Invictus by Ryan Graudin – Review

Invictus by Ryan Graudin – ReviewInvictus by Ryan Graudin
Format: ARC
Pages: 464 pages
Genres: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunes
Evelynne's rating: four-stars

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced Netgalley copy of Invictus by Ryan Graudin – thanks so much to Hachette for giving me a copy.  I ADORED Graudin’s earlier series Wolf by Wolf so I was very excited to read Invictus.Invictus is described as young adult time-travel adventure with a dash of Doctor Who (guys, you already had me at “Ryan Graudin,” no need for overkill) and Firefly.  So without further ado, here’s my review.

What I liked

Characters

From my enjoyment of her previous books, character development is one of Graudin’s strengths as a writer and this is borne out by those we meet in Invictus.  I really enjoyed them all and was very much invested in their journeys, romances and challenges.  Each person was nicely developed with his or her quirks, wishes and weaknesses.  The interrelationships between them all were very well done and I really enjoyed seeing how they developed.  Certain characters start out as quasi antagonists, but by the end, I came to care for them as much as for our heroes.

Plot

Without saying too much – spoilers!- I did like where Graudin went with the storyline.  There are some really nicely done twists.  Enjoy.

What I didn’t like

Worldbuilding 

Don’t get me wrong; I loved what we got in terms of worldbuilding. The world and story did fit together well.  However, I would have liked a lot more.  There was so much we didn’t know about the world Graudin has created and the book was the poorer for it.  For example, time travel; awesome!  But what are the rules in this world?  What are the consequences of breaking those rules?  What are the limitations?  As I’ve said often before, you can learn as much about a system by what you can’t do as what you can do.  To return to that old chestnut, can you go back and kill Hitler in Far’s world?  These are all questions I had which weren’t answered in the book.  I think I see where Graudin was going, but I would have liked a fuller explanation.

In a similar vein, I would have loved to have seen some of Far’s and his friends’ adventures prior to the attempted heist that started this particular story.  I would have enjoyed seeing his crew handle a couple of successful missions.  It would also have added to the character development.

I would have liked to have seen this as a duology, with expanded worldbuilding and more shenanigans developed.  There is a natural breaking point halfway through the book which would have been an excellent point to make the reader wait to build excitement for the second part.   

All in all, I really enjoyed Invictus and gave it four stars out of five.

four-stars

Update on the Amazon Echo and Home Automation

Hello, I thought I’d give you an update into my adventures in the Amazon Echo and home automation.  I’m still really enjoying my virtual assistant.  Since my last post I’ve added a few more items to my home automation setup.  My home now includes two Philips Hue Bloom lights, a Philips Hue Go (thank you, employer, for your rewards program 😀 ) a Harmony hub and a second Amazon Echo Dot for our bedroom.  My husband prefers more tried and true methods of controlling our home, but even he has occasionally tried having Alexa control stuff.  It certainly amuses him when Alexa doesn’t quite… perform as expected shall we say.

The part of my home automation setup I love the most is my Philips Hue lights.  Being able to play around with them is awesome and they can make such a difference to my room.  I think I’ve just about resolved my issue with being able to set scenes with Alexa – you do need to be quite particular with the syntax you use unfortunately.  Once I got that down it was much easier.  The addition of the Harmony hub made combining routines much easier.  Now I can say Alexa, set bedtime and she will turn off the living room lights, turn on a nightlight in the bathroom and turn on the bedroom lights to a gentle glow for me.  

I also tried to configure geolocation as well so that our hall lights will turn on as soon as I (or to be more specific, my iPhone) gets near home.  I only set it up a couple of days ago and so far I’ve not been out after dark to test it.  We lead a quiet life!

My impression of the Harmony hub is somewhat mixed.  I’ve not had the time to really configure it yet.  I’ve set it up to do some basic things like turn on and off my TV and dim the lights, but configuration of it to work perfectly will take a bit of time.  I’ll continue to work on it though.  I do like how it combines managing my entertainment systems and my Philips Hue lights together, so that one command will turn on the TV and Apple TV, switch to Netflix and dim the lights.  It’s neat.

