Monday, March 30, 2009

Better Late Than Never: FFNF08

I didn't manage to finish this in February, but at least it's done now. The latest installment of my current adventure in the FREEFALL universe features a little excitement with fast-moving spaceships and other dangerous technologies. I can't say more than that without spoiling it, so just follow the link and...

Read "Yet All Shall Be Forgot", Chapter 8 of FREEFALL: No Fate



~CKL

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OnLive: Behind the Scenes

My friend--let's call him "Kojak"--shared some interesting details about his employer, OnLive, who made a big splash last week at GDC (read more about it: company web site, press conference video, Penny Arcade comic).  Some highlights from his email to me:

Still recovering from several days of stress and almost no sleep, but I'm relieved that our big announcement is over. I wish it had been all smoke and mirrors, but unfortunately it was all live and relied on servers in our Santa Clara datacenter.  This necessitated insane fallback options, including the "Tertiary Contingency," which I can't really go into.  Let's just say we're all very grateful it wasn't necessary, leaving us instead worrying how far Steve [Perlman] would stray from the script.

Most of these facts have been mentioned elsewhere, but some journalists missed the significant bits, so to speak:

Latency

This is of course the big one that everyone's talking about.  A couple of early news articles misinterpreted what Steve said in previous interviews.  All the bloggers picked this up as gospel truth, and distorted it further.  On the morning before the press conference, almost every mention I saw had our total round trip latency being <1ms. Anyone with half a clue pointed out this is completely impossible, and it led many to assume we're just another in a long line of charlatans.

Steve tried to clear this up a bit in the announcement, saying that "encoding latency" means what we add by running it through our proprietary encoding card in the datacenter (this is really our key technology). "Last mile latency" can add anywhere from 5 to 25ms, depending on your ISP and other factors. Improvements in that in recent years are key to making this all possible. The latency from Moscone to our Santa Clara datacenter ~50 miles away is <2ms (I wouldn't have thought that possible a few years ago).

He's also talked about the contribution other sources of latency make, in particular your display. Gamers who switched from CRT to LCD may have added more latency to their experience that we could ever add (assuming worst case LCD and best case network). As you probably know, LCD TVs can be even worse, especially for those who don't know how to turn off the various "pixel shining" features. We literally only found one model of Sharp LCD TV that was really optimal for games (and apparently we bought every one in northern CA). Many people happily play Halo 3 on some of the worst latency TVs without ever knowing the difference. What's great for movies isn't necessarily great for games. Don't even get me started about the latency added by most wireless controllers.

It's expected that certain titles might not really be playable due to latency, but I've been pretty surprised so far (we've all been forced to play lots and lots of games at work!). Mirror's Edge was one I really didn't figure would work, but it's done pretty well.

Bandwidth caps

This is probably the most valid concern I've seen people raise, besides those who don't think they can get a consistent 4-5Mbps in their area from any ISP.  I don't know what the official Comcast monthly limit is in most areas, but Steve has been saying 250GB.  Since you're rarely pushing the peak bandwidth, average use is much less (and varies widely between games and play style, even if everything's running at 720p60). If it's ~2Mb, that gives you 278 hours or 11.6 days of continuous game time per month (assuming you're not using the connection for much else).

We expected the major ISPs to be pretty hostile, but they ended up almost scaring us with their enthusiasm. As long as we're causing a predictable load and we're willing to peer closely with their networks, they don't seem overly concerned (and Steve talked about various bundling possibilities here and in other interviews). So, it's realistic to expect either a special "OnLive" tier from your ISP with no cap, or some other arrangement where our data usage doesn't contribute towards your cap.

That doesn't mean it won't be a rocky upgrade path for some of them.  If this takes off like we hope, they're going to be very busy, and it won't work perfectly in all areas for a while. This is part of the purpose of the Beta.

Target audience

We're targeting all segments of game players, but we don't expect we'll ever satisfy the most discriminating/insane gamers (the ones who shell out $5K/year for a top-of-the-line beast to play first person shooters at one frame/sec faster than their friends).  However, by leading most of our demos with one of the most demanding FPS out there (Crysis), we try to make it clear that we're "good enough" for most who would want to play even the most extreme titles.

