Category Archives: Books

Kindle Paperwhite 2: first impressions

I always loved the idea of having an ereader with build in light. When Amazon announced their first Paperwhite I was very excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. Luckily, Amazon release their Kindle first in the US before the rest of the world because after reading the reviews I decided not to get one. There were a lot of problems with the screen; pinholes (holes in one of the layers, resulting in bright light shining out) and colour blobs (green, blue, yellow and pink patches on the screen). In 2013 Amazon released the second version of the Paperwhite (PW2), but again there were problems with the

In September Amazon announced the Kindle Voyage. Which didn’t only have a build in light, it also came with page turn sensors (which all the previous touch screen Kindle didn’t have) and some other nice options but it had a very hefty price;  €199. This time I decided to wait for the reviews. Again there seemed to be screen problems, this time the top is yellow whilst the bottom is blue-ish. But also there are a lot of reports of Kindle Voyages freezing and having to be exchanged. The reports on the updated PW2 were good. Amazon secretly upped the storage from 2gb to 4gb and the screen problems seem to be mostly in the past.

When Amazon opened their disappointing Dutch webstore it also resulted in us being able to order Kindles from Germany or the UK, a lot cheaper than having to order it from the US. That same week I was on vacation and the apartment didn’t have very good lighting. At night I had to move a floor lamp next to the sofa so I could read on my Kindle 4. After seeing that Amazon.de had the PW2 on offer for €99 I decided to get that one instead of a Voyage. Last week I ordered it and on Friday it arrived. And I love it.

Screen & lighting
One of the most important things on an ereader is the screen. You don’t want any pinholes, dust between the layers, uneven lighting or colour blobs that distract you from your reading. The text is very sharp and mine doesn’t have any colour blobs or pinholes. If I look very carefully I can see a bit of spotlighting at the bottom of the screen when I have the light on. You can see cones of light where the LEDs are at the bottom of the screen, resulting in slightly darker triangles between the LEDs. I had expected this and I only see if if I have the light at a certain level, turning it up or down helps reduce it. I can live with this.
The screen of my PW2 is also a lot whiter than that of my Kindle 4, which was more sepia toned. When the light is on at a level you can see it it has a cooler hue (this differs from Kindle to Kindle).

Font
Whereas my Kindle 4 only had three different fonts to choose from the PW2 has six options, but the same three settings for line spacing and margins and eight for font size. Although I love Kobo’s options when it comes to font settings after setting it up the first time I hardly ever changed it. I don’t want the text to fill the full screen, like many people do. I find it much more readable with margins (I use the widest margins) and a bit of space between the line (middle setting).

Touch screen
Although I haven’t used my Kobo Aura HD since May I still have to get used to the Kindle touch screen, where to touch to go back (on the left side of the screen, the area is narrower than on the Aura HD) and to pull up the menu. But everything is in a very logical place. It’s also a lot faster than the Aura HD, selecting a word to look it up in the dictionary is easy, as is selecting text to save it. It’s a lot more precise. The Aura HD had an IR touch screen, so it will respond to anything that touches the screen. The PW2 has a capacitive touch screen, which means that if you got some dust or crumbs on your screen you want to get rid off you can swipe it off with a bit of cloth without have a menu pop-up or a page turn. I also  love the feel of the screen, which is very paper-like and seems less sensitive to fingerprints than the screen of the Aura HD.

