Review: Moist Von Lipwig

I can finally review this trilogy since I finished it over the weekend.  I’ve read and re-read Going Postal and Making Money for years, but somehow I never got around to Raising Steam.  Moist was my real intro to Discworld and Terry Pratchett.  Then I went back and red Guards! Guards!  I’m working my way (slowly) through the Witches books.

But I hold a special place for Moist.  He’s awful in a lot of ways.  Like really a bad person who wants to be selfish and greedy.  At least in the first two books.  Now, he also has a strong internal set of morals and ethics – his own which no one else would ever agree with but…

So Going Postal is probably my favorite of the three.  I thoroughly enjoy seeing Moist struggle with his desire to run away and his determination to do something interesting.  The character is “forced” into his position but never loses agency or personality.  In Making Money, he’s somewhat resigned to living “by the law” but still determined he’s a crook and crooked.

It’s Raising Steam that fell apart.  Firstly, Moist was barely the protagonist.  And none of the characters really felt like they had great agency.  I feel like you can see Pratchett’s alzheimer’s throughout the book.  Lord Vetinari isn’t tricksy or snide.  He’s… human.  He never felt “human” in the other books.  It didn’t feel like he had that “I already knew that” suave demeanor.

In a book that revolved around the dwarves Captain Carrot wasn’t mentioned.  Not even a “this is why he’s missing” side comment – nothin’ just…. missing.  Adorabell felt like a trophy rather than a partner (or a person with her own agency).  Goblins were used throughout as a deus ex machina.  It’s a shame because there is an awesome core plot and Pratchett wrote awesome characters earlier in his career.

Overall, I would 100% recommend Going Postal and Making Money but not Raising Steam.  Just skip that last book.  Leave Moist on 2 books and be happy about his progress through them.

Review: Audiobook Players

This review is specifically how these players work with Android Auto (AA) in my Kia Sorento.  I can’t speak as an authority that Android Auto is the same everywhere, so this is definitely MY opinion.

There are technically 5 different audiobook players I have used/do use during my commute.  I’m really only going to review 4 however since Overdrive is pushing towards Libby – either way this is the library, so 100% free (well, paid for by our taxes).  Both Audible by Amazon and Google Play Books require you purchase your books (Audible having a subscription, Google Play doesn’t).  Lastly, the mostly-free option of Librivox.

Libby

love getting books from my library.  I do not love Libby.  This app is awkward. It only recently (like maybe this summer) finally updated to even work on Android Auto.  And it’s…. usable.  The controls are all-but useless (the skip is worthless in the car – it skips too much – I made this mistake once).

The worst thing is the launch.  Libby doesn’t remember I was just listening to the damn book. I have to push the icon for audio (because Libby was my last used app on AA).  I then have to OPEN the menu, pick my book, and click “resume.”  GOD FORBID I am running around doing errands jumping in and out of the car at various stops – I have to do this EVERY TIME.

It exists but it is NOT user friendly.  If it wasn’t linked to the library books…. I’d probably skip it.

Audible

Ok, so disclaimer here, I haven’t used my Audible in about 2 months – I’ve got like 3 books stacked up on it, but I’ve had library books that were on hold that came available and I had to splurge through like 3 audiobooks in 6 weeks.  So they could have updated, and this is definitely the most out-of-date app for me to say “I used this ‘recently,’ I swear.”

But it’s a good app. It works and registers I was reading a book.  On the AA launch page I can just hit “play” and it resumes my book.  I don’t think I ever had to skip around a book for anything, if I did it was so easy I don’t even remember it.

Their subscription prices are also (in my opinion) competitive.  I think the average audiobook is about $20.  There are a decent number that are $10-15, but there are also a bunch that at $30-40. So for $15 you get 1 and $21 you get 2 books per month.  At $21 each of these books is $10.50 – which is well below any average for audiobooks.

