Tag Archives: eBooks

My Year in Books


Happy New Year, everybody! I wish you all the best for 2014!

As this is not just the time to look forward, but also to look backward, I thought I’d do a review of 2013 in terms of books I’ve read.

2013 was the very first year I’ve managed to keep a reading journal (yay me!). While I haven’t kept track of all the books I’ve read (for example, I don’t note down the books I read for university), I think very few have actually fallen through the cracks.

Gloms

I went through three four five major gloms last year:

  1. I re-read a lot of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books in January (she had a new one out in September: Murder & Mendelssohn – loved it!)
  2. In spring and summer I read and re-read most of Michelle Reid’s books. I even bought the M&B Special Edition set (because the books looked so pretty). Reid’s books are a bit of a hit or miss with me: either I really, really like them, or they fall into the meh category for me. One of my favourites of hers is The De Santis Marriage, which plays with the conventions of Italian tycoon stories. Here’s a very nice example:

    Lifting up her hand, she caught hold of his fingers and pulled them away from her mouth. “That was really good,” she commented. “Quite breathtakingly arrogant and rightfully proud of your mighty fine self, in fact, and it should really have put me squarely in my lowly place.”

  3. In May and June I read several of Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham mysteries. I thought the first three or so quite delightful – very entertaining, with a clever twist at the end – but eventually I figured that the “clever twist” is one of the characteristic features of those mysteries. (When an author insists on depicting his hero as a bit of an arrogant, know-it-all moron, he shouldn’t be suprised when said hero gets on readers’ nerves after a while.)
  4. In October I re-read all of Jacqueline Gilbert’s books. *happy sigh* They’re just so lovely! Old-fashioned, but really, really lovely. With grumpy heroes and all that! *another happy sigh*
  5. I also did a mini-glom / re-read of Dorothy Dunnett’s Dolly series once I realised they had become available as e-books. Her prose is – oh my goodness! – so, so wonderful! Take this sentence from Roman Nights:

    Every ruin is packed like a biscuit box.

    Or this:

    In Rome there is a pathological shortage of small coins. For change, the little shops tend to use candy.

    Or this:

    If a Roman junction during one of the four normal rush hours is suicide, a Roman junction while the traffic lights are off resembles nothing so muhc as a her of myopic rhinoceroses meeting eye to eye with a her of dim-witted elephants and attempting to copulate.

 DNFs

I had quite a number of those, alas. Several of the historicals I bought (luckily, I bought most of them cheaply or got them for free) were simply unbelievable: not only was the writing often stilted or the story mind-numbingly boring, no, several books also abounded with historical inaccuracies. As in: a debutante dances the waltz (!) at Almack’s in 1806 (!!!). *head desk*

I’m afraid even one of Michelle Reid’s books fell into the DNF category: I thought the The Italian’s Revenge was truly, truly awful (“thoroughly disgusted” I wrote in my nifty little reading journal). But then this was one of her older books (originally published in 2000), so this might have had something to do with it. Many of her later books have an underlying humour that I simply love!

Discoveries

At some point in September, I thought it would be nice to have a nice reading copy of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South aka one of my favourite classics EVER! So I perused various different editions on Amazon and eventually stumbled across the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition of Cranford. Oh my. I mean…. OH MY! Here’s what happened then (Part 2 of my September Book Haul):

Favourite Classic

And speaking of classics, my favourite work of 2013 in that category was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (translation by Simon Armitage). I read it for the class on medieval literature I’m teaching this semesterand was thoroughly enchanted. There’s also an audiobook available of that translation, read by the translator himself – which didn’t work for me at all, alas. In fact, I had to switch off after a mere five minutes because I felt the desperate urge to throttle the narrator. Ugh. (Why couldn’t they have let RICHARD Armitage read the story? He would have done such a great job, I’m sure, and they would have sold oodles of copies. Hmph.)

Favourite Romance

Apart from my re-reads, my favourite romance of 2013 was Courtney Milan’s A Kiss for Midwinter, her Christmas novella from 2012. The premise is rather unusual, the hero is rather unusual, and the heroine is all prickly. Nice. 🙂

Favourite Books

But two most favourite books this year were Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (a book about books and the love for books and really strange bookshops) and Joyce Dennys’s Henrietta’s War (which I called “Cranford for the 1940s!” in my reading diary). I have to admit I was drawn to both books because of their beautiful covers (well, in Mr Penumbra’s case, I had to order the novel from Canada because all other editions sport rather ghastly covers) – I’m shallow like that. But it’s such a joy when something that looks so pretty turns out to be wonderfully written as well. I highly recommend both books.

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So, that was my year in reading. Which books and authors did you discover in 2013? Which were your favourites? Which were the books that you re-read? Let me know!

