Feedly Follow-up and Goodreads

Aaarrghhh. First Google Reader disappearing, now the Amazon/Goodreads deal.  Talk about unsettling news.

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feedly-logo1On the positive side, I have now settled into using Feedly and *whispers* it may even be better than Google Reader.  Apart from my Chrome browser, I’ve installed it on my (Android) phone and Kindle Fire, and the apps are working fine.  The complaints I had about the left navigation pane appear to have been mostly addressed by their latest updates and the user interface has definitely improved.  As I said previously, I really like that I can customise the view per subscription and the magazine view is proving to be an excellent way to scan through frequently updated feeds.  Finally, not that I’m superficial or anything, but it’s a lot prettier than Reader…

A couple of caveats: Feedly is still using the Google Reader backend, and while they appear to be prepared to switch over to their new Normandy backend, I suspect there may be some teething problems.  I have also logged on to The Old Reader (yes, my subscriptions were finally uploaded) to check out the interface, and while I haven’t spent a lot of time using it, I suspect if you’re looking for a like-for-like replacement, you may like The Old Reader better than Feedly.  It also has the bonus of not requiring a browser extension, though Feedly says that’s on their list of things to address.

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And then the big news of this week – Amazon buying Goodreads.

My initial reaction was “Noooooo…”, but then I wondered why.  I’m not anti-Amazon – heck, the bulk of my ebook purchases are probably from Amazon, I have three Kindles (I know), I use the Amazon wishlist feature to track price drops… Back in the (pre-ebooks) day, Amazon was the only way I managed to get my hands on backlist books – I think if I were ever to add up how much of my money has ended up at Amazon, it would be around the five digits mark (ummm… better not to think about that too much).

I think it’s the common reaction to a big corporate taking over what’s seen as a community corner of the online book-ish world.  However, let’s face it: Goodreads weren’t in this business purely out of the goodness of their hearts – they were (hopefully) making money as well, and I’m guessing Amazon made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.  You don’t get something for nothing, and I viewed Goodreads as having access to my data (reviews, book lists etc) as a reasonable trade-off for the services I received from them: a way of organising my books, following what other people were reading, and trading book recommendations.

While I don’t necessarily like the idea of another company having access to that data, I’m not sure if it’s that different from Goodreads being able to mine that dataset (or say, Google having access to my internet browsing habits).  I have to say that I’m not quite sure how I feel about my reviews potentially appearing on Amazon.  Which is funny, because I know Goodreads reviews appear at other online book retailers, e.g. Kobo and BooksOnBoard – I obviously don’t have an issue with that but Amazon feels so public.  Is that just me?  We’ll see – I don’t think I’ve seen any statement yet on whether that would definitely happen (though it would make sense if I were an Amazon bod).

But as long as my Amazon account remains unlinked to my Goodreads one (and I use different email addresses so I would be really %^!&*’d off if that happened), I think this change in ownership by itself is not going to make me close my Goodreads account.  It remains to be seen if this actually has an impact on the Goodreads end-user experience – I hope not, but I think we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Thoughts, anyone?

Favourite UFs and a PR Question

I did this a while back, but never posted about it (probably because I was planning on making the page slightly prettier – yes, that didn’t happen).  But Angie and Jan posting their top ten favourite UF books reminded me that I’d collated my favourite books over the past six years and split them out by genre. Unfortunately, my UF list is kind of boring as it’s based on my annual favourites which obviously isn’t restricted by author – so it basically has the same four authors repeated over and over again.

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45713_900Speaking of favourite UF authors (note the neat segue), Seanan McGuire did an AMA at Reddit.  You can read the entire AMA thread here or just her responses (click on context for the question).  For Toby fans, this response to a question about Quentin’s parentage jumped out at me:

I’m not telling. 🙂 Quentin is a blind foster, which means that the identities of his parents have been concealed for a good reason. I will tell you, however, that the question of his parentage will be conclusively answered in the next book, Chimes at Midnight, which comes out in September.

I am so excited. And while we’re on CHIMES OF MIDNIGHT, you have seen the new cover, no?  Pretty.

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I didn’t realise Kelley Armstrong had a Tumblr.  She talks about a new 2013 novella in her Otherworld series a bit here.  It’s set after 13, and is titled “Brazen”.  Subterranean Press has done all her previous novellas in ebook format, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will be the case as well.

