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iPhone Readers: iBooks

[Note: My experiences with iBooks are on an iPhone 3G. This certainly differs in performance and possibly in features, from the iPad and the newer iPhone 3GS and 4]

With the release of the 4.0 OS for my iPhone, I finally got the chance to take iBooks for a spin. When I played with the app briefly on an iPad, I was impressed. It still wasn’t the verisimilitudinous experience you get with e-Ink, but the presentation was slick, and the app was smooth and fast. The app I used on my phone did not give me the same impression.

iBooks borrows a lot of ideas and features from the reader apps that came before it, as it should. The library and bookmarking presentations look just like Classics. The reading interface, for the most part, resembles Stanza and eReader. And the backend feels like Eucalyptus, only connected to iTunes rather than Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately, iBooks also felt slow and clumsy, and at times it was glitchy.
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Michael Hastings on The Colbert Report

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Rolling Stone Article on McChrystal – Michael Hastings
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That’s our buddy Michael Hastings on The Colbert Report (he comes in at 3:30), talking about his blockbuster article in Rolling Stone, which got its subject, General Stanley McChrystal, fired from his post last week.

In the interview, Hastings claims that the piece merely presented the opportunity for Obama to fire a general he disagreed with, but Obama himself cited “The conduct represented in the recently published article” as grounds for McChrystal’s termination.

More importantly, before Hastings became a superstar journo and slayer of kings, he wrote a few posts for this very website last summer. Why? We’ll never know. But you can find them here.

REVIEW: The Marrowbone Marble Company

Author: Glenn Taylor

2010, Ecco

Filed under: Literary, Historical

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 4

The Marrowbone Marble Company is a sprawling, epic novel that spans nearly thirty years, following a man named Ledford as he fights in World War II, raises a family, builds a marble factory with his own hands, and, through it all, fights against racism. Taylor effortlessly constructs a detailed, nuanced world, and a host of characters both stoic and relatable. He also excels at pacing a narrative with such a long story window—each chapter is titled after a month, like “December, 1941,” and he often skips years at a time, but the result feels natural and fluid.

The problems here are more philosophical than technical. If you had to sum up Marrowbone‘s subject matter in one word, it would be: race. The titular marble company isn’t just a company, it’s also a racial safe haven where, in 1949 West Virginia, blacks and whites live and work together in equality and harmony.

Despite loud, sometimes violent protests from nearly everyone around him, Ledford (who is white) insists on racial equality in his business and his life. That’s well and good, if a bit simplistic, but the results stretch believability, to say the least. The way the sides are drawn up is reductive: everybody who’s in favor of Marrowbone (which becomes synonymous with non-discrimination and civil rights) is good and decent; everybody opposed is cowardly, evil, and slimy.

In the end, Marrowbone is more of an exercise in historical race-relations wish-fulfillment than a real drama. That keeps it from being the truly great novel it could’ve been, but it’s still captivating and certainly worth reading.
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I Loved This Book When…, Part 4: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

[Each Monday for the next few months, one of our contributors will match a great book with a time in their lives; keep up with this series, or any of our others, through our Special Features page.]

I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when I read it the first night of my college orientation. There was actually a mixer for the incoming freshmen; I could hear the music through the open window. I was seventeen and hiding in a small dorm room reading a crinkled yellowed copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “immortal tale of suspense and terror.”
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Judge a Book by Its Cover: Wild Fire (Leopards No. 4), by Christine Feehan

[Find previous installments of JABBIC here. You can suggest covers we should use by emailing us here.]

This week’s JABBIC might be a bit of a low blow, but it was too juicy to pass up. Basically, JABBIC  is Balderdash with book covers. Four of our contributors  guessed at the summary of Christine Feehan’s novel with only this cover image available to them. Can you guess which below is real? The answer, and who wrote which fakery, will be posted in the comments later today.

1.) For Kalani Devers, life is a beach and the surf is always up. Ranked at #2 on the ASP World Tour, only one person surfs in Kalani’s way — Analu Smith. That is, until the 2009 Rio de Janeiro Surfing Cup, where Kalani hangs ten and leaves Analu in his wake. But when Kalani tests positive for anabolic steroids and is stripped of his title, he disappears into the Amazon rainforest, hoping to find an undetectable herbal steroid. But life in the jungles of Brazil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Kalani finds his efforts dashed by deforestation. With the help of a stuffed jungle cat that harbors the soul of his deceased girlfriend Aleka, Kalani sets off on a new mission. Surfing may be a solitary activity, but saving the world is a team sport.