My First Year with the Cybook

Exactly one year ago, while I was stuck in revision hell, my Cybook arrived. It was my very first ebook reader and I was suitably impressed by it (a long description and a review of the Cybook can be found here and here). In fact, I still like it as much as I did back in December 2007. Since then, my reading habits have undergone some dramatic changes:

  • More or less all of the books I buy for “fun reading” are now ebooks.
  • I buy more books than I did before, which has a lot to do with the lower prices (= lower American prices + fantastic $/€ conversion rate) and those special sales promotions at Fictionwise (this weekend was another 40%-rebate weekend), not to speak of the fact that ebooks don’t take up any space on my book shelves (wheee!)
  • I less hesitant to buy a book by a new-to-me author than before.
  • I now think twice about a book when it’s not available in a suitable ebook format. In fact, I’m now less likely to buy a dead-tree novel just for fun-reading.
  • If I’ve enjoyed a book, I will more readily purchase titles from the author’s backlist than before.
  • If I don’t enjoy a book, I no longer feel so bad about buying it in the first place (after all, I can simply delete it and no longer takes up any space in my shelves and my life).

In this past year I bought 203 ebooks and downloaded about two dozens of free ebooks. Many of all these books are still on my TBR list (hey, that’s another thing that’s new: I no longer feel bad about a big TBR pile!) (because there is no pile any longer *g*). When I really, really, really enjoyed a novel, I often bought the paper version, too (this happened with three of Linda Howard’s Mackenzie sstories, with James Patterson’s Sundays at Tiffany’s, with some of Lucy Gordon’s category novels, and with Norbert Davis’s The Mouse in the Mountain). On the other hand, I also bought or downloaded ebook versions of some of my favourite paper books (e.g., the Anne of Green Gables stories, Jane Austen’s novels, Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! and Witches Abroad).

Some of my ebook reading highlights of this past year include:

All in all, it was a great reading year!

And to make things even better: Castle of the Wolf and Bewitched are now also available for the Kindle and the Sony Reader. 🙂

More Brockmann

After finishing the Tall, Dark & Dangerous series, I think my favourite Brockmann book so far is PRINCE JOE. I loved the fact that here we’ve got a hero who falls in love with the heroine relatively early in the story, but is plagued by insecurities — even though he is such a tough guy. What an intriguing contrast! Add to that gentleness and humour and you’ve got a hero to die for. *happy sigh*
So of course, I had to buy even more Brockmann books last night. 🙂

Favourite Reads of the Past Few Weeks

One of the reasons why I got so hooked on ebooks is the instant gratification factor: buying, downloading, and starting to read a book is a matter of a few minutes. I no longer have to wait several days or weeks for an amazon package. Oh nos, not I! Furthermore, ebooks are cheaper for me thanks to the whole dollar to Euro conversion thing, and they don’t take up any room on my bookshelves. Which all makes me so much more willing to try out new-to-me authors. And with Fictionwise’s Buywise Club and 100% micropay rebates and special discounts and what not, I’m even more willing to try out new-to-me authors. And this is exactly why I’m glomming Suzanne Brockmann these days, as the following list of my favourite reads of the past few weeks shows beyond the shadow of a doubt:

A lot of my friends kept telling me how enjoyable Crusie’s books are, so it was a bit of a disappointment that I didn’t like the two or three books I read at all. However, when I spotted ANYONE BUT YOU on Fictionwise (isn’t that cover cuuuuute?), I decided to give her stories another try. And guess what? I loved ANYONE BUT YOU!!!

My first Brockmann novel, which started the major glom fest that followed. 🙂



Scratching my Head

The world of e-books is a strange one (to put it mildly!). For example, why is the e-version of C.S. Harris WHEN GODS DIE $23.95 (!!! for an e-book!!!!), when the paperback version ($6.99) is already available? This is ridiculous in the extreme! Argh!

Norbert Davis, The Doan & Carstairs Series


If there ever were books written to resemble a mad rollercoaster ride it is Norbert Davis’s Doan & Carstairs series. Not only is one of the protagonists a really big Great Dane, but the cast of characters of each story resembles a bunch of lunatics and, moreover, the novels don’t follow any sort of narrative conventions. As a result you can never be sure what’s going to happen next, and villains are revealed in the manner of white rabbits drawn out of black hats. Reading those novels leaves you somewhat breathless — but also wheezing with mirth. They’re all wonderfully whacky and fiendishly funny!

The first book in the series, THE MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN, published in 1943, is set in Mexico: the book opens with the arrival of a bus in front of a hotel and a group of tourists that board the bus to travel to the small, picturesque village Los Altos for some sightseeing. Yet the private detective Doan — “He was short and a little on the plump side, and he had a chubby, pink face and a smile as innocent and appealing as a baby’s. He looked like a very nice, pleasant sort of person, and on rare occasions he was.” — and his dog Carstairs, a fawn-coloured Great Dane — “Carstairs was so big he could hardly be called a dog. He was a sort of new species.” — aren’t the only unusual passengers on that bus: there are also the Henshaw family with their horrid son Mortimer, the rich heiress Patricia Van Osdel and her entourage (consisting of a starchy maid and a Greek loverboy), and school teacher Janet Martin, who has studied the diaries of one of Cortez’s lieutenants and has come to Mexico to explore the places he described. Last but not least, there’s their driver Bartolome, “accent on the last syllable, if you please — chauffeur licensed and guide most qualified, with English guaranteed by the advanced correspondence school, conversational and classic.”

