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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Designing the Digital Experience: How to Use Experience Design Tools & Techniques to Build Websites Customers Love

The same friend at work who lent me Face2Face lent meDesigning the Digital Experience. I honestly wish I had read this one first because it feels like the first book; Face2Face builds a lot on the concepts forst explored in this book. But very much like Face2Face, Designing the Digital Experience is written in everyday language (or at least explains the jargon it brings up well enough so you're never lost). This book gives you a lot of great points to think about while designing a website, helping you keep your customers' needs and experiences at the forefront of each design choice. I'm very glad I read this book. Hopefully I'll be able to redesign a few websites so they are much better for people to navigate!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Nostalgia

I don't normally jump heavily onto the Canada Reads bandwagon, but this year the short list really interested me.  Fifteen Dogs by Andrei Alexis is on the short list, which in my opinion means that the competition had better be pretty amazing to remotely compete.  Plus two of the short listed books are science fiction, which intrigued me as well.  I currently have three of the other four books on the short list (I don't currently have The Break by Katherena Vermette), and I will make a valiant effort to read the three of them before the debates at the end of the month.  So first up is Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji, which I will freely admit was the most intriguing of the remaining four books to me.

Nostalgia takes place in the future.  Humans have found a way to prolong their bodies pretty much indefinitely.  But along with a new body, you have to get a new life.  Your old memories are buried and a new, fictitious life is built for you, complete with brand new memories.  But sometimes memories of your old life resurface.  Left unchecked, they will destroy your mind.  But that's where the nostalgia doctors come in.  These doctors specialize in sealing those memories away. 

Dr. Frank Sina is one such doctor.  But when he is visited by a strange-looking patient named Presley Smith who has begun to have these memories surface, Dr. Sina finds himself obsessed with this patient.  Who was Presley Smith, and why does he have such an effect on the doctor?

Nostalgia was a bit hard to get into, even with this very intriguing concept.  The beginning of the book didn't really speak to me the way I really felt it should have.  But I'm thinking it had a bit of a slow start to it.  The back of the book promised irreparable cracks in Dr. Sina's own fiction emerging as a result of his interactions with Presley Smith.  But that doesn't really happen until the latter half of the book. But once it happens, wow does Nostalgia start to shine.  It takes what appeared to be very differing narratives, including the fictions Dr. Sina writes about a kidnapped journalist and his own suppositions on what Presley Smith must have been like before, and weaves it into a very compelling narrative that examines what happens when the elderly continue to live indefinitely (and take their resources and jobs with them while simultaneously completely leaving their families behind) and how the post-Colonial world is built in many ways upon the less fortunate people who just happen to have the bad luck of being born elsewhere in the world.  Nostalgia leaves you with a lot of food for thought, and I am very glad to have read it.

That being said though, my vote for what should win Canada Reads this year still goes to Fifteen Dogs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls was recommended by an author I interviewed at work. I borrowed the book from the library. I was admittedly put off by it - I'd been told that A Monster Calls was a graphic novel. That is a factual statement in that it is a novel with pictures. But it's not a graphic novel in the way I think of them (like a collected edition of comic books). Nevertheless I decided to give it a shot and started reading.

I will admit though, I had a really hard time getting into the book.

A Monster Calls is about Conor O'Malley, who is visited at night by a monstrous yew tree. As scary as this monster is, it's not the one he was expecting, the monster who hunts in his terrible nightmare, the one Conor won't tell anyone about. The yew monster says it will tell Conor three true stories, and that in return, Conor will tell it one. The monster wants Conor to tell it the truth about the nightmare. But how will Conor ever be able to do that?

Meanwhile in the waking world, Conor must deal with school, being bullied, both his grandmother and father coming to visit, all the while coping with his mother's rapidly deteriorating health. 

I may have had a hard time getting into the book, but by the end I was balling my eyes out. Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls is a brilliant look at coping with the impending loss of a loved one. 

With that said, I am definitely going to read what I hope will be a happier book next. Between this and The Lovely Bones, I feel like I've been reading too much sadness so far this year!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Among Others

I apologize in advance: this is a bit of a rambly review because I'm rather overtired and it's really hard to collect my thoughts regarding this book.

I bought Jo Walton's Among Others when I was out of town.  I have never read anything by Walton before, but I was intrigued by the premise of Among Others.  The fact that it also won both a Hugo and a Nebula really helped my decision to buy it, too.  The back of the book makes it sound like it's going to be a really fun, magical adventure, with fairies and magic and magical battles.

While it is true that there are fairies and magic and magical battles, Among Others never really did seem to deliver on the "fun" part that I was looking forward to.

Among Others follows Morwenna Phelps.  She has run away from her old life to her father, who she doesn't really know.  Her father lives with his three sisters, who end up sending her to an English boarding school.  Mori's mother had tried to bend the faeries to her dark will, which resulted in a magical battle that left Mori's twin sister dead and Mori crippled.  That's why she ran away from Wales.

We never get to read the actual details of this magical battle.  We just get little bits and pieces of it in Mori's journal (which is how the entire novel is told - through her journal).  What we do get is an exhaustive list of all the science fiction books Mori reads (and how almost every one of them are "brill"). Because Mori is crippled, she spends most of her time reading. Someone on Goodreads was kind enough to put together this list of books mentioned in Among Others (which is about as long as the books I currently have on The List).  Needless to say, there are a lot of books mentioned, most of which I have never read. 

