Friday, December 31, 2010

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

iconiconThe problem with getting behind on blogging about what I've read is that sometimes it's kind of hard to remember what I've read!  Especially when I go two weeks without blogging, as I now have.

I read Chinese Cinderella a couple of weeks ago.  I'd been browsing my library's ebook selection online, and checked out one of Adeline Yen Mah's other young adult books, Along the River (which I didn't end up reading before my loan expired, so I'll have to get it out again).  When reading the note at the beginning, I realized I'd be more interested in reading the YA memoir, so I found and checked Chinese Cinderella out, too.

I like that the author makes an effort to educate the young reader in Chinese vocabulary, names, culture, etc.  It's a well-written book, too.  Sometimes I felt kind of guarded reading it, because I felt like some of it was the author whining and reading too much into the pranks that siblings often play on one another, assuming that meant she was unwanted.  But other times, I felt truly horrified at what happened to her, like with what happened to her duckling, a pet she had as a child.

I was glad when she finally escaped and was able to make a better life for her, and although it wasn't what she wanted to do with her life, it did get her out of that situation... and now she is obviously pursing a career as a writer, just as she wanted to as a girl!  I related to this, as I was persuaded as a teen that I couldn't make a living as a writer, but found my way back to it anyway as an adult.

It's an interesting book, from a cultural standpoint, and the premise of the wronged little girl is certainly compelling.  It's also a pretty fast read.  I'm going to check out her adult memoir, though — Falling Leaves — as I think that might be more interesting to me than the YA version.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr

iconiconWell, I actually read this before the last book I reviewed, Alice I Have Been, but since I just got over being sick I temporarily forgot which order I'd read them in!

In any case, I had had a friend and fellow boarder at the barn where I board my horse recommending Nevada Barr's books to me for some time.  She likes to read a lot, just like I do, so she is always recommending books to read.

Track of the Cat is the first book in a series of mysteries featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon.  In this novel, a murder is disguised as a wildcat killing, but Anna Pigeon figures it out — and starts trying to track down the killer.  It's a great, classic mystery, except in a very different setting — a national park.

One interesting observation I had while reading this was the difference in technology between now and when the book was originally published in 1993.  The lack of cell phones, wireless Internet, etc. — all of the things a heroine would use to solve a mystery in today's day and age — were glaringly obvious.  It wasn't a bad thing, but I often found myself thinking, "Just use your cell phone!" followed by "Oh yeah..."

I remember seeing the Anna Pigeon mystery Ill Wind for sale at Mesa Verde — that one takes place there.  I'm looking forward to getting to that one, since I've actually been to Mesa Verde, but I'm going to read them in order, and that one is third!  Next is A Superior Death — I'll read that one as soon as I have a break in my (currently) rather demanding reading list!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

This is another one that I have to thank the library for. I found Alice I Have Been while browsing the library's OverDrive selections, and decided to check it out.  And boy, am I glad I did!

Alice I Have Been is a novel about the real Alice in Wonderland — Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).  Dodgson was a professor at Oxford, and Alice was one of the dean's daughters; Dodgson would spend a lot of time with Alice and her sisters, taking their photographs and telling them stories.

I wasn't sure at first whether I would like the novel, but I very quickly got sucked in.  It's a tragic story, in a lot of ways — something happened when Alice was 11 that created a rift between Dodgson and her family, and it seems like neither of them ever got over one another.  Benjamin's novel takes a stab at what that something was, and the result is a deeply moving story that actually made me cry at the end.  I rarely cry at novels, so that should tell you something about how amazing this novel is.

I know I recommend a lot of what I read, and the truth is, I like a lot of what I read — it takes a lot for me to dislike a book.  But I would recommend this one more highly than most.  If you are going to read just one book featured on Livre du Jour, this would be the one!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

iconiconI had never heard of this book,but I found it browsing through my library's impressive OverDrive catalog for library ebooks to read on my iPhone.  It seemed very much like the other dark fantasy YA novels I have gotten into reading lately, so I decided to try it out.

I was glad I did!  The book is about a teenage girl named Dru, who has spent her life helping her dad hunt the things that go bump in the night.  She has what her grandmother called the Touch, which means she can sense supernatural creatures when they are nearby.

