Book Review · Non-Fiction · reading

Reading Thinking Machines by Luke Dormehl

21lqxs1I am half done with Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence and Where it’s Taking us Next by Luke Dormehl.

The half I have read is pretty interesting – the history of AI. Expert systems, neural networks and so on.Very interesting.

AI is mostly neural networks now, and I don’t suppose the sort of systems I think of expert systems as AI, even though though it though started out there. (I thought of it as normal programming, I suppose.)

It talks about who some of the early researchers of AI were and the problems they ran into, the problems they solved. I knew about Turing and a few others. I don’t suppose I will remember the names now, either.

It describes how popularity of AI waxed and waned over the decades, with the resulting hit to research dollars.

But now it is somewhat in the present and that is far less interesting. I think perhaps that is because I have heard a lot of what it talks about in the news, so I know a little bit already.

This is a book meant for the lay reader. It describes some AI concepts, but only at a high level, doesn’t get into too much detail. Which is fine. More detail is not needed to understand what the book is saying.

But it is pretty interesting all the same!

Book Review · General · reading

Book Review: Dragon Spawn by Eileen Wilks

I read Dragon Spawn by Eileen Wilks a few months ago. Every since, I have been quite speechless. It is hard to describe my disappointment.

I normally really look forward to this series. Dragon Spawn was no different.

But then I read it. It started out alright – lots of action and characters that I really like. It seemed like it was moving fast.

Then it ended. Just ended. Nothing was resolved, none of the problems mentioned in the beginning, none of the conflicts ended.

It is okay if one or two or even three of the conflicts are not resolved by end. This is a long-running series and that is just the nature of the beast. You have to leave something dangling for the next book. But this book resolved nothing.

It felt more like the middle of the book rather then the end. I feel like someone chopped the book in half and decided to publish in pieces.

I have no words for how much of a disappointment this book is. I really don’t. I have spent some time trying to say and I can’t.

I will read the next book, if only to find the next book. But I can’t really recommend this one. Until the next one comes out and I find out if there is an ending.

Book Review · reading · science fiction

Book Review: Quarantine by Greg Egan

Blurb from GoodReads:

It causes riots and religions. It has people dancing in the streets and leaping off skyscrapers. And it’s all because of the impenetrable gray shield that slid into place around the solar system on the night of November 15, 2034.


Some see the bubble as the revenge of an insane God. Some see it as justice. Some even see it as protection. But one thing is for certain — now there is the universe, and the earth. And never the twain shall meet.

Or so it seems. Until a bio-enhanced PI named Nick Stavrianos takes on a job for an anonymous client: find a girl named Laura who disappeared from a mental institution by the most direct possible method — walking through the walls.

I gave Quarantine three stars on GoodReads. This book was okay, but it didn’t grab me that much and I will never reread.

The main character, Nick, is a PI. He used to be a cop, but now is a PI. He left after his wife  died when his house was destroyed by a terrorist group.

It begins with him hired to find a woman missing from one of those place that takes care of those so mentally challenged they cannot care for themselves. I thought it was going to be a mystery in a science fiction setting.

Sadly, Nick solved the mystery relatively quickly. I wish it had gone on longer, but it didn’t.

I almost bounced off the long explanation of the world rules – what the science is, how it affects life and so on. The writer brought Nick’s past experiences into it, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The science eventually involves quantum mechanics and brain mods.

I am not that into quantum mechanics, but the idea of brain mods is fascinating. Our hero has a brain mod that keeps him from distraction, keeps from feeling anything and others. He even has a mod of his dead wife, to keep him from grief. She pops up at odd moments. (As a side note, if you could have any character as a brain mod and have it show up at odd moments in your life, who would it be?)

So Nick gets caught by the villains and they put a loyalty mod on him. So he basically can’t betray them and can’t save the kidnapped woman.

He – and everyone else the villains have saddled with a loyalty mod – decide no one else can be as loyal to the thing than them, because no one else has a loyalty mod. So there. Lots of mental gymnastics in this and I loved it. This was my favorite part of the book.

The end was a bit odd. It sounds like Nick ends up in a refugee camp. The world is torn apart, under the weight of the quantum mechanics brain mod (that is what the villains were researching). Lots of people in this city end up with it, willing or no, and it rocks the world.

