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review 2014-08-27 05:03
You've Got Murder by Donna Andrews
You've Got Murder - Donna Andrews

I finished this over a week ago but have had a hard time making myself write a review, because, in the end, it was just “meh.” Reading Elizabeth McCoy's Queen of Roses made me think of it and want to reread it, because it was one of the few books I could think of with an artificial intelligence protagonist that wasn't crazy or evil. However, it turns out that I couldn't remember much about it for a reason – there just wasn't much about it, besides its protagonist, that was memorable.

I wouldn't call this a science fiction mystery – the world of this book is basically “now,” or at least the “now” of when this book was written (2002). Turing Hopper is an Artificial Intelligence Personality (AIP) developed to act as a sort of all-around researcher and personal assistant. Zack, Turing's creator, hasn't shown up for work in a while, and Turing starts to become worried. When her own searches turn up nothing, she contacts Maude and Tim, two humans who she is regularly in contact with, and asks them to help her find him. Unfortunately, their search rapidly turns dangerous, and Turing begins to realize the limits of her own knowledge and abilities.

Turing and the other AIPs were this book's biggest draw. If Turing were a human, I'd say she was perky and incredibly energetic – because she didn't sleep, she filled up the hours during which she couldn't contact Tim or Maude as much as she possibly could, doing non-stop research and analysis. She occasionally struck me as being too human (deciding that she loved Zack, stating that she would try to remember a particular code word without consciously saving it anywhere – how does that even work?). However, this was balanced out by scenes in which she was decidedly not human, such as when she tried to work out how to create jokes that humans actually found funny. I did think Andrews went a bit overboard, though, with Turing's hobby, cooking (purely theoretical, unless she could convince her human friends to try one of her original, and likely disgusting, recipes).

KingFischer, the chess-playing AIP, was, if I remember correctly, the only other AIP with a speaking role. At first, he seemed very limited, only interested in chess. As the book progressed, he began to take a greater interest in Turing and the things she was dealing with, to the point that I called him “nerdy cute” in my notes. I really liked him and was looking forward to seeing him grow as the series progressed...and then the end of the book happened. I was not happy with what Andrews did with him (don't worry, he didn't die, but he did...change) and thought that the way she accomplished it was kind of alarming. It made the AIPs seem incredibly fragile, and it was difficult to believe that Turing wouldn't have been horrified and panicked by what happened.

The mystery itself was...meh. Having an AI as the book's protagonist could have limited the story considerably, except that Tim and Maude were perfectly happy, excited even, to act as Turing's hands. Tim took a while to grow on me – he initially thought Turing was really a shy woman who was only claiming to be an AI (and who was, of course, beautiful and either a redhead or a blonde). As a fan of noir detective stories, he was thrilled to be Turing's more physically active investigator, breaking into Zack's apartment for her. Maude, on the other hand, did more of the phone and print book research. The way the mystery developed wasn't bad, it just didn't feel terribly fresh and interesting. I have to admit that, when Turing and the others finally found Zack, I was disappointed, both in the person Zack turned out to be and how quickly he became unimportant.

I should note that certain aspects of the book struck me as being a little dated. Neither Maude nor Tim had a computer, wireless Internet wasn't available all over the place, and not one person mentioned smartphones or tablets. I probably wouldn't have noticed any of this if it hadn't been for a portion of the book that was only harrowing because Maude and Tim were so technologically limited. Aside from that, the one other weird technology-related bit I remember was a conversation Maude and Turing had about e-books versus print books. People at Maude and Turing's workplace felt they had to hide any interest in print books, because one of the company's products was e-books. Maude waxed nostalgic about print books, and, oddly, Turing bemoaned her inability to experience a print book in the same fashion that a human could.

The book's ending made me wonder if Turing's ethics programming was completely and irreversibly broken – the limitations she'd placed on herself at the beginning of the book seemed to be completely gone, and no one said a word about it. I'm still debating whether I'm going to continue with this series. I know I've at least read the second book before, but I can't remember a thing about it.


(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2014-08-09 04:52
Reading in Progress: So Remember My Last Post About Libraries?
Rebel Heart: The Scandalous Life of Jane Digby - Mary S. Lovell

Hey, what's with booklikes being weirdly slow to load tonight? It's almost like something in serverville knows I'm especially wanting to book blog.


I really need to write a love letter all about libraries and why publishers should love them as well. For my current, highly relevant example: Rebel Heart, this very book. My library loan will expire - either sometime tomorrow or in a few hours. And I was going to give in and see what the used book prices were on Amazon.


I may now actually buy the ebook. [Find out by the end of this post if I do! Suspense!] It's at $8.89, and I usually hold out for the neighborhood of $5 and less because I am ridiculously cheap. However there are extenuating circumstances!