I really wish Amazon would provide support for the Echo in Canada.  There’s a lot you can do, but also a lot that is missing, specifically location based information.  It would be lovely not to have to add “in Montreal” when asking for the weather or to be able to ask when the local Home Depot is open.  My Alexa goal is to be able to ask her when the next number 57 bus to town will leave!

Let me know of your experiences with home automation in the comments.

Reading roundup – July 29th 2017

Hello and here I am with another reading roundup.  I must admit I’ve not been doing very well with my reading.  I’m actually three books behind on my GoodReads 2017 reading challenge; 42 books out of 50.  This is due to a couple of things.  I’ve recently become obsessed with playing Assassin’s Creed on my Playstation and watching gameplay YouTube videos.  Sigh.  Honestly, I’m not so violent in real life.  Additionally, I’ve listened to more audiobooks that I have read ebooks, which always takes longer.  That’s my excuse anyway!  So, onto the roundup.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

I absolutely ADORED this book.  I wish I had more stars than 5 to give it.  I would strongly recommend experiencing this in the audiobook version; it’s narrated by a full cast who really brings an extra je ne sais quoi to the story.  Forgive me if I misspell some of the names since I only listened to it.  In in a similar vein to the Illuminae files the story is told both through standard narration and letters, office memos, briefing files etc.  

The story is rather difficult to summarise into a few words; secret government organisations, time travel, Schroedinger’s cat, magic, witches.  I loved, loved, loved it.  Fair warning, you do need to concentrate to keep the various plots and timelines clear in your head.  The whole time travel/magic concept was very well written and I very much appreciated that it had built in limitations.  

The characters, too, are wonderfully engaging.  Each of them is well developed and the motivations for their actions are believable and logical, even for those who end up as antagonists, purely because they are opposed to our protagonists.  I loved Erszebet.  She’s fun an plucky, but her story is very sad when you think about it.  

There is also quite a bit of humour – especially in the memos from the office manager as D.O.D.O. is on the rise and red tape starts to take hold.  Many times I found myself giggling out loud.  The voice actress portraying said office manager did an awesome job at portraying her suppressed frustration that D.O.D.O. doesn’t quite fit the mould of her usual employer.  

I gave The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. five stars out of five, not surprisingly.  Go check this out immediately.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet by the BBC

Those Whovians among you will know that the BBC erased many of the earlier episodes of Doctor Who because they needed the tapes and didn’t think the episodes were worth saving.  The First Doctor’s last serial, The Tenth Planet is one of the victims of this purging.  Only the last few minutes of his regeneration exist.  

However, the audio files still remain, and the BBC has released these as an audiobook with additional narration by former Companion Anneke Wills to fill in the blanks.  It works reasonably well.  The reason I picked this up is in preparation for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special which sees current Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, join forces with the First Doctor, played by David Bradley.  Regeneration will be a major theme for this episode given that both Doctors are about to regenerate imminently.

In December there will be a novelisation released of the story which I shall also pick up.

I gave Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet three and a half stars out of five.

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

I must admit I’m rather struggling with this one.  Still not finished it.

The Greatcoats series by Sebastien de Castell

Recently I was lucky enough to receive a couple of books from the publisher to review.  I received a copy of Tyrant’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell, the fourth book in his Greatcoats series.  As I amn’t familiar with the series, I picked up the first book, Traitor’s Blade to see what it was all about.  This series is described as kind of Three Musketeers with added magic.  I’ve only read the first one so far, but that seems a very good description.  Now, Dumas is one of my favourite authors.  I love the swashbuckling yarn, political intrigue and camaraderie and de Castell seems to have captured that very well.  Despite a few modernisms which jarred on me, I loved the narrative and banter.  I certainly intend to read the rest of the series.

I gave Traitor’s Blade five stars out of five.

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

I only received a Netgalley of this one today and I’m very much looking forward to getting into it.  Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf series has been one of my highlights of he last few years and I’m very grateful to Hachette Canada for the galley.

I don’t know much about Invictus except that it involves time travel with a nod to Doctor Who.  If I wasn’t already sold on the author, that would certainly have been enough to convince me!  Expect a review when I have finished it.