Software
So far my PW2 has been as stable as my other Kindles. No crashes, reboots or freezes. Besides the dictionary you can now also look up words in Wikipedia (wifi must be on) and if it’s enabled on the book you’re reading there is a feature called X-Ray. Where you can look up names, see how often this person is mentioned in the book. But also places and other things. With the latest update Wordwise is introduced. When switched on it gives short definitions of difficult words between the lines over the word. I have this switched off. Also new is the Family Library, where you can link different accounts and share your books. There is also GoodReads for those living in the US and Canada.
What I do use, often is Page Flip. You have to open the menu by tapping at the top of the screen, then on the bottom, above the chapter title is an arrow upwards. If you press that a new window pops up where you can scroll through the book without losing your place. It’s great to look up a map or drawing. I also discovered that when you choose the Go To option in the menu there are now page numbers next to the chapter titles. This makes it easy to check how many pages you have to read to finish your chapter.
At the bottom of the screen you can see how far you are in the book. By tapping the lower left corner you can select different views: page number, time left in chapter, time left in book, location and nothing. The first four options also display the percentage of pages read in the lower right corner.

Miscelaneous
Although the PW2 weighs more than the Kindle 4 it isn’t too heavy and feels like a good quality device. The Kobo Aura HD always felt a little too plasticy to me. The on and off button has a nice clicky feel to it. The one on my Kindle 4 never really clicked and is, at times, unresponsive. However, if you buy the right case you hardly ever need to use the power button because the PW2 can be switched on and off by the case if there’s a little magnet in it (like many tablets and other ereaders).
I bought the official Amazon case for the PW2, in black. It’s an okay case, but I would have like the front to be thicker to protect the screen better. I think I’ll end up ordering an Oberon case for it. Which is a lot heavier and bulkier than the official case but, in my opinion, offers more protection and is a lot prettier.

All in all I’m very happy with my PW2 and I’m glad I waited for so long to buy it. The lighting makes up for the absence of page turn buttons. Now, if only Amazon improves their Dutch webstore (wishlist, payment by iDeal, etc) I would happily switch my account to it.

Amazon.nl is finally here

Amazon has finally opened their Dutch webstore. Other Dutch webstores were afraid of this, the current sale many webstore have at the moment is reportedly because of Amazon being about to open their Dutch webstore. This opening turns out to be a bit of a disappointment (in my opinion) and many webstores shouldn’t be afraid, yet.

Only Bol.com should be afraid because Amazon.nl is currently only selling Kindles and ebooks. And even then Bol has the advantage of accepting payment by iDeal (a Dutch online payment method for debit cards) and Amazon.nl only accepts credit cards. A lot of Dutch people don’t have a credit card and iDeal is the standard method of online payment in the Netherlands. Hopefully giftcards will be available soon so people can use that to pay for their purchases.

A big disappoint for me personally is that there is no option to put ebooks you want on a wishlist. On Amazon.com I have a long wishlist of ebooks I find interesting.

Also, they only sell Kindles and ebooks. Not even accessories for the Kindle, such as chargers and cases can be ordered.

Because I read only (e)books in English I’ll be staying with Amazon.com for now, if it’s possible. I will be ordering a new Kindle soon (I know I said it was going to be a Paperwhite but I’m now again leaning towards getting the Voyage), but I’ll be registering it at the US website.

Selective reading

In the past when I started a book series and I even remotely liked it I would continue and unless the series became really bad I would finish it, at least all the books that were released up until I started the series.

Ebooks has given me easy access to books; instead of waiting days, or even weeks, to get the book I want to read I can now order it and have it on my ereader within minutes. With the help of forums and recommendations from Amazon and Goodreads I’ve discovered a lot of series I (might) like. And there is the problem, not only have I discovered a lot of series I want to try but there are also the stand alone books I want to read.

Over the past year or so I’ve noticed I’ve become much more picky when it comes to series. Instead of giving it at least two or three book to see if I like it I usually decide after the first book if I want to continue or not. Unless I’m told by several posts/people/reviews that it gets a lot better after after the first book. I’m also not forcing myself to keep reading a series if I lose interest or the story goes into a direction I don’t like.

So far this year I’ve started 15 new series. Most of them were okay, a couple were a complete waste of time (for me), but I only decided to continue with six of them. There are also several series I do like but I know I’ll only read a book if I’m really in the mood, so I’ve taken those series off my “ongoing series” list.

