Archive for June, 2017

Hello, and here I am with another reading roundup.  It’s been a while since I gave a reading update and I have been on vacation so I have a lot to catch up on.

Rick Riordan

During my vacation I read two Rick Riordan books – The Dark Prophecy and Camp Blood Confidential.  Both of these are pretty much what you would expect from Riordan; a fun middle grade read, based on Greek/Roman mythology with a good dose of humour.  While I enjoyed them – they were both light, fun reads – they were what I was expecting, nothing more, nothing less.  If you’ve read one Rick Riordan book, you know what to expect.  They are hardly world altering, so I gave both books three and a half stars out of five.

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

One of my most anticipated reads of the summer was Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare, the second in the Dark Artifices series set in her Shadowhunters world.  I absolutely LOVED this one.  Although Emma and Julian are the ostensible protagonists, I found myself less interested in their journeys than those of their supporting characters.  The growing bond between Ty, Kit and Livvy was so wonderfully done   The way Kit just got Ty, who is on the autism spectrum, was so, so beautiful.  I am really excited to see how their bond grows, especially after the events of the book’s ending.  It was also really great to see that in some respects, mundanes understand more than Shadowhunters and that their reliance on runes for healing can blind them to some things.  Diana’s story, too was really nicely told.  I also look forward to seeing how her tale continues.

Additionally, I loved how topical the book was.  Although it is a fantasy book, its themes of a right wing faction in the government looking to restrict freedoms of those whom it doesn’t understand were very well written and highly relevant.  Ever since Lady Midnight I have long suspected that the real enemy in The Dark Artifices will be the Clave.

Naturally, I gave Lord of Shadows five stars out of five.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Geekerella by Ashley Poston is a modern retelling of the Cinderella fairystory, with  a bit of geekdom thrown in.  The book is told from two points of view; that of Ella, a young teen, living with her stepmother and stepsisters who is obsessed with the reboot of cult series Starfield.  Her story follows Cinderella’s beat for beat as she competes to win first prize at the cosplay ball to mark Starfield’s revival.

The second PoV is that of Darien, a young actor cast in the lead role of Prince Carmindor in the reboot.  I really enjoyed his character arc and his growing in confidence in his ability to manage his relationships with friends and family and to handle the role of Carmindor.  His storyline lifted the book from a straight retelling/adaptation of Cinderella to something more.  

For fairytale retellings though, it has nothing on Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles.  I gave Geekerella four stars out of five.

Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer is very much a poor man’s Outlander.  It follows Beatrice Trovato, a modern day neurosurgeon who finds herself unexpectedly transported into the past and who must find a way to return home or make a life for herself there.  While the history is fascinating, and it’s a fun read it’s no Outlander.  Beatrice and Gabriele are no Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser and Jamie Fraser and the antagonist is no Black Jack Randall.

The biggest misstep here was not setting up conflict.  In Outlander much of the first book is driven by Claire’s conflicting desires between returning to the present, to her husband, Frank, and remaining in the past with Jamie, the man she has grown to love.  Beatrice doesn’t seem to care either about returning or remaining.

Despite that, The Scribe of Siena was an enjoyable read and I gave it four stars out of five.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig is not a book I’d planned on reading, but after I picked it up, I couldn’t stop reading,  I devoured it in one afternoon/evening.  It tells the story of Ginny Moon, a young teen with autism struggling to adapt to her new adoptive family as well as the reappearance of her birth mother in her life.  The book is written from Ginny’s perspective and it Ludwig has done a fantastic job of showing how her mind works differently due to her autism, but at the same time indicating how those around her perceive her actions.

I gave Ginny Moon five stars out of five

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

Silence Fallen is the tenth book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and it took me quite a while to get round to reading it. I loved the first few Mercy books, but the last two or three I have found to be rather derivative and added nothing new to Mercy’s story.  Silence Fallen is definitely one of the better stories in the later part of the series.  Briggs’ decision to have Mercy be stranded in Europe and forced to rely on her own resources in an alien culture was a very good move.  I also enjoyed the discussion about what is power and whether Mercy is powerful in her own right or only through her connections to powerful people – it is an interesting discussion and Briggs doesn’t quite give a definitive answer.

I also appreciated that events that took place in book three are still having an effect on Mercy – that is excellent character development.  And of course, the whole Matt Smith/Doctor Who setup was a lot of fun and I fell for it.  Nicely done, Briggs!

I gave Silence Fallen four stars out of five

That’s all I have to share today.  Do you agree with my thoughts on these books?  Let me know in the comments!

Reading roundup – June 17th 2017 was originally published on Canadian eReader

Hello all.  For something a little different today, I thought I’d share with you my first impressions of the Amazon Echo Dot and its pairing with the Philips Hue lighting system.  

