Monthly Archives: March 2019

Intimidation by Audio File

It’s been a while since I added some new Librivox books to my phone. I actually downloaded my next few books (working through my books I should read by the time I’m 30 list) months ago, but never got around to transferring them to my phone. After I finished listening to The Everlasting Rose, which I will probably review next week, I decided it was time for a change of pace, and transferred The Count of Monte Cristo, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Gulliver’s Travels, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Three Musketeers, and Madame Bovary onto my phone. And I’m halfway through Tom Sawyer, and quite enjoying it (besides the wildly inappropriate language).

But then when I look at the other books, I get sort of put off by them. You see, I’ve managed to choose a few extremely long books. Madame Bovary’s not so bad – thirteen hours. And Gulliver’s Travels is positively short – only 11.23. But then we go a bit made. Hunchback is 21:50. The Three Musketeers is 25 hours. And the Count of Monte Cristo is more than 54 hours long.

I’ve basically been intimidated out of reading the last three of those. Largely because I’m afraid once I start, I’ll feel obliged to continue, and then I’ll end up being terribly bored. It happened with Jonathan Strange last year. I started reading it, realised I didn’t like it, but then felt obliged to finish it. And basically just avoided listening to any audiobooks, rather than feel the guilt of starting a different one (even though I hated this one, quite a lot). So I’m afraid to start one of the real mammoth librivox books I’ve downloaded, because then I might consign myself to months of not listening to any other audiobooks.

But then I feel a bit ridiculous, and I’m like… I can’t be intimidated by audio files on my phone! I’m a real boy! I’m a strong, confident woman who does not need to smoke.

Except I can. And I am. It will probably be quite some time before I venture so far as to actually begin listening to the Count of Monte Cristo. Just in case.

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Kindle Paperwhite or All-New Kindle?

As I mentioned recently, my faithful Kindle Paperwhite gave up the ghost after an unknown impact which left the screen severely damaged. So now I need to replace it. I’ve tried to live without it, but I’m finding it very sad to try and read books on my phone. I know that I have tons of paper books that I need to catch up on reading, and indeed I’m not intending to actually replace it for another few weeks, but I was pretty happy, at the point when I broke my Kindle, that I was going to replace it with another Kindle Paperwhite. This, I was actually quite excited about, because in the six years since I got my first kindle, lots of upgrades have been implemented. The two I was most excited about were the Audible integration, meaning if I have bluetooth headphones (which I actually don’t have, but minor issues), I can listen to audiobooks through my kindle, and stop sucking up my battery life, and the waterproofing. I don’t know why I was so excited about the waterproofing, because I don’t take baths (I don’t actually have a plug for my bath, but that’s a different issue) and I’m rarely outdoors in the rain, but I was excited about it. So I was planning on getting a new Kindle Paperwhite, some time in April, and that was that.

But then Amazon threw a spanner in the works. They announced an upgrade of their standard Kindle model. The baseline kindle is getting a light. And audible integration. So now, suddenly, the £50 price difference between the Paperwhite and the Kindle doesn’t seem so justifiable.

I’ve looked at both kindles together – the Paperwhite has a couple of things going for it:

a sharper screen resolution – but I don’t view images on the kindle, so as long as the words are legible, does that matter?

Waterproofing – but as I said, I don’t read in the bath, and am rarely out in the rain, so is this really something I need?

One more LED – 5 in the Paperwhite, compared to 4 in the Kindle. Does this actually make a difference? If there’s one on each side in the Kindle, where do they even put the fifth one in the Paperwhite?

A flush screen – but my broken Paperwhite doesn’t have a flush screen, so not having it wouldn’t be a downgrade for me.

More storage – the Kindle has 4GB, the Paperwhite 8 or 32. But ebooks are small files – I won’t be keeping that many on the Kindle at any one time. I usually delete the files after I’ve read the book so I don’t accidentally read the same book twice (I’ve done it. I’m dumb).

The Paperwhite is marginally bigger and marginally heavier than the Kindle. But I’d be putting a case on either of them, which would change the dimensions and the weight anyway, so I’m not too worried about that. The All-New Kindle comes in black OR white, which would be a point in its favour if I had any interest in a white Kindle, but I really don’t.