Anyway, that’s all I have today.  What are you reading this weekend?  Let me know in the comments.

We have a female Doctor Who!!!!!

Congratulations Jodie Whittaker, our 13th Doctor.  Here’s the video of the announcement.  As a Brit, Doctor Who is part of my cultural DNA, and the casting of a new Doctor is a national event.

I am so, so excited about this.  I was so happy when I saw the hand taking the TARDIS key and knew we had a woman! 

First, I’m just really happy it’s not Kris Marshall.  No disrespect to Kris – I’m sure he’s a very fine and talented comedic actor, but I don’t think he was at all the right person to fill Capaldi’s shoes.

Now I’m even more excited for the Christmas special with the First Doctor.  Regeneration is bound to be a major theme given that both Doctors are within hours of their respective regenerations.   As an older gentleman product of the Sixties, the First Doctor is very patriarchal.  I really hope we get to see his horror at the prospect of turning into a woman!

I’m not familiar with Jodie Whittaker’s work personally, but I understand she’s handled some really tough storylines on Broadchurch so I’m satisfied.  I don’t think Who has ever miscast the Doctor.  Even poor Colin Baker only played the Time Lord as he was written.

I’m a little concerned at Chibnall’s comment that “13 was always going to be a woman.”  I’m hoping that means he has some ideas for interesting ways in which the gender swap will come into play, not just because he wanted to make his mark on Who by making the Doctor a woman purely for shock factor.  Clearly, Moffat was asked to prepare this.  The Master becoming Missy; the other Time Lord regenerating into a Time Lady; the Master’s snarky comment about the women taking over.

Speaking of gender swap, I hope they don’t drag the issues on too long.  The Doctor is a woman; get over it.  Let’s find out what kind of Doctor she will be.

The gender swap is more impactful than a racial swap.  It’s been shown time and time again that race has no meaning in the Whoniverse.

I wonder if that’s why Bill had to go?  Whittaker is a similar physical type to Heather, Bill’s love interest.  Maybe a Sapphic vibe between the Doctor and her companion was a step too far for Auntie Beeb?   Now I’m wondering about Companions!  Male, female?  How many?

Oh, please let us have River meet 13!  I think she’d be totally down with being married to a woman!

Reading roundup – June 17th 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!


First Impressions Amazon Echo Dot and Home Automation

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.

Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb – First Impressions NO SPOILERS

Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb – First Impressions NO SPOILERSAssassin's Fate by Robin Hobb
Series: Fitz and the Fool #3
Also in this series: Fool's Assassin, Fool's Quest
Format: ARC
Pages: 864 pages
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Those of you who follow my blog will know that Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series is one of my all time favourite fantasy series and that the relationship between Fitz and the Fool is one of my most invested in fictional relationships.  Further, you will know that May 9th marks the release of Assassin’s Fate, the final book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and the apparent conclusion of the 16 book Realm of the Elderlings series.  

Assassin’s Fate is one of my most anticipated and yet dreaded releases of this year, so you can imagine my pure delight when yesterday I received an email advising me that I’d been approved for an early e-galley of said book and that I could download my copy now.  Thank you so much Random House!  I immediately put everything else on hold and have sped read through it already and am here to give you my first impressions, spoiler free.  I intend to do a more spoilery review once I have reread it.

The first question I had going into this book was, would Hobb provide an ending worthy of Fitz and the Fool, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that yes, she does, and how.  She completely knocks it out of the park.  It is not, perhaps, the ending I would have wished for for Beloved and his Fitz, but it is appropriate, beautifully written and altogether perfect. As promised, Hobb has brought to a conclusion many of the storylines across all four of her series set in the Realm of the Elderlings.

Secondly, if you have any investment at all in these characters (and how could you not, given Hobb’s skill in character development?) be aware that this book will really hit you in the feels.  In terms of emotional impact there are scenes in this book that rank right up there with Frodo’s departure from the Gray Havens, Harry’s final walk through the Forbidden Forest or Game of Thrones’ Hold the Door.