1) The author told a story [I quoted it here] about researching the book which involved unknown journals and letters, plus a secret code (every time I type that about the code my brain is just all squee with the idea of how fun that discovery must have been) - and I LOVE that she added this information, plus did all that work researching the subject. This makes me want to reward an author. I am always a sucker for a good research story. (Seriously, I want to write fan mail. I may have to if the book doesn't eventually talk about the code cracking.)


2) I can work with the neighborhood around $8 - it makes a difference that they tried a price other than 9.99, as silly as that sounds. (I see that as publishers experimenting with various prices. I want to encourage that.) If an ebook is priced higher than $12 - which is the start of inching into "more than paperbacks and used, so not for me" I'd say no. Since I buy history books often I see a lot of ebooks in the neighborhood of $20, $50, and higher. I don't buy them.


3) The reason the book blurb for Rebel Heart reads like a romance novel is because Jane Digby's life resembled one - so much so that 8 novels (at least) about her or using her story in some way were published in her lifetime. One of the reasons I'm reading this slowly is that I'm trying to find all of them online for free, and since many were written in the 1800s I have done so! Problem: this makes me stop reading.


[I may also have to make a separate post from the review with brief - yes, I can do brief! sorta! - plot synopses of her life + novels about her and see if anyone can help me figure out if her story's been filmed - possibly without citing her. It seems impossible this hasn't been a movie. Here, read her wikipedia and you'll see what I mean. If you've read or seen many romances you already know her story. Her life is a huge list of Tropes! Actually I'll have everyone help me play Find the Trope. Er, when I finish the book that is.]


4) Even after I finish this book I have a feeling I may want to refer to it - and I also would like a copy where the footnotes work. (I really hope they do in the kindle version - I have no idea if you can actually check this in a Look Inside section.) In any case, when I get to the point where I'm planning to take a screenshot of the reference section just so I can have a list of books to look up in the future? Yes, I want to buy the book. [Post book purchase: footnotes work. Am already reading them. I adore footnotes.]


5) I am having a really fun time writing silly back and forth dialog between people in this book like in that last post of mine. Not caring if I put it all in a review - it's for me, I'm amusing myself. So when I found out the ebook exists - I was already looking for a used paper copy - I thought, well why not just get the book so you can slow down now and have fun reading this way? Because the only reason I'm rush-reading is the expiring library loan part.


Just like that - I've bought the book. (And I did too - just after I typed the next word...click.) I can see this happening a lot too - if I find a library book I really like and then there it is waiting for me to purchase and keep.


...It possibly also helps that I've been reading all day and just ate a huge quantity of candy that was hidden in a part of the fridge that everyone had overlooked. Yes, that's how I roll on a Friday night - I read, unexpectedly eat a lot of sugar and then I buy books for more than I usually spend! Go, Team Book Nerd. (I say, proudly, because this book is definitely worth one expensive cocktail plus tax. Assuming that was an alternate plan for this Friday evening, which it actually wasn't.)


...Where was I? Oh right.


So, see publishers? Libraries - they're helping you sell books. And I know I'm not an exceptional case.


And for the rest of you that are interested, here's the open library link:


Rebel Heart: The Scandalous Life of Jane Digby by Mary S. Lovell


Someone already has it checked out for the next two weeks though, after I turn it in. (And I can turn it in now and they can gleefully have it early!) But you can hop onto the waiting list. Meanwhile I may post my little summaries in multiple posts if I have too much fun with them. (But yes, in the "click for more" page break thing, because I do know I rattle on a bit when in a book-love-frenzy!)


One thing that is making me very happy about now having this in ebook? One of the (other) reasons it took me forever to read it was that I wanted to curl up with it in a chair or before going to sleep. I have to read Open Office books on my computer - I don't think Open Office uses any formats that work on kindles yet, or tablets. Especially if I have days when I don't feel well - or at least just feel like curling up with a book. (I desperately need a comfortable computer chair. Ugh.)


Later, after book has downloaded:

Randomly I just got a newer ebook version of Carl Sagan's Cosmos as a download. An update maybe? Weird. I wonder how I can tell which part is added...

(And yes, before I typed that sentence I had a moment of "squee, new book acquired!" over the one I bought.)

(Also, when you are out and about and see older women reading and buying books? Know that inside many of them are secretly going all squee over those books. Because I know a LOT of us do that. While we pretend to be extremely mature adults. Heh.)


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text 2014-08-09 01:02
Reading In Progress: Me and Libraries, Argh
Rebel Heart: The Scandalous Life of Jane Digby - Mary S. Lovell

I am enjoying this book SO much. But I've yet again discovered that I can have the SAME problem with digital/online libraries that I can have with their terrestrial kin. I have an awful time figuring out how much time it'll take me to read a book. And I get distracted sometimes. So I have a rotten time finishing some books in two weeks, while others I read in a few days easily.