Google Play Books

This might be my favorite interface.  Not because of anything really unique, but very simply for one setting.  The speed.  You can set/change the speed of the reading on Android Auto.   So if the reader is a bit slow (I’m looking at you Michael Kramer) you can reset to 125%, and then when it switches (*ahem* Kate Reading) comes on switch back to 100% speed.  I don’t always remember, but if it’s bugging me that day – it’s easy.

Now, the downside is the 100% must-buy-the-book-at-list-price.  Now, they also seem to run lower average prices and deals regularly/all-the-time.  I also use Google Rewards to earn credit.  Now, this credit might get me one audiobook every six months – but still!  For telling Google where I really was (or more likely wasn’t…) I get ~$0.20 each week.  Maybe.

Librivox

I am going to give a lot of leeway for Librivox.  If you don’t know Project Gutenberg and Librivox – you need to.  These groups take books/writings that are in the public domain and put them out for free.  Gutenberg in text, Librivox uses volunteers to make audiobooks. Their app can be free – and supported by ads, or for $1.99 you can get it ad-free.

Really, there are several “weaknesses” to Librivox, but the only one in the app itself is it’s memory.  I know of once I was most of the way home and someone called me – interrupting the book.  When I got off the phone I went to resume and…. it had reset to where I had been at the beginning of my commute.  It took a few minutes to get back to my spot (or at least close).

The downside to volunteers is the quality.  Some readers are really amazing.  Some of them suck.  Sometimes it’s their pronunciation (people shouldn’t fake accents), sometimes it’s clearly they are using less-than-professional equipment (echos and breathing).  I try to be patient with these things, but there has been at least one book I had to either muscle through bad readers on certain chapters or give up because there was only reader and she was awful (that particular one she didn’t understand commas, periods or inflection).

The interface itself isn’t bad at all, again – nothing too special.  All the interfaces for Android Auto tend to be very simplistic (I mean, the goal is to be driving, not paying attention to your book).

Review: The Veil of Gold

The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins was good, but I can’t quite give it great.  It grabbed me pretty quickly, I didn’t hit 100 pages before I was carrying it around so I could read anywhere I found myself with a few moments.

The characters were interesting.  I wouldn’t give them all kudos on being well-rounded but they were definitely interesting and I really liked that the main male in the novel was in a lot of ways very anti-trope.  He was nervous and uncertain and very kind.  And yet I never would call him “whiny” (ok, not without really good cause– ’cause he had one!) and I would never think he wasn’t a man.

Ok, so let me get straight to my biggest beef.  The ending.  It was abrupt.  There was all this lead up and build and then in like 20 pages tried to tie everything into a bow that ended up being very messy instead of amazing.  The story kind of desperately needed a denouement.  It felt like the author knew she hit her 50k in NaNoWriMo and just tried to wrap it up ASAP instead of giving it the same depth and attention she had given the first 50,000 words.

It wasn’t a “bad” ending per say, just very, very abrupt and jarring in that abruptness.  So much of the rest of the novel had been more of a slow burn to have that sudden explosion and then nothing beyond it…. was jarring.  It’s the best description I have.

The plot was fabulous through 95% of the book.  REALLY compelling and awesome use of Russian folklore and history.  I loved the intertwining of the magical and real worlds.  The way the characters wove worked wonders.  Pun might be intended because of the wondrous nature of the plot….

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairy tales but not to just anyone.  I would definitely say it’s more of 15+ age as there is some graphic language, descriptions of violence (Russian fairy tales are NOT generally nice), and sex – although it isn’t erotic or “sexy” but the topic comes up in enough ways I’d bring the age up a little more than I might otherwise.  If not for the sex & language, I’d probably put this at 13+ and then only because of the complexity of the journey itself.  But anyone who’s read Lord of the Rings (read it, not watched the movie) could definitely get through this book – except for the age-potentially-inappropriate content.

I think overall, I’d give this 3.5 out of 5.  Good, recommended to people who I think would enjoy it – but not a “if you don’t read this you are denying yourself pleasure in this life you should regret” level.

Review: Hugo Winner Stone Sky!