What I love most about Hobbs’ books are the characters and their relationships.  In Assassin’s Fate these shine as brightly as ever.  Hobb has a true knack of writing characters who change and develop as a result of the events of the books and what has happened to them.  The dynamics between them also are ever changing and it’s beautiful to read.

There’s little more I can say without going into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave things there.

Naturally, I gave Assassin’s Fate five stars out of five.

five-stars

Upcoming releases for May

Hello, I’m back again with a roundup of all the new releases in May about which I’m most excited.  May is often a busy month in terms of new releases and this one is no exception, so let’s get on with it, shall we?

One of my favourite middle grade authors, Rick Riordan, has two books coming out next month.  The first of these is The Dark Prophecy, the second book in his Trials of Apollo series.  This set of books follows the god Apollo, who has been stripped of his powers and sent to Earth in the form of a gawky teenage boy.  As with all Rick Riordan books, I fully expect this one to combine Greek mythology, adventure and humour in a wonderful blend.  The Dark Prophecy is released on May 2nd.

Tying in with this release is Riordan’s second book of the month, Percy Jackson: Camp Half-Blood Confidential.  This is a pamphlet written as if by Percy Jackson explaining how things work at Camp Half Blood for new demigods.  I expect it to be a fun, quick read.  It is also released on May 2nd.

Also on May 2nd we have the next in Sarah J. Maas’s fantasy series A Court of Wings and Ruin.  While I prefer Maas’ Throne of Glass series, I am still enjoying the Beauty and the Beast retelling.  If my understanding is correct, this book will tie up the story for our current characters, and book four will continue in the same world with a different set of people.  A Court of Wings and Ruin also comes out on May 2nd.

Probably my most anticipated – and yet at the same time dreaded – releases of the year is Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Fate.  This is the final book in her Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and possibly the final book in the Realm of the Elderlings sixteen book series.  I am completely invested in the characters of Fitz and the Fool, and the world in which they reside.  Even the $29 price point for the Kindle version (WTF!?!) will not prevent me from picking up this book in both Kindle and audio formats.  

It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the rest of the series, but know that Hobb has created an incredibly rich, detailed world populated with fully fleshed out fascinating characters and a breathtaking magic system.  It’s because I am so invested in the characters that I am both anticipating and dreading learning how their story ends.  Assassin’s Fate is released on May 9th.

The final book being released in May is Cassandra Clare’s second book in her Dark Artifices series, Lord of Shadows.  I adore Clare’s Shadowhunters world and the move to LA worked so well in the first book, Lady Midnight. I really look forward to seeing how the characters develop and how they cope with the situations they face.  As a bonus, I hear that James Marsters, narrator of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, will be narrating the book – awesome!  I will definitely be snagging the audiobook.

So there you have it, the five books I’m most anticipating in the month of May.  Will you be picking up any of them? 

Reading roundup. Yes, I am still here…

Hello, and yes I am still here.  It’s been two months since my last post.  It’s been a challenging couple of months both at work and at home, and so my blogging has very much suffered.  Things aren’t going to quieten down in the foreseeable future, so I’ll blog when I can, making no promises.  I sincerely apologise to the publishers who have been kind enough to send me ARCs – I suspect that I will not be able to meet my commitments to review these books, but my responsibilities to my employer who pays our bills and family must come first.  At this point in time, reading needs to remain an escape without pressure to review.

So onto the books I’ve read in the last couple of months.

Reading roundup. Yes, I am still here…Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling, Newt Scamander
Series: Hogwarts School Books
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Eddie Redmayne
Length: 1 hr and 40 mins
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Evelynne's rating: five-stars

One of the pure joys of my reading/listening time recently has been the audiobook of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them narrated by Newt Scamander himself, Eddie Redmayne.  This was a wonderful surprise – I really wasn’t expecting it to be as entertaining as it was.  This is a “revised edition” film tie-in, to include an additional footnote by Scamander commenting on the events of the film and implying more editions will be released as more Fantastic Beasts films are released.  It certainly whetted my appetite for more of Mr Scamander’s adventures.  The audio edition is described as enhanced for audio with original sound design. This audiobook includes “audio footnotes” which have been treated with a sound effect to differentiate them from the main narration.  These includes very subtle sound effects of the various creatures about which Scamander is talking, which really added a lot to the listening experience.  What I hadn’t expected was just how funny it would be.  I regularly found myself laughing out loud.  Who knew that the Loch Ness Monster was actually a publicity hungry kelpie?  I suspect this will be a go-to book to put a smile on my face for a long time to come.