I’ve been thinking about a an intelligent speaker for a while.  I regularly use Apple’s Siri on my iPhone to set alarms, timers etc and I was interested in having an always-on assistant in the home.  At the time of writing, there are three contenders in this market; the Amazon Echo, Google Home and the new Apple HomePod.  I was anxiously watching the Apple Keynote to see what kind of product Apple would announce.  While the HomePod looks interesting, its price was beyond my budget and also the emphasis seems to be on the Bluetooth speaker rather than the smart assistant integration.  The ability to play my Apple Music would have been nice though.  The Google Home was also of interest, but the Amazon Echo’s ability to play Audible audiobooks as well as the low price point of the Echo Dot were the deciding factors for me.  Our apartment is pretty small, and I only play music with a headset, so I couldn’t justify the extra expense for the better speaker part of the full Echo.

The Amazon Echo Dot is not officially available in Canada (why not Amazon?) so I had to turn to eBay to purchase one.  My eBay experience was excellent and it arrived a couple of days after I placed the order.  It arrived the same day as my Philips Hue White starter pack to enable smart lighting in our home.  I chose the Philips Hue system as it works with both Alexa and Siri.

The setup for both the Echo and the Hue lighting system was incredibly easy.  Fair enough, I am quite tech savvy, but if you are able to follow on-screen instructions and press buttons when required, you should have no problem.  In total, it took me about 45 minutes to have the Echo and the smart lighting setup and working fine.

The Philips Hue white starter pack comes with the Hue bridge (the tech that translates between your smartphone or the Echo and the bulbs) and two bulbs.  I placed one in our living room and one in our entryway.  However, I forgot that the light switch controlling the entryway turns on two bulbs, so I had to purchase another for the smart functionality to work.  I also have a white ambiance bulb (this one changes the colour temperature of the white light) and a colour changing bulb on order.  The lighting system works brilliantly.  It was easy to setup and it’s wonderful to be able to say “Hey Alexa turn on the living room lights” and they go on.  Apart from the fun aspect, it’s lovely to be able to turn the laundry room light on by voice if you’re carrying a basket full of laundry.  There are a lot more things you could do with it that I have not yet explored, such as the ability to have the lights come on at a specific time or to have them come on when you (or your GPS enabled smartphone) near home.  I am having a few challenges changing the colour temperature of the white ambiance bulb with Alexa, but I’ll continue to work on it.

The Amazon Echo Dot, too, is a lot of fun.  As well as the usual timers, alarms and general questions, I’ve used it successfully to get weather reports, a flash news briefing and to add things to my shopping list and to-do lists.  My to-do list manager of choice is TodoIst, and Alexa integrates wonderfully with it.  I maintain a shopping list on Todoist and asking Alexa to add something to my shopping list immediately adds it.  Likewise if I ask her to add something to my to-do list it will go onto my Today list in Todoist.  Asking her what I have on my to-do list will have her read out what’s on my Today view in Todoist.  Awesome.

I was concerned that, with Alexa not being supported in Canada some of the functionality may be missing.  It’s true that a lot of the location specific information is unavailable.  For example, if you just ask for a weather forecast it won’t pick up your Canadian location.  You have to specify “what’s the weather like in Montreal, Quebec.”  If you do that though it works fine.  Also you can’t ask it to find you the nearest Starbucks.  Mine thinks I’m in Seattle, so a long way to go for a coffee!  I understand you also can’t place any orders.  I was concerned though that it wouldn’t pick up my Audible account as it didn’t show in the Alexa app.  However, worked perfectly.

Like the App Store, Alexa has what they call a skill store. There you can download mini applications to enhance Alexa’s functionality.  Most of them are just a bit of fun, but others are useful, such as the Hue skill to integrate the ability to manage your lights.  I installed the Allrecipes and one called Miauw Miauw.  This allows Alexa to mew like a cat.  I had to uninstall it though as my own cat, Lushka, was freaking out thinking there was another cat in the apartment!

Avid reader that I am, the real Echo killer app if you like for me is the Audible integration.  Quite often I’ll be doing some chores and think, gosh I could be listening to my audiobook about now, but not been in a position to look for my phone, open Audible and start my audiobook.  With Alexa I can just say read my Scribe of Siena audiobook and she fetches it from Audible and starts playing it.  Add to this the quick connection with my Phonak Bluetooth streamer and it’s a real winner.  I only wish Amazon would add the ability to listen to audiobook samples via the Echo.

All in all, I’m really happy with my Alexa and the Hue light integration.  They are well worth checking out.  Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

First Impressions Amazon Echo Dot and Home Automation was originally published on Canadian eReader