Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.

This is not Swedish literature as I have known it. It's not dark, or heavy, or full of deep introspection, or grisly, or creepy. This book, is in fact, the antitheses of what I would have thought of when I think of Swedish literature. It is charming and sweet, quirky and fun. It made me smile a lot, laugh a few times, and wish I could actually meet the people of Broken Wheel in real life.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a love letter to books. It is about how books and reading can enrich a person's life, while at the same time, about Sara's personal journey to live a life beyond her books.

The story is a familiar one, of an outsider walking into an insular community and upsetting things and breathing new life into the community and its people. It's been done before, but Bivald made it her own. Sara is a consummate bookworm who travels to small-town USA to visit her pen pal--only to arrive and find that Amy had just died. She decides to try staying in Broken Wheel, and eventually opens up a bookshop in Amy's memory, determined to turn the citizens of Broken Wheel into readers.

I fell in love with Bivald's characters and cheered for them all. I loved watching them move out of their comfort zones and become happier with life because of Sara and the changes she causes in the town, both directly and indirectly.

Because, books broaden horizons. Readers of fiction have more empathy and are more open to new ideas and people -- this is something that has been shown in scientific studies. And the people in Broken Wheel found their horizons broadened and how. In return, they taught Sara that there was life outside of books, and that human connections were as important as fictional ones. I like to think that Sara was Amy's dying gift to Broken Wheel and vice versa.

Lastly, I love quotes. Adore them. I like my wisdom pithy. And The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was full of wonderful, amazing quotable quotes about reading, books, and life.

For example:
Never live your life according to the idiots' rules. Because they'll drag you down to their level, they'll win, and you'll have a damned awful time in the process.
I greatly enjoyed this book and hope that Bivald writes more, and that we see her future works translated for the US market.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reading from Stash

Looking back over the books I read last year, I realized I need some accountability for how many books I purchase. Last year, it was a lot. I don't even want to count how many because the number may cause me to hide in shame.

This year, I'm determined to read from my stash. Of course, there will be new books coming out and I've already earmarked some space on my TBR list for books some of my favorite authors are releasing. But the fact of the matter is, I have too many unread books in my collection, and getting an ebook reader has not helped that at all. Those cheap or free books are hard to resist.

In 2015, I read 116 books, novellas, or graphic novels. Of those 116, I only owned about 20 of them prior to the start of the year. All the others were new purchases, borrowed, review copies, or read via my Oyster subscription. 20 out of 116. That's about 17%. Eesh.

Now that Oyster has sunsetted, that avenue for new books is closed to me. But my impulse purchases really are books. Between how ridiculously easy it is to buy an ebook and the slew of review copies I can get, it's difficult to keep my resolution to only read from stash. I know because I recall that was my resolution last year, as well.


Okay. New year; new resolve.

I still have:

  • Review copies. So many review copies. So I'll stop requesting so many and work through the backlog.
  • Two book subscription boxes. These are going to keep coming because I enjoy them a lot, and I feel that only two new books a month is doable.
  • Some books that will be instant-buys as soon as they are available for purchase. These are ongoing series I'm reading or favorite authors. They will just happen
But I'm going to think twice before hitting the "Buy Now" button at Amazon when that book which has been on my TBR list is on sale. I will accept it is okay to walk out of a bookstore without buying a book. 

And lastly, I will read from stash. I have a wall of books I stare at every day while I'm sitting at home working. It really shouldn't be hard to find a new book to read once I finish one. 

So. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Amy might not have had the most exciting life over the past few years, up here in her room, but she must have been fighting death to the very end. Sara could understand why she had been in denial or so long. It must have been a frightening realization: so many books she would never get to pick up, so many stories that would happen without her, so many authors she would never get to discover.

That night, Sara sat in Amy's library for hours, thinking about how tragic it was that the written word was immortal while people were not, and grieving for her, the woman she had never met.

-- Katarina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Top 10 of 2015

Last year, I read a lot. According to my count, I read 116 books, including graphic novels and novellas. That's a lot of books. It helped that I wasn't fully employed for a number of months and had insomnia for a few weeks in the fall, dropping me into a vicious cycle of staying up until 4 reading, napping, and then not being able to fall asleep at night so I pick up a book...

Side note: That was seriously unhealthy and I destroyed my immune system. Don't do that.

Looking back at those 116 books, I decided to whittle that down to my top ten books of the year. This was hard, as you can imagine, but not as hard as I expected. Despite reading a lot, many of the books were not that memorable or were easy to drop from my short list once I had a short list of seventeen books.

So, without further ado: my top books of 2015. These are in no particular order because asking me to do that would be infinitely more difficult than just picking ten.