As a bonus, proceeds from the sale of the books go to Rowling’s Lumos charity and also the UK’s Comic Relief.  A wonderful listen and definitely worth the five stars I gave it.

Reading roundup. Yes, I am still here…Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Stephen Fry
Length: 71 hours and 2 minutes
Genres: Mystery
Buy from iTunesAudible
Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection narrated by Stephen Fry was somewhat of an impulse buy for me.  Audible just happened to announce the publication on Facebook at a time when I happened to have a spare, unspoken-for Audible credit (a rare occurrence.)  I don’t regret it at all.  As it happens I don’t have a Sherlock Holmes collection in my library and Stephen Fry’s introduction and narration adds a lot to the stories.  His passion for the source material really comes across and who could complain about listening to Fry’s melodious voice for 72 hours?  I can’t say I’ve listened to all the stories, but I’ve loved what I’ve listened to so far.

I gave Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection 4 stars.

Reading roundup. Yes, I am still here…Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
Format: ARC
Pages: 513 pages
Genres: Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Hachette was kind enough to send me an ARC of Claudia Gray’s upcoming YA sci-fi novel Defy the Stars.  Now, I’ve read quite a few of Ms Gray’s novels and really enjoyed them, which is why it’s a real shame I’m having to consign Defy the Stars to my didn’t finish pile.  See: introductory remarks.  It took me at least three attempts to get beyond the first few chapters of Defy the Stars, and I’m giving up at 50% or so through.  Maybe later I’ll be able to pick it up and enjoy it more.

Several choices made by Gray contributed to my struggles with this book.  She starts off the book with the sucker punch of stating that the main character will be dead in two weeks.  However, she didn’t provide a strong enough reason for me to really care about that.  Our protagonist, Noemi, is not an immediately sympathetic character;  interesting, sure, kick-ass certainly, but not a character you can root for at least in the beginning.  She is first and foremost a soldier.  Too many times Gray asked me to suspend my disbelief more than I was prepared to do.  Not disbelief in a situation but in how a character would act.  

On a positive side, the relationship developed between Noemi and the AI Abel was very well done and I would have enjoyed watching it develop as well as Abel’s growing humanity.  The world created by Gray was also – as usual for her – richly detailed and fascinating.  These were not enough to convince me to continue the story at this time.

As I did not finish it I will not assign any rating.

Reading roundup. Yes, I am still here…Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Length: 6 hrs and 29 mins
Genres: Mythology
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Evelynne's rating: four-half-stars

Norse Mythology, written and narrated by Neil Gaiman, was another book I specifically chose to experience in audiobook format, a choice I would wholeheartedly recommend.  In his introduction to the audiobook Gaiman speaks of the oral tradition through which much of the Norse mythology has come down to us.  This is clearly something that the production team bore in mind when making the audiobook and I really had the impression of listening to Mr Gaiman narrate his tales around a blazing hearth in the dark of winter.  

The tales themselves are fascinating, even though I understand they are somewhat sanitised by Mr Gaiman.  Readers of my blog know that I have been following Rick Riordan’s series Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, also based on this set of mythology.  It’s been a real treat to see how the same tales have been handled by two extremely talented and very different writers.

I gave Norse Mythology four and a half stars out of five

Reading roundup. Yes, I am still here…Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
Series: Rain Wilds Chronicles
Format: eBook
Pages: 500 pages
Genres: Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

In my intense anticipation of Assassin’s Fate, the final book in Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool trilogy, I realised that there was a whole section of Hobb’s world about which I’ve not read.  i’m talking about her Rain Wild Chronicles.  I hope to read all four books before Assassin’s Fate is released on May 9th. If you’re interested, check out my initial reread of the Realm of the Elderlings.