Much to poor Bartolome’s dismay, the magnificent sightseeing-tour (with comments!) soon deteriorates into a nightmare when they arrive in Los Altos: not only is a minor rebellion going on, and a murder as well as the army on the loose, but to make matters worse, an earthquake cuts the village off from the rest of the world, and nobody can tell any longer who is friend or foe. Strange new characters turn up in the streets of Los Altos, and Janet even meets a descendant of her lieutenant, while Mortimer plunders the crumbled stores in the village. Soon more and more bodies are discovered, forcing Doan and Carstairs to play cat and mouse with the murderer — and the army!

~*~

Norbert Davis’s Doan and Carstairs books make for great reads. THE MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN was followed by SALLY’S IN THE ALLEY (1943) and OH, MURDERER MINE! (1946). They’re all available for free download from Many Books, or you can buy print versions from the Rue Morgue Press (also available on amazon).

The Cybook in Action

I’ve been using my brandnew e-reader for several days now and I’m loving it! At the very beginning I still suffered from something like reading-vertigo (due to the fact that I couldn’t feel the book and hence my progress in the story while reading it — rather curious, isn’t it? I would’ve never thought that feeling the book is such an important part of the reading experience!), but by now I’ve become quite used to reading e-books and watching the book progress bar at the bottom of a page.

I love how easy it is to download and store books on the Cybook. By browsing sites like Project Gutenberg or Many Books, I’ve already discovered several new-to-me authors — the most exciting find so far is probably Norbert Davis and his hilarious Doan & Carstairs detective series (Carstairs is a Great Dane) (a really big Great Dane *g*) (I’ll write a blog about this series soon), which starts with The Mouse in the Mountain (1943).

Navigation on the Cybook is easy, though somtimes I would wish for some short-cuts (e.g. back to the Library). When you switch on the reader, it takes about 20-30 seconds to boot and meanwhile entertains you by showing the image from the cardboard box in which it arrived:

… still booting …

And then — voilà — the Library. This is the 20-items-per-page display, which I prefer to the 5-items-per-page (see next picture) or the 10-items-per-page. You get to see the covers of your e-books and the first few words of the title. Structuring your Library is a bit of a problem at the moment, because the Cybook doesn’t yet support folders apart from the basic e-books, images, music, fonts, system. At the moment I’m sorting the Library by file name and add genre and author to the file name before uploading the book in question (e.g. the file of The Mouse in the Mountain is named Mysteries-Davis-Doan&Carstairs1-MouseInTheMountain.prc), thus creating some sort of systematic order.

When you arrive at the Library, the last book you’ve opened is highlighted. Then you only have to press the “okay” button and you’re taken to the last page you’ve read. (Or at least you’re supposed to be taken to the last page you’ve read — sometimes, after several hours of reading, the Cybook is confused about pages. Sometimes, after several hours of reading you also can’t place bookmarks any longer. But this only happens occasionally; it’s not something that greatly disturbs your reading experience.

A big advantage of the Cybook is that you can change fonts and font sizes. I prefer reading with a relatively small size to make the most of the screen, but the larger ones must be a real blessing for readers with bad eyesight.

Most of the navigation on the Cybook is done with the square silver button on the front and the itty-bitty button inside the silver square: right / down takes you one page forward, left / up one page back. When there are hyperlinks on the page, up / down takes you through the links.

The button inside the square acts as “okay” or “Menu” button, depending on where you are, e.g., while reading a book, it makes the context menu pop up. In the context menu you can change fonts, font sizes, the layout of the page (with/without header, book progress bar, justified text, bold text), you can add bookmarks, go back to the beginning of the book, go to a specific page (well, when you’re reading Mobipocket files, which are displayed without page numbers on this reader, you have to make an educated guess), switch to the look-up mode (another interesting feature: if you’ve got a dictionary on your device, it allows you to look up words in that dictionary), or go back to the Library. Some choices in the context menus will make another context menu pop up, which can make navigation a big awkward.

The buttons on the left side are “Music”, “Menu”, “Back” and “Delete File” (the latter is not yet activated). All in all, the buttons have a cheap look and feel, and after only one week of heavy use, the silver paint on the square button on the front begins to come off: on the ridge of the right side (i.e. “Page Forward”) there’s now a small stripe of black, which is only going to become bigger with time. Hmph.

As you can see I’ve made my peace with the black cover: after the stink of the dye (or whatever produced that horrid, chemical smell) has worn off, it is very comfortable to use. The leather is smooth and soft and very nice to touch, and the sling-thingy on the right is far less irritating when reading than I feared. Yay! In addition, the reader is now somewhat protected and I no longer handle it as if it were made of eggshells. (Though I’m still reluctant to carry it with me in my purse. The only time I did take it with me to show it to a friend, I wrapt the whole thing in some long johns — well, it was very cold that day and Petra might have suggested a walk, so the long johns would have come in handy. One needs to be prepared, right?)

As I said at the beginning, I love reading books on the Cybook, even if there are a few things that are not ideal about this reader. But I’m definitely sold on e-books now! 🙂