I’m currently reading the first book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. Although it isn’t a fast read it’s enjoyable, but I’m not sure if I want to continue with it. This might be one of those rare cases I will give the second book a try and decide then.

Reading Challenge 2014 – three months to go

Already three quarters of the year is over. Which means it’s time to take a look at how my reading challenge is going and to start thinking about next year.

According to GoodReads I’m 4 books ahead of schedule for 100 books (I really don’t care if I make it but it’s a number to fill in). In September I was ahead a bit more but the combination of a long book and a couple of days to Newcastle, so not much time to read, has made me slip a little. I’m still ahead compared to previous years in page count, too. But only just. In November I’m going away for a full week alone, I’ve booked an apartment in my favourite holiday park. Besides one or two trips to the nearby town of Harderwijk (depending on the weather, of course) I’ve can read as much as I like. Usually during one of those weeks I manage to read 4 to 6 books so I’ll be able to make up some lost ground, if I haven’t done so already by that time.

Lately, I’ve been starting new series without finished the one already on my active list. And my list of want-to-try series is growing and growing. There are two series I’ve almost finished, so I think I’ll concentrate on those for my next couple of reads.

My favourite new book series is Vera Stanhope by Ann Cleeves. I love the tv series based on the books and was apprehensive about starting them because often when I start reading a book series that has a tv series based on it the books disappoint (Midsomer Murder, Inspector Lynley). But I also love the books, even more than the tv series. I love how Vera is herself; ugly, blunt and nosy. That’s just who she is and people just have to live with it.

It’s also time to start thinking about what to do for next year’s challenge. A lot of people set as goal to read a certain number of books of a certain (sub)genre of even make a reading list of books they want to read that year. That doesn’t work for me. So I think I’ll keep going with the ones I already have; have fun and try to keep the number of active series to a reasonable number.

I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that the new Kindle Voyage will be available for order in the Netherlands soon. Either on the US website or, even better, on the maybe soon to open Dutch Amazon website.

Reading challenge: first 6 months

Statistics (up to July 16 of each year):

  • 2012: 62 books, 21790 pages, 2 book abandoned
  • 2013: 65 books, 21665 pages, 5 book abandoned
  • 2014: 53 books, 22140 pages, 1 book abandoned

Although it looks like I’m behind when looking how many books I’ve read, it turns out the book I’m reading this year are longer and I’ve read more, in pages, than the past two years.

Lately I’ve been reading slower than before. There are several other things that have taken up my attention; photography and Project Life, the World Cup, games and now the Tour de France. This month so far I’ve only finished two book, and abandoned one after nearly 200 pages. They were longer books, The Strain was over 400 pages long and A Discovery of Witches nearly 800 pages, so if I had read books of 300-400 pages and didn’t abandon one I might have read 4 books by now. In August I’m going house/dog sitting for friends for two and a half weeks and I always manage to read more than normal during that time.

For the first time I made a list of books I want to read this summer, mostly books that have recently been released:

  • NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (currently reading)
  • Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  • How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
  • The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (read the first book)
  • Skin Games by Jim Butcher

I’m still looking to add more books, I always tend to read a book set in Asia during summer and I got several of those on my TBR list, but I’m having a hard time to decide which I want to read.

I’m not doing well with my ongoing series challenge (to keep the number of active series I’m reading to a manageable number). I finished the Ruth Galloway series and started two new ones instead of just one. Luckily both are trilogies so I should be able to finish them this summer.

My favourite book I’ve read this year is the one I’m reading right now; NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. It’s hard not to compare it to books by his father, Stephen King. It reminds me especially of It and The Stand. It’s become harder not to because he keeps referring to places and characters in his fathers work (Shawshank prison, Derry, Trashcanman).

 

Reading challenge 2014 update

Almost a third of the year is gone already so it’s time to look at how my reading has been going.

