No ebooks for you

As I have mentioned recently, the majority of my reading is currently done via ebooks on my Kindle.  And though I do buy some ebooks, mainly indie titles or during sales, my primary source is my local library via the Overdrive system.  And since my primary genres are sci-fi and fantasy, I ran into an unexpected issue recently; I’m kind of uncertain how I feel about it and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

After reading VE Schwab’s Vicious (you can read my glowing brief review here), I was eager to pick up the sequel Vengeful, which came out September 25, 2018, published by Tor Books.  However, when I went to place a hold on it on Overdrive, I found that there was only an audiobook copy, no ebook to be found. I thought that was strange, so while I waited, and waited, and waited months for the audiobook I did some digging.  

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Last summer, sci-fi/fantasy publisher Tor, a division of Macmillan, announced a test wherein they would only sell ebooks to libraries after a four month waiting period.  They suspect that library lending is cutting into their sales, so by restricting the digital copies they sell to libraries they hope more people will buy their ebooks. Here are some are some articles with more detail from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.

I had vaguely seen this in passing last year, but for some reason had not expected it to affect me.  I have to admit, once I discovered why I was unable to get a library ebook copy of Vengeful, it had the exact opposite effect on me.  I had briefly considered buying a copy instead of waiting for it, but after finding out about Tor’s plan I absolutely refuse to buy it.  Maybe that’s just me being stubborn, but I really dislike feeling almost like the publisher is manipulating me. I personally buy most books only after having read them from the library first; you can argue whether that’s fair or not, but it’s a strategy that I am comfortable with.

Of course plenty of other people are upset about Tor’s plan also.  The ALA issued a press release on it, and John Scalzi (a Tor author) wrote a very fair-minded response to many fan complaints.  (Among other things he points out that Tor was one of the first to abandon DRM on their digital books, and that the four month delay does not apply to print copies.)

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license
Ebook between paper books by Maximilian Schönherr

I understand that Tor is running a business, but this move does not seem designed to foster goodwill with their customers.  I am certainly less inclined to buy any of Tor’s books right now.

Presumably my library will be able to get an ebook copy of Vengeful on January 25 (they don’t have a print copy right now either for whatever reason).  Maybe I’ll be able to read it at some point after that, or maybe I’ll just move on to other books (my to-read list is certainly long enough). Tor did express that this was a test, but there’s no information on how long they expect the test to go on (it’s “open-ended”), nor have I found any updates on how their sales have been since last summer.

Have any of you run into this same issue with Tor ebooks?  What are your thoughts? Should I just suck it up and get used to sci-fi audiobooks? 😀

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Review: V for Vendetta (graphic novel)

V title page
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
should ever be forgot.

V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, was originally published in the 1980s, but my recent reading revealed that it still has strong current relevance.  My rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

In a future Britain, war has led to societal collapse, and a fascist government has taken control, using fear to rule via surveillance programs and detention camps for undesirables.  Enter Codename: V, a terrorist with a penchant for bombs and knives who dedicates his life to overthrowing the government and restoring freedom to the people through anarchy.

screenshot_2016-10-18-20-31-04V typically wears a Guy Fawkes mask, referencing a member of the Gunpowder Plot that attempted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605.  V clearly sees himself as a contemporary Fawkes and does in fact blow up several London landmarks including Parliament and 10 Downing Street.  The Guy Fawkes mask has recently been co-opted by the hacker group Anonymous, which loosely shares V’s anti-censorship/pro-civil liberties views. The masks are frequently seen at protests, making a statement in addition to hiding identities.

The 2006 movie adaptation tones down the fascist-anarchist themes, instead targeting a US audience that was learning how to live in a post-9/11 world.  I absolutely love this movie, and I think it’s one of the best comic book movies ever made.  The cast, particularly Hugo Weaving as V, is wonderful.  There are some changes from the source material, some good, some not.

Take the character of Evey for example.  We meet her in the first pages of the graphic novel as a sixteen-year-old going out to begin prostituting herself; she then forms romantic attachments to two adult men over the course of the story.  To me, this screams “female character written/seen through male perspective.”  (I don’t think the other females characters fare much better in this regard.)  Hence I prefer Natalie Portman’s version of Evey, questionable accent included, because she has more independence and agency to start with.  But does that perhaps lessen the necessity and impact of the “re-education” that V puts her through?