N.K. Jemisin’s series The Broken Earth won the Hugo Best Novel for ALL THREE NOVELS.  And having just finished it – damn, I’m not surprised.

Jemisin throws you into the world and uses three voices to explore it so you see it from several viewpoints in the first book.  In the second book she narrows into just a pair of views and for books two and three she generally sticks with Essun and Nassun; but takes a side-line to explore how everything got here in the first place.

Ok, so Jemisin is amazing at two things in this series: her world-building and her magic system.

Let me start with the world.  The “complaint” I might have is she calls it “Earth” but I would find it much easier to have wrapped my mind around it if she had called it anything else.  I kept trying to put her “Earth” onto the layout of planet & continents I know – and I will go ahead and “spoil” and tell you not to do this.  Once I wrapped my brain around “oh, this isn’t MY Earth, they just CALL it Earth” I was able to accept the world much better.

So I like her magic and I struggle with it at the same time.  She semi-makes 2 systems, but they are intertwined.  Or one is a deeper level than the other.  I’m not sure which.  But I think she knows.  It’s a fascinating system as it develops through the series.

Personally, I think if Jemisin has a true weakness in the series it’s her characters.  The reader gets to know Essun exceptionally well, and glimpse other characters through Essun’s interpretation of their actions.  Nassun is less well fleshed out (hell she’s like 10, this isn’t the worst) but considering how important she is – I just wish there was more in Nassun’s head.

Ok – so now I’m going to get into something that broke every rule of writing I’ve ever heard.

All three books are written in second person.

“You.”

At first I was confused, by the end of the first book; I hardly noticed and by the end of the third book I was surprised when she wrapped it up with a pretty bow – and hit me with the sledgehammer of WHY.  Brilliant.  Without spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s worth getting used to the voice (it distracted me occasionally and kept me curious all the time).  I kind of want to go listen to the first book again knowing what I know now.

Definitely, for a fantasy book I give this a 5/5 across the series.  The second book might only be a 4/5 – there were a few times I wanted to yell at characters.  But I was definitely glued throughout the series and it’s worth any annoyance when a particular character (usually Essun) is being an idiot.

The series won Hugo Best Novel every year – go read it.

Review: Freedom

So I gave up 39.8% of the way through Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. One of few books I can say I’ve given up on.  It might help if I could skip ahead, but that’s really hard to do well in an audio book.  Especially since I generally listen while on my commute and I’m driving.

The characters are flat.  And there is a part of me that detests them because I’m afraid someone out there is like that.  The first third of the book focuses on Patty – through her college & married life.  She struggles with anxiety, depression, and alcoholism – and at 40% of the way through you have a hit (since it’s written like her autobiography) that she is aware of it “now” – whenever now is.  But then, a chapter or two before I stopped she stopped being the narrator (I think).  It switched to her husband’s best friend Richard.

Thus far both of them are looking at the third character,Walter – Patty’s husband & Richard’s best friend – with this weird lens of him being a supportive character but somehow also the glue that holds the three of them together and frankly the only pseudo-mentally-stable of the three.  This switch is where I really just fell off the bandwagon (pun intended) and had to go find something else.  I looked at my app and it said 38-something % and I went “shit.  I thought Patty was the character and I feel like her arc is so close to done. I can’t sit through another arc or whatever this dude is doing.  I have no idea what the plot is and no interest in these characters.”

Now, I will say that I had to read Prince of Tides in highschool and this books reminds me a lot of that.  and I will say, I don’t tend to enjoy books that try to rip me up emotionally – I have enough stress in my life, I like my books to be more escapist. Freedom reminds me a little of Prince of Tides.  Not like 100%, but that idea of exploring what made someone do something really messed up and emotionally manipulative and stupid… yeah, I think if Freedom is going anywhere it’s along those lines.

And the writing style was good.  The semi-autobiographical tone of Patty’s story was interesting, with those flares of exposition into her own growth since the moment.  The opening was my favorite part – it was a bunch of snippets of the gossip of the neighborhood about Patty and Walter and their son Joey.  And Patty’s little breakdown and her evolution from “perfect mom” to “crazy neighbor” was well done in that format.