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So… basically, I’m really confused. I don’t know what kind of Kindle I want to get to replace my poor sadly dearly departed old Kindle (which was named Sarah). And it’s not even like I can ask someone who has one for advice, because the All-New Kindle doesn’t release til April 10th!

But I would welcome thoughts on which you, personally, would go for. Don’t suggest an Oasis to me. I’m not made of money!! I asked my mum and sisters what they thought, and my sisters didn’t respond, while my mum said ‘you will have to decide’. Thanks a bunch, guys. So I’m turning to you, blogging community – help me out! Kindle Paperwhite or All-New Kindle??

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Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men – Caroline Criado Perez

A few weeks ago, the Guardian ran an edited excerpt from this book, and I read it with fury rising in my heart as all these things I had known, but never really thought about, rose to the surface. In every area of life, what is universal for men is taken to be universal for humanity as a whole. And it’s not. From the height of grab bars in trains to the proportions of car driver seats, encompassing drug testing, phone sizes, and urban  planning, women are overlooked as anomalous or out of the norm. Despite being 50% of the population. The article made me really mad but also made me really interested, so I ordered the book online, and settled down to wait for the release date. It took me until last weekend for me to have enough time to actually sit down and consume Criado Perez’s work, but once I did… ooh, the fires of fury in my heart were stoked.

Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez

 

40554112.jpgImagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.

Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. It exposes the gender data gap – a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives.

Award-winning campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez brings together for the first time an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrate the hidden ways in which women are forgotten, and the impact this has on their health and well-being. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, Invisible Women reveals the biased data that excludes women. In making the case for change, this powerful and provocative book will make you see the world anew.

First things first: the designer of this book was clearly on a roll. The font is clear and delightful. The italics, in particular, are so beautiful I had to take a picture of them and send it to my friend so he could appreciate them too. The cover design is subtle and fantastic. When you take the dustjacket off, the overlaid blue male figures disappear, leaving the invisible women behind, which ties in wonderfully with the book’s overarching message. The texture of the dustjacket and hardcover is delightful, with a velvety-smooth overlay that is really pleasing to the touch.

The book is heavily referenced throughout with endnotes. These are collected directly after the acknowledgements, a full 69 pages of references. The impact of this collected body of commentary serves to underline the density of information and dedication of the research which went into this book. While I’m not a fan of endnotes, personally, the stylistic choice to collect them all together gives undeniable weight to the book, and makes it difficult to dismiss its conclusions.

But that’s enough about the physical construction of this book (for which Chatto and Windus deserves great praise). What about the content itself?

Well, I read this book with a combination of mounting horror, frustration, and rage. Criado Perez takes the reader by the hand and gently leads them along a journey of discrimination against women which is endemic in all areas of life. Split into six thematic sections (Daily Life, The Workplace, Design, Going to the Doctor, Public Life, and When it Goes Wrong), this book catalogues a pantheon of circumstances where what is female is considered as abnormal, as less than standard, as Other. Collected together, the ignorance of design to the differing needs of 50% of the population is both fascinating and incredibly infuriating.

Criado Perez doesn’t use this book as a stick with which to beat the patriarchy, however. Rather, she delicately unpicks the circumstances which lead to a lack of consideration of the needs of those other than what is considered to be the default. Her examples are wide-ranging, touching on every area of life, and consistently return the same conclusion: women just haven’t been thought about. It’s not that their needs have been considered and dismissed. It’s that the fact that they might have different needs hasn’t even occurred to the people creating these structures.

(Generally. There are some notable exceptions.)

This quote from Tim Schalk really burned my cookies. But it’s not actually the norm.

From Sheryl Sandberg’s explanation at Google that heavily pregnant women can’t walk long distances to Apple Health’s omission of allowing tracking of a menstrual cycle, for many examples in this book, the reason for these omissions is that people didn’t even think of them as a potential need. Cars are crash tested rigorously before making it to market – but the dummies used are 1.7m tall. This is the size of the average man, not the size of the average person, and it leads to shocking statistics like the fact that women – despite being less likely to crash – if they are involved in a crash, are 47% more likely to be seriously injured. Criado Perez points out myriad ways that this unthinking acceptance of male as default – and as applicable to all – unfairly impacts on women, and leads to their being unconsidered in further development.

