Some really “amazing adventures”…

3985Two nights ago, I finished what is now my favourite book of the year (so far!): Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”.

I read his “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” earlier this year and loved every page. “…Kavalier and Clay” was even better.

Set before the USA decided to join in the fun and games of the Second World War, we meet two cousins and follow their lives through to the 1950s. Brought together by blood, religion and a love of comics, they get in on the act early, writing and drawing their own superheroes.

It follows their humble beginnings in the comic book industry to fame and fortune after they hit the big time with a successful hero. The acknowledgements at the end of the book reference so many of the comic book greats, it just shows the author did his research.

The scope of the story is impressive, with regular, incredibly detailed flashbacks to pre-war Europe and various other historical asides. I found it incredibly engrossing – I suppose my love of comics helped! – but even someone who knows nothing about comics or even actively dislikes the medium could enjoy this book.

The characters are never boring. Intense, interesting, not always likeable. But I ended up caring about what happened to each of them, which I think is a mark of writer’s skill.

I was drawn in for hours at a time. It made for some tough early mornings after too little sleep, but I don’t regret a minute of it.

Kavalier and Clay was one of the books I was genuinely sorry to see finish. While simultaneously feeling a tension in also wanted to know what happened to all the characters “in the end”.

I found it moving, compelling and beautifully written. If you like creativity, respect passionate artists and enjoy reading about the creative process, this is for you. A love of ‘golden age’ super hero antics wouldn’t go amiss either.

Five stars for sure.

Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

I finished this book last night, while struggling with an incredibly uncomfortable hotel bed. I can say without reservation that “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was a joy to read from start to finish. From the opening page to its final sentence, it kept me hooked – which is no mean feat. 

Continue reading “Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”

Getting my geek on…

Catching up with some reading and watching, geek-style. Owing to a particularly busy work-week, I have a stack of excellent comics awaiting me. I’m particularly interested to see how ‘Original Sin‘ pans out after last issue’s cliffhanger ending.

I spent some remaining iTunes vouchers on the latest season of Falling Skies (never seen this one) and the uncut version of World War Z. Amazingly (for me) haven’t watched WWZ since I saw it in the cinema – even though I enjoyed it immensely. Even though it was very, very different to the book – which is also excellent.

I’m also tearing through The Martian, which has kept me hooked this week and made my very uncomfortable flight home from Newquay (turbulence, screaming toddlers and obese passenger next to me) a lot more bearable. Recommended to anyone who likes their sci-fi grounded in hard science. There are no monsters or aliens in this – just one ingenious NASA astronaut, trying to survive the inhospitable environment on Mars. I’m actually learning about the science behind both space travel and how we might live on other planets.

While also learning that, despite childhood dreams, I am in no way whatsoever cut out for life in space. The toilet arrangements alone are enough to put me off…

Meanwhile, I’m bracing myself for the second half of Season 4 of Game of Thrones. I’m incredibly late to this particular party, thanks to my deep dislike of all things fantasy. I heard it involved dragons and so neatly filed it away as a waste of time. Boy was I wrong. GOT is fantastic – intrigue, murder, battles, more intrigue, swords, nudity and assassinations. What more could a boy ask for? (And I haven’t even mention the multiple hotties that appear regularly, or the gratuitous nudity neatly sprinkled throughout.)

I’ve worked hard to avoid all spoilers, so please… no spoilers! I’m also considering what will replace this as my go to show until it reappears next year. I’m considering re-watching Battlestar Galactica from the beginning. That was equally watchable and addictive, as I recall.

Yep. Definitely suffering from some pre-season-ending angst.

Advice from some other GOT fans would be most welcome.

Kindle love


6a0a99d2be35232fe0f03634011e4406Ah, Kindle love…I’m so glad I went back to a Kindle keyboard model. I’ve been tearing through books since I got it. It’s just so light and perfectly proportioned in the hand. I didn’t take to the on-screen tapping required when using the Kindle Paperwhite and much prefer physical buttons. It sounds silly, but the Kindle keyboard model is easy to read with either hand.