We have hopes of eventually combining our MOVA facial capture technology with customized servers to allow experiences beyond anything a console or PC game could offer.  We'd certainly give anyone willing to do an exclusive title access to some interesting technology, though I'm not sure who would buy "Benjamin Button: The Video Game."

As with WebTV and other resource-intensive services, our ideal customer is someone who pays their bill and hardly ever logs in.  Some have said we're ideal for the mythical "casual hard-core gamer"--someone who likes to play the latest high-end games, but only a few hours a month, and thus can't really justify maintaining a PC capable of playing them.

We're also really interested in true casual gamers (people who enjoy Xbox Live Arcade titles more than any of the $60 ones from the store).  As Steve mentions, the hope here is that many of these titles will eventually be able to be "virtualized". This isn't quite as far fetched as it sounds, as Xen already has experimental support for GPU virtualization (so one video card could really be shared between multiple users).

Though Steve touted that we were demonstrating "every type of game from all major publishers," you'll notice one obvious omission: no MMOs. This is not a coincidence. Most of these games would be difficult to virtualize (they're not Crysis, but some are getting closer), and MMO gamers neither sleep nor work, apparently. So even though MMO games work great on our service for several reasons (slightly less demanding of resources and their users are accustomed to poor service), it's hard to imagine any business case that would make sense. Sadly, many of the bloggers that seem most enthusiastic about our service hope to use it exclusively to play MMOs. It could happen, but don't hold your breath.

Streaming

We're not a "streaming" service.  Apparently voice actors now insist on certain clauses in their contracts that refer to streaming.  Thus, we do not "stream" games, but instead provide them in real time, over the Internet. It's easy to see how there might be some confusion here.

Meanwhile, at the demo booth...

Highly skeptical gamer shows up and plays for quite a while. Finally, he says, "I'm an Atheist, but I feel like I've just seen the face of God!"

Someone from the Xbox Live group at Microsoft drops by our booth.  After briefly playing a game, he quickly makes a cell phone call and says, "It works." Then he dashes off.

Thanks, Kojak!

D and I have both signed up to be beta testers, because we may actually be examples of that mythical casual hard-core gamer.  Before buying her last two computers, D literally checked their specs against the system requirements for the current version of The Sims.  And I maxed out my laptop's graphics, memory, and processor speed when I bought it last January so I could use it to play Spore.

I remain skeptical about OnLive, given that we still have trouble with streaming video (Hulu, Netflix, etc.) over a supposed 12Mbps connection, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I know several people who work there, and they're all pretty smart cookies.  If anyone can make this crazy scheme work, it'll be them.

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Change of Plans

I meant to write about GameStorm, and some of the things I thought about after spending an entire weekend playing games.

Instead, I came home and caught up on my reading. This article scared me: "The Quiet Coup" by Simon Johnson (The Atlantic, May 2009)

Mostly, I don't think about the financial crisis. It's too big; there's not a whole heckuva lot I can do to fix it. And it's not affecting me personally right now. In a pinch, CKL and I have enough money for a few years (barring hyperinflation or other horrors), so we can just concentrate on spending within our means without changing our lifestyle much.

The only real change I made was to set up a recurring donation to a couple of charities each month. I figured that if I have a recurring deduction each month for fun stuff (Netflix, Xbox Live), I can match that money for charity.

So, that's me. I don't think about the financial crisis. It doesn't bother me. Until I read an article that hits me hard enough to actually write to my elected officials.

It's a long article, with a lot of important points, but this was the one that hit me hardest:

[The banks] don’t want to recognize the full extent of their losses, because that would likely expose them as insolvent. So they talk down the problem, and ask for handouts that aren’t enough to make them healthy (again, they can’t reveal the size of the handouts that would be necessary for that), but are enough to keep them upright a little longer. This behavior is corrosive: unhealthy banks either don’t lend (hoarding money to shore up reserves) or they make desperate gambles on high-risk loans and investments that could pay off big, but probably won’t pay off at all.

I know this problem. We all know this problem.

In my case, it looked like this: my brother asks for a few hundred dollars to tide him over until payday. I give him the money.

Months later, I get another call. Now my brother needs a thousand dollars. Times are tight. We have an uncomfortable talk, and eventually I give him that money too.