The book has one overarching message, which calls clearly from every page. Do something about this. Don’t accept data as applicable to all. Sex-disaggregate data, and investigate how men and women are differently impacted. In an era which relies on big data more than ever, the gender data gap needs to be acknowledged, counteracted, and filled. And it needs to be done with a specific focus on counteracting the detriment which the gender data gap had caused. Otherwise we end up with situations where a policy designed to create more family-friendly situations actually end up disadvantaging those it intended to help.

Criado Perez is not myopic in her discussions either – she skillfully acknowledges the intersections of race, gender identity, disability, and other minority identities can have to create a cumulatively detrimental effect. Invisible Women is a primer on how not to design, a feminist manifesto, a fantastic example of hard research with incredible readability, and a thoroughly engaging experience. It has filled me with rage and frustration – my friends and family have borne the brunt of several rants already – and I’ll be passing it on and recommending it to pretty much everyone I know.

Five Stars. I absolutely recommend you read this.
*****

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Wolf Light – Yaba Badoe

I saw Yaba Badoe speak at YALC last year, and thought she was absolutely fantastic to listen to. I could just tell that her books would be full of lyrical imagery and spectacular magic. So when I saw that Wolf Light was on NetGalley, I instantly requested it.

Wolf Light – Yaba Badoe

40216397.jpgBorn in wolf light, the magical dusk, in Mongolia, Ghana and Cornwall, Zula, Adoma and Linet are custodians of the sacred sites of their homelands. Yaba’s debut novel A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars was shortlisted for the 2018 Branford Boase Award and nominated for the 2019 Carnegie Medal.

When copper miners plunder Zula’s desert home in Gobi Altai, and Adoma’s forest and river are polluted by gold prospectors, it is only a matter of time before the lake Linet guards with her life is also in jeopardy. How far will Zula, Adoma and Linet go to defend the well-being of their homes? And when all else fails, will they have the courage to summon the ancient power of their order, to make the landscape speak in a way that everyone will hear?

Rich in elemental magic, myth and the mysterious magical dusk, Wolf Light is Yaba Badoe’s defiant call to protect our environment, to conserve our heritage and to hear the ancient power that connects us.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting from Wolf Light, but what I got was a really beautiful, lyrical discussion of climate change, family, and the family you choose for yourself, mixed with elemental magic and myth, and coming of age.
Three main characters, scattered around the world in Mongolia, Ghana, and Cornwall, Zula, Adoma, and Linet are tasked with protecting sites of spiritual importance, and gifted with elemental powers to do that. When each of their homes is threatened by progress, the girls need to work together to protect their homes and sacred sites.

There is so much going on in this book, and it feels like there is intense depth to this world that we have only just scraped the surface of. That’s both a positive and a negative for this book. It’s clear that there is a rich seam of storytelling here which underpins the narrative we experience, but it also feels like our experience of these three girls is shallower than it could be. I was left a tiny bit disappointed at the end of this book that, despite having three wonderful main characters, it didn’t feel like we really knew any of them. Perhaps it’s because the book spends a lot of time on descriptions of the eerie, twilight-based magical system, or because there are beautifully lyrical descriptions of their sacred sites, but I was left somewhat unfulfilled by the depths of character that we plumbed.
But that’s not to say that this book doesn’t have absolute stacks of wonderful imagery and great breadth of stories. Three diverse and different main characters, some fabulous scene-setting, and a variety of family situations was great – presenting these different arrangements as nothing lesser, nothing other, but these three girls’ normal. I also really loved the friendship and sisterhood between the three girls. Friends are the family you choose for yourself, and the supportive and loving nature of their relationship is something that I would love to see more of in YA books – too often we see the toxic side of female close friendships, but we need more of the wonderful support that these sisters give to each other.

Also, the cover art is stunning.

Four Stars
****

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RIP, Kindle

I have probably waxed lyrical on here before about how much I love my Kindle. I got it for Christmas 2012, just before I moved to London, and it’s been pretty much as constant a fixture in my handbag as my purse or my keys. In fact, since I’ve changed purse and moved house several times in the last six years, the kindle has probably been more of a fixture. It’s packed with literally hundreds of books, and super quick and easy to whip out when I’m on a tube, or waiting in my car, or sitting on the couch.