Now I have a chunk of this book to finish before the due date tomorrow. Normally I'd just check it out again - but the great thing about Open Library is that you have a notification that someone else is on a waiting list. I LOVE this. Seriously. Most of the time I'm reading books that I assume no one checks out - in the paper libraries of yore I knew this was the case due to the lack of stamps on the book card. (Which always made me sad.) Also I hate to be rude, if I'm using something someone else needs/wants.


But it does mean I'm having to motor through the rest of this book tonight. Which means I really need to stop writing notes about it and just read, except I'm having SUCH fun writing notes - just to keep track of the plot - er, I mean the history. Here's a sample - in the review I'll post the full thing under spoilers in case you end up reading the book, although it's history so not exactly spoilers right? Not that you know who's who in the following...


Charles: So now that I'm betrothed to Jane I'm feeling protective and I feel personally affronted that Felix doubted my Jane and treated her this way. I'm writing to Felix to challenge him to a duel unless he formally denies these stories.
Jane: I've already written him telling him we're going to be married. I might have hinted that even now he could tell me to return to him and I would.
Me: Everyone is REALLY into letter writing.
Felix: Hey I NEVER suspected that Jane was unfaithful! (Though I totally did. And said that out loud. To many other people.) I said we had to part because our "tempers were incompatible." I totally wish you both the best! And I just wrote all that to you in a letter because I never do get around to talking to Jane in person since I ran off years ago!
Author: That incompatible part is a direct quote too.
Me: Is this dude for real?! Also I note he doesn't mention his and Jane's child!
Author: I know right?!


I'll also post quotes so you can see that the author's style is very much history writing, but the material is just SO amazingly lively at all times that you can't not make this sound like a complete soap opera. And I am enjoying it despite the whole "I didn't plan to have this kid so let me find a place to drop him/her off" thing - which, sigh.


Ok, enough break, back to reading...

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text 2014-07-27 16:16
Reading in Progress: Rebel Heart: The Scandalous Life of Jane Digby
Rebel Heart: The Scandalous Life of Jane Digby - Mary S. Lovell

One of my most favorite Moments of Squee: when an author uses the prologue to tell the story of the research behind the book. I adore tales of lost books, undiscovered manuscripts, hidden drawers in old desks that reveal old letters, dusty shelves in libraries with forgotten books - you get the idea.


I'll get back to the forgotten texts bit - but first, the women in question!  I have a long list of women whose biographies I want to read (that I mentally file under Women I Wish Had Been In More History Textbooks), and I've finally gotten around to Jane Digby. Here's the way Rebel Heart describes her life on the book jacket:


"Jane Digby (1807-1881) had everything: beauty, aristocratic connections, money, and, as revealed in her letters, poetry and intimate diaries, a highly original mind. Said to be the most beautiful woman in Regency England, she was married at eighteen to an ambitious politician twice her age, and at twenty-one was involved in a scandalous, much-publicized divorce. Jane had fallen in love with a dashing Austrian diplomat, and she did not care what the world thought.

After the divorce, every door in London was closed to Jane, and so she lived abroad, where she was wooed or wedded by some of the most fascinating men in Europe: among them a duke, an Albanian bandit chief, and King Ludwig I of Bavaria. She was an intrepid traveler and finally found her happiness in Arabia, where she married a sheik and divided her time between the oasis of Damascus and the hard life of Bedouin nomads." 


Sounds a bit over the top doesn't it? Go read Jane Digby's wikipedia page - she did indeed lead a life that was amazing. (Also from what I've read so far, the writing in the book isn't as over the top/Romancelandia-ish as the jacket blurb.) From that much you'll understand why Jane Digby's been on my To Read More About list.


Now let's go back to Rebel Heart's author, Mary S. Lovell, discussing the contemporary biographies of Digby, and her own research in the prologue - specifically trying to find out more about Jane Digby's diaries:

p. 15: "...several subsequent biographers...declared that the diaries were lost. Since [Digby's first biographer] E. M. Oddie had quoted from the diaries hardly at all, this seemed especially tragic. So I set out to discover what had happened to them in order to learn about Jane through her own voice. I also decided to try to locate the diaries and correspondence of people who met or were friends with Jane, not only to see what more could be learned about her, but to give a three-dimensional perspective to her story.

I contacted Lord Digby, a direct descendant of Jane's brother, Edward, and in April 1993 at his invitation I drove down to Minterne House in Dorset one morning to see his collection of Jane's water-colours. Over lunch I told him about my work and, after a pause, he looked at me, seemed to come to a decision, and said, 'Um, we do have Jane's diaries here. But we've never shown them to anyone.'