  1. The Martian by Andy Weir - Unless you've been living under a rock, you have heard of this book. I adored and devoured this book and commend it for not being afraid of being full of science!geekery. I loved that Weir had a diverse cast gender-wise, did not make a big deal about this, and did not describe anybody's physical characteristics. Also, it was a damn good book.
  2. Akata Witch by Nnedio Okorafor - This was the first Okorafor I read and I'm thankful that my public library had this book available as an ebook. If it hadn't I don't know if I'd had ever discovered Okorafor's books which are full of wonder and beautiful prose. Akata Witch tells the story of a young girl learning she has magic and going off to learn magic. Sound familiar? Think again. The book takes a well-known story trope and recasts it in a completely unique way.
  3. Saga, Deluxe Edition, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples - I borrowed this from a friend, and need my own copy now. This Deluxe Edition collects the first three trades of Saga, which I had been hearing good things about for years but never picked up. Once I started, this blew me completely away. I fell into the story and fell in love with the characters. It's incredibly smart, unique, and quirky.
  4. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan - This is unabashedly British royal family fanfiction. It's also incredibly well-written and compelling with truly likable and human characters. I started this one night and did not get any sleep at all.
  5. Returning My Sisters Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice by Eugie Foster - I don't normally like short stories, but the late Eugie Foster's stories are these perfect gems that eat into my brain and warm me up. This collection is my favorite of all her books. All the stories are firmly grounded in the history, culture, folklore, and mythology of China and Japan. These stories were like coming home for me. I grew up with these stories, this history, and Foster took the familiar and made them new with a veneer of adult sensibility.
  6. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold - A new Vorkosigan novel! This isn't due to be published for another month but I happily gave Baen money for the eARC. I read this repeatedly for about a week; I loved it so. This is Cordelia's story, post-Aral. It's a story of life and love and moving on. It was a giant hug.
  7. You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day - Felicia Day is my spirit animal. Her memoir of growing up a geek and nerd resonated heavily with me.
  8. Winter by Marissa Meyer - I adore the Lunar Chronicles and had this, the last book of the series, pre-ordered since it was available for pre-order. It was a perfect end to a perfect and amazing series that started with a cyborg mechanic who befriended a prince.
  9. The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna - This book showcases the best of what YA and science fiction can be, tackling some heavy philosophical questions of self, identity, and free will. The main character is an echo (aka, clone) of a girl in India, and if that girl dies, the echo will take her place.
  10. Cinder and Ella by Kelly Oram - A modern re-telling of Cinderella in which the prince is a famous movie star who is already best friends with Ella but she doesn't know who he is. I loved it.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year

Wishing everybody a happy new year! May 2016 be full of love, fiber, and books.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Lessons from horseshoe crabs

Come September, where will I fit in? Thanks to Chad, I know now that I'm stronger than I thought. I'll get through it. Adapt or die. That
is science and one of the first lessons I learned in biology. And it's so true. Ask any horseshoe crab. They've only been around for three hundred million years.
-- Jennier Salvato Doktorki, The Summer After You + Me 
I just have to love a main character who compares human relationships with marine animals.

Goodreads and Design FAIL

A little over a week ago, Goodreads rolled out some new design elements on their website - some “much-needed visual design cleanup” according to GR staffer Emily (see: this forum thread). How needed this change was is a point of contention with Goodreads users, who immediately began complaining of eyestrain, headaches, and nausea.

Since then, I’m sure there has been behind-the-scenes scrambling to make the site more user-friendly, but it’s been too-little, too-late. And I, for one, am completely fed up with the whole thing. GR seems completely unwilling to change back to the old site design -- or even the old fonts. Instead, they have been tweaking the current fonts while ignoring the background’s blinding whiteness.

Now, I will admit, the site looks better...on Chrome. Because, one thing that has become obvious is that the developers never looked at the site they were coding in that browser. Of course, the site now looks ugly as all get-out on IE/Edge. Because that’s what happens when you use a new font that hasn’t been fully tested for all platforms, browsers, and languages! (Yes, the font GR choose -- Merriweather -- was not 100% compatible with non-Western languages. Hooray.

Here is what the site looks like in Chrome today. The font is faint and thin, making it hard to read for long periods of time. I start feeling a headache after about 15 minutes. Bear in mind, this is a vast improvement from a week ago, when the font was even lighter and thinner. (Click to enlarge.)

Here’s the site in Firefox. Better. Of the three browsers, the best of the bunch. Still eye-glaringly bright, though, with the background and the lack of gradients/contrast. (Again, click to enlarge.)

Now, here's Goodreads in Microsoft Edge -- basically, the Windows 10 version of Internet Explorer. The font is horrible. It's bolded to the point of looking "double-printed", and that boldness is making the stark white of the background even worse, if that can be possible.

Now, some questions for Goodreads:

  1. Who the hell decided this was a change that needed to be made? And then decided the best way for Goodreads to look was bland, flat, stark, and visually unappealing?
  2. Who okayed the new design without checking how it looked on different browsers, platforms, and set-ups? That's just basic common sense when it comes to web development.
  3. Why did it take so long for GR customer service to even acknowledge there were a large number of users vocally complaining (myself included) of physical discomfort and pain when looking at the site, let alone working to do something about it?
  4. Why the hell is GR wedded to this new godawful Merriweather font? Bring back Georgia!

In the meantime, I've spent more time time these past few days than I cared to cleaning up my shelves so I could get a nice export to import into Leafmarks. It's smaller than Goodreads. The interface will take a little bit of getting used to. There aren't enough active librarians so the database is a mess (though getting librarian status appears relatively easy; I got it when I sent off an email asking for it). BUT. It doesn't hurt my eyes. I can stay there for hours without having to install a browser plug-in to overwrite the site's CSS regarding font and background color. Come find me there.