Picture me, if you will…

Lying nonchalantly on my chaise longue, one hand tucked behind my head. It’s how I like to read. And every so often, when the blood has stopped flowing to the hand behind my head, turning it numb and slightly alien, I swap hands and pass the Kindle over.

Turning the page by clicking one of the perfectly-placed buttons either side of the screen is a lot easier than tapping at the screen.

What’cha reading?

I’m reading several books right now, as I usually do. Call it a form of adult book-related ADHD. Made all the easier by the Kindle. No need to carry just one book around, when you have an entire library with you in a device lighter than the lightest of paperbacks.

One of these is a pre-read for a course I’m attending in a few weeks. It’s a big old psychology textbook and I need to write a review of it once I’m finished. I can very easily read with the Kindle in one hand and a pen in the other, taking notes as I go along. It’s actually easier this way than reading the paper book (I have both). Despite the impending deadline, the Handbook of Coaching Psychology is still an enjoyable read.

So I recently finished Perfiditas by Alison Morton (great fun!) and, while I could have launched straight into the third part of this Nova Roma trilogy, I had a hankering for something a little different. I checked my very long list of book recommendations and opted for The Martian  by Andy Weir.

(I think I was influenced by having just recently watched Europa Report, which is most excellent intelligent sci-fi.)

So far, I’m enjoying The Martian, despite its focus on the technicalities of chemistry and physics. I’m only 10% through it, so there’s plenty of time for it to develop.

And then?

What else is on the list? I really need to finish Thinking Fast & Slow  I read it when it first came out but decided to re-read, this time more slowly! If I’m honest, I really skim-read it the first time. It’s not exactly a light read, but an incredibly interesting take on cognitive psychology.

Then I’ll probably return to Nova Roma and read Successio, the final (I think?) part of the series. I’ve already bought it – it’s downloaded on my Kindle, just waiting for me. And partly-inspired by this modern-day take on the Roman Empire, I’ve bought Mary Beard’s Pompeii.

It’s been years since my visit to Pompeii and I feel a little guilty for spending most of it wondering how soon I could escape the unrelenting heat and head into the shade (it was about 38C at the time).

“The fear”

All this is, however, accompanied by a fear eating away at me. The fear that something will happen to my precious Kindle keyboard and it will be impossible to replace. I really, really don’t want to go back to a Paperwhite.

Maybe I’ll look for a spare before they get too scarce and keep it as a back-up.

Or maybe I’ll have to ‘upgrade’ to the other model.

Going old school

People who know me associate me with gadgets and the frequent updating thereof. This usually takes the form of moving to new and more advanced versions of each piece of tech as they are released, so I can take advantage of each new aspect of functionality. Tech launches somehow (sadly) make me feel like I can’t live without each new gizmo and small iteration of tech that it brings.

Except now.

I’ve owned Kindles for a few years now and have moved from one model to the next as the technology improved. My latest model was the Kindle Paperwhite, which included a backlight and a touchscreen instead of buttons. After a couple of week’s use, I’m afraid it began to gather dust.

Which is strange, as I love to read. Something was getting in between me and the page. Of course, as soon as I got the Paperwhite, I sold my old Kindle 3G (the one with the keyboard) on eBay.  And that, it seems, was my mistake.

I missed it. I missed how light it was, how I could move through pages using the perfectly-placed buttons on either side of the screen, how it felt in my hands and how clear the text appeared.

It took me a while to realise it, but I missed my Kindle 3G.

So I bought one. I tracked one down on eBay that wasn’t listed at a ridonculous price and snagged it last Sunday. It arrived yesterday morning and within minutes, all my Kindle purchases were downloaded and I was up and running.

I then spent a happy few hours tearing through a novel (the very fun and enjoyable Perfiditas by Alison Morton).

