Category: General

Clean out your ereader challenge!

Posted February 22, 2014 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

March 2014 COYER Signups

Yep, sounds like a good plan. Here’s the rules and pledge levels:

    • Go through your E-readers and select books you’d like to read during the challenge. The book must have been Free or Nearly Free: under $5, Kindle Deals, Netgalley, Edelweiss & author review requests only (Blog Tour reviews are not accepted this time, sorry). Anyone caught not using a free book or a book that is pirated will be removed from challenge.
    • Sign up with the linky below letting us know that you plan to participate. Between now and March 8th create a post announcing that you’re participating and a list of books you hope to read during the challenge (this can change). If you don’t have a blog this can be done at the Goodreads group “Two Girls and A Challenge” Any participant that doesn’t have a starter post up by 11:59 PM EST March 8th (giving you procrastinators a little more time!) will be ineligible for the grand prize.
    • Start reading your books (starting March 1st) and reviewing them, either on your blog or Goodreads, Booklikes, etc. Put the link to your review (to the review URL, not your Web Address) on the review linky available March 1st, listing your blog name and the name of the book you reviewed. When you write your review, you MUST include the challenge logo and linky somewhere on the post so that we can all check out the reviews.

Lightly Clean – 1 to 4 eBooks
Spring Clean – 5 to 9 eBooks
Deep Clean – 10 to 14 eBooks
Xtreme Clean – 15 or more eBooks

Aaaand I’ll be going for the Xtreme Clean, because hey, I for damn sure need it.

  • Chris Amies, Dead Ground.
  • Allyson Bird, Bull Running for Girls.
  • Marie Brennan, Deeds of Men.
  • Lars Brownworth, The Normans: From Raiders to Kings.
  • Brenda Chamberlain, The Water-castle.
  • Anna Cowan, Untamed.
  • Doranna Durgin, Wolverine’s Daughter.
  • Frances Hardinge, Cuckoo Song.
  • Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator.
  • Richard Kadrey, Sandman Slim.
  • Anna Kashina, Blades of the Old Empire.
  • John Lawson, The Loathly Lady.
  • J.M. McDermott, Maze.
  • Natasha Mostert, The Midnight Side.
  • Rachel Neumeier, Black Dog.
  • Marianne de Pierres, Peacemaker.
  • Jay Posey, Morningside Fall.
  • David Meerman Scott, Marketing the Moon.
  • Alex Segura, Silent City.
  • Laini Taylor, Night of Cake & Puppets.

Mostly ARCs/review copies, with a sprinkling of Kindle sales.

Blog hop thing —

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted February 19, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Mmm, a pretty busy week reading-wise since I last checked in!

What did you recently finish reading?
Taking “recently” as “today”, a fair few things. I read Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, which… hmm, it’s pretty, but I don’t love it. Review coming up on the blog tomorrow. Also Anatomies by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, which was okay but more a cultural history than anything scientific. And then also Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. which is just nuts and I’m still not sure what I read, but it was pretty fun.

Monica Rambeau for the win, anyway, even if Carol Danvers is my Captain Marvel.

What are you currently reading?
A lot of things, as usual, but the one at the head of the queue is The Origins of Virtue (Matt Ridley). I’m trying to focus on the dead tree books I’ve brought with me from Cardiff or bought while I was here, or left here on previous occasions, so I don’t have to drag them back there with me when I get the train. Looks like I’ve also got a bookmark in Augustus (John Williams) and Dreadnought (Cherie Priest).

What do you think you’ll read next?
Let’s be realistic, I hardly ever answer this question accurately. I’m gonna guess that comics-wise I’ll dig into some of my Captain America comics, and maybe read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Otherwise, I’m focusing on books acquired in 2014, because for the first time in years I’m sort of keeping up with my purchasing rate. So eyeballing that list, I’m probably going to go for the one I’m least interested in right now and try and get myself interested, so that’d be Michael Stackpole’s A Secret Atlas.

Other than that, maybe Liliana Bodoc’s Days of the Deer, because Ursula Le Guin thinks she’s the best thing since sliced bread and I meant to read it in January.

Although on the other hand I should probably just work on some of the books I’ve got started already. Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis has been giving me accusing looks for months.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted February 15, 2014 by Nikki in General / 45 Comments

Aaand it’s Saturday, and time for Stacking the Shelves, as usual hosted by Tynga’s Reviews!