Compared to last year I’m behind, both on page count and on the number of books. However, the books I’ve read are, on average, over 100 pages longer than by this time last year.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve been having a bit of a reading slump. It took me almost two weeks to read Phil Rickman’s December (which I loved). This is due to me (re)discovering other hobbies. I’ve been playing more computer games and I’ve discovered scrapbooking. The scrapbooking itself isn’t very time consuming, yet. I’ve only made one layout (I need more supplies for my next one). The time consuming bit is looking at what’s available to scrapbook, all the tools, embellishments and supplies and watching YouTube videos of how to use it all and other various techniques.

This year I’ve been quite good at picking books. I’ve yet to abandon a book and there have only been two books I finished because I wanted to know how it ended despite not really liking them.

I have been focussing on series a lot so far, only 9 out of 31 books were stand alone and I only managed that many because last month I decided to take a break from reading series by making myself read 4 non-series books (I’m currently reading the 4th). I think will do this more often. I’ve got a lot of stand alone books on my to-be-read list that have been there for a long long time and I never read them because I’ve been focused on series these last couple of years.

It’s hard to pick out the best book I’ve read this year, since there are a lot that I really liked. I’m really enjoying the Ruth Galloway series by Ellie Griffith and also Kate Morton’s books (all stand alones).

2013 in reading

At the start of 2013 I decided not to set a target of an X number of books I had to read by the end of the year. I noticed that the years before I tended not to choose longer books so I could make the target of 100 books, plus I wanted to have time to do other things I enjoy. To enter the GoodRead reading challenge you have to enter a number so I initially entered that I wanted to read 52 books in 2013, one a week on average. I also added the challenge of reading 10 “classics” and an age challenge (read a book published in every year since I was born), the latter one I decided to spread over two years.

In the end I’ve finished 119 books, totalling 43958 pages. This year I discovered the serialized series Yesterday’s Gone by Sean Platt and David Wright. They call each short book and episode which is around 100 pages. Each “season” consists of six episodes, after that they focus on other series for a while and write the next season. Because I read three seasons, one of which I counted as one book and the other two as 12 different books I thought that although the number of books I’ve read was high my page count and average length of the books I’ve read would be lower than in 2012. I was surprised that it wasn’t so: I’ve read nearly 7000 pages more than in 2012 and the average length is 369 pages (in 2012 it was 354).

My favourite series this year was the Merrily Watkins series by Phil Rickman. I read several of his other books, including his Dr. Dee series, and he’s my favourite author this year. Other series I enjoyed are Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson and Sigma Force by James Rollins. It’s very hard to decide which book I liked most, although I loved the Merrily books I think that I enjoyed the third book of the Mistborn trilogy, Hero of Ages, most because it ends the series so well.

In 2014 I want to continue my age challenge, which I’m behind in. I also want to read some of the longer books, of a 1000+ pages,  that have been lingering in my ebook library unread. As usually I will try to keep the number of active series down, I’m doing quiet well with this challenge lately, due to the fact that I’ve finished several series (plus I have three on my active list that only have one more book before I’ve finished or am up to date with the series) and although I’ve tried several new series none of them are good enough to continue. In 2013 I’ve become a lot more selective in what I want to read, both in series but also in books, if I don’t like what I’m reading I don’t feel guilty abandoning it anymore.

However most important for me is to enjoy myself, no matter what I read or how many books.

I’ve set up a page on this blog where I will keep track of my 2014 reading challenge.

My perfect ereader

I’ve had my Kobo Aura HD for just over a week now, before that I had a Sony PRS605, Kindle Keyboard and a Kindle 4 non-touch. Each had it’s pros and cons and it’s got me thinking about what my perfect ereader would be.

Screen
The size should be between 6 and 7 inches, the Sony and Kindles were around 6 inches and my new Kobo is 6.7 inches, any bigger and it would become too unwieldy and probably too heavy for easy portability. It also should be eInk as opposed to LCD, the battery lasts longer with eInk and my eyes prefer it over a backlit screen when reading for longer periods of time.