The book takes about 30 pages to really kick into high gear, but it is pretty suspenseful after that.  There was one thing I didn't like about the narration: It was a little meandering and circuitous.  Dru narrates in first person, and a lot of the narration is her reflecting on things... and she tends to spend a lot of time (and words) on the same topics, coming back to them after already having hashed them out.  It reminds me a little bit of how NaNoWriMo writers write when they are trying to eat up word count.  Perhaps the book was too short for her publisher otherwise?

Other than that small beef, I enjoyed the book immensely.  During the last third of it, I could hardly put it down, even though I had a neck cramp from the way I was sitting, not to mention a lot of work I should have been doing instead of reading.  A great book and worth checking out, if you enjoy the YA dark fantasy books that are currently popular in YA fiction!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Google starts selling ebooks

Apparently Google realized there is no money to be had in free ebooks, and decided it was time to start selling them instead:

Google Makes a Play for a Piece of the E-Books Market

It sounds to me like they are a little late to the game, with nothing to set them apart from other ebooks sellers.  The prices — $9.99 to $12.99 — aren't very compelling, in my opinion, and the author of the article even says that the site "doesn't look much different from the Apple or Amazon e-book sites" and that the ebooks are "nothing fancy — no bells and whistles."  Ebooks purchased from Google will open on all readers on the market except for the Kindle.

Not that I think ebooks need bells and whistles, but the price is an important factor in my decision to buy.  I haven't yet paid anything more than $9.99, and probably won't — there is one I really want for $10.99, and I've been vacillating on it so much that the price will probably come down before I will make up my mind.  But the vast majority of the ebooks I buy are in the $4 to $8 range — only on rare occasions have I paid as much as $9.99.  It just seems like too much for an ebook.

It will be interesting to see how Google fares in the ebook market!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Devil's Company by David Liss

iconiconMy husband had me check out The Devil's Company from the library some weeks ago.  He had seen it at the bookstore and been very intrigued.  He loved the book so much that he actually bought several of David Liss's other books, and insisted that I read this one.

It's not as much my type of book as it is my husband's, but I have to admit it was a great read.  The Devil's Company is a mystery, but it is set in 18th century England.  The main character is an ex-boxer and what is called a thieftaker, which is apparently like a private investigator with brawn.  Everything is very well research, and feels very authentic, and the narration and dialogue feel very period as well.

The Devil's Company is just one of several books about the same character.  In this one, Weaver — the thieftaker — is basically forced into investigating the East India Company.  However, he isn't told much about what he is investigating, other than one man's name that he is given — but told he can never speak aloud, only listen for information regarding this man.

Although this is not the type of novel I probably would have picked up on my own, I do enjoy historical fiction, so I ended up really liking it.  There is something to be said for letting other people's recommendations broaden your literary horizons!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Library ebooks on my iPhone

Thanks to some awesome tech support, I can now read library ebooks on my iPhone with the Bluefire Reader.  They recently came up with an update that works with your Adobe authorization to allow you to open DRM-protected library ebooks on your iPhone.  I was still having some problems, though, because my first generation iPhone can't use the iTunes file sharing feature that the reader depends on.

So I wrote to tech support, and they gave me instructions for transferring files between a computer and my iPhone when they are on the same wireless network.  Now I just have to open the library ebook on my computer, transfer the file, and I can read the ebook on my iPhone.

My library has nearly 2,500 titles available, and I have found many that I was considering buying (in ebook form from Barnes & Noble), so I am in seventh heaven right now.  I know I could have gotten all these books from the library in the regular fashion, but being able to get them as ebooks for free feels like winning the lottery somehow.  I think part of it is not having to plan my reading list around when I can make it to the library.  Also, since not very many people read ebooks yet, there are very short waits for even the most popular ebooks.

Maybe I'm being a bit overly ambitious, because I've already downloaded five library ebooks (which I only have 2 weeks to read), put holds on at least twice that, and saved probably 50 or 60 to my wish list...  But there are so many good ones, I just can't help myself!  To search for ebooks and find a library near you that offers this service, check out Overdrive.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

iPhone ebook readers

I've been so excited about ebooks since discovering first the Barnes & Noble eReader app for the iPhone, and then the Nook app.  I've been reading more and more books on my iPhone — actually spending money on books now (I used to get my books almost exclusively from the library).  For the most part I get either free or cheap (i.e., under $5), so I still haven't spent much money on books, but it's a fairly new thing for me.