2.) When a prominent environmental activist meets her mysterious demise on a mission to the Amazon, her daughter, Stephanie, vows to uncover the real events that led to her death. Under the ruse of filming a documentary about her mother’s work, she heads down to the sweaty, tangled forests of Brazil. Assisted by Chico, a courageous local translator, she finds the town where her mother was last seen alive destroyed by fire. Bizarre things start happening when a rich, handsome stranger takes a passionate interest in her project, and Stephanie is forced to face a story much more shocking than she ever could have predicted.

3.) Leopard shifter Connor Vega carries the scent of a wild animal in its prime, and bears the soul-crushing sins of past betrayals. Isabeau Chandler’s never forgiven him-or forgotten him. The mating urge is still with her, and hotter than ever. Dangerously hot…

4.) Ryan Vincent was born under the sign of the leopard, and can turn into a black one–the rarest and wildest of all. When his adopted Costa Rican village finds itself threatened from a militia run by a powerful and beautiful rebel woman, he must do all he can to do to protect it. For the first time in his life as a shapeshifter, his animalistic form might not be his best body for the job.

5.) Lucius Montgomery fancies himself a bit of a Robin Hood, but he’s not quite quick-footed enough to avoid the law. Unfortunately, once he’s been captured it turns out he also lacks a record, fingerprints, and a human past. Who will help set him free? There’s only one beast who can help him, his childhood friend and closest confidante: Tara Normandy. Tara lives as a panther in the wild, avoiding her human side. In order to help Lucius clear his name Tara may have to learn to accept her humanity…and his love.

REVIEW: For the Win

Author: Cory Doctorow

2010, Tor Teen

Filed under: Young Adult

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 9

This is a pretty dorky book. It’s initially about gold farmers: low-salary workers in China, India, and elsewhere, mostly, who grind MMO games like World of Warcraft for in-game currency and items, then sell them to Westerners. In For the Win, groups of these gold farmers band together to form an international union of workers, both online and offline. Interestingly enough, it’s not dorky in that it dwells in descriptions of video game worlds and fantasies (it doesn’t, really). This book is dorky because it doubles as a pretty sound lesson in fundamentals of economics. I learned a lot actually.

An econ lesson taught through video games? That might sound boring, but actually For the Win is riveting.
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REVIEW: City of Lost Girls

Author: Declan Hughes

2010, William Morrow

Filed under: Mystery

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 2
Entertainment..... 2
Depth..... 1

In an early scene in City of Lost Girls, the crew of the movie Nighttown falls all over themselves trying to find an extra who hasn’t been seen in several hours (nearly half a day!). This extra is crucial to the making of the movie, and, if she isn’t found, millions of dollars could be wasted on reshoots. Luckily, private eye Ed Loy is already there, and already working for the director on a different, unrelated matter.

And so, it’s only page 12 and we already know the lay of the land: City of Lost Girls will be a mystery founded on thin logic, absurd coincidences, overstuffed gestures, forced authorial machinations, and plain old unimaginative writing. It only gets worse from here.
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REVIEW: Boneshaker

Author: Cherie Priest

2009, Tor

Filed Under Sci-Fi

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 7

You’ve either seen this book on innumerable store displays or heard the name. Both for good reason.

Cherie Priest takes the trappings of steampunk back to America, distorting history to make the Civil War less of a done deal and the Gold Rush more of a calamity. It’s been years since Leviticus Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine carved a swath of land out from under Seattle, releasing a subterranean zombie plague in the form of the Blight. With a brick wall separating the undead city from the ravaged Outskirts, one cannot help but wonder what’s happening on the inside…
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I Loved This Book When…, Part 3: The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

[A new entry in our “I Loved This Book When…” series will appear every Monday this summer. To keep up with this series or any other, check out our Special Features page.]