Mori starts receiving letters from her mother, which burn with evil intent (and magic).  In a bit of desperation, she works some protective magic against her, while also wishing for a karass (which basically was her group of similar-minded people).  The next day she finds a science fiction book group, which includes the very beautiful Wim.  She finds herself attracted to him, but worries for a large part of the book that Wim's attraction to her is only thanks to the magic she enacted.

Mori also sees fairies, as the premise promised.  But they are very alien beings who do not speak or act the way Mori wishes they would (aka the way they do in her stories).  When she was younger, she used to play with the fairies with her sister.  From time to time the fairies would ask the twins to do things for them because the fairies cannot influence the physical world.  As Mori has aged, the fairies still ask things of her, and she rushes to help them (especially when it involves stopping her mother's plans).  But most of the fairies she sees are in England, who are not at all interested in talking to her.  Only when she's in Wales and able to speak to the ones she knows well (specifically the one she called Glorfindel - fairies don't have names, so she and her sister named him) do we get a really good sense of what they're like (or what her childhood was like).

I'd like to mention, she had a moment where she almost passed onto the next life, but Glorifindel stopped her by reminding her that she was only half finished her book.  She literally decided to stay to finish the book (and keep reading others).

And that's as good a spot as any to bring me to the weirdness of this book.  As many reviewers on Goodreads have said, this book takes place after the climax of the story.  Mori is having to move on with her life after the epic battle where she saved the world, but lost her sister in the process. It's a very odd place for a story to start (almost everyone tells you to start in the middle - I've never heard of anyone starting once it was over, so to speak).

As I already mentioned, Among Others is told through Mori's journal.  It took me a bit to pick up on this originally (I thought the dates were just day markers denoting chapter changes at first; but near the beginning they skip ahead and she says she didn't have much time to write in there.  That's when I clued in). It gave Mori a very strong sense of voice, but also made the book rather tedious in the middle.  Not only that, it made the end of the book quite abrupt.  In the last twenty pages of the book, her mother finally shows up and they battle again.  This is explained after the fact and really, really glossed over by Mori; in many ways the book just sort of ends.  It was weird.

While it's an interesting premise (and very clearly a love letter to science fiction, libraries, and the interlibrary loan system), I felt that the book's story was rather bogged down.  I wonder if I would feel that way though if I had read more of the books on her list? It's really hard to say.

So all in all, I really liked Mori.  But this was a very odd book in many, many ways.  I had a hard time rating it on Goodreads as a result.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale

After reading The Lovely Bones, I wanted something that was not depressing so I started reading Island: How Islands Transform the World by




Thursday, February 16, 2017

Face2Face

A friend at work lent me Face2Face by David Lee King after we attended one of his social media webinars last fall. I've been reading it a little at a time over the last few months and finally finished it a few minutes ago.

Face2Face details how to start listening to and engaging with your customers on social media. It's a really easy-to-read book that is packed full of great advice to get you started. I liked how it really had something for everyone in every chapter, whether you're new to social media or a seasoned pro. Face2Face is written in everyday language so you're never really lost in jargon. While a bit dated (as any book on the internet and specific websites tends to be), I thought it was still highly relevant to the social media of today. I'm now looking forward to reading Designing the Digital Experience, a second book by David Lee King that my same friend lent to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Lovely Bones

Wow, was this a difficult book to start reading.

I've had Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones for a really long time.  I think I bought it just before the movie came out (which was 2009) because I'd heard the book was good and wanted to read it first.  I don't remember what exactly I was up to (but school...) but I do remember lending it to my mom to read with the intention of reading it soon after.  That clearly didn't happen since it's now 2017 and I finally got around to reading it now.  Unfortunately my mom doesn't really remember the book at all, so we weren't really able to talk about it. :/

The Lovely Bones opens with Suzie Salmon, our narrator, telling us about her death.  And wow is that a difficult chapter to read.  I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but not the rape of a fourteen-year old in a lot of detail.  She tells us that she is killed at the end of that, but that wasn't in any detail (until later when authorities tell her family they found her elbow- she was clearly gruesomely hacked to pieces).

I remember finishing that chapter being unsure of whether i would continue.  But I did, making it through a few more chapters before going out for the evening.  And not coming back to the book for most of the week because it was hard to convince myself to keep reading).

The Lovely Bones is about Suzie's family struggling to deal with her murder, which remains unsolved (other than her father's unshakable conviction that he knows who the killer is - he just can't prove it).  Her sister Lindsey must deal with everyone looking at her and seeing her dead sister. Her brother Buckley is too young so no one wants to tell him that Suzie isn't coming back.  Her mother, who never really wanted children, cannot deal with Suzie's loss and slowly slips away from the family, while Suzie's grandmother, who was always an independent and apart woman, comes closer, becoming an integral part of the family.  Ray, Suzie's crush and first kiss, must deal with the authorities blaming him (even though he is innocent).  And Ruth, a girl from school, saw Suzie's spirit fleeing the night she was killed; Ruth sounds crazy when she tells anyone about this. 

Once you get past Suzie's gruesome murder, The Lovely Bones is an excellent story about a family dealing with terrible grief, and how that grief can either pull them together or push them apart.  I actually liked how different people were either pulled or pushed.  But Suzie's rape and gruesome murder is very, very hard to get past (especially since Suzie does keep watch over her murderer quite a bit, too).  This is by no means a "fun" book to read, and I honestly don't think I would recommend it to anyone.