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Archive for September, 2013

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In response to the new policies on Goodreads, I have snagged a vacation home on Booklikes. You can find me there, as the Moonlight Reader. I will still be blogging over here, but for followers who are active on booklikes as well, I’d love to see everyone over there.

So far, I haven’t found a lot of classics readers, so my feed is YA heavy (not that there’s anything wrong with that!

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Let me begin by saying that I am a Goodreads user. I was a tremendous fan of Goodreads, and moderate an amazing, and wonderful group full of avid, intelligent and thoughtful readers. I posted reviews there, but I’ve never been a power user. I’ve managed to avoid being targeted directly by any disgruntled authors, although my name does appear as one of the Goodreads bullies on the site that shall not be named, nor shall traffic be referred there, on this blog.

So, it was with dismay that I received the information about the policy change on Goodreads last week. Goodreads policy has always dictated that users could name their shelves whatever they wanted. That our Goodreads was ours to personalize, and that we could catalogue our books any way that was useful to us. In response to some hysteria, some extremely poor journalism, and some monumental misconceptions, Goodreads has decided to completely overreact. Content has been deleted, shelves have been deleted, and some of the most active users, who wrote some of the most popular reviews, are essentially being chased off of Goodreads.

I’m not one of those people, but I read their reviews. And their reviews help me choose books – their reviews are often snarky, sometimes over-the-top, but I find them credible. For every negative review, they post two or three positive reviews. Would it be rough to be on the receiving end of one of their negative reviews? Probably – they are critical, and they don’t pull their punches.

But, in my opinion, this is all related to Goodreads mission incoherence, and it is probably only the beginning. They are attempting to balance their desire to sell their data, sell marketing to authors and make a lot of money with their core mission, which was – until now, to give book people a place to hang out and talk about books. And now that Amazon has purchased Goodreads, this desire to monetize their information has become even more overwhelming.

For example, Goodreads has always allowed users to rate books that they have not read, and that they either plan to read or do not plan to read, based on their enthusiasm for the book. This has become increasingly enraging to certain authors who are unable to gin up much enthusiasm for their books, or who have alienated readers and reviewers alike by trolling reviews of their existing books, which has caused users to negatively rate their books based upon their lack of enthusiasm for the author or the book. Author overreaction to bad, or even lukewarm, reviews is a well documented, and not at all pleasant phenomenon to experience.

On the other hand, there are authors like Jamie McGuire whose as yet untitled and actually even unwritten book has an overall 4 star rating with 50 ratings and 82 reviews (find the placeholder page here to see what I’m talking about). The bulk of the reviews involve much excitement on the part of her very enthusiastic fan base. There are some reviews and ratings that counter this enthusiasm by users who are significantly less enthusiastic about Ms. McGuire’s writing and her future publishing plans.

Much of the drama on Goodreads, ultimately, centers around this practice. Negative shelf names are merely a by-product of the negative author/reader interactions. And, authors love getting feedback from their fans that their fans are excited about their forthcoming work, especially in the form of five star ratings. They do not love getting feedback from people who aren’t their fans about that person’s lack of excitement over their planned book, especially in the form of one-star ratings. Neither rating is in any way related to the quality of the book, as (in the most extreme cases) the book sometimes has not even yet been written.

But, you know what, their disgruntlement has a point. Because even though I completely disagree with authors ever going after reviewers, or even after raters, Goodreads is distributing (i.e. selling) the data about their books as something that it is not. Goodreads book data isn’t actually a compilation of ratings from people who have read the book in question. It doesn’t even pretend to be.

So, when Goodreads sells their database information to booksellers as book reviews, the data is, in fact, corrupted. The vast majority of the corruption comes from authors themselves who game the system, using sock puppets, having friends and family post positive ratings of their books regardless of the actual quality of teh book, and from review circles that all five star one another’s books. In addition, a great deal of corruption comes from fans who would rate anything by “x” author with five stars even if it contained nothing more than the author’s meandering thoughts on what to cook for dinner, coupled with his or her grocery lists. These fake reviews, sock puppet reviews, tit for tat reviews, shill reviews and fan reviewers are every bit as useless to the book buying public as the anti-fan reviewers are. It’s just that these “reviewers” help the authors to sell books, so authors don’t want to modify the corruption that is in their favor. They only want to eliminate the data corruption that works against them – and that, at times, is in response to their inappropriate response to negative reviews that actually are about the book.