There shouldn’t be any possibility of dust becoming trapped between the screen layers. After a while some dust particles had worked its way between the layers of the Sony, my first ereader, after moving around for a while they became stuck almost in the middle of the screen. That was very distracting when reading.

The screen also should be lighted. I like the relatively even lighting of the Kobo Aura HD, only at the bottom there is a very, very faint darker shadow. I prefer a warm lighting over a cool, blueish or greenish light. Also, the lowest setting should be low enough to be able to read by in total dark.

Controls
The Sony had both a touch screen and buttons, though the page turn buttons weren’t in a very practical location. The Kindles had a page forward and page back buttons on both side of screen, which was ideal. The way I usually hold my ereader is with my thumb on the side of the screen, where the Kindles buttons were, I just had to press the button to go to the next page. Most ereaders with a touch screen nowadays seem to have no buttons at all. My ideal reader would have the page turn buttons of the Kindles but also a touch screen. The touch screen should be adjustable so you can decide which area to press to page forward, back and open the menu.

Library Management
Most importantly it should work with Calibre, which is so much better than any of the software developed by ereader manufacturers.

I wish it would be easier to manage shelves/collections. For the Kindles I used the Collection Manager plug-in, but found it bothersome and with the newer Kindles it won’t work at all. Both the Sony and my Kobo can create shelves automatically if you set up Calibre just right. I have it now set up to shelf books according to series, but you can also choose to set it up to make shelves for genres or authors.

My ideal method would be that I would be able to make shelves/collection manually on the reader when it’s connected to Calibre and I could drag books over it. It should also have the possibility to add books to multiple shelves.

Storage
A lot of people are upset that Amazon has chosen to reduce the storage space of newer Kindles from 4GB to 2GB. I personally didn’t care, I don’t keep my entire ebook library on my reader. However, 2GB would be my minimum. Many manufacturers have started working with a cloud, if you buy a book in their store it will be added to your cloud and you can easily download it to your reader. I wouldn’t like to be dependant on that system, I often buy books from stores other than that of current ereader I’m reading and convert it to the good format. I would never buy an ereader where I can’t sideload an ebook with Calibre.

I like it that the Kobo has got a slot for a micro SD card, I think the Sony also had the possibility to use a SD card. I probably won’t use it, but I love that I have the possibility to just copy all my books to an SD card and my reader being able to read it.

Format
My ideal reader would be able to read all formats, epubs, kepubs, mobi, azw3, etc. With and without DRM. No matter what format all options would be available; my current Kobo’s got nice features when using kepubs, but not when using epubs.

Flexibility
I love the flexibility of my Kobo, it’s got a lot more font than my Kindles or Sony plus I can load my own fonts. Like all readers you can change the font size, but also distance between lines (I prefer reading with a bit more space between the lines) and how much white space you want around the text. You can also set the weight of the text (how bold) and it’s sharpness.

Other
I love the Kindle’s option of emailing an ebook to your reader. So, my ideal ereader’s got to have wifi, also to receive updates. I would be able to shop at any ebook store and have them send my purchases to my reader.

I’m pretty happy about battery life. Most manufacturers promise 2 months when you read half an hour a day, for me that means I have to recharge ever week to two weeks. Longer battery life would, of course, be welcome.

Most important of all, something that really isn’t part of my ideal ereader is that all books would be available as ebooks and done well.

The Fabric of Sin by Phil Rickman (review)

I started reading the Merrily Watkins series on the 8th of May of this year. The Fabric of Sin is the ninth book in the series. For me having read nine book in a series in five months is quick reading for me. I usually grow tired of a series, stopping half way through the series after reading those first book within a couple of month, then I read a book every couple of months.

