…and Again

Another day, another friend, another nice conversation. I am really blessed.

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While I’m still thinking about how much to share and how honest to be on my blog I thought I could write about something that’s more in the sort of area that I’m thinking of but which will hardly be controversial.

I think friendship is a good thing.

I’ve been thinking about this because over the weekend I got the chance to spend some time with an old friend. My life lately has been about trying to make new friends and wondering whether the fact it seems to take so long these days is because of my age, or just me. But it was amazing and so nice to be reminded of what a good friend can do for you just by being there. 

This is someone I’ve known for years. Someone who gets me. Someone who likes me and who I know and believe likes me. Someone who I can talk to and be honest with and know that I won’t be judged. It’s hard to express how much I’ve missed that. I didn’t even know how much I think.

So that’s what I wanted to say. Not necessarily profound but relevant to me right now and just, well, nice.


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Hello Again

It’s been a while hasn’t it? And to be completely truthful I’ve not read much. I have read a couple of books – which is worse now that I think of it. Means I owe you reviews. Somehow I’ve neither felt like reading or writing about reading.

I have felt like blogging though. Specifically I’ve felt like talking about things going on in my life. Thoughts I’ve been having. But that gets me back to the old dilemma of Journaling versus Blogging. 

Maybe I just need to be brave and accept that if I post here some people will see a side of me that they don’t normally. 

I’m still thinking about it. In the meantime I’ll try to work up the enthusiasm for a review.


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2013 Reading Wrap-up/2014 Goals (part 2)

So I’ve been doing this reading-and-blogging-about-it thing for five years and I usually get excited toward the end of the year to both wrap-up and report the results for the existing year and lay out the targets for the new.  This year I’m not feeling that. The reasons for that are not reading related so I’ll skip them here. 

So I intend to do a quick 2013 wrap-up and present the new goals in one post. I’m not going to do a very detailed post of the numbers, nor am I going to do the “Melissa Awards” – but I reserve the right to do those later if I feel like it.

The headline result of 2013 was that I read 28 books. This is below my target of 40 and way below what I was projected to hit early in the year. There’s a couple of reasons for this. First is that when certain life events hit I didn’t feel like reading. I don’t like this. I’d love to be one of those people for whom a good book is an escape (I’d even more love to be someone for whom writing is) but sadly it takes just enough effort to read to put me off when I’m feeling down about other stuff.

That’s only half the story though. The other big theme was not finishing books. I read 26 of those 28 by the middle of August which makes it look like I hardly read in the second half of the year. However this year I read 9918 pages but only 8862 of those were from completed books. In other words I read 1056 pages in books I started but didn’t finish. In fact I started another 17 books, a couple of which I was more than 50% through. This was partly due to a dogged and frankly ill-advised attempt to keep up with the S&L book club. But it was also a habit of not reading for a while and then when I came back to pick up something new. 

As for goals well I already said I’d joined the Triple Dog Dare thing, which means TBR books only until April and if I can I want to focus on books I’m already in the middle of. Not necessarily just those 17 either but any that I’ve got significantly into in the last few years and always meant to get back to.

I’m repeating my overall book goal of 40 books. I have a few extra “sub-goals” which are nice-to-have but I’m not going to be slavish about:

  • reduce TBR by 20 (1 Jan 2014 TBR is 327)
  • read exclusively from TBR in Jan/Feb/Mar (i.e. Triple Dog Dare)
  • finish 4 of the 6 abandoned books that I was more than 10% through
  • try to choose books I’ll enjoy and increase my average score above 2013’s 7.0/10
  • read 2-3 short stories a month

I’d really like to recover some of the joy of reading though. I don’t think is something you can do by setting goals. I think you just have to read and hope it “catches fire” again. Some people think you can squeeze the joy out by goal-setting but I know for me if I don’t do that I’ll probably hardly read at all. 

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New Goal for 2014 (part 1)

It’s almost that time again when I round up how well I’ve down with the year’s reading goals and set the new ones for the next year. Well I’m going to do half of that (setting goals).

Erm actually I’m going to do half of half of that (set some goals). Or a quarter of a half. Or something…

I’m officially signing up for the “TBR Triple Dog Dare” – which is a challenge to only read from your TBR list for Jan, Feb and Mar. My TBR is pretty healthy and gives a wide selection to choose from.

Actually I’ll go one further and say I want to finish books I’ve already started. OK so that’s my goal for Jan-Feb-Mar. If I get bored I’ll allow myself TBR books that I’ve not started.

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Lot Beta – Tom Merritt

I came across this book because Tom Merritt is one of the presenters of the Sword and Laser podcast to which I subscribe. More specifically I also follow the S&L group on Goodreads and it was there he posted a link to a book trailer video. I followed the link, was curious… and here we are.