Overall, I have to give this a 2/5 for me – but I could see someone else really getting sucked in and enjoying it more than I did.  I don’t want a story that makes me cry…

Writing: damnit!

The downside, as I’ve said before, to writing “the story I want to read” is when I notice an old file, open it – have an inkling of what I intended and go “damnit. I wanna know what happens!”

I totally did that with a ~1 pg document.  There is a teaser.  A tiny, itsy-bitsy teaser that is driving me crazy.  I don’t remember who the villain was going to be, I have just enough to be curious.  I guess it wasn’t my worst beginning…. You tell me.

Prologue

It is so small and weak. The voice was quiet, pleading.

Their species is not weak. It is almost a bark, with an angry edge to it.

Our younglings are just as helpless. They are not as loud. A third tone, almost a soft musical chime to the worlds.

Do as you wish your highness. Keep it as a pet if you so choose, but if it ever looks the least harmful, then we will kill it on sight. A final, fourth voice said.

The pink mewling creature was lifted up and carried off the hulk of the ship.  As they left they passed the crews that were dismantling the pieces of the ship.

You must admit, came the fourth voice¸ they are good with machines.

They have already integrated too much of our technology the harsh and angry voice said all we can do is win by attrition.

Not all the quiet voice said, Please give me a chance. I am sure there is a way to make it work.

The plan has merit the sing-song voice added.  What can it hurt?

The creature suddenly opened its mouth and let out the most horrendous noise.  All four stopped moving and stared at it.  Then they looked to one another and the chiming voice said, It is hungry.

She is hungry the voice which had been angry no longer was, instead sounding shocked.

So be it, the fourth voice, As king I decree that we shall no longer seek them out.  Princess Risha’lla will raise the thing.  It is not deaf and her plan will be given the time needed to see possible success.

I will not fail you father the soft voice, Princess Risha’lla said.

Chapter 1

“Sir, the orgalla have entered the system,” the helmsman said.  “Shall we meet to escort them?”

“No, wait for them to reach us,” the captain said and moved from his seat on the bridge to the view port at the gunner’s station.

The ship he saw was massive with three smaller ships around it.  His own vessel ran a crew almost a thousand men and women with space to spare for recreation, a dome garden and three sets of quarters which could be used to expand for families if the ship ever was placed on local patrols instead of being on the border patrols.  The ship approaching was at least three times the size of his vessel.

“The price of being good at my job…” the captain muttered as he looked at the ship.  He then went to his chair and sat back down, “Lieutenant, please let the ambassadors know that the orgalla have arrived and we will be meeting them in approximately an hour.”

“Yes sir,” the communications officers quickly turned and began to relay the message to the ambassadorial team on board.

“Captain Chou, the orgalla are requesting to link to our nav comms,” the communications officer reported.

“Link them in so they can follow us into the port,” Captain Chou said firmly.  The young man took a deep breath and sent the signal.  The orgalla were still the monsters parents told children about to scare them.  Some of the colonies still had massive damage from the orgalla almost twenty years before.

“Commander Lorant, you have command until I return,” Captain Chou said.  “Lieutentant, please make sure the ambassadorial team isn’t running late this time.”

The captain did not have to rush to get to the docking bay which would allow them to access the orbital planet access point, but he did not pause to think or talk to anyone either.  The collar of his dress uniform was a little loose, but he didn’t try to figure out a way to tighten it now.  When he arrived two of the attachés were waiting, but none of the ambassadors had arrived.

“Was an hour not enough to time for the ambassadors to be able to dress and assemble?” he asked the attachés with a frown.

“I apologize sir, I know that Ambassador Irvine is on the way,” one of the two said.  As he spoke, a woman swept into the room.  She had chosen to wear a formal gown instead of a suit.  It was appropriate that she had chosen the historical garb of her people, but the long sweeping sleeves trailing across the floor behind must be heavy and hot.