What I like about this series is that the characters feel real. Merrily the exorcist vicar who struggles with her faith on regular basis but also with combining her job with her home life. Her relationship with her boyfriend, which isn’t secret anymore but they still try to hide their relationship for the village. And her teenage daughter, Jane. Jane is struggling with the decision what she wants to do when she leaves secondary school, her boyfriend (is he still her boyfriend?), her mother’s religion and her own beliefs. Lol, Merrily’s musician boyfriend, who is having a comeback. Then there are the other regular characters that make an appearance and we are introduced to new characters.

In The Fabric of Sin Merrily is asked to quickly and discreetly take care of a possible haunting in a farmhouse acquired by the Prince of Wales. During restorations the builder and his girlfriend walk out of the job claiming the place is haunted. Although Merrily can do discreetly, being quick isn’t her thing, especially when she pressured by various people to either leave is alone or get on with the job. In her researching she discovers that in the past various things have happened in the house, Master House, which can be the cause to the troubles; a link to the Knight’s Templar and author M. R. James, a feud between two local families, a commune which performed rituals in the house and a disappearance of girl. Jane does research for Merrily meanwhile she’s have problems with her boyfriend and it’s also time for her to decide what she wants to do after graduating from secondary school.

Lol also helps out, resulting in something he wouldn’t be able to have dealt with several books ago. Although all characters develop throughout the series in this book the changes in Lol are made especially clear. When we first met him in The Wine of Angels he was trying to commit suicide, now when he’s threatened he confronts the persons responsible in a way that surprised me (but I loved it!).

The Fabric of Sin is my one of my favourites and I liked it better than the previous couple of books (that isn’t to say they weren’t good, I loved those too). This is because there is a great balance of the story of this individual book and the overarching storyline of the series. Important decisions are taken by various characters and a hint of what the future might bring.

I’m planning on finishing tenth and eleventh book before the release of The Magus of Hay on 7 November (which I’ll try to save for my holiday the week after its release). I can’t believe this isn’t a very popular series, I guess it’s the lack of action and it’s slower pace, because this series has risen to the top of my favourite series list.

The Curse of Malenfer Manor – Iain McChesney (review)

I got this book for free through the LibraryThing Member Giveaways in exchange for a review.

The Curse of Malenfer Manor is set in France during (in flash-backs) and just after the First World War. During the war an Irishman, Dermot Ward, and a French nobleman, Arthur Malenfer, get stuck together in a tunnel which has partially collapsed after being bombed. Dermot is rescued in time but Arthur isn’t as lucky and dies soon after Dermot has pulled him out of the tunnel. Flash forward several years and Arthur’s ghost finds Dermot in Paris trying to escape the guilt he’s feeling with alcohol. Arthur tells Dermot his younger brother has died, leaving the Malenfer family without a male heir and asks Dermot to go to Malenfer Manor to find the birth certificate of his illegitimate sons so the Malenfer name does not cease to exist. At the Manor only three remaining Malenfers live, Madame, Arthur’s mother, Sophie, Arthur’s widowed sister, and Simonne, Arthur’s niece. Simonne is regarded as the black sheep of the family, but she is the sole heir to the Malenfer estate and is engaged to the son of the Mayor of the nearby village. The reason why the Malenfer name is in danger is because of a curse a witch has spoken out over the family centuries ago, since that day very few Malenfers have lived into old age and died of natural causes. The twins, who work and live on the estate, are in danger of the curse now it is known that they are Malenfers. When people are starting to die it’s up to Dermot, Arthur and Simonne to solve the mystery and try to get rid of the curse of Malenfer Manor.

Normally I don’t like novels where war plays a major role. However, I did like this book, the scenes set during the war and the fighting give a good explanation why the various characters behave like they do. I really liked the atmosphere in this book, of the maybe haunted Malenfer Manor. I also liked how McChesney makes you doubt if the deaths are due to the curse or if they have a more mundane cause.

My only point of critique is that I would have liked to know more about the witch. At the beginning of the novel she is hanged because of accusations she had made and more could have been done with that; why did she made those accusations, were they true or not?

Nonetheless a very good read.