As familiar as I am with Hobb’s writing, I knew that the first book in a new series is generally very slow, spending time introducing the characters and their struggles and motivations.  That is also true for Dragon Keeper.  It sets up the story very satisfactorily, at the expense of slow pacing.

I gave Dragon Keeper three and a half stars out of five.  Now onto Dragon Haven!

Upcoming releases

April is a very quiet month for me in terms of book releases about which I’m excited. Other than the aforementioned Defy the Stars, the other book i”m excited about is Red Sister by Mark Lawrence.  This is the first book in a new series set in a different world from The Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War.  It centres around a young female protagonist being trained as a killer in a convent.  This concept sounds awesome, if reminiscent of Robin LeFevers His Fair Assassin series.  In Lawrence’s hands I’m sure it will be wonderful and I can’t wait.  Red Sister will be released on April 4th.

five-stars

Getting things Done by David Allen

Reading roundup – January 29th 2017Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
Format: eBook
Pages: 294 pages
Genres: Self Help
Buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Audible
Evelynne’s rating:five-stars

Self help is not a genre of books I read very often, but I made an exception for David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. One of my goals for 2017 was to become better organised and to be more productive. I first learned about the GTD methodology through Carl Pullein’s YouTube channel that I follow. I’ve been working on this for around six weeks now, so it’s too early to tell, but I’m happy with what I’ve learned so far.

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a productivity methodology based on a few deceptively simple concepts. Now, I’m still very new to GTD, but this is how I see it.  One of the fundamental ideas behind GTD is that the human brain is excellent at processing ideas and being creative, but not a great storage facility.  A key part of GTD is getting all ideas, projects and commitments out of your brain and into a trusted system or external brain.

There are five activities to GDT: Capture, Clarify, Organise, Reflect and Engage. If I can take from the GTD website, this translates to:

Capture: Collect what has your attention.   For me, this means adding all my ideas, commitments and to-dos in my list manager application of choice, Todoist.  I really love this application and regret that I don’t have it at work. I try to capture everything from my doctor’s appointments, to buying cat food for Lushka to a reminder to ask my husband if we have picture hooks.  I’m planning a trip to Europe this summer, so any time I think of something like oh, I must remember to get Swiss francs, into Todoist it goes.

Clarify: Process what it means.  Here I can’t be any more concise than or as clear as the workflow diagram on the GTD website:

Gtd

Honestly, if I take away nothing more from my experience with GTD than the two minute rule (if you can do it in two minutes, do it now, otherwise delegate it or defer it) and the discipline to define the next physical action to move a task along it will have been worth it.

Organise: Put it where it belongs.  This is probably the area of GTD that’s least intuitive for me – I’m not very organised!  At the very least, I try to put any appointments on my calendar, any tasks in the appropriate section of Todoist, and potentially relevant non-actionable information in Evernote.  One interesting aspect of GTD is the use of contexts.  This means organising your tasks not by priority but by the tools, location, and/or person you need to be able to complete them successfully.  So, for example, in my Taxes 2016 list I have an item; pick up tax receipt from pharmacy.  I tagged that as “pharmacy” along with other items like pick up Polysporin and drop off new prescription.  So when I go to the pharmacy I just check that tag to be reminded of all the things I have to accomplish while I’m there.  Similarly, while planning my trip to Europe I have a context of Susanne, the friend I’m visiting.  Any time I think of something I need to ask her, I add it to that list of things to discuss next time I call or email her.

Reflect: Review your to do list and calendar frequently.  The idea here is to keep your “external brain” current with everything that you need to accomplish.  If you don’t add to it or clear our stale items, your real brain will no longer trust your system and it will break down.  Most GTDers do a review at least once a week.

Engage: Simply do.  Pick the tasks that are available to you based on your contexts and get cracking!

The book itself is very well written and the edition I have was updated in 2015 to include discussion of new technology (not specific applications) and how it impacts the GTD workflow.

if you are interested in improving your productivity and generally getting things done you could do a whole lot worse than to check out this book.

I gave Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free productivity five stars out of five.

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