Goodreads is essentially trying to sell their rating information as one thing, when it is actually something else. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of the book ratings on Goodreads are actually ratings of the book. But, a lot of them aren’t, and that is with the express permission and encouragement of Goodreads. In fact, some of the ratings might be because of something as silly as that the title of the book contains the word “moist” and the user hates the word moist (which is a totally gross word, by the way).

All of this is completely permissible (and even encouraged) under the Goodreads Terms of Service because Goodreads users are told, repeatedly, that Goodreads is a place for us to catalogue our books, our reading, and our plans to read or to not read. It is a place where we can wax eloquent (or not) about books that we are excited about, or books that we are really, super, absolutely not excited about. Personally, I read Beautiful Disaster. I am about as excited for Ms. McGuire’s forthcoming release of the as yet untitled story about her next borderline sociopathic stalker hero as I am about the potential release of Sharknado, the Sequel. If I were being honest, I would rate it 1-star based on that lack of enthusiasm. In fact, if I could rate it negative 10 trillion stars, that would almost begin to express my level of non-excitement.

People (i.e., authors and their fans and families) perceive negatively rating a book before release as unfair. But, if reviews are for other readers, why is that unfair, while rating an as yet unwritten book with five stars is not considered unfair? The answer is that the unfairness question all depends upon your perspective. If you are author-centric, then you may think that it’s plenty fair for you to get positives before release. On the other hand, if you’re thinking about all of the poor souls at amazon.com and smashwords and everywhere else who are going to be sucked into thinking that the book is worth buying because there are twenty-seven superfans on Goodreads who practically pass out at the mention of it, then, no, it’s really not unfair to put some perspective back into the ratings.

In any event, the ethic on Goodreads has always been the wild, wild west of booktalk, where people review books with reference to other books, with reference to Dr. Seuss poems, using iambic pentameter, and .gifs of kittens falling down slides, or whatever, in large part in order to amuse themselves and their friends. Some of it might even qualify as performance art. And up until Goodreads decided that they had an amazing way to make money by selling those reviews to booksellers to help the customers of those booksellers pick books to buy, this was all fine and dandy. The response to a disgruntled author was a very appropriate STFU.

Now, though, what’s a website to do? Because in the end, reviews that are full of .gifs of kittens amuse the user and his/her friends. Reviews that are profanity laden and involve lots of pictures of handsome young men with weird tattoos can be awesome if you are a fan of trite, smexy, poorly-written New Adult Contemporary Romance with tatted-up twenty-somethings. But they do not help anyone – not the bookstore, not the author – sell books to people who show up on a website with a credit card number ready to push a “buy” button.

So, I believe that we at Goodreads are looking down the barrel of some major changes, and this is just the beginning. And not to go all conspiracy theory or anything, but the fact that Goodreads is clearly targeting specific users who are the least likely to comply with any sort of corporatocracy only supports these conclusions. And when you have the Goodreads VP of Communications going onto a website and saying:

“Over time we plan to better use all of the data we have around reviews so that we are putting the best reviews – the ones that will be most interesting and useful – at the top. This is a big data problem, and we are hiring a data scientist to work on it. At the same time, we already personalize how you see reviews – you see your friends’ reviews first and then you see reviews by people you follow, all people that you know and trust.”

See gigaom.com for the full article here

So, what does this mean? Will we see a cleansing of the site, stripping it of all of the things that made it quirky, and weird, and funny, and interesting and, dare I say it, bookish? Because if we do, then ultimately, changing that culture will cause the old Goodreads to cease to exist. It will go all corporate. Sooner or later, reviews and ratings will not be about enthusiasm. They will be about sales.

For those of us who loved the Goodreads that was, it feels like a pretty sad day. For the guys in the red logo polo shirts who would monetize breathing if they could figure out a way to do it, it’s a pretty good day. For the authors, I don’t think that they realize it yet, but they are just cannon fodder, too. Because the corporate guys don’t care if they sell your book. They just want to sell a book.