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Nalini Singh put up a cute short story set in her Psy-Changeling world a while ago (I really need to blog more often).  Any thoughts on the secrecy and big build-up to her next Psy-Changeling release?  I get that it’s a big book (heck, it’s the Ghost reveal) and I love the Psy-Changeling books, but I’m on the fence around the drip-drip approach to revealing the cover, back cover description etc.  It’s not a specific gripe about HEART OF OBSIDIAN – any kind of PR campaign that is meant to make me more curious about the book normally has the opposite effect.

Cari Silverwood’s STEEL DOMINANCE

17233124 When Cari Silverwood asked me (quite a while ago – I hold my hands up here) if I would be interested in reviewing STEEL DOMINANCE, the third book of her Steamworks Chronicles series, I was intrigued. BDSM steampunk is not a genre I normally read (let’s face it, it’s not your standard run-of-the-mill romance genre), but the fact that she referenced Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas world when talking steampunk made me think twice. It’s rare when I come across a fantasy romance where I completely buy into the fantasy elements. Like wallpaper historicals, a lot of fantasy romances come across as “wallpaper fantasy” for me – they’re just there as background and you can easily lift and drop the romance into another setting without losing anything.

A brilliant researcher, Sofia must unravel the ancient puzzle of the Clockwork Warrior or her career will be in tatters. Yet the tomb of the warrior is in the dangerous city of Byzantium, inside the harem of the Emperor. She knew she’d have to pose as a slave—but not that her “owner” would be the incredibly bossy, gorgeous bodyguard she’s been assigned.

A life of military duty has left Dankyo unprepared for Sofia. He’s never met a woman quite like this. She’s smart and beautiful, and she’s something that he’s finding almost irresistible—despite the way she fights against masquerading as his slave, she’s submissive right down to the bottom of her soul. And that’s bringing out every dominant instinct in his body.

But even as he realizes she’s captured his heart, the city explodes into madness. Surviving seems impossible. Can love and a Dom who will never give up overcome sheer bloody-minded evil?

My attention was captured from the start – an assassination is an excellent way to kick off a story, even better when we’re then plunged into the main story leaving us as much as in the dark as the onlookers. The steampunk fantasy setting added an extra dimension (and imaginative clockwork creatures galore) to the story – and that wallpaper fantasy thing? Wasn’t an issue at all – I loved how romance and fantasy were intertwined in this book.

There was a high suspense factor throughout the book, although I did find it slightly frustrating that this was driven partly by a lack of communication (or possibly omission?) between Dankyo and Sofia. If they had actually talked more, the identity of the villains may have had come to light sooner, so yes, I wanted to shake Sofia at times (in her defence, I should say that she didn’t realise that she was in possession of significant information).

Romance-wise, STEEL DOMINANCE falls into the erotic romance category, even ignoring the BDSM elements. Add the BDSM side of things – and well. Vanilla this is not. However, while the “undercover as slave” setup had a lot of potential for BDSM play (and this was very definitely used), there was something lacking for me. I never quite understood the why behind Dankyo and Sofia’s D/s dynamic – maybe I needed more backstory, but I was just left thinking this was a very erotic romance.

All in all, I really liked the steampunk fantasy elements (in fact, I found myself wondering how Cari Silverwood would tackle a straight fantasy); however, Dankyo and Sofia’s romance, although extremely sexy, left me wanting a bit more. This is the third book in a series, but stands fairly well by itself – previous characters make an appearance, but didn’t take over the story. I do have a sneaky suspicion that Dankyo would have had more appeal for me if I had read previous books.

Excerpt on Cari Silverwood’s website.

Note: Review copy provided by the author

Google Reader (and Currently Reading)

I feel like I should apologise for the radio silence around here, but well.  I suspect I’ll be starting every other post with an apology if I fall into that habit.

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Big news of the week is Google Reader shutting down on July 1… I blinked when that notice appeared on my screen and immediately logged on to Twitter to figure out what others are doing (the joys of social media!).

There are a number of Google Reader alternatives being proposed – I’m trying out Feedly myself. I was tempted by The Old Reader, but they appear swamped by the influx of new users – I may give them a go when things quieten down to see which I prefer.

Importing my subscriptions to Feedly was painless as it (currently) uses Google Reader in the background (they are swapping over to a new backend when Google retires Reader) – I installed it using the Chrome app, and logged on using my Google account.  All my subscriptions and folders appeared automatically, though I had to reorder some folders.  I don’t usually check my RSS feeds on my phone, so the fact it needs to be installed in your browser is not a deal breaker for me.