Similarly, in the graphic novel we get a much better picture of the workings of the government.  Each branch is detailed: the Mouth sends out propaganda, the Ear does surveillance, the Nose investigates, etc.  And the Leader, very much a flat character in the movie, is given some interesting development.  But the movie also streamlines many of the government characters and plots that I found a bit confusing in the novel.  After a bit, a lot of white men in suits start to look alike.  Detective Finch also gets a slightly more heroic character arc in the movie, which I think lends more optimism to the ending.

Now, I posted this today specifically for several reasons.  First, because Saturday is the 5th of November, so that felt appropriate.  Second, because the US is about to have an election, and this story has a whole lot to say about the relationship between the government and its people.

Those following the presidential election here will understand why I did a serious double take on the second page, where a minister in the fascist government espouses his desire to “make Britain great again.”

make Britain great again

Can you believe that something written in the 80s has such relevance today?  V for Vendetta is explicitly saying that the politicians that use this kind of rhetoric are also the kind that rule by fear, the kind that curb our civil liberties, the kind that persecute minorities for the sake of “strength” and “unity.”

Further, if these are the politicians in power, V asks, whose fault is that?  Only our own.

So I will conclude by simply saying: please go vote next Tuesday and have your say in our government, without having to blow up anything at all.

If you really want to hear more about Alan Moore’s opinions on current politics, check out his interesting recent interview here.

One last, more frivolous note: I’ve started reading comics on my Kindle Fire, and it’s really pretty good.  You can double tap a panel to enlarge it, which is super important in a comic like V for Vendetta where there’s all kinds of details in the backgrounds.  I also have access to a lot of digital comics for free from my public library through Overdrive; if you live in Ohio, check it out here.  I think I’m going to try Fables next.

Review: Records of the Ohanzee

Just a quick post to talk about more indie books that I’ve enjoyed recently.  The series is called Records of the Ohanzee; I’ve read the first two and the third is just out this week.

You’ll notice the title of all three books, begins with Reflection; the books read more like volumes of one story than discrete books.  Which meant that when I got to the end of Reflection: The Stranger in the Mirror, I immediately had to go get Reflection: Harbinger of the Phoenix to continue the story!

Summary from Amazon:

Nerissa, the Heiress of Chiyo, prepares for the masquerade celebrating the twentieth anniversary of a thwarted assassination attempt on her family. Longing to be admired for herself and not her title, she arranges to switch costumes and enjoy the ball in blissful anonymity. But, when the fateful night finally comes, a prophetic warning of a second attack arrives too late, and the evening turns from revelry and romance to violence. After being pulled from the chaos by an enigmatic guardian, Nerissa learns that the Royal Family has been concealing a formidable secret for generations—and it is only one of many that are about to be revealed.

The characters are probably my favorite aspect of the books.  I especially like Nerissa’s spunky best friend Charis and her interesting relationship with the suspicious foreign student that’s staying with her family.  I was so glad that we got a sneak peek of them for the third book.

My favorite character is probably Raysel, and it’s only partly because in my head he looks like Jeonghan of SEVENTEEN:

Aaaaanyways, I really like how the writing gets into the characters’ heads, telling the story from each of their perspectives, sometimes in switching during a scene.  The prose is competent, and I would say it’s on par with some of the traditionally published YA fantasy I’ve read.

The first book in the series, Reflection: The Stranger in the Mirror is FREE for Kindle on Amazon today and tomorrow, so go check it out and get hooked on this series!

Overall 4/5 stars

Book Review: Masque by WR Gingell

A few weeks ago I had a sudden desire to read a Beauty and the Beast story (and that was even before the teaser for Disney’s live-action movie dropped!).  So I checked out Beauty by Robin McKinley from the library—it’s a classic, and I haven’t read it in about ten years.

Then I went searching on Amazon for more.  I went to the Kindle store, searched for “Beauty and the Beast,” set the sorting on “Price: Low to High,” and scanned through the free ebooks for anything that looked interesting.  I was scrolling past the covers with shirtless dudes on them when I found an interesting blurb for a fantasy book with a good number of five-star reviews.

And thus, in that strange way, I discovered Masque, which is quite possibly my favorite book I’ve read this year.  It’s given me such a book hangover; I’ve read it twice and haven’t been able to read anything else since.