And wow, I have a lot to show off this week — a couple of ARCs, more books than I expected to buy (I deserve it, I gave blood!), and a whole stack of books from Bookmooch. (If you have a Bookmooch account and you ship to the UK, link me! I have a ridiculous backlog of points and an eclectic taste in books.)

ARCs/review copies

Cover of Empress of the Night, by Eva Stachniak Cover of Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres Cover of Morningside Fall, by Jay Posey

Bought

Cover of Shadows by Robin McKinley Cover of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield Cover of The Avengers: The Enemy Within Cover of Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell Cover of The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris Cover of Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patricia McKillip

Borrowed

Cover of The Pirate's Wish, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Bookmooch

Cover of Simon Scarrow's Under the EagleCover of The Eagle's Conquest, by Simon ScarrowCover of When the Eagle Hunts by Simon ScarrowCover of The Eagle and the Wolves, by Simon Scarrow  Cover of Declare by Tim Powers  Cover of Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold, by Terry Brooks  anCover of the Viking Portable Medieval Reader Cover of the Portable Dorothy Parker

I’ve been most excited about The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris, because I’ve had it preordered for a while. I’m halfway through it already, though goodness knows I’m halfway through a lot of books. I’m excited about the ARCs from Angry Robot: I’ve meant to try Marianne de Pierres before, and I read Jay Posey’s first book, Three, a while ago. And the third review copy, well, hopefully I’ll be interviewing Eva Stachniak here on my blog around March ish.

Needless to say, I am also very excited about Avengers: The Enemy Within, as it continues Captain Marvel’s current storyline. I’ve flicked through it already and it contains such gems as this:

Carol: You like hitting stuff with that hammer of yours?
Thor: It is an act of which I am singularly fond.

So what’re you all reading, guys?

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Sight loss and access to reading

Posted February 13, 2014 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to make a post about my volunteering work for the RNIB. It’s not all relevant to this blog, but certain aspects of it are. I’ve been having a hard time phrasing it, though, and finally Lynn agreed to help by asking me questions as an interview. So thank you very, very much to Lynn for helping out.

Before we start, I just want to say that while I’m talking about being a volunteer for a couple of charities, I don’t officially represent them. And while I hope that I’ve been sensitive and thoughtful in my answers, I’m aware that there’s nothing wrong with my own sight a pair of glasses can’t fix, and that I may get things wrong or mess up in some way. Feel free to tell me if I do: I’ll be glad to add corrections to my post if necessary.

That said, here’s Lynn!

I know you volunteer for RNIB/Macular Society, but what is it that you do when you’re volunteering?

Well, my role in the Macular Society is really simple: I moderate the forums. I answer questions when I can, offer reassurance if I can, but mostly just make sure there’s no spam. Which is why I’m really glad I have a more active role for the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind). It’s also affiliated with the local Institute for the Blind, and we have a really good network of support out there for people who are blind or partially sighted.

My particular role involves working in the clinic and trying to ensure everything works smoothly: I’m there to help both the patients and the nurses. So if someone’s lost, I tell them where to go; if someone’s just had their eyes dilated, so they can’t see to go get a coffee or get a taxi home, I’m trained to lead them safely and comfortably; if someone’s upset, I sit next to them and talk to them a bit; if someone needs to know how much longer it’s going to be, I go and find out. I also help with the general running of the clinic. If there’s work that you don’t need to be a healthcare professional for, I’ll do it: moving files, sorting files, taking requests to the photographers, running messages… It doesn’t sound like much, but when you know how big the clinics are and how many people we move through them each week, the five hours I volunteer a week is actually a significant help to the nurses.

Can you give any rough estimates on the numbers you alluded to?

I remember being told that in one of our treatment clinics, we move 800 people through each month. And we’re sometimes running seven clinics at a time, as well as the eye casualty. Diagnostic appointments usually take longer than the treatment clinics, so the numbers are probably lower for some of those, but it gives you an idea. The waiting room is often standing room only.

For more context, everyone who comes into the clinic has to first have their ‘visions’ done — a simple eye test to compare their current sight to when they had their last appointment. There is one visions room, divided into two parts, so only two nurses are ever doing visions at one time. Some clinics have a specific nurse assigned in one of the other rooms, if it’s a bit more complicated, but most people will go through the visions room.

That sounds like a lot of people! You must be really busy when you’re at the clinic.

Reaaaally busy. I don’t know what they do when they don’t have a volunteer there, because a lot of the stuff the nurses have to do then means they take even longer to get people through the visions room. Even with me there, we’re nearly always running with a delay.