Navigation took a while for me to figure out – tips: preferences are at the bottom left, you may have to increase your browser window width to see the left navigation pane, and saved articles are at the top left.  I also had to play around with the settings to make it easier on the eyes – I changed the theme, expanded my browser window to full screen, and increased the font size.

I like that I can customise the view for each feed and Feedly remembers that.  When I first logged on, I set the default for all feeds to title view (similar to Google Reader), but found that I actually liked their Magazine view better for certain feeds.

It’s not perfect – the navigation pane on the left could be easier to use (I find it hard to find the scroll bar, and end up clicking hopefully in what I think is the right area).  Also, the navigation pane only shows RSS feeds with new articles and lists the feeds in a random order (within the folders) – I’m looking on the positive side as it’s making me read blogs in a different order each time…

Have you found a good alternative for Google Reader?  Tell me!

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Reading-wise, I’ve finished the following over the past couple of weeks:

Patricia BriggsFROST BURNED: Good, as you’ve probably gathered from the slew of positive reviews around

Helen S Wright‘s A MATTER OF OATHS: I picked this up after I read this (non-spoilery) review by Jo Walton @ tor.com – the ebook version is free on the author’s website, and I would certainly recommend if you’re in the mood for some space opera fun.

Cari Silverwood‘s STEEL DOMINANCE: Review to come, as this is one of the very few books I’ve accepted for review – the author got me at steampunk BDSM.

I’m currently reading Shadow Unit 1 (ebook free @ Amazon or your friendly ebook retailer, I think), which is an interesting online experiment dreamt up by Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear – more info at the Shadow Unit website.  Genre-wise, it’s described as a “action-adventure police procedural with fantasy elements”, which is probably a fair assessment – the first book is actually four novellas (plus bonus scenes), so it’s not a massive commitment time-wise.

 

Books for March

Here’s a pretty long list of March releases that I’m eyeing (plus a whole load of maybes).  Also, Andrea K Höst‘s HUNTING is now scheduled for a March release, so lots of book goodness this month.

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11035657Patricia BriggsFROST BURNED (UF): *inarticulate noise* Yes, I’m that excited about a new Mercy Thompson story.  It’s been one of the very few books I’ve actually pre-ordered this year.  I’m wondering if we’re going to see the repercussions of the events in the last Anna & Charles book in FROST BURNED – I hope so.

Mercy Thompson’s life has undergone a seismic change. Becoming the mate of Adam Hauptman—the charismatic Alpha of the local werewolf pack—has made her a stepmother to his daughter Jesse, a relationship that brings moments of blissful normalcy to Mercy’s life. But on the edges of humanity, what passes for a minor mishap on an ordinary day can turn into so much more…

After an accident in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Mercy and Jesse can’t reach Adam—or anyone else in the pack for that matter. They’ve all been abducted.

Through their mating bond, all Mercy knows is that Adam is angry and in pain. With the werewolves fighting a political battle to gain acceptance from the public, Mercy fears Adam’s disappearance may be related—and that he and the pack are in serious danger. Outclassed and on her own, Mercy may be forced to seek assistance from any ally she can get, no matter how unlikely.

Out March 5 (excerpt)

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12551082Miranda Kenneally‘s THINGS I CAN’T FORGET (YA romance): Miranda Kenneally’s CATCHING JORDAN was an unexpectedly good read when I stumbled upon it last year, so I’m all up for a new book in her Hundred Oaks setting (this is termed a companion book, which appears to be a quiet trend in the YA space).

Kate has always been the good girl. Too good, according to some people at school—although they have no idea the guilty secret she carries. But this summer, everything is different…

This summer she’s a counselor at Cumberland Creek summer camp, and she wants to put the past behind her. This summer Matt is back as a counselor too. He’s the first guy she ever kissed, and he’s gone from a geeky songwriter who loved The Hardy Boys to a buff lifeguard who loves to flirt…with her.

Kate used to think the world was black and white, right and wrong. Turns out, life isn’t that easy…

Out now (excerpt)

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13501633Seanan McGuire‘s MIDNIGHT BLUE-LIGHT SPECIAL (UF): So I didn’t quite love the first InCryptid novel, but this is Seanan McGuire.  I’m giving this series another go.

Cryptid, noun:
1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.
2. That thing that’s getting ready to eat your head.
3. See also: “monster.”