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I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

[a brief thanks to U2 for the use of their song lyrics]

I am continually bemused, befuddled and bewildered (occasionally even bedazzled) by the search terms that evidently bring people to this blog. A lot of them make sense to me, and most of them are directed at a specific post that I wrote almost a year ago. They are obviously search terms that are designed to find that exact post, drafted by people who have already read it and want to read it again, or heard about it from a friend and are looking for it. These include terms like: criminalizing abortion, fetal personhood, personhood impact on prosecuting crimes, etc.

And then, there are these.

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1. mindy derryberry catron gettin fucked. Yes, seriously. I have absolutely no idea how that search term gets people to this blog. But, get this, it’s been used twice. Two people searched for that? Which begs the question: who is mindy derryberry and why is catron, well, you know. Answer: I have absolutely no idea.

2. jon stock survived mauling: Really? Is that a person named Jon Stock? And just who (or what) mauled Jon? I have never, not even once, to my recollection, used the word “mauling” in this blog. Four people used that search term to get here. And, Jon, wherever you are, congratulations on surviving a mauling. I’m genuinely glad that you did.

3. sisterly bondage in jane eyre. I get a lot of traffic from my posts on Jane Eyre. But this has got to be the strangest search term by which Jane brought someone here! For the record, I think you may be looking for a hopefully non-existent book called Fifty Shades of Rochester. And, no, I am not encouraging anyone to retell Jane Eyre with a BDSM flair. Shudder.

4. did laura ingles [sic] wilder meet anne shirley. Well, no, I don’t think so. One of them was a real person, and one of them was a fictional character.

5. good looking dead authors. Chortle. Giggle. Sputter. Have you seen a picture of Tolstoy?

6. wilkie collins mutually assured destruction. So, I’m not sure how Wilkie Collins, Victorian author, became conflated with the cold war doctrine of military strategy that posits that no superpower will use their nuclear capability to engage in a first strike because of an expected result of immediate irreversible escalation of hostilities leading to world destruction. However, I’m sure that whoever was looking for information on Mr. Collin’s promotion of MAD did not find it here.

7. demonstrative church my father my father. I’ve got nothing here. Nothing.

8. anne shirley annoying. I can understand how this search term got people to my blog, but I have this to say: No, she isn’t. She’s lovely.

9. riders of the purple haze. Why, no, I did not write a post about Zane Grey’s epic tale of bong hits, cowboys and babes. I think you are looking for Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke. Thank you for checking out my blog anyway.

10. les miserables word cut out. This person has clearly never read Les Miserables. Victor Hugo did not believe in editing. He believed in adding words, not deleting them.

In any event, however you got here, welcome. I hope you find the answers you are seeking.

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Tuesday, September 3 was the release date for Geoffrey Girard’s high concept pair of thrillers: Cain’s Blood and Project Cain. These fit perfectly into my RIP VIII challenge, so I started reading as soon as they downloaded to my kindle.

Cain's Blood

The DNA of the world’s most notorious serial killers has been cloned by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a new breed of bioweapon. Now in Phase Three, the program includes dozens of young men who have no clue as to their evil heritage. Playing a twisted game of nature vs. nurture, scientists raise some of the clones with loving families and others in abusive circumstances. But everything changes when the most dangerous boys are set free by their creator. A man with demons of his own, former black ops soldier Shawn Castillo is hot on their trail. But Castillo didn’t count on the quiet young man he finds hiding in an abandoned house—a boy who has just learned he is the clone of Jeffrey Dahmer. As Jeffrey and Castillo race across the country on the trail of the rampaging teens, Castillo must protect the boy who is the embodiment of his biggest fears—and who may also be his last hope. Melding all-too-plausible science and ripped from- the-headlines horror, Cain’s Blood is a stunning debut about the potential for good and evil in us all.

[Plot Summary courtesy of Goodreads].

It was difficult for me to decide if I should read Cain’s Blood first, or the companion YA novel told from the perspective of one of the characters. I picked this one, deciding that it would give me a broader overview of the story as a whole. Over all, I think that was a good decision, but I will know for sure once I finish the second, which I am reading next.

I found this book fast-paced. It grabbed my attention, and maintained that attention through the entire reading experience. There is a lot, and I mean a lot of graphic violence, including sexual violence, and disturbing imagery in this book. I would not recommend this book for people who are squeamish, or who are triggered by graphic sexual violence. Think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and then multiply it by about eleventy-billion, and you’ll have an idea of the level of violence of this book.