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Lady Isabella Farrah, daughter of the Ambassador to Glause, has had a nasty shock: one of her oldest friends has been gruesomely murdered in the middle of the Ambassadorial Ball.  Belle is determined to find the murderer, no matter the danger, but the pesky Commander of the Watch, Lord Pecus, seems to think that this is his investigation…and he also seems to think that Belle has some part in breaking his hereditary curse.

Have you ever had the feeling that the characters (and consequently the author) of a book are more clever than you?  For me, this is a treasured find!  Belle is a gem of a protagonist; witty and take-charge, she is a strong female character that doesn’t have to punch anybody.  She reads people like a book, and takes her fashion as seriously as her diplomacy.  I felt like she was always one half-step ahead of me throughout the story, and it was so much fun.

Though the Beauty and the Beast tale is at the heart of this story, it’s transformed into so much more.  It’s primarily a suspenseful mystery, with some action, intrigue, and subtle romance, all in vaguely steampunk setting with magic; it further manages to flirt with the idea of being a novel of manners, Jane Austen-style.  The fairy tale’s story elements don’t really kick in until about halfway through, and even then I forgot about them half the time (which is hilarious considering that’s why I wanted to read the story in the first place).

Our Beast is Lord Pecus,whose name somehow calls to mind both pectoral muscles and the peccary, and who has the distinction of being one of the few people who can occasionally out-think Belle.  Their relationship grows nicely, and deftly avoids some of the more “problematic” aspects of the traditional tale.

The cast of characters is rounded out nicely by several of Belle’s entertaining friends, her equally bad-ass sister Susan, some charming Horselords, a cute Watchman, a magic book that functions like Google, and two ragamuffin children in Belle’s employ who are skilled at both magic and causing trouble.  Some of the bad guys are nuanced, and some are not, but all of them work in the story.

One last odd note: this book reminded me of Seraphina, which is high praise as that book is one of my favorite YA fantasy stories of all time.  At first I wasn’t sure why, but then I kept thinking of more things they have in common: murder mystery, little tech devices, liberal use of words like “perspicacious.”

In any case, the writing is clever and witty, the story and characters are wonderful, and I will be enjoying the book for years to come.

Tl;dr You need to read this book now and it’s currently free for Kindle.

5 / 5 stars

The Sanctum of the Sphere by Luther M. Siler

After I was blown away last year by Luther M. Siler’s short story collection The Benevolence Archives v1, I was eager to try the series’ first novel, The Sanctum of the Sphere.  I saved it to read on vacation, because I knew once I started reading I wouldn’t put it down.

Sanctum_72dpiThe BA series is a nice mix of Star Wars-style space opera with D&D races; basically, this is my kind of sci-fantasy.  It was great to be back with the dynamic duo of scoundrels, gnome Brazel and half-ogre Grond, plus several other side characters previously introduced in BA v1.   (But don’t worry if you haven’t read BA v1; this story can stand on its own, and you will not be confused in any way.)

The characters really are my favorite thing about Sanctum of the Sphere and BA in general.  It was really great to see Brazel’s wife Rhundi in particular take a large role here.  Two new characters stood out as well: genderless elf Asper (Siler manages to write with gender-neutral pronouns in a way that isn’t entirely annoying) and Brazel and Rhundi’s daughter Darsi who’s now old enough to get in on some of the action (and she’s definitely her mother’s daughter).

I want to give a special shout-out to Brazel’s ship AI, the Nameless (or Namey as it’s nicknamed).  You know you’ve got a deep character roster when the most dramatic and emotional scenes in the book revolve around a talking spaceship.

Although I liked that the novel gave some resolution to one of the short stories that left me hanging in BAv1, I think I somewhat preferred the short story format because it served the characters well without having to additionally focus on plot.  While I liked that Sanctum’s plot elements heavily referenced Star Wars (specifically ROTJ), I didn’t find the story as original or suspenseful as Siler’s other novel Skylights (that’s right, Siler, I’m grading you against yourself now).

The BA world continues to be intriguing; I enjoyed its expansion in Sanctum, including learning some more about the titular Benevolence.  Yet I still feel like I don’t know much about them?  I do love that the opposition is also called the Malevolence.

Overall, I highly recommend this book if you like fun space operas with action and lots of swearing.  It’s a pretty quick read, too; I read the whole thing on a transatlantic flight.

4.5/5 stars

Check out more about the Benevolence Archives books here; they are available for Kindle and in print on Amazon, as well as digitally on Smashwords and other sites.