This is possibly my first experience of “downgrading” tech to use something I preferred. Have I hit that age? That age where tech developments confuse and annoy me? I don’t think so…yet.

For me, the Kindle 3G is their perfect model and the one I want to keep using. I’m even considering keeping a spare for when this one (inevitably) dies.

I like it that much.

So the Paperwhite will shortly be listed on eBay and I’m sure someone else will enjoy its backlit screen and smaller form factor. For me, I’ll stick with its more plastic and old school cousin – and get much more reading done in the process.

I think we all know that both the Apple WWDC announcements and whatever comes from Google later this month will encourage me to update other gadgets and tech. The Kindle is probably a blip on my technology acquisition trail.


Premature excitement?

So my heart was all aflutter at the thought of getting my grubby little mitts on on Kindle Matchbook.

Yet this morning, Amazon emailed me to let me know about the new Kindle Paperwhite (really not sure it’s worth my while upgrading) but there was a noticeable lack of mentions of Kindle Matchbook or indeed the integration with Goodreads.

I’m wondering if my hypothetical delay between release of these services in the US and then the rest of the world might be longer than anticipated. Are UK publishers making life difficult for Amazon? Surely £2 for an ebook version of an already purchased hardback is better than £0?

Are publishers being greedy? Is Amazon playing hardball a la Apple?

I hope these imagined shenanigans don’t significantly delay the launch of Matchbook outside of the UK.

Are you listening, Amazon?

Now that’s exciting!

KindlePaperwhiteYes, yes…Apple have finally confirmed they’re having a special event next Tuesday.

I could have told you that – for the past few years, they’ve managed to schedule these for when I’m out of range of the interwebs, usually on a plane. True to form, I’ll be on a flight home from Edinburgh when Tim Cook et al take to the stage and tell us all about the new iPhone(s).

No, that’s not what has me excited.

It’s the announcement from Amazon of their new Kindle. I know, I’ve just bought one. Typical.

And I don’t think I’m going to upgrade any time soon. It’s more what additional services are coming:

  • Integration with Goodreads, which I love using
  • Kindle Matchbook, where they offer you cheap or free ebook versions of books you’ve already bought in print.


It goes live in October and will have 10,000 books on day one, stretching all the way back to 1995. I have bought SO MANY books from Amazon in the last 10 years alone. Getting cheap (or free!) versions of these to enjoy all over again on my Kindle sounds like a dream come true.

So, I need to get realistic.

It will probably only launch in the US in October and come to the rest of the world later. Maybe much later. It probably won’t have all the publishers on board. And it almost certainly won’t include the academic publishers who bled me dry during my undergrad, masters and doctoral degrees.

But still. I bought the book, I should be able to get it in more than one format. It’s just like what Amazon are going for music – giving you the MP3s of the physical CDs you’ve already bought.

Such a great concept.

I never thought I’d say this, but…Hurry up October!!

It’s like I’m *looking* for things to do…

nanowrimoCall me mad, but I’m actually considering signing up for this year’s NaNoWriMo – that’s National Novel Writing Month to most people.

The goal is simple:

Write a complete 50,000-word novel within the 30 days of November. By hook or by crook. It works out at over 1,600 words a day. Every day. I’ve tried twice before, but failed each time.

To be fair, I was working full time and completing my doctorate at the same time.

Now, I’m only working full time. And November is when I’m due to have my knee surgery, so there’s a few days where I’m bed-ridden and several more evenings and weekends where I won’t be going very far.

No idea what I’ll write about, but having recently completed my holiday reading, I’m in the mood for something dark and post-apolalyptic.

I’m not really a lighthearted romance kind of guy, you know?

Or maybe I could finally delve into the world of erotic fiction that seems to be so popular on Kindles. Ahem.

Anyone else out there crazy enough to join in? You can sign up via the link above and we can egg each other on. There’s no chance I’ll be publishing the content here, but I’ll probably describe – in delicious detail – how much I’m not writing.

Just like when I was working on my dissertation.

You’ll love it!