Months later, I hear from my sister that my brother is in a desperate situation. He might actually lose his house. His kids could go hungry. And, finally, the whole sorry story comes pouring out: my brother had been using payday loans to finance his lifestyle for the better part of a year.

The money I gave him (that my mother, brother, and sister gave him) was never enough to pay off his debt. But it was always enough money for him to get deeper in debt. Until, finally, he was on the verge of collapse.

The consequences of doing too little can be worse than not doing anything at all.

The banks (and AIG) look an awful lot like my brother. And it looks like our government is acting an awful lot like me. Look at how many times they government has given BofA and AIG bailout money.

It's scary to think that our government might be doing what I did--giving a few dollars and compounding the problem--instead of actually providing a solution. Instead of making sure that those few dollars will actually help.

It's even scarier to think that our government is treating banks like family and not watching out for the rest of us. We're family, too.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

You're Not Feeling Lucky

On Thursday, my former employer announced another round of layoffs--its third this year. But there were two big differences this time around.
  1. A larger number of people was affected: 200 now, versus 100 in January and 40 in February (all numbers approximate).
  2. The affected organization was sales and marketing (as opposed to recruiting in January and the radio advertising group in February), which means it's likely that I know some of the departed.
Here's the official word, plus a couple of employee reactions. (You know how much I less than three primary sources.)

My heart goes out to everyone who's been caught up in this. That includes the managers who had to decide whom to let go, and all those left behind. I've been through layoffs at other companies (everyone at AT&T knew what the acronym RIF stood for), and I know it's not easy for anyone.

At times like this, I remember these words:

Bottom line is, even if you see 'em coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are.

Thank you, Joss Whedon.

~CKL

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "True Story"

On Monday, I finished writing, recording, and scheduling a completely different short story for this week's 512 Words. I was pretty happy with it. But you're not going to see it today. Why?

Because, on Wednesday, I came across this BBC News article, which reminded me of another story I'd written seven years ago. When I dug up the manuscript and saw that it was only 650 words long, I knew what I had to do.

And yes, "True Story" is the original title. I considered changing it to avoid any confusion, but it's just too perfect.

Read "True Story" at 512 Words or Fewer

~CKL

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ten Books

Yet another Facebook meme:

This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it! 10 books you've read that will always stick with you. First 10 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag many friends, including me. These are listed in no particular order.

Right, then:
  1. Ender's Game
  2. Foundation
  3. Dandelion Wine
  4. Red Mars
  5. Ringworld
  6. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
  7. Hyperion
  8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Bonus round: comic books and graphic novels!
  1. Y: The Last Man
  2. Superman: The Man of Steel
  3. Watchmen
  4. Ex Machina
  5. Sandman
  6. Crisis on Infinite Earths
  7. Ultimate Fantastic Four
  8. Maus
  9. Queen & Country
  10. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Yeah. This is me, living in the genre ghetto. Represent.

~CKL

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I was wrong.

Remember how I was talking about things getting more fair around here? As it turns out, not so much.

It looks like my time of freedom from pills has ended. She forced one down me yesterday. It's been weeks since I had to take a pill. You'd think the humans would recognize this and give me a treat afterward or something. Not yesterday.

To make matters even worse, it turns out that Jasper's syringe-full of sticky stuff isn't bad at all. I watched the humans make it for the last couple of days. Once, they mixed it with water. The other times, however, they mixed it with tuna broth. I have no idea why humans would think that they need a syringe to make Jasper eat tuna broth. That stuff is a treat. We both love it.

Apparently, the humans have come to that realization as well. She made a batch of sticky tuna broth yesterday and started to suck it into a syringe. She must have noticed us standing there and looking hopeful, however, so just put it down for Jasper to eat.

As I mentioned, I like tuna broth. I hurried over to get some. Jasper would have let me share, but the humans dragged me out out the room. I had to lie there, struggling, and pinned down on the bed while he enjoyed his broth.

And all this happened just minutes after she made me take a pill. I had to suffer and Jasper got the treat.

