booklog 2015 – 2) Gemma Halliday – Spying in High Heels

January 11, 2015

Chicklit mystery set in Los Angeles. Maddie Springer is a young fashion designer who tries to track down her lawyer boyfriend when he goes missing, and finds herself in the middle of embezzlement and murder. I nearly stopped reading on the first page, wherein Maddie describes her behaviour on the freeway when she’s late for a meeting with her boyfriend. Almost causing an accident by cutting into lanes and doing her make-up in the mirror at high speed was presumably supposed to make her look adorably ditzy, but I simply found it loathsome. I did keep reading, but it coloured my view of the character for the rest of the book.

It’s an odd one for me. The mystery plot was enjoyable if predictable, and there were things I liked a lot, with some good supporting characters; but it was hard work getting to the end and if it had been a paper edition I would have probably been high-speed skim-reading. No more than a two star for me and I’m not inclined to try anything else by this author, even if I can see why other people were bowled over by it.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US
ARe


book log 2015 – 1) Ben Goldacre – Bad Pharma

January 10, 2015

I was a bit pathetic at book logging last year, wasn’t I? Doubtless I shall be again this year, but I’m going to try to do slightly better and at least get to the end of January before it all goes horribly wrong…

Ben Goldacre is a very angry man, with good reason. In this book he lays out how the pharmaceutical industry has distorted drug research in pursuit of profit, sometimes intentionally, sometimes entirely without malice but with equally devastating effects for patient welfare. This matters because patients are prescribed less effective drugs, or drugs which are outright harmful, at huge financial expense to those paying for the drugs. This isn’t a conspiracy theory book; Goldacre is quite clear that many valuable drugs have come out of the industry, and that most of the people who work in it want to make better drugs. He sets out in detail how and why bias is introduced into both research and prescribing practices, putting it in layman’s terms but linking to the research papers and court documents that back up what he’s saying. He also addresses the failings of the current regulatory system, and proposes ways to improve things — pointing out that unless real controls with serious financial penalties are put in place, even those companies which genuinely want to reform will be under commercial pressure to continue with bad practice in a race to the bottom.

It’s a dense and at times exhausting read. But Goldacre has done a decent job of making the issue accessible to a wide audience with a direct interest, from patients to practising doctors and academics. You can skim a lot of the book to get the general gist, or you can read it in details without following the links, or you can dig into research material he drew on and has laid out in meticulous footnotes and citations. He concludes the original edition with practical suggestions about what individual people can do to improve things, often simply by asking questions.

I read the second edition, which has a “what happened next” chapter about the reaction to the first edition. As he had predicted, there was a backlash in an attempt to discredit him — but there was also a lot of covert feedback from industry personnel acknowledging the problems and considering how to improve things. While there’s always a “the lurkers support me in email” issue with uncredited sources, he does also offer some examples of companies which have publicly moved to improve transparency.

Bad Pharma is an angry but rational examination of a real problem that affects millions of people, including almost anyone reading this review. It’s a worthwhile read, even if it makes for uncomfortable reading for patients, doctors and companies alike.

Kobo
Amazon US
Amazon UK


book log: David Boyle – Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma

December 26, 2014

This new biography of Turing is short, the length of a long article or essay rather than a full book. If you want a detailed exploration of the life and work of Turing, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but this is a good overview that’s well worth reading. It’s well balanced on coverage of his personal life, his work at Bletchley Park, and his academic work, tying them all together so you can see how one element affects the others. It also brings the story up to date as I write this, having been prompted by the campaign for a posthumous pardon, and there’s some interesting material about that which won’t be in the older biographies.

It’s well written and edited, solidly grounded in known facts but enhanced by the author’s clearly marked interpretation of some of those facts to make it more than a dry recital, and I found it a very enjoyable read. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth than the online articles without diving into the full length works, this is an excellent introduction to Turing. I think it will also serve well as a synopsis volume for those who want an outline in addition to the full length studies.

The Kindle Single is currently priced at 99p, and excellent value for money at that price, even if a significant chunk of the stated page count is a preview of another book by the author. It’s also available in a paper edition, although I’m not convinced that most readers would find it value for money unless they’re die-hard completists, unable to use Kindle format ebooks, or looking for a gift for a Turing fan. There’s also an audiobook version.

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon UK
Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon US


free book offer – Courtney Milan’s “The Duchess War”

November 22, 2014

Remember that I mentioned I was reading a feminist historical romance series that a lot of you would enjoy? Well, I finished it earlier this week. And this is me, Kermit-flailing about The Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan. I did very nearly Kermit-flail IRL on the bus when I opened up one of the later books in the series to find it dedicated to, amongst others, Rosalind Franklin.

Even better, I went to Courtney Milan’s website to pick up links for the books, and found a blogpost saying that the first full length novel in the series, The Duchess War, is free over the holiday season. (Except on Amazon at the moment, because Amazon will not let publishers set the price to free unless publishers remove the book from all other outlets.) Go and get it – there are links in that post to the various retailers where you can pick it up for free. There is a prequel novella, “The Governess Affair”, which I read first, but I don’t think you need to have read that for this one to make sense.