In terms of character arc, there really isn’t one. So that’s a zero. But the plot is interesting. It was a little meh for me, but if you like hard science fiction based on quantum mechanics, this is for you.

Book Review · reading

B is for Book Review: The Color Purple

The Color Purple was my pick for #nanoremo, the month where you read that literary classic you’ve always wanted to read but somehow never actually got around to reading.

I have to add, this is the first time I’ve picked a real literary type classic (I usually pick a more genre-ish classic).

This book is very popular and there is a movie, and so I knew some things about it. Namely:

  • The main character suffered sexual abuse in childhood
  • The main character is black.
  • The book is written as a letter to God.

I had somehow forgotten that it takes place in the south. I never knew that it was written in the dialect of the main character and not in standard English. And I never so much as guessed that the main character was lesbian. I mean, really! No one told me! It wasn’t in the movie trailers.

The dialect made The Color Purple a challenge to read, not least because I don’t know many people who talk like that. But I got used to it. It only took me a couple dozen pages to stop stumbling over the grammar.

Later, when the sister started writing to her, the proper grammar was a shock.

So . . . there were moments that stood out.

One thing that stands out for me is how she stopped getting her period as a teenager. She talks about girls who bleed have babies and then she says she stopped bleeding. She was relieved, and considering her step-father, that isn’t surprising. But it’s a shock – never get your period again, never have a child. Well, she had two by that point. Even so.

The other moment was when she realized her children were NOT also her siblings. It was so emotional, so intense.

In fact, there were lots of emotional, intense moments in this book, so many they are impossible to list. For such a short book, it was packed.

Overall, it was a pleasure to read. I am really glad I picked this book. I thought it might be hard to read, but it wasn’t. (I’ve read harder books. This wasn’t even in the top five.)

Book Review · General · reading

Book Review: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Blurb from GoodReads:

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

 

I really enjoyed The Ghost Bride. The concept is new to me, a living woman married to the ghost of dead man.

The villains: stalker ghost and his deceased family.

My favorite: the afterlife.

Things I expected, but didn’t get:

  • From the blurb, I thought she was a ghost bride. She got a proposal, but there was no wedding.
  • There was a trial of the villains and I would have liked to see it. I guess only the results mattered to the main character, but the omission of the trial disappointed me.

Things I Liked Least: the romance wasn’t especially convincing.

The afterlife in this book is complicated, complete with bribery and corruption, demons and dragons who serve as minor government officials. I loved it. But I really love ghosts and dragons.

The ghost stalks her from the afterlife, and had he lived, I cannot think he would be much different. If he had lived and she had married into the household (their fathers had a childhood arrangement for her marry the cousin). I think he would have been an awful in-law, the kind who would hit on her and retaliate when she refused.

He haunts her dreams and insists she marry him. He sets up a party in her dreams, complete with unappetizing spirit food, and is upset when she rejects him.

She goes to see a medium, who gives her some medicine to keep the stalker ghost away. But one day it stops working, so she takes a lot more and gets so sick her soul is ejected from her body.

That’s when the book gets interesting. She meets hungry ghosts, a dragon, and she goes to the Plains of the Dead. The Plains is the underworld, with little villages and cities of ghosts. It is wonderful. This portrayal of the spirit world was amazing. This is my favorite part of the book.

The character comes into her own here. It stands in her good with her romance with the cousin of her stalker.

So . . . Girl sees boy; girl thinks she’s in love with boy. Truthfully, this romance never worked for me. I mean, he’s a good guy. But it just happened so fast. She visits him in his dreams and he burns a horse for her (she finds it very helpful in the Plains of the Dead). So I can’t see the romance was useless. But I think it was more lust at first sight rather than love at first sight.

In fact, I think, she fell in lust with the dragon, too. Who can blame her? And no human can compete with a dragon. She left with him in the end, but I don’t buy she’s is in love with him. Plus, he rescued her. So he’s a good guy, too.

In the end, I really, really enjoyed the books. The descriptions were marvelous. The story moved forward at a fairly brisk pace. It was well-written. You should read it, especially if you like ghosts.

Book Review · reading

NOS4A2 by Joey Hill

GoodReads Blurb:

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

NOS4A2 was my first horror book ever. Well, the first horror book that I actually read as horror (I’ve read other books from the horror shelves that felt urban fantasy to me.)