The book did have a major weakness, and that was a basic inability to connect to the characters. They were all pretty much completely inhumane, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to become attached to them. The character of Jeff, who is the MC of the companion novel, comes the closest to possessing some actual humanity. The technothriller aspect of the book was also interesting, but not all that convincing.

Overall, I think that this was a book that was stylish and enjoyable – if disturbing – while consumed, but which will not stay with me for very long. I am certain that it will not make my top ten list for 2013.

The one last complaint – Gary Ridgway was known as the Green River Killer, not the Green Valley Killer, and he operated in the Pacific Northwest which is nowhere near the Northeast United States. This was a small error, but it was glaring and annoying, since the author had obviously done a great deal of homework on famous serial killers, yet he managed to completely flub this one.

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I followed up Cain’s Blood with this one. I rated Cain’s Blood at 3 stars on Goodreads. I added a star to this one because I personally think that it is the more interesting book of the two.

Fifteen-year-old Jeff Jacobson had never heard of Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer who brutally murdered seventeen people more than twenty years ago. But Jeff’s life changes forever when the man he’d thought was his father hands him a government file telling him he was constructed in a laboratory only seven years ago, part of a top-secret government cloning experiment called ‘Project CAIN’.

There, he was created entirely from Jeffrey Dahmer’s DNA. There are others like Jeff—those genetically engineered directly from the most notorious murderers of all time: The Son of Sam, The Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy . . . even other Jeffrey Dahmer clones. Some raised, like Jeff, in caring family environments; others within homes that mimicked the horrific early lives of the men they were created from.

When the most dangerous boys are set free by the geneticist who created them, the summer of killing begins. Worse, these same teens now hold a secret weapon even more dangerous than the terrible evil they carry within. Only Jeff can help track the clones down before it’s too late. But will he catch the ‘monsters’ before becoming one himself?[plot summary courtesy of Goodreads]

So, to expand: Cain’s Blood is a very traditional thriller, written in very traditional thriller fashion. Third person narrator. Lots of gore. Government conspiracies abound. Clones of serial killers. Former military special ops dude is hired by private company doing the government’s dirty work to clean up some secret and ill-advised weapons development that’s happening on the down low. Think: Halliburton + Seal Team Six + escaped serial killer clones on a rampage. It’s a ripping read, but there are dozens of books just like it published every month. It puts its own spin on the genre, but it is firmly within the genre.

Project Cain, though, isn’t as easy to pigeonhole. I did read Cain’s Blood first, so I’m not sure if it would have been as easy to follow without already knowing the story. It’s written in the first person, in a retrospective fashion. Some of the other reviews note that it contains a lot of info dumping, and that’s true. It does. There is a lot of researched information – presented in a rather dry and reportorial (I’m not sure if I just made that word up or not) fashion by our narrator, Jeff.

But, in my opinion, it totally works. Because this is Jeff’s story, and Jeff is learning all of this information as he experiences the most disorienting, stunning and terrible events of his life. One day he is one thing, the next day is he is something totally different, and this book is his process of learning who – and what – he is, and coming to an understanding of what it means. We are getting a retrospectively real time narrative from Jeff.

It absolutely isn’t necessary to read this book to get Cain’s Blood. I’m not sure if it’s necessary to read Cain’s Blood to get this one. There is a lot of overlap between the stories (right down to the inclusion of some of the same verbiage in both). I am a very fast reader, so I didn’t feel bogged down or bored by this, but I wonder if someone who is a slower reader would feel bored by the retakes.

I’m not sorry I read them both. I preferred Project Cain. That’s all.

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This is adapted from a blogger survey that has circulated around, and I can’t remember where I first saw it. I think that it was originally developed by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner. I’ve adapted it to my Classics Club books.