I will write reviews of the individual books, I promise, but for now I wanted to get the link to offer on The Duchess War out there.
ETA: And since I started writing the post, Amazon UK have price-matched, and it’s free there as well: The Duchess War (The Brothers Sinister Book Book 1)


book log: June 2014 part 1

June 29, 2014

As previously noted, the book log is woefully out of date. However, I want to try and write up this year’s Hugo Voting Packet while it is still of some use to other people (and indeed me, for purposes of doing my ballot), so I’m skipping straight to this month instead of trying to keep it in order. Here are the three short story nominations I’ve read so far (if it wasn’t in epub, it didn’t go on the Kobo):

35) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. The water of the title falls on anyone who lies — the less truthful what is said, the harder and colder the water falls. It’s possible to avoid the water by being careful with your phrasing, but that just makes it obvious that you’re being economical with the truth. What does it do to relationships, for both good and ill, when it becomes impossible to lie convincingly? Beautifully written character-driven short.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/02/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere

Amazon uk
Amazon US

(DRM-free)

36) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. Wishes for the year are sent floating down a Thai river, and it’s one village’s duty and privilege to gather the wishes up and grant them, in exchange for the money and gifts attached to the wishes. It’s a situation that’s ripe for exploitation, but all the lives around the river are connected, and wishes can be granted in surprising ways. It’s a fun concept and there’s some nice writing in it, but the story didn’t quite gel for me.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/04/the-ink-readers-of-doi-saket

(DRM-free)

37) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. First person narrative by a young woman who has good reason to believe that selkie stories are for losers. It’s difficult to say much about it without spoilers. I liked it but thought it took time to get going.

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20130107/selkie-f.shtml


book log July 2013 – part 3

May 31, 2014

More Hugo Voting Packet, plus an audiobook.

47) John Joseph Adams (editor) — Armored (anthology)

This anthology was included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Adam’s work for the short form editor category. As one might expect from the title, the stories are all about powered armour. However, it’s not just military powered armor. There are plenty of civilian uses, and some of them get an airing in this book.

Most of the stories are at least readable, and some are excellent. The anthology does suffer a little from the stories starting to seem too much the same after a while, but I think that could be dealt with by not reading the whole thing in a couple of sittings. If sf shorts about powered armour are your thing, this is a nice solid anthology.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/armored-1

48) Clarkesworld

Sample issue of the zine, included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Neil Clarke’s work for the short form editor category. I enjoyed this a lot, and if I had more reading time I’d be very tempted to get a subscription.

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/

49) Ngaio Marsh — Surfeit of Lampreys (audiobook)

The tenth Inspector Alleyn novel, abridged on 3 CDs and ably read by Anton Lesser. The Lampreys of the title are in fact titled, being of a spendthrift aristocratic family, eccentric beyond belief, broke as usual, and depending upon a handout from an extremely wealthy uncle. Who won’t play along, and of course is found murdered. An amusing listen. The novel also available as a full cast dramatisation from BBC Radio 4.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

50) Analog

Sample issue of the zine, included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Stanley Schmidt’s work for the short form editor category. Some excellent fiction in this issue.


Book log July 2013 Part 2 – Hugo novellas

May 31, 2014

I read four of the novellas on the 2013 Hugo ballot. Two of them in particular I think are worth explicitly recommending: Aliette de Bodard”s “On a Red Station, Drifting”, and Brandon Sanderson’s “The Emperor’s Soul”.

43) Aliette de Bodard – On a Red Station, Drifting

Blurb: For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

A consequences-of-war story set on a space station that’s part of a large interstellar empire, one that’s descended from an ancient Asian empire back here on Earth. Not an uncommon theme, but what makes this story different is that although it’s inspired by a Chinese story, the empire’s ancestor is Ancient Vietnam, and it’s written by a Franco-Vietnamese.

de Bodard has built a world full of rich detail, and peopled it with strongly drawn characters, most of whom are coping with being the ones left tending the home front. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

More information on the author’s own website: http://aliettedebodard.com/bibliography/novels/on-a-red-station-drifting/

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/on-a-red-station-drifting

Amazon UK
Amazon US

44) Jay Lake — The Stars Do Not Lie

I finished it, but I found it hard going for personal reasons, and did not like it. Which is a shame, because I like Jay, and I’ve liked other work of his.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-stars-do-not-lie

45) Nancy Kress – After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

While I enjoyed this one and could see why it made the ballot, I find that a year on I don’t remember much about it and don’t feel any urge to re-read it, unlike the de Bodard and Sanderson novellas.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/after-the-fall-before-the-fall-during-the-fall-a-novel

46) Brandon Sanderson — The Emperor’s Soul

Blurb: When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days while trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood.

This was absolutely stunning, one of the best things I read all year. I’ve never read any of Sanderson’s work before, but going from this I need to find some more. It’s a beautifully constructed story which demonstrates the strength of novella length. The soulstamp magic system is fascinating, and Sanderson’s exploration of the philosophical implications about identity makes for a complex story with a great deal of depth. It deservedly won the Hugo. If you like fantasy and you haven’t read this yet, check out the excerpt posted at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/10/the-emperors-soul-excerpt

More information with buy links for various formats in various countries at the author’s website:

http://brandonsanderson.com/books/elantris/the-emperors-soul/

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-emperor-s-soul-1

Amazon UK
Amazon US


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