Wow! I hope they always have at least one volunteer there then. How do the people visiting the clinic spend their time waiting for their appointments?

Some of them nap, which is an entirely valid response to the waiting times! Or glare at me, which is kind of unfair but also understandable. Mostly, though, and what I really wanted to talk about, people bring a book or a magazine, or buy the paper on the way in. That really surprised me, actually: I see a lot of the rest of the hospital, helping people around, and I don’t see as much reading in any other clinic or waiting area. You’d think a badly lit eye clinic full of partially sighted people would be the last place you’d see loads of people reading, but that’s my experience.

That does sound pretty incredible! And I mean that in the most positive sense of the word. Does that mean you sometimes end up talking about books and reading with the visitors too?

“What are you reading?” is the third most popular question (after “Where is the toilet?” and “Why is the clinic running late?”) I get asked. Not that I have chance to be actively reading when I’m on duty, but reading is an easy conversation topic to help distract people or just give them some interaction time with a friendly face. When people are worrying about the effects of losing their sight, too, the idea of not being able to read is what seems to really scare a lot of them. And quite often they know very little about the options out there to help them read for as long as possible.

Does the clinic offer them information on the options they have?

The clinic doesn’t, no. Not as such, anyway. My ‘boss’, the person who coordinates all of the volunteers, has an office in the clinic for that purpose. I was taught about the assistive devices we have, but mostly if someone asks for information, it’s easiest for me to go and find her. Then she’ll arrange to spend some time with them, talking about options like that and registering as legally blind, etc.

The one thing I do talk about when I can is ereaders. I’ve been investigating the various options for several years now, since my mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration, so generally I can help people figure out the best ereader for them, and recommend places to get books. Sometimes if it’s quiet I’ll fetch my own ereader and show them how it works.

So… there isn’t a lot of information to help ensure people are still able to read at the clinic other than in a specialised consultation? Is that why you mention ereaders specifically as something you talk to the visitors about?

There isn’t. I think that’s a problem that comes out of the NHS being very compartmentalised, which is a whole ‘nother rant — basically, instead of treating problems holistically, we treat problems separately. The clinic is there to deal with the physical issues; as far as I know, apart from the volunteers, I’ve never seen anything in place to help with the emotional side of going blind. With the clinic so busy, there isn’t time.

So it’s something I bring up when I can, something I know a lot about and can share that sometimes makes it all a bit easier to handle. I know for me, if I couldn’t read anymore, I’d be devastated. I’d probably end up on (more) antidepressants and just miserable. That’s why I also advocate for large print books in libraries (including the one I volunteer in), and for access to audiobooks and so on. Which is, you know, another reason to love the RNIB: they have a Talking Books subscription service with thousands of books available. (Which always needs help and donations, by the by.)

I see. That is… very sad. I’d be devastated too. Apart from ereaders and audiobooks, what other ways have you learned about that help people continue to be able to read?

Well, sometimes really good lighting is enough to help for some people, but then there’s also a variety of magnifiers. The one I find easiest to use myself (I have tried all of the ones we have available) is one of the variety of dome magnifiers we have. You just place them over the page and slide them along, and they magnify the text as well as concentrating the light on it. There’s CCTV video magnifiers, which take the text and magnify it up on an LCD screen, and have the advantage of being somewhat adjustable, but they cost a lot. I’m talking in the region of £800. For something that’s such a major concern for so many partially sighted people, the technology is difficult to access.

We do have programs that can give people these sorts of things free, but again, it takes resources, and it depends on where you live whether you can access one of those programs.

That sounds awful! I hope as technology increases, the costs will become less prohibitive to people. So ereaders and audiobooks are pretty much people’s best options?

To my mind, yes. An ereader is easily the cheapest option. It wasn’t cheap when I first started researching — I got mine for £180, and I think the Kindle was around that price too, then — but now things have caught up. The ereader I’d most readily recommend is the Kobo Mini: I got it when it was in a sale for £24, it’s pretty easy to use, and it’s lightweight, which is often another bonus for elderly people. The Kindle’s about the same weight and so on, but it doesn’t have the same range of fonts and font sizes. There’s a version of the Kobo with a backlight, too; that or the Kindle Paperwhite might be best for people who need bright light and good contrast.

I know you’ve already mentioned this, but just so we’re clear on this and have it reiterated: different people do have different requirements in ereaders? How do you know which ones work best for who?