There is no justice.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

"This is the thing about the new landscape that drives everyone crazy: you can’t see inside the cow; you can only build one, feed it music, and wait for it to poop."
-- Jonathan Coulton

The good news? When it does poop, that cow poops money. Or, as some in the music industry might call it...

...moolah.

Thank you! Thank you very much.

~CKL

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"The Website Is Down"

My new favorite web video series. (Thanks @feliciaday!) For best results, expand to full screen so you can actually read the various windows:





~CKL

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Bug!

I may have mentioned that I LOVE BUGS. They are my favorite toys. They zig, and zag, and sometimes fly! And after I'm done playing with them, I get to eat them!

There's this new bug that comes around lately. It's the most fun of all! Except I never get to eat it.

No matter what I do, I can't catch it. Sometimes I have my paw right on it! But it still gets away. That's pretty strange.

But I love this bug! It runs really, really, fast. Today, I ran as fast as I could, but it stayed in front of me the whole time. I chased the bug so long, I got tired, and had to rest.

It happened yesterday, too. I got tired, flopped on the floor, and just watched the bug until it went under the couch to hide.

The humans watched with me. They didn't even try to take the bug away from me. That's strange behavior for a human, but I guess they like this bug too.

I hope it comes back again tomorrow!

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"No," I Ralc

Rejected by Clarion 2009. Details on LiveJournal.

~CKL

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Friday, March 20, 2009

It's about time things started to balance out around here.

The humans have been forcing pills down me for a long time. It must be years now.

Jasper never came over to volunteer for the torture instead of me. He always stood out of the way and watched. Until the humans finished, of course. Then he came running for the after-pill treats.

I have to choke down the pills, and he gets the treats. Somehow, that just doesn't seem fair.

But now things are starting to come around. I went from a pill every day, to a pill every other day, to a pill every now and then. And now, I'm not taking any pills at all. That's pretty good.

But it gets even better. Jasper is the one who had to go to the vet by himself this time. And, starting this week, the humans have been making him choke down a huge syringe-full of sticky stuff. They're not doing it once a day, either, like I started with. Jasper gets the syringe at least twice a day.

Sometimes, I stand out of the way and watch. Sometimes, I come to share in his treats. Sometimes, I just curl up on the bed and listen to Jasper taking his medicine.

I like the way a little fairness sounds.

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Friday Flash Fiction: "Arcana"

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
And miss it each night and day?
I know I'm not wrong; the feeling's getting stronger
The longer I stay away.
Miss them moss-covered vines, the tall sugar pines
Where mockingbirds used to sing.
And I'd like to see the lazy Mississippi hurrying into spring.

-- Lyrics by Eddie DeLange

Read "Arcana" at 512 Words or Fewer

~CKL

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Webcam!

Jasper here! That is indeed part of my head and body you see at the very beginning of this time-lapse video! And that is my girlfriend Fluffy toward the end! MORE ABOUT HER LATER.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cnn-F7bwU9Y

(For those who are curious: I used Dorgem to capture a series of images based on motion, then used Picasa to turn those images into a video. I love technology! Especially when it's FREE!)

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reflections on teh RaceFail

My somewhat entirely selfish observation about the whole "RaceFail '09" debacle is this:

I'm really glad I attended Viable Paradise last year, because this year's class experience is sure to be tainted--if not completely eclipsed--by this stupid thing. (Lucky XIII, indeed.)

Aside: I didn't even know about any of this until I caught up with my VPXII classmate Alberto's LiveJournal. Yes, I am a grumpy old man.

John Scalzi called it "discussion of [x]," and I agree. This particular thread has gone way, way off the rails and off-topic. A few cooler heads, including Scalzi and friends, have attempted to wrestle the conversation back to the subject of race, but the damage has been done, and any good that comes out of it at this point has come at an enormous and unnecessary cost.

This is all I have to say about [x]:

Issues of race (and, by extension, racism) are deeply personal, for people of any heritage. When you choose to make those issues public, well, thank you for sharing, but please be aware of what you're getting into.

You can't write and perform The Vagina Monologues without eventually becoming an activist. You can't write The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian without tapping into centuries of American history.

That's political. And politics is all about power and diplomacy. Unfortunately, on the Internet, both those dimensions are collapsed into a single channel--text--and sometimes, words alone aren't enough. You can't end a war with an aphorism.