The story of Lot Beta is a space opera set in a part of the universe controlled by a vast mining corporation. The hierarchy of the corporation is interesting in that it is, for the most part, hereditary, especially the senior positions. This is supposed to be because of the way the colonization process took place with people leaving behind their home planets on generation ships. I think there’s another reason as well but maybe I’ll come back to that.

Anyway a senior position opens up on “Sat A” by the death of the previous head of this unit*. Normally of course he would be succeeded by his child but this particular COO did not have one. Or did he?

And so begins a tale of a boy with a hidden past who is suddenly thrust into a position of power by a birth right he didn’t even know he had.

He says in the front matter that this was a NaNoWriMo book. I think that this shows, and not necessarily in a bad way. It’s short and has a big central idea but a lot of the avenues it could have taken aren’t expanded on, especially toward the end. Whether that was because the author was “pulling to the finish line” or simply he didn’t want to major on those parts of the book I’m not sure. What I do know is that a lot of the first half of the book is full of corporate politics and bureaucratic wrangling and power plays. Which may appeal to some but I found I was over it relatively quickly. It was well done I think just not really my thing. How our main character uses the vagaries of the supply trade agreements to assert himself over central control was cleverly worked out but for me, not as interesting as some of the later passages about space battles, mining settlement trouble-shooting and dealing with smuggling issues. In other words the action-heavy versus the talky-heavy sections of the plot were not evenly distributed.

At this point it’s probably appropriate to point out something important about the structure of the book. Which is that it’s based on a well-known myth but set in space. The author himself has mentioned this elsewhere on Goodreads but not in the book description so I feel I’d be spoiling to point out exactly which myth it is. I can see how this idea would be the sort of thing one might come up with for NaNoWriMo. It gives you a ready made plot outline to work to. It did make me think at times though, once I realised just how closely to the source he was sticking, whether he would have done certain things if he hadn’t been following this pattern. A couple of the analogues he found were quite clever {spoiler} but then there were sections I think don’t make sense at all unless you realise what it’s based on {spoiler}

It was fairly enjoyable overall. Short and readable.

6/10 – The legend of … in space!

Oh nearly forgot. The title alludes to something in the book which is a set up for a truly awful pun. {spoiler}

*I was never 100% sure whether a “sat” was an artificial satellite like a space station or a natural one like an asteroid. Plus I think there were planets but whether they had a different designation and how they fit into the corporate structure was unclear, or I simply missed it.
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A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

OK so this one I read only a month ago…

And it was for a book club and it was relatively short so I thought why not.

Do I need to give much background or a synopsis? This is the first Sherlock Holmes story. I’d never read any before. Of course I’ve seen lots of different adaptations – or bits of ones. I’ve certainly seen the modern version with Cumberbatch and Freeman, the first episode of which was based on this story and re-titled “A Study in Pink”

In fact I might have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t seen that because they were so faithful to the original that I pretty much knew who the murderer was and how he did it all along.

Having said that this book has an odd structure worthy of note. About the first half is the introduction of Holmes to Watson and then the story of the investigation of the murder, up to and including the capture of the guilty party. The story then switches suddenly to several years earlier in America and we get a sort of western with some Mormons and small town politics and power struggles. This eventually gives us the back story and motive for the killings. I quite enjoyed this section even if the portrayal of the Mormon culture was clearly a harsh caricature.

It’s odd for a modern reader because in any current crime story – especially on film or TV I suppose – the unveiling of the killer, the reasons for the crime and how the detective solved it would all appear in quick succession. Here we get the first, the ‘American interlude’ for half a book and then the other two. That felt odd.

Well it was an OK read and I can say now I’ve read Sherlock Holmes. Not sure I feel the need to read any more though.

6/10 – reasonably good, especially in the second half.

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The Never List – Koethi Zan

I’ve been a bad boy – I read this book almost two months (TWO MONTHS!) ago and I’m only now writing it up. So sorry. Here we go:

I picked this book because it’s written by the wife of one of the presenters of one of my favourite podcasts – The Slate Culture Gabfest. She was on the show to talk about the book and it sounded intriguing. It was the kind of book I might read anyway and it was just about to come out so I thought I’d give it a go.

The Never List is the story of a woman who was abducted and kept in a cellar for years. However the story begins a decade after she was freed and her kidnapper was imprisoned. Now he’s up for parole and she wants to make sure he doesn’t get it. He’s also been writing to each of his victims and she believes this could be more than the apparent remorse it purports to be. This sparks the beginning of an investigation and an uncovering of a much bigger intrigue. It seems her abductor may have had connections to a crazy cult and may even be trying to direct events on the outside. Determined to stop him she sets off to find out more.