[A]uthor I’ve read the most books of: Dickens, with The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, and Dombey and Son.
[B]ook I struggled with finishing: Les Miserables. Confession: I still haven’t finished it.
[C]urrently reading: The Count of Monte Cristo.
[D]rink of choice while reading: Tea. Although Dombey and Son was more palatable with a pint of beer.
[E]book or print book: Both – Dickens is better in e-book, though, because: long and heavy.
[F]ictional character you probably would’ve dated in high school: This question makes me laugh. But, I’ll go with Tertius Lydgate, because I found him sadly adorable.
[G]lad you gave this book a chance: The House of Mirth, which was an amazing read.
[H]idden gem book: The Riders of the Purple Sage. This book was surprisingly enjoyable for a Western about Mormons. Odd, though.
[I]mportant moment in the last year: Inspiring some of my real life friends to read a classic.
[J]ust finished: Dombey and Son.
[K]ind of book I refuse to read: I really, really struggle with stream of consciousness. You’ll notice that there is no James Joyce on my list.
[L]ongest book: The Count of Monte Cristo WILL be the longest book, once I finish it. However, at this point, it’s a toss up between Middlemarch and Dombey and Son. They are both in the 880 page area, depending upon edition. Oh, and Anna Karenina.
[M]ajor book hangover: The House of Mirth.
[N]umber of List Classics Finished in the Last Year: 18
[O]ne Book I wish I hadn’t read: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. Seriously, the image of the elephant slaughter just won’t leave my brain. Also, because: horrible racist attitudes that have not aged well. Yuck.
[P]referred Place to Read: My living room, which is set up as my library. It also has a real fireplace, so in the winter time, I can have a crackling fire, a cup of tea, and quiet.
[Q]uote That Inspires You: “A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” Madeleine L’Engle.
[R]eading Regret: Not finishing Les Miserables.
[S]eries You Started and Need to Finish (series is complete): Anne of Green Gables, which I will finish this year. Series aren’t really a “classics” thing, though.
[T]hree Favorite Books from this year: The House of Mirth, I Capture the Castle, Jane Eyre.
[U]napologetic Fangirl For: Edith Wharton and George Eliot.
[V]ery Excited to Read In Year Two: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet.
[W]orst Bookish Habit: I am always too ambitious, too many projects, and too many books going at once.
[X] Marks the Spot: Start at the top of your list and pick the 27th book: Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Or the book for 1926, which is Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
[Y]our Latest Book Purchase: I just ordered A Hero of Our Time by Lermontov and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
[Z]ZZ-Snatcher Book (last one that kept you up way too late): The House of Mirth.

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I joined the Classics Club just over year ago, on August 29, 2012. It was around September 1, 2012 that I polished up my Classics Club lists and really embarked on this reading project, which is scheduled to end on September 1, 2017. My blog is just a little bit over a year old at this point, and has undergone some reorganization and revision over the last year.

So, what have I learned? Well, I’ve learned, first and foremost, that I will read for the rest of my life and I will barely scratch the surface of the available great and less-than-great-but-still-delightful books that were written and published before the year 2000.

The goal of the Classics Club is to read 50 classics in 5 years. My book list is 150 books long, and is divided into two separate projects. In the last year, I’ve completed 11 books from my Century of Books list, and 8 books (and started one other) from my list of Victorian Classics. This puts me at 19 for the year, which, I have to say, seems like a pretty successful year.

20th Century Classics:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The Victorians:

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to put up a few more recap posts about the last year of classics reading!

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Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting his 8th consecutive autumn event.

In his words:

Be they our favorite cozy mysteries, exciting police procedurals, classic tales about things that go bump in the night or contemporary terrors that chill us to the bone, there is something delicious about the ability of the printed word to give us a fright. At no time of the year is this more of a delight than when Summer heat turns to Autumn chill as the days become ever darker.

Eight years ago I became aware of reading challenges and wanted to start one of my own, hoping to find others who shared my Autumnal predilection for the works of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker and other authors contemporary and classic who captured the spirit of gothic literature. All these years later we are still going strong, welcoming September with a time of coming together to share our favorite mysteries, detective stories, horror stories, dark fantasies, and everything in between.

This is my second year participating in R.I.P., and as is often the case, last year my intentions were much grander than my accomplishments. But, why let a little thing like that stand in the way of big plans?

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My goal is rather modest: to read two R.I.P books during the event period. I haven’t settled on two specific books yet. Possibly some Bradbury, or some Jackson or Doyle, or some Poe.

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I also plan to participate in the Peril of the Short Story!

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I have a read-along of M.R. James ghost stories tentatively planned in my Goodreads Group for the month of October.

Carl runs one of my favorite blogs, and there are a lot of participants in this years reading event. I think that I linked up as number 152. I am looking forward to all of the posts from people participating in the event – reading about the books that OTHER people are reading is almost as much fun as reading my own!

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