The first interesting thing is the misspelling of nosferatu in the title. Based on the title, I was expecting a Dracula like vampire. That’s not what I got.

Instead, the main character is this creepy, anti-Santa, emotion-sucking nosferatu. There are emotion-sucking vampires in other books, yes, but this particular vampire is not like them.

The best part of NOS4A2 is the epilogue. It is sweet and touching and really beautiful.

I am not sure I know what is the worse part. Maybe the middle. I was really ready to be done halfway through the book. It just seemed to go on and on and on. It was almost an effort to make myself read, until things got good again.

The second annoying/interesting part is the same part: chapter headings. Sometimes a chapter ends, but the sentence continues into the next chapter as the title.

So one chapter ends like so:

There was only her breath and roaring, raging static, that endless waterfall of sound, rising in volume, building to a maddening intensity and then building some more until she wanted to cry out for it to stop, the word coming to her lips, stop, stop it, her lungs gathering air to shout, and that was when the bike thudded back down in

This is an amazingly long sentence, 62 words, but it’s not finished and I will admit, the first time I saw a sentence like this, I thought my copy was damaged. But the next page is the first page of the next chapter and it is entitled:

Haverhill, Massachusetts

This method of chapter titles was confusing the first few times I saw it, but I got used to it.

 

Vic is the main character. She has the power to create a Shorter Way Bridge. This power wrecks her life. If she hadn’t had it, she would never have encountered the evil anti-Santa vampire without it. Perhaps I should say meeting the villain ruined her life. (But villains do that, don’t they? The ruin lives.)

He kidnaps her and she escapes. But she’s haunted by phone calls from the other children he’d kidnapped ever since.

It makes her a bad mate for the hero of the book: Lou. He’s over weight, loves bikes and Vic both. He deserves someone better, someone able to be with him.

But they have a child together and when he’s in danger, Vic is amazing. That’s when the story really gets going. I wish it had happened earlier. I mean, amazing. She finally gets her stuff together.

If it wasn’t for the epilogue, I don’t think I would like the ending. The epilogue saves it.

 

NOS4A2 wasn’t especially scary. It didn’t give me nightmares. Maybe that means it isn’t horror. I don’t know.

Except for the nosferatu, I am not even sure what horror elements are present in NOS4A2. Maybe it is very unusual horror? I don’t know enough about the genre to say.

 

Would I read this again? No.

But it is a decent read. Not great – it needed to be about 200 pages shorter – but decent.

Book Review · reading

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

I really liked the title. It fits the book. I have to add that I got this book from NetGalley.

There are two parts to this book: the mystery and romance. The mystery, but I do not know that the romance worked for me.

The main character comes to research and write a book about a twenty year old kidnapping. The love interest interferes.

Blurb from GoodReads:

Twenty years ago young Brian Arlington, heir to Arlington fortune, was kidnapped. Though the ransom was paid, the boy was never seen again and is presumed dead. Pierce Mather, the family lawyer, now administers and controls the Arlington billions. He’s none too happy, and more than a little suspicious, when investigative journalist Griffin Hadley shows up to write about the decades-old mystery. Griff shrugs off the coldly handsome Pierce’s objections, but it might not be so easy to shrug off the objections of someone willing to do anything to keep the past buried.

The Mystery:

Some of this I saw coming, some of it I didn’t. I figured out the part I saw coming half way through the book. I enjoyed finding out I was right.

So, IMO, it’s good. It is a fun, enjoyable read. I finished it pretty quickly.

The Romance:

I have to admit, I didn’t actually get the romance. The love interest is hot and cold. Uses him one minute and the next minute he is all hearts and roses.

Plus, the love interest did a few things that I personally would have a hard time forgiving. I think the main character should have made him grovel more. Like, weeks more instead of just forgiving him. It was just too quick.

Favorite Scene:

This is a hard one. There are a lot of really good scenes. But if I had to pick one, I would pick the conversation one between the main character and the love interest’s sister. Not, note, the love interest.

If I had to pick a favorite scene with the love interest, it would be the last one, the one where he declares his love and is practically forgiven. For all that I thought the forgiveness came too quick and the main character should have just driven on, it was pretty good. That might sound contradictory.

I have to say, there were no boring scenes. I also think every single scene did something to push the story forward.

Would I reread Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon? Probably not. It wasn’t bad, but not nearly as good as some of Josh Lanyon’s other efforts.