So this book functions on at least two timelines. We have the story of the investigation in the present but then we’re given flashbacks to what happened years before. So what is happening now and what had happened are both suspense parts of the novel.

I did enjoy this book. It was well written for the most part. I think the early sections especially work really well. Later on the plot takes over and it becomes a little implausible. Zan spends time telling us about how the hero became a virtual recluse, working from home and rarely venturing out, only opening her door to a very select few. She has to overcome this fear of the outside world in order to go on her investigative journey and whilst initially we see her struggling with this psychologically, it gets a little forgotten. She’s soon taking planes, renting cars, sleeping in hotels and generally running around the country as if that’s the most natural and easy thing in the world for her. Maybe not quite but it felt like her agoraphobic tendencies had been a bit forgotten.

The other thing that stood out to me was that there’s almost no description of what he did to his victims. It seems to have been physical torture rather than sexual abuse, although they are kept naked, but I’m not sure whether we’re meant to infer a combination of both. When I read Blacklands I said how I like the fact that the author respected the victims enough not to glamourize the perpetrator. I guess Zan may be doing the same her but given the genre it felt a little coy.

Finally there were some law enforcement issues that stretched credulity – an FBI officer who handed over sensitive information virtually on request.

So I guess I thought I was going to get a harrowing psychological examination of the impact of a crime, and it started out that way, but it eventually turned into more of a what-will-happen-and-how-will-they-catch-him thriller. A fairly decent one, plausibility issues aside, but a different book than what I was expecting. What I was expecting was the ending which I guessed so that was a shame.

7/10 – a pretty decent thriller.

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Orkney – Amy Sackville

This book was an Amazon ‘deal of the day’. I’ve become quite addicted to checking (usually just after midnight) and sometimes I just like buying a new book. This has of course done my TBR list no favours. Still it’s a relatively harmless vice (ebooks tend to be cheap).

This book may have cured me of the habit.

Orkney is the story of a married couple who arrive on an Orkney island for their honeymoon. They are a strange couple because there’s forty years difference in their ages. He is an almost-retired English professor who expected to end his days single and not discontented among his books. She was a student and has some strange attraction to the north and the sea.

The book follows their two-week stay on the island, with a few flashbacks to their earlier life.

This is a short book – 61,000 words – and yet I struggled to finish it. In fact I put off reading other books because I was determined to finish it first but was finding it hard going. This is actually the exact opposite of The Guiding Principle for this year but in my defence:

  • I have abandoned a few books and I felt like I needed to finish one
  • it was short and that kept tempting me to just finish it in a day or so
  • I went through a period of not feeling like reading so I may as well not be reading a book I didn’t enjoy as one I did (but might remember with sadness for other reasons)

So no, I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not that it’s a bad book. I think that it does something I’m not that interested in. Despite the shortness of the book, the story is even shorter. The bulk of the bulk is about evoking a sense of place, a tone. There is a dreamy, ghostly, ethereal quality to the writing. I can imagine some people reading it and just soaking in the images the prose creates and loving it. For me, and this is as much a deficiency in me as anything, it was a book in which not much happens. And what does happens is rather melancholy.

Nevertheless this is my blog and this review is my impression of the book.

5/10 – well written but not for me.

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A Working Theory of Love – Scott Hutchins

This is a book I bought because it either came up as Amazon ‘deal of the day’ or it was a ‘you might also like’ recommendation. Either way this was not a book I’d otherwise heard of or knew of the author. But the premise sounded interested.

Neill works for a tech start-up in Silicon Valley. But he’s not a computer programmer. He was hired because the company is trying to create an AI – artificial intelligence – and to give them a head start and sound grounding information they’re using the diaries of Neill’s late father. As an ‘expert’ in the material it’s Neill’s job to train the AI, ‘talk’ to it and correct its missteps and stumbles on the road to self-awareness – if such a thing is possible.

Alongside this we get Neill’s own story. How he’s faring after his divorce. He’s met a new woman, two in fact, but it’s not all plain sailing and he needs help. That’s when he hits on the idea of asking his “father” to help. Together they try to put together A Working Theory of Love.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I read this book. It’s not overly fascinated by the AI technology although there’s enough detail for that to seem plausible. There’s more in it about Neill’s past, his real father, his mother, his current life and loves than a purely SciFi story would have had. I found it an enjoyable, easy read. Some of the themes are relatively serious – his father is dead and he’s trying to figure out ‘love’ after all – but it was never weighed down by that. I suppose if I had a complaint it would be that there seemed to be a bit of meandering before the novel got to where it was going. However it wasn’t an overly strenuous diversion so that wasn’t a problem.

7/10 – some interesting musings, and some interesting computer-human conversations.

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