Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Castle in the Air

I've been meaning to start Diana Wynne Jones' Castle in the Air for quite a while now.  It's literally been sitting on my shelf, staring me in the face for many months.  I think I grabbed it with the intention to start it maybe a month or two back, but something happened and never actually read more than like the first sentence.  So after finishing Designing the Digital Experience, I grabbed this and started to read!

Castle in the Air is the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, a book that I really, really liked.  At first it seems completely unrelated to the first book in the series, as it follows a new protagonist (Abdullah) in a new land (Zanzib).  Abdullah is a carpet salesman who spends most of his time daydreaming.  One day, a stranger sells him a flying carpet.  The first night, the carpet whisks Abdullah to a garden where he meets the beautiful Flower-in-the-Night.  He is convinced that she is a dream, but he finds himself back in the garden the next night, too.  On the third night, when they are ready to run away together, she is snatched by a Djinn.  It's up to Abdullah to go and save her.  Along the way he gets into all sorts of trouble, thanks in part to the genie who he finds (the genie will grant one wish a day, but goes out of its way to make the granting of said wish as terrible as it can possibly be for everyone).

I had really high hopes for this book.  As I said, I loved Howl's Moving Castle and thought the sequel would be just as enchanting.  But I found that just wasn't really the case.  I honestly never really cared about Abdullah, even though I knew I should.  He was full of flowery language which made him quite polite in its own way, but he was so self-centered through the entire book that he never appealed to me.  I realized part way through the story that he never actually asked the name of his companion the soldier (I assume this was done on purpose, to keep the soldier's identity a secret?  But there was no reason why the soldier couldn't have had a fake name ready to give to people?) I honestly caught myself thinking "Oh good, now there'll finally be better characters" when Abdullah was making his way to what I presumed was part of Howl's house; that, to me, spoke of a major problem in this book. 

Honestly, pretty much all of the kidnapped princesses were more interesting than Abdullah.  I would have loved to read more about them (honestly, any of them probably would have been more interesting than Abdullah).  Flower-in-the-Night in particular would have had a great perspective; she had been scheming to set all of the princesses free from the moment she got there.  I think that would have been a great story! 

The ending also felt really tacked on.  It seemed to wrap everything up a little too conveniently in like five pages.  This isn't a bad thing in a kid's book, but I was expecting so much more out of this book I guess that it left me feeling really disappointed.

I think one of the coolest parts of the book was when a kitten turned out to be a baby.  The baby's mom was like "oh he's super mad that he's a baby now - as a kitten he was able to move around so much more."  It's so true - what a neat thought!

Jones' writing is of course wonderful.  Her style is so much fun to read, that I felt like that alone got me through this book as quickly as I did.

So all in all, I found Castle in the Air to be a big disappointment, which makes me very sad.  I had very high hopes for this book.  :(

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 me Designing 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 first 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!