I don’t want to belabour the point here, but I really, really love my kindle. I think if I had to list my top ten things, the kindle would definitely make the list. It’s probably up there in the top five. Maybe even top two. It’s probably only beaten by my phone, because that’s filled with adorable pictures of my nephew and nieces. But it’s a close run thing.

So yesterday, when I went to sit down and continue reading The Rogue Queen, I was bewildered and shaken to realise that my kindle screen was looking funny. More than funny. Quite bizarre, in fact.

Notice that the book title you can see most clearly is by my former colleague, Melissa Terras. It’s actually great. I recommend it heartily. But that’s a tangent.

So yes. My Kindle is broken. Having googled, and spoken to Amazon tech support, it’s physical screen damage, and essentially borked. So that’s, well, it’s a tragedy.

And I know. I know. My kindle has been my faithful companion for more than six years. It’s seen hundreds of books that I loved and hated, and kept me company through rain, sun, snow, and hail. It was a gift from my parents for Christmas, so I didn’t even expend my own hard-earned dosh on it. It owes me nothing. It was just its time to leave.

But I’m so sad about it. I really loved that kindle. I loved every aspect of it, from the bashed-up purple leather and rubber cover to the tiny single pixel of screen damage in the bottom of the screen. It’s kept me company through years of student struggles, breakups, make-ups, chilling on couches, and lurking in a car as I waited for my dad to return from his stop-smoking clinic. It’s been a distraction when I’m in pain because my uterus hates me, and a barrier to keep me from looking lonely when I’m waiting for friends in the pub. So the knowledge that I have to say goodbye to it – even if I can replace it with a new, better kindle – is really quite sad.

Forgive my sentimental meanderings. I will get a new kindle in a few weeks. But I wanted at least something of an acknowledgement of what a good friend my first kindle was!

 

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World Book Day

Was going to write a really brilliant blog today about how important world book day is, and how great it is to read with kids, how lovely it is to see kids excited to dress up as their favourite book characters and what a formative experience meeting authors during book week was for me when I was a child.

But then I thought…

Sod it. It’s World Book Day.

I’m gonna read a book.

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I suggest you do the same!

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February Roundup

February might be the shortest month of the year, but in 2019 it’s sure felt like the longest. It dragged and dragged and dragged, and I’m so glad that it’s March now and I can start looking forward to lovely things like Spring, Easter, my birthday, and my next trip home!

Books

  1. A Danger To Herself and Others – Alyssa Sheinmel
  2. King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1) – Leigh Bardugo
  3. A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult
  4. Watermelon (Walsh Sisters #1) – Marian Keyes*
  5. The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes) – Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. One Minute Later – Susan Lewis
  7. Have Sword, Will Travel (Have Sword, Will Travel #1) – Garth Nix & Sean Williams
  8. The Marble Collector – Cecelia Ahern
  9. The Importance of Being Aisling (OMGWACA #2) – Emer McLysaght & Sarah Breen
  10. The Day We Met – Roxie Cooper
  11. If I Was Your Girl – Meredith Russo
  12. The Red Ribbon – Lucy Adlington
  13. Crown of Feathers (Crown of Feathers #1) – Nicki Pau Preto
  14. Sightwitch (The Witchlands #2.5) – Susan Dennard*

Short Stories/Novellas

  1. The Lost Sisters (The Folk of the Air #1.5) – Holly Black

Cover Art

 

Favourite Book This Month

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A toughie – I liked lots of books this month, but didn’t love any enough to five-star them. Have Sword, Will Travel nabs it, because it’s fun, fresh, and I have the sequel ready to read already. Knights! Dragons! Magic! Danger!

Least Favourite Book This Month

The Marble Collector. Generally I quite like Cecelia Ahern, and I have to admit it was surprising and refreshing to listen to an audiobook with very clearly Irish narrators. But overall, this didn’t really spark any great feelings in me, so it becomes my least favourite this month solely for reasons of forgettableness.

Favourite cover art

I think this month it has to go to the spectacular cover art of Crown of Feathers. Those colours! The detail in that art! How forgotten the rider looks, peeking over the wing of the phoenix!

And… phoenixes big enough to ride on! What’s not to love!?

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Other…

I have two nieces who were both born in 2018, and every day is a new adventure of seeing them grow and learn things. I’m really looking forward to my next trip home, so I can see for myself how much has changed!

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