The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity–and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and when her work with the cryptid community took her to Manhattan, she thought she would finally be free to pursue competition-level dance in earnest. It didn’t quite work out that way…

But now, with the snake cult that was killing virgins all over Manhattan finally taken care of, Verity is ready to settle down for some serious ballroom dancing—until her on-again, off-again, semi-boyfriend Dominic De Luca, a member of the monster-hunting Covenant of St. George, informs her that the Covenant is on their way to assess the city’s readiness for a cryptid purge. With everything and everyone she loves on the line, there’s no way Verity can take that lying down.

Alliances will be tested, allies will be questioned, lives will be lost, and the talking mice in Verity’s apartment will immortalize everything as holy writ–assuming there’s anyone left standing when all is said and done. It’s a midnight blue-light special, and the sale of the day is on betrayal, deceit…and carnage.

Out March 5 (excerpt)

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13414149QUEEN VICTORIA’S BOOK OF SPELLS, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (YA fantasy): The subtitle is An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, which just intrigues me.

“Gaslamp Fantasy,” or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. A number of wonderful fantasy novels, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Prestige by Christopher Priest, owe their inspiration to works by nineteenth-century writers ranging from Jane Austen, the Brontës, and George Meredith to Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and William Morris. And, of course, the entire steampunk genre and subculture owes more than a little to literature inspired by this period.

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells is an anthology for everyone who loves these works of neo-Victorian fiction, and wishes to explore the wide variety of ways that modern fantasists are using nineteenth-century settings, characters, and themes. These approaches stretch from steampunk fiction to the Austen-and-Trollope inspired works that some critics call Fantasy of Manners, all of which fit under the larger umbrella of Gaslamp Fantasy. The result is eighteen stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, mainstream, and young adult fields, including both bestselling writers and exciting new talents such as Elizabeth Bear, James Blaylock, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, Delia Sherman, and Catherynne M. Valente, who present a bewitching vision of a nineteenth century invested (or cursed!)

Out March 19 (publisher page)

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15714478Teresa Grant‘s THE PARIS AFFAIR (historical mystery): I’m a long-time fan of Teresa Grant’s books and am looking forward to a new installment in Suzanne and Malcolm’s life.  Her novels are packed full of historical detail and political intrigue; add the rather complicated relationship between Suzanne and Malcolm and you get a very satisfying read.

Warning: SPOILER in book description for previous books(!):

From the ashes of war rise the secrets of its darkest hearts…

In the wake of the Battle of Waterloo, Paris is a house divided. The triumphant Bourbons flaunt their victory with lavish parties, while Bonapartists seek revenge only to be captured and executed. Amid the turmoil, British attaché and intelligence agent Malcolm Rannoch and his wife, Suzanne, discover that his murdered half sister, Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, may have borne a child—a secret she took to the grave. And Malcolm suspects there was more than mere impropriety behind her silence…

As Malcolm and Suzanne begin searching for answers, they learn that the child was just one of many secrets Tatiana had been keeping. The princess was the toast of Paris when she arrived in the glamorous city, flirting her way into the arms of more than a few men—perhaps even those of Napoleon himself—and the father must be among them. But in the mêlée of the Napoleonic Wars, she was caught up in a deadly game of court intrigue, and now Malcolm and Suzanne must race against time to save his sister’s child from a similar fate…

Out March 26 (excerpt)

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And then my maybes:

Anne Bishop‘s WRITTEN IN RED (YA UF): I’ve skipped her more recent fantasy releases, but may pick up her YA UF debut. (ETA: This is not a YA according to commenters – no idea where I got my original impression from!)

Jennifer Nielsen‘s THE RUNAWAY KING (MG/YA fantasy): I liked but didn’t love the first book in this trilogy (THE FALSE PRINCE) so this is on my library reservation request list.

Nalini Singh‘s WILD INVITATION (paranormal romance): Another library reservation request, I think – primarily because I’ve read both of the previously-published short stories in this anthology.  I’m not keen on paying full price for two new stories.

Eloisa James‘ WITH THIS KISS (historical romance): Normally Eloisa James is an autobuy author, but I’m not sure this serial-in-three-parts will work for me.  I’ll wait on reviews.

Jacqueline Winspear‘s LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED (historical mystery): Her Maisie Dobbs books are hits or misses with me, so I’ll probably play safe and borrow a copy from the library.