It can be a problem, because obviously there’s lots and lots of people coming through the clinic from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of them might not be able to afford even a basic Kindle (~£60), or they might have trouble with coordination so a touch screen might not be a good idea. Generally, I just start by mentioning that I have a Kobo and find it useful, and let them ask me questions, which tends to give me a good idea of what they need. E.g. if they say they have trouble reading on a backlit screen, then obviously I scratch the idea of recommending the Kindle app on an iPad and go for something with e-ink technology.

I see… Do you think you could give people a few recommendations on ereaders to start with? Not too many details, perhaps, but some general pointers that you’ve found the most useful.

My first recommendation is generally to ignore me and get to a shop and try them out! In the UK, WHSmith will usually have display models of Kobos, while Waterstones has Kindles. Big supermarkets sometimes have them out, too. That way you can fiddle with the font options for yourself and just see what suits you.

Good idea! Though I know that I find it helpful to have some idea of what I should be looking for before I go into a shop myself. I feel very self-conscious if I have no idea what I want or need from a shop and I’m sure it’d be much worse if I had to deal with losing my sight as well. Having some idea of what kind of ereader I should be looking for would really help me look for one.

For that, I’d probably end up suggesting chatting to other people with similar issues, e.g. on the Macular Society forums. But in the meantime I’d go through a sort of checklist: what sort of screen do you want/need? Do you want it to do other things as well (i.e. a tablet)? Write down the things you know you can’t do without (like a lightweight unit, large buttons, lighting options, fonts), and that’d give you some idea of what to ask the shop assistants. There’s usually a particular shop assistant who handles ereaders, in my experience, so ask about that and ask to speak to them if possible.

I am actually planning to do a post here sometime soon about the pros and cons of various ereaders, and if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to ask me. If I don’t already know, I may be able to find out.

That doesn’t leave me with many questions to ask, beyond thanking you for your time and wishing you loads of good experiences volunteering!

You’re the one who helped me out! Thank you for your time, Lynn.

As I said, if anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments — if there’s anything interesting, I may add it to the post, and likewise I’ll add any corrections that may be necessary.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted February 13, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Well, it’s kind of Thursday now, but I’ve never let that stop me!

What did you recently finish reading?
The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke. Review coming up on the blog tomorrow: suffice it to say that I think it’s a lot of fun, and I’ve acquired the second book and the companion stories to read ASAP. Like my to read list isn’t long enough.

Before that, it was The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory, which… I just don’t get the appeal. Elizabeth Woodville was smarter than Gregory’s version, a political schemer, why does she have to melt into goo over a man? She could still be political and canny and in love, but it doesn’t seem that way.

What are you currently reading?
Longbourn, by Jo Baker; “Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice“. I’m quite enjoying it. From the reviews, I didn’t expect to, but maybe it helps that I’m not precious about Austen. I do think Baker’s rather riding on Austen’s coattails, telling a story that isn’t inextricably entwined with that of Pride and Prejudice and just using the original story to garner interest. I don’t know if that feeling will stick with me.

Also, Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, because it’s high time I got round to that.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki — just out today! I have promised Joanne Harris that I won’t mention a certain actor’s name in my review… Also, obviously, A Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

I’m also interested in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It’s being mentioned in my ethics class this week, and we had an excerpt to read. There’s some fascinating research, and I’ve found his TED talks interesting.

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted February 8, 2014 by Nikki in General / 38 Comments

Yay, it’s Sunday Saturday (I can do the days of the week!) and I have some books to show off! Tynga’s Reviews, as usual, is hosting Stacking the Shelves.

So first things first, a new library opened in Caerphilly. It is lovely, and only getting four books out was a heroic feat.

Cover of Dreadnought by Cherie Priest Cover of Greatshadow by James Maxey Cover of The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow Cover of Dream London by Tony Ballantyne

And then yesterday after my shift as an RNIB volunteer, I ended up in the hospital’s WHSmith, which was dangerous. They always have buy one, get one half price, but I couldn’t find a fourth I was interested in. Which is probably all to the good.

Cover of Anatomies by Hugh Aldersley-Williams Cover of Longbourn by Jo Baker Cover of Fanny & Stella by Neil McKenna

I’m most excited about Fanny & Stella, which I’ve already started reading. It’s a bit sensationalised, but I think the subjects would’ve loved that. Not the trial for “conspiracy to commit buggery”, but the very exuberant, flamboyant biography.