I've also been reading Barnes & Noble's Nook forums.  I don't have a Nook myself (yet?), so I mainly stick to the forums about available ebooks.  Users usually announce free ebooks or decent self-published ebooks they find on the forum, so it's worth my while to check the forum every day or two.

One of the discussions lately has been about how reprints of the classics have been cluttering up people's searches since PubIt launched.  I said I didn't mind them, because paying a buck or so for a classic in a Nook formatted ebook is better than getting the poorly formatted, error-ridden Google Books freebies.  Many of the forum users are really big fans of "sideloading," or downloading ebooks onto their Nooks from sites other than Barnes & Noble, but the Nook app for the iPhone doesn't allow you to sideload.  And, up until yesterday, I hadn't found a comparable reader that does.

There are a number of problems I was running into.  You can't use Adobe Digital Editions with the iPhone, which is one of the biggest problems.  There are a lot of PDF readers available through the App Store, but in order to read on the little screen, they have to wrap the text, which eliminates paragraph breaks.  And of course, any ebooks with Adobe DRM — such as Overdrive ebooks that you can check out through your library — don't work with those readers.

One other problem I was running into is that I have a first generation iPhone, so iOS 3.1.3 is the most updated version I can get.  Unfortunately, this means I can't transfer files to my iPhone via iTunes, and — as I discovered today — most of the ebook readers that allow you to upload your own content rely on this feature.

I spent hours on it yesterday, but I finally did find readers to solve all of my issues except the Overdrive problem (there is a solution for Overdrive, but it requires a newer operating system).  Unfortunately, this means I now have three different free ebook readers on my phone, but what can you do?

For Barnes & Noble ebooks I get to keep using the Nook app.  Yay!  For all of my complaining recently, I still like this one the best, and I will miss having all of my ebooks in just one reader.

For classics and books in the public domain I discovered Stanza.  This iPhone app is very much like the Barnes & Noble eReader (the old app).  The nicest thing is that it has a direct link to the Project Gutenberg library of free classic ebooks.  You don't have to convert or transfer the file — you browse their books from right there in the app, and download what you want.  The app also has direct links to a handful of other sources for free ebooks, as well as a few ebook stores.

For PDF ebooks I already own and want to sideload I have to use a combination of Calibre (a free software that converts ebooks into any file type you need) and the Fictionwise (another ebook store) eReader app, which allows you to upload "personal content" that can be read in their reader.  This is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass, but it's the only solution I can find for a first generation iPhone.  I have to convert the ebook into PDB format using Calibre, then sign into the Fictionwise website and upload the newly converted ebook into my library.  Then I open the Fictionwise eReader app on my iPhone, download the ebook, and it is FINALLY on my iPhone!

By the way, the Fictionwise eReader is also very much like Barnes & Noble's original eReader app.  Makes sense, since their site proclaims they are a Barnes & Noble company.  Why their reader allows you to sideload books, and B&N's reader doesn't, is beyond me.

Note: I also discovered I can sideload books into Stanza using a website called Dropbox.  I still have to convert the file first (to ePub format), and then I have to upload it to my Dropbox account.  I just had to add Dropbox.com as one of the websites that I can download ebooks from (which I didn't know earlier I could do).  Since I like Stanza better than the Fictionwise eReader, I am now down to just two ebook readers, unless of course I decide to start buying ebooks from Fictionwise as well as B&N!

For library ebooks from Overdrive you can apparently use the Bluefire Reader, also a free download.  In the past, library ebooks haven't been compatible with Apple devices (iPhone, iTouch, iPad) because Apple doesn't support Adobe Digital Editions, which is the software Overdrive uses to protect the digital rights of their ebooks.  The latest edition of Bluefire uses your Adobe username and password to authorize library ebooks on your iPhone.  Click here for instructions on how to read library ebooks with Bluefire.  The instructions don't work on first generation iPhones — I'm trying to find an alternate way.

It's not a perfect solution, and like I said, I dislike having my ebooks in so many different formats, and having to use so many different ebook readers.  But I have access to many more free ebooks now, so I can't complain.  Hopefully I'll be able to figure out how to get Bluefire to work on my phone, so that I can check out library ebooks as well!