And now for something completely different relevant:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3HaRFBSq9k

But seriously, folks:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

You are not the work. This is something pro writers say, a lot, when advising baby writers. It means that you have to learn to accept criticism of your work by understanding that "this story sucks" is a fundamentally different statement than "you suck."

The line is much finer when it comes to blogs and comments thereupon. What you say is not who you are, but it is all that people see here. Your words are your actions in this space, and actions have consequences.

(My final remark below is not directed toward any particular person. I offer it as a general guideline for all.)

On the Internet, no one knows if you're a dog, but what other conclusion should they draw if all you do is bark?

~CKL

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The Wearing of the Ring

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! This is what I'm wearing today. I may also drink a Guinness later. I may even drink two. To celebrate my Irish heritage, you see.

On a side note, I have not been following the DC Universe too closely of late (the most recent Crises didn't do much for me), so I was unaware of the Red/Orange/Indigo/etc. Lanterns that seem to have sprung up. I guess I'll have to track down those damn Sinestro Corps collections now. (I've already requested all four volumes of 52 from my local library. Hooray for online catalogs!)

~CKL

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Martian Standard Time"

"Sean O'Reilly was the first human on Mars. He got to enjoy it for about three seconds..."

Read "Martian Standard Time" at 512 Words or Fewer

~CKL

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Getaway"

Not much to say about this one. The idea is not new, but then, most ideas aren't. It's all in the execution.

Read "Getaway" at 512 Words or Fewer

~CKL

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bored!

Sometimes, I just can't think up anything to do. But I'm still bored.

So I tell the humans. They usually ignore me the first few times. It's almost like a game. Or else they think I'll just stop being bored if they don't pay any attention!

If they keep ignoring me, I walk on them, or bite them. If they hide in the room with the closed door, I yell louder or kick the door. If they still ignore me, I get a running start and crash into the door as hard as I can. It makes a nice, satisfying crash. And I can always yell longer than the humans can ignore me.

But even when humans stop ignoring me, they can't think of anything interesting.

I don't want to chase fuzzy balls or the twisty piece of plastic or twist ties. I don't want to jump for paper balls. Curly ribbon is just stupid, even if Bayla likes it. I don't want to play with strings. I don't want chase my fur mice. Cyborg Mouse still rattles when I hit him, but he's no fun, either.

I don't want to play with rubber bands, not even the super-long one with the bell on the end. I thought the elastic bandage might be interesting, but it was no fun. Catnip is just boring. I'm tired of being carried around so that I can stand on the humans' shoulders and look at everything from up high.

I don't want to chase Bayla. Fluffy and Regent, the neighbor cats, never have anything interesting to say when they come to visit. Even the squirrels are boring!

It's so boring around here. I'm bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, BORED.

I just wish there was something to do.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Stray humans are not welcome.

I don't like having people invade my home at the best of times. At least when my humans let them in, I know that they had to meet some sort of criteria for admittance.

Even if one of the new humans comes over when my humans aren't home, I've met her and know that she's been pre-screened. So, it's okay when she gives me a pill.

I don't approve, of course. I do not approve of my own humans when they give me pills. It's an unpleasant, unwanted experience. But I'm a cat, and I have to put up with these things if I want to keep my humans.

I am not, however, willing to put up with stray humans who come to the big glass window at the back of our mini-house. I hiss at these humans and tell them to go away.

The first one fell out of the mini-house upstairs. He was clumsy, even for a human. I guess he was embarrassed about it, because he stomped and made angry human noises before he came to bang on the big glass window at the back of my mini-house. I hissed and told him to climb back up the wall where he came from. Or to go around the building and walk up the stairs like all the rest of the humans.

Another human--or maybe the same one; humans are all pretty much the same unless I can smell them--came by again last night. I hissed again. Eventually, this one went away too.

I guess I'm going to have to keep a careful watch on the big window at the back of the house while my humans are sleeping. But I do not know what is wrong with these strays that they keep trying to come into my territory.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Putting the ON in Clarion

I just submitted my application for the 2009 Clarion workshop at UCSD, with a whole ten minutes to spare. (In case you're curious, the two stories I submitted were expanded versions of the 512 Words or Fewer pieces "Prisoner" and "Bachelor of Science" (which I renamed "Persuasion").) I'm pretty happy with the drafts I submitted, especially since I only decided to apply this week. Huge thanks to D for helping me whip those stories into shape.