“Am I truly first to arrive?” she asked.  “This is a disgrace!  Ashley, call Poul and you should get Yewoul too.  It is not like any kikital to be late.  I’m sure he’s been detained by Poul.  Oliver I want you to call Etcorm, Deneph and Risyk.  Find out where they are.  I apologize Captain, I thought an hour was more than enough time.  Especially because Deneph doesn’t need to put on clothes or brush fur in anyway.”

“Thank you Ambassador, it is appreciated to know that it is not a lack of protocol,” Captain Chou said with a smile.

“No, I agree with you that we need this peace,” Ambassador Irvine said.  “If my ancestors hadn’t gone to Mars then we would have been destroyed by the Chinese, I understand better than most that we need to expand safely.  The orgalla are too powerful not to make sure they are on our side.  I just wish Earth had sent someone other than Poul.”

“It doesn’t help that the North Aligned States never really saw much of the fighting in the last war,” Captain Chou said.  “Hence they had the power to have Poul selected.”

“Well, he is here now, so we’ll have to make it work,” the woman said firmly.

It was only a few minutes before the other ambassadors arrived.  Ambassador Poul Westmire represented Earth itself, while Ambassador Johanna Irvine represented the human-colonized planets everywhere else.  Poul was wearing a white tuxedo with a white turban around his head.  His thick beard had been combed and greased into a pair of points down his chest.  Johanna was wearing the long blue and silver kimono she had brought which had once been worn by the last royal princess of Japan as she fled to Mars, the ships built and piloted by Australians and then flying to help Australia and Japan escape the Chinese invasions which turned half of Earth into a single empire almost three hundred years ago.  The princess had died on the trip to Mars because of a terrible pregnancy combined with seven months in space.

Review: Villains by Necessity

Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward has been on my reading list for years.  I read Animist when I was in HS and am still disappointed there hasn’t been a sequel. But to be honest, VbN is the better book.  Ironic that her debut novel is better than her second book – but it’s true.  I am sad she hasn’t written more novels because I really like her writing.

So, let’s start with VbN being a book where the “heroes” are all villains – assassin, dark sorceress, thief.  But in a world be subsumed by “goodness” those who want to live outside the lines ARE heroes.  Those who stand up against someone’s vision of “good” to demand they should be allowed to make their own choices to be good or evil as they wish.

The irony that this book comes into my life at a time where I am struggling with ideas of “free speech” isn’t lost on me.  It also makes me chuckle that this damn lens on my face colors EVERYTHING.  But the message is pretty blunt – villains shouldn’t be forced to be good people; it should be a choice people are allowed to make.  And make again tomorrow. And motives matter.  Someone who kills to protect is different than someone who kills for “pleasure” (ew).

The characters ARE tropes – but it’s part of the story to say that Forward explores the fact that every “villain” in the trope might have a reason or a past that makes it make more sense.  Heroes might be villainous to the villains and villains might be heroes when they do something “good” even if they do it for “evil” (usually selfish) reasons.  By playing UP the tropes, she explores them beautifully. Especially to anyone who has played RPGs like Skyrim or D&D they will recognize the classes used.  I can’t say it will make as much sense to someone unfamiliar with the genre, but I think almost anyone can follow the story and enjoy the adventure.

The plot is clear and crisp and even when I thought it was a little predictable, Forward pulled it together by doing a few different tricks – like flipping to the “heroes” and exploring some of their motivation.  She also plays into the story itself everyone understanding the way stories are “supposed to” happen – good guys win and bad guys lose. Right?

Overall, this book took me a bit to get into – probably the full 100 pages I give a book.  It was a book I actually kept in my bathroom for close to six months and managed to pick-up-for-a-page and come back the next day for the next page.  Because of the strength of the tropes, this worked really well.  It isn’t like some “bathroom” books I’ve tried where I have to constantly go back three pages because I’m always “lost” – the plot holds throughout.  It’s simple and yet the twists and turns keep it fascinating.

Seriously, find a copy of this book – it’s out of print or I would absolutely put links up.  Eve Forward deserves every dollar for this book!