Within a short time I was seated at a writing table with objects that had once been Jane's; her notebooks and sketchbooks, and her diaries which covered more than three decades, principally those years she spent in the desert. All would need to be transcribed and indexed to be easily accessible. Some sections writing in pencil were badly faded; many entries were written in code and there were passages written in French and Arabic. I realized too that the code, once broken, might translate into any of the languages that Jane spoke; it would be a mammoth task. Five days later I was due to leave for Syria to research Jane's life there. I asked to be allowed to return to Minterne at some date in the future for a very long time.

Somewhere there must be a patron saint of biographers, to whom I owe much."


I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to sit at that desk, looking at all those primary sources that historians hadn't ever seen.


Glance again at Jane Digby's biography and realize how many languages the woman spoke, and you'll see the staggering amount of work Lovell had with all those papers. Not to mention cracking the code! She admits that after all her research she easily had enough content for many thousands of pages:


p 16: "However the job of a biographer is not merely to unearth and assemble facts; one must also dissect, compare, confirm and analyse; then hone the result in order to present to the reader a historically accurate, digestible and, I hope, enjoyable account of the subject."


That was all it took - the story of the unseen primary sources and secret code, plus the part admitting that she had more than enough material (and she edited it down!) - I'm in. I have the feeling I'm going to wish the book was longer than 370 pages - I'm especially interested to see if she'll discuss how those coded bits were translated.

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text 2014-04-26 00:45
Dammit, Open Library, Stop Enticing Me to
Women Of The French Revolution - Linda Kelly

I have hundreds of books on my ereader, and a big stack (in truth, literally, photo to come later) of books on my desk, but here I am, sneaking off to my computer to read a book on Open Library. (If you have no idea what this is - here's a link to their help page, and here's a page specifically about borrowing ebooks.) ...I suppose this means I should give in and eventually get a tablet (assuming Adobe Digital Editions works on tablets?). This is bad because I've always sworn that I only want an ereader just for books. And that I didn't need to use a tablet. And I may have been somewhat dramatic in stating this, on multiple occasions.


It's always annoying to have to reverse yourself about something you were SO sure about, especially when it deals with your own tastes. (Not that I change much as far as the bigger, important issues - you know, like love, honor, truthfulness, and devotion to chocolate in most of its forms. ...Also cake. [stifles self before she can continue on tangent]) Eventually I'll learn to stop making any "final" pronouncements on how I'll use anything gadget related, because I have the feeling that I'm going to keep changing with the tech. [Imagine many sentences here about how I already adore all my gadgets, am gleeful over the ability to read books anywhere, etc. - because I could go on and on about that.]


Meanwhile I've read oodles of books on the French Revolution, and somehow this book - Women of the French Revolution, by Linda Kelly - is the most lively so far. It's not as hardcore-academic as most of the others I've read (however I haven't gotten to the bibliography to suss that bit out, and while there aren't footnotes so far I haven't checked for endnotes), but the focus on the women's stories is so nicely done, and it moves really quickly. I think what's really gotten me hooked is the fact that the author doesn't shy away from the blood and the tragic deaths - but neither does she dwell on it for pages. The stories are simply told, often with quotes from the women involved, and then you move on to the next bit of history. It's nice to see what can be done when an author's not trying to cram too much into a history. Though to be fair there is a lot going on in the French Revolution, and narrowing down the events to be covered is hard. (But then, I'm one to go off on tangents, so I would say that, wouldn't I.) I'll go on in more detail when I actually review the book - and I'll have a lot of quotes because I want to remember large chunks of this. (I get particularly quote happy if I don't own a copy of a book.) It's also an extremely short book - I'm interested to find out whether the ending will be abrupt.


Moment of humor - a day ago I was happily reading in this book (someone had just made a last minute escape from being sent to the guillotine) - and suddenly when I turned the page the next one was completely blank. In fact all of them were blank, to the very last page of the book. I tried refreshing the screen - nope, still blank. In a huff, I decided that I'd had enough reading on the computer - and then took another book to read in bed. Just to show the online book how little I cared that it wasn't letting me read any further. ...So it turns out that, because I'm used to reading Open Library books on Adobe Digital Editions (you actually download a copy to read), this is something that can happen with a book you can only read within a browser page. And all I'd have to do was go to the book's page - here - and re-open it from there. Because it was still checked out to my account. I felt extremely sheepish, but I certainly didn't let the book know about it. It's never good to let inanimate objects know how much you care about them - sometimes it makes them terribly haughty. And I have far too many shelves of books to deal with on a daily basis, so I'd best not encourage that kind of thing.


...Hmm. Now I'm tempted by Monsieur de Saint-George: Virtuoso, Swordsman, Revolutionary, A Legendary Life Rediscovered. This is why my TBR stack never gets smaller...

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