So I probably shouldn't have played in the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 12 simulcast this weekend--even if I was only a remote adjunct to the bay area Drunken Spiders. It was fun, except when it wasn't. More on that later. And yes, I am going to sleep now.

~CKL

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February Readings

This was a good month's reading. Five of the stories still ambush me while I'm petting the cats, taking a shower, making dinner, or at other, equally unexpected, times.

Here are the books I read in February:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2/3): This is YA Science Fiction. I got so mad at the injustice depicted in this book that I had to put it down. I guess this means that I connected to Katniss's story on a visceral level. I still find myself thinking about it.
  2. World War Z by Max Brooks (2/6): It was interesting to read zombie fiction presented as nonfiction. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the mockumentary that the book built in my head. But the style is distancing. I found it difficult to get too worked up when the characters are just meandering on about the terrible things that happened to them.
  3. The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede & Carolyn Stevermer (2/6): This is the second book in the historical fantasy series that started with Sorcery and Cecilia. Like its predecessor, this is a Letter Game book. It's an effortless, fun read: a Regency Romance with a little magic thrown in for spice.
  4. The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After by Patricia C. Wrede & Carolyn Stevermer (2/7): This is the third book in the historical fantasy series that started with Sorcery and Cecilia. I loved discovering how the characters' lives had changed after ten years of marriage. It's still effortless fun.
  5. Good as Lily by Derek Kim & Jesse Hamm (2/9): This is a standalone graphic novel about something strange that happened to a high school girl. The story was rich in possibilities, beautifully drawn, and interesting. As with so many other graphic novels, however, I wished that I had gotten the whole story, rather than the abridged version.
  6. Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale & Nathan Hale (2/12): This is a standalone graphic novel that mashes together the Rapunzel fairytale and an American Western. It was fascinating fun to watch the fairytale and the western play off one another. I didn't feel like I got an abridged version in this story. I knew so much that I was able to bring a lot more into the experience than could be drawn on the page.
  7. The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks (2/22): I'm not sure whether this YA is a thriller, urban fantasy, horror, or some sort of combination of all three. Reading it is like watching one of those movies where everything that happens is horrible, but you just can't look away. The ending left me trying to figure out what would happen next.
  8. My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2/22): This is mostly a memoir with some brain science thrown in. For me, there was too much memoir and not enough brain science. I agree, however, that we need to celebrate what we have left after an injury--brain, or otherwise. There's no healing to be found when we spend all our time mourning what we've lost.
  9. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Krause (2/24): This book is a YA Urban Fantasy. I thought the plot was fascinating, the world well-developed, and the characters believable. Nevertheless, I read this book impatiently, wishing that it was more satisfying. The author's storytelling skills and style got in the way of her story.
  10. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (2/25): This is the second book in the blockbuster Twilight series, is YA urban fantasy, and is starting to grow on me. Bella does continue her twin trends of sighing her words instead of just saying them, and of telling us that something happened only to describe something else. On the positive side, Bella exhibits some semblance of free will this time around, and is treated by almost all the other characters as if she's really a person. Those things definitely helped.
  11. Austenland by Shannon Hale (2/27): This book is in the genre currently known as women's fiction. It's essentially the story of a woman who goes to a vacation LARP based on Jane Austen's work. I often found myself wanting to slap the main character. Then I realized that she just didn't know that playing "let's pretend" often spills over into our real lives. After I made that realization, it was a fun, frothy read.
  12. Madapple by Christina Meldrum (2/28): When I finished reading the book, I couldn't figure out what to call the genre. The library files it as YA fiction, which is fair enough, although I think it cuts off a significant portion of the reading audience. Whatever genre it is, Madapple is the most compelling piece of fiction I've read this year. I thought I was sucked into a nightmare fairy tale, but the true horror of the story is that everything that happened--the isolation,the torture, the brain-washing, the murder trial--could happen right here, right now. I can't decide who to send the book to first.

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