And finally, here are two pictures of my makeshift bookshelf, containing almost all the books I dragged with me for a five-week trip to my parents’ (minus the comics, which’re on a different shelf).

Photo of my makeshift bookshelves, crammed with books Another view of my bookshelves, showing off my owl bookends

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted February 6, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The Universe Versus Alex Woods, which made me cry. It starts off misleadingly quirky, and then I went and fell in love with it, and the ideas it articulates. I almost want it to be a surprise in the same way for everyone who reads it (if you’d like the surprise, don’t read my review), because I love the way it developed. I’ve got to keep an eye out for Gavin Extence’s other work.

What are you currently reading?
I still haven’t finished reading Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog. When I do read it, I’m biting it off in big chunks, but I don’t just want to nibble at it — which is hard, when I’ve had a lot of work on, and nibbling books are what I need at the moment.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, by Caspar Henderson, is my currently ‘nibbling’ book, though I’m nearly finished with it. It’s a type of modern bestiary, which I think has confused lots of people who expected something encyclopaedic and mostly scientific, whereas this draws from the medieval tradition of articulating philosophical/moral concepts through talking about mythical/little-known creatures.

I’m also reading The Iron Wyrm Affair, by Lilith Saintcrow, which is so far too blatantly drawing on the Sherlock Holmes tradition for me to be too interested, although it does feature a female main character who seems to have a fair amount of agency and power without being perfect, so we’ll see how that goes on.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I have Secret Chambers, by Martin Brasier, next on my pile. I’m in a non-fiction mood at the moment, so that’s been calling me. Also maybe Cosmos, by Carl Sagan, because of my astrobiology and astronomy classes.

Fiction-wise, I should just be working on my backlog of books/series started and not yet finished. The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke, is next on my pile in that sense.

And now I’m going to go off and draw for the winner of my giveaway for Black Dog!

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A bibliophilic problem, redux

Posted January 30, 2014 by Nikki in General / 5 Comments

So a while back my mother made a bargain with me: £5 for every so many books I managed to finish from my to read list. Well, I never finished that list, but now it’s back! And we have renegotiated so that I get £5 for every ten books I finish. This seems fair. Wish me luck! And here’s the list.

(I’ll even come back and update it with strikethroughs, this time.)

Bold denotes that I’ve already started it, underline that it’s an ARC.

Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells.
Rosie Best, Skulk.

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City.
Katherine Beutner, Alcestis.
Alan Bradley, Speaking from Among the Bones.
Alan Bradley, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches.
Gillian Bradshaw, Render Unto Caesar.
Wesley Chu, Deaths of Tao.
Cassandra Rose Clarke, The Assassin’s Curse.
Anna Cowan, Untamed.
Jeffery Deaver, The Empty Chair.
Diane Duane, The Door into Shadow.
Diane Duane, The Door into Sunset.
Steven Erikson, Deadhouse Gates.
Steven Erikson, Memories of Ice.
Ian C. Esslemont, Night of Knives.
David Gemmell, Ironhand’s Daughter.
David Gemmell, The Hawk Eternal.
Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber.
Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator.
Jason M. Hough, The Exodus Towers.
Jason M. Hough, The Plague Force.
Matthew Hughes, Costume Not Included.
Matthew Hughes, Hell to Pay.
Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne.
Nicola Griffith, Hild.
Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.
Bruce Holsinger, A Burnable Book.
Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice.
Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Death.
Fritz Leiber, Swords in the Mist.
Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Wizardry.
Stephen Leigh, Dance of the Hag.
Stephen Leigh, A Quiet of Stone.
Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds.
Scott Lynch, Republic of Thieves.
James A. Moore, Seven Forges.
Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop.
Rachel Neumeier, Black Dog.
Thomas Penn, The Winter King.
James Renner, The Man from Primrose Lane.
Brandon Sanderson, Elantris.
C.J. Sansom, Heartstone.
Julianna Scott, The Holders.
Julianna Scott, The Seers.
Melissa Scott, Shadow Man.
Michael J. Sullivan, Avempartha.
Michael Swanwick, Dancing With Bears.
David Weber, The Honor of the Queen.
David Weber, The Short Victorious War.
David Weber, Field of Dishonor.
David Weber, Flag in Exile.
David Weber, Honor Among Enemies.
David Weber, In Enemy Hands.
Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni.
Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird.
Chuck Wendig, Cormorant.
Tad Williams, The Dirty Streets of Heaven.
Chris Wooding, Retribution Falls.

Gulp.

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