lassiter sees court from the other side as he is framed for murder.  This is the tenth in the Jake Lassiter series, but only the first one I have read.  Not having read the others didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book; State vs. Lassiter is quite capable of working as a stand-alone.  Legal thrillers is not a genre I read a lot of although I do enjoy it.  In this one I particularly appreciated the way Levine, a former trial lawyer himself, was able to express complex legal aspects clearly and succinctly to be easily understood by a layman like myself.  

The narrative style was fresh and engaging and each chapter ended on a cliffhanger to keep me reading more.  One aspect I didn’t appreciate so much was the way women were depicted in the novel.  For me a little too much focus was placed on their sexual allure rather than their mental acumen.  Despite that, I enjoyed the book and gave it four stars out of five.

This week a new trailer was released for the Divergent movie starring Shailene Woody and Theo James.  From what I’m seeing this looks to be a great adaptation of a fantastic book.  There have been some great casting coups – I’m particularly looking forward to Oscar winner Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews.  

This week, too, I’ve been sucked into the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary buildup.  Having watched some interviews with David Bradley, who plays William Hartnell, and writer Mark Gattiss, I’m particularly excited by An Adventure in Space and Time.  This is a docudrama about the origins of Doctor Who.  Both Gattis and Bradley come across as very passionate about the project and also very sensitive of the place the program occupies in British culture.  Reviews from the prescreening at the BFI have been positive.  Go and take a look at the trailer.

It’s not often in these days of the internet that show runners are able to pull off a major surprise, but it appears Steven Moffat has succeeded in keeping the secret of the prequel The Night of the Doctor.  Much fangirl squeeing and running off to check out Big Audio Finish’s selection of Doctor Who full cast audiobooks ensued.  Judging from the Twitter frenzy, most of the fandom seemed to agree with me, which was lovely to see.  What a wonderful birthday gift for PM.  

A rather interesting exercise I undertook this week was to watch the very first episode of Doctor Who first broadcast almost 50 years ago, An Unearthly Child, and follow it up with the most recent episode of the reboot, The Name of the Doctor.  It’s interesting to see how much it has changed – and what has stayed the same.  The Doctor’s personality is different, understandable, given how it changes with regeneration.  However, the focus was more on exploration than saving the planet from destruction.  The police box and signature tunes have remained though – ware the show runner who messes with those icons!

Added to my library this week

In keeping with my mania for all things Who, I’ve added a couple of audiobooks to my collection,  The Ultimate Foe and the Eighth Doctor’s Dark Eyes.  I also added a couple of the Best Of the classic Doctor collections.  Amazon and iTunes already have preorders up for The Day of the Doctor, and I chose the iTunes season pass.  As well as the forthcoming Day of the Doctor and An Adventure in Space and Time, it includes the Doctors Revisited documentaries for Doctors Eight to Eleven.  

Also this week I took advantage of the Whispersync for Voice deal to pick up Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas from Audible for $4.

Since I loved The Darkest Minds so much, I added the novella, in Time to my Kindle collection.

Are you excited about the Doctor Who anniversary?  Let me know in the comments.