I just picked up a new copy of The Sun Also Rises. I lent my last copy—the one I myself “borrowed” from a friend in college—to a boy I liked in the early summer of 2008. He moved away and I never saw him, or the book, again. I still mourn the loss of that particular chewed-up, ratty copy, the one in which I marked my place with a black-and-white picture from a long-ago New Years party; I look so stunningly delighted in the photo, clutching a bottle of cheap champagne, closed-eyes grinning, receiving a New Years smooch on the cheek.

I loved The Sun Also Rises most when I was volunteering for the Peace Corps in Madagascar. For twenty-seven months, I spent my Sundays sprawled on my foam mattress, reading random books gleaned from a pile of crap at the Peace Corps flop-house, discarded romances and science fiction thrillers, a biography of Basquiat, the sexual escapades of Chelsea Lately. Roosters crowed outside and my toilet was a hole in the ground, but in the midst of my weird, protracted acculturation, these books were tiny pieces of the familiar.

Sometimes, in the cool of the evening, I’d shut off the hanging bulb in the middle of the room and tuck myself into the mosquito net to read by candlelight –The Sun Also Rises was the only book I kept on my bedside table, providing a little company for the bug corpses. It was like going home, except home was Paris, or Pamplona, or Bayonne, or Madrid. In the absence of any other entertainment, it was like watching a film in my head; I could see it all, and I could imagine spending time with each and every one of the characters in all the gorgeous scenery, and being very drunk.
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Judge a Book by Its Cover: Light Boxes, by Shane Jones

[Find previous installments of Judge a Book by Its Cover here. Suggest covers to use by emailing us here.]

Judge a Book by Its Cover is basically Balderdash for new or forthcoming books.  A number of our contributors have made up synopses for an interesting-looking new book based only on its cover and title. This week, the book in question is Light Boxes, by Shane Jones.

Can you guess which of the following paragraphs is the real premise of Light Boxes, just by looking at the cover?

Answer (and who wrote which fakery) coming later today in the comments.


1. Light Boxes follows the plight of a town battling to free itself from the brutal hold of the month of February, a meanie that has not allowed its wintry grip to lift for hundreds of days. When the despairing townspeople, led by valiant Thaddeus Lowe and his wife and daughter, suffer reprisals from February for trying to break the weather, a group of former balloonists don bird masks and, calling themselves the Solution, instigate a rebellion. Thaddeus’s daughter, Bianca, is kidnapped, along with other children, leading Thaddeus to plot ways to deceive February. Will they defeat February in time to save the town?

2. Shane Jones’s Light Boxes is a fictional memoir recalling the hilarious happenstance of its own creation. One snowy Monday, Jones and friends dressed as art-house movie penguins and stormed Penguin, Ltd., demanding that the powerhouse publish his book-in-progress (the plot of which was indeed progressing before the receptionist’s eyes). Penguin’s president, Morgan Freeman, who just happens to love art houses and penguins, gave the project a quick green light. Drama ensues when the 13-page manuscript was almost pulled for brevity. Thankfully, a 100-page color insert featuring the waddle in a variety of poses saved it in production. Light Boxes is well worth the $72 cover price.

3. For generations, the Grape family has lived by the Three Iron Laws: no women, no liquor, no knives. But then their youngest son, Gabe, is kidnapped by the notorious knife-wielding, booze-swilling, womanizing Parakeet Bandits. Gabe quickly learns that the outside world is much more fun than his forebears led him to believe, and he soon joins the gang. When his oldest brother sets out to bring him back to the fold, Gabe Grape must choose between his new life as a Parakeet and his devotion to his family.

4. In the tiny, remote town of Vinchizstrasse, the men all wear masks and the women all wear veils; in fact, it’s considered a sin to show your face to another human being. One spring, as the ice thaws to snow, the townsfolk begin acting weird—Henniger the butcher attacks Mrs. Leep and Jolimar the magician kills his assistant in front of a live audience, but neither has any memory of their actions. They quickly conclude that the people of neighboring town Tulingradstock (who have always been jealous of the Vinchaise) are forging masks and impersonating the Vinchaise men while committing horrible crimes. When Henniger and Jolimar confront them, the Tulingrash insist it’s a mind-disease that’s already crippled several other towns. Can the Tulingrash be trusted? The only way the Vinchaise can know for sure is to throw away their masks, but that might be more than they can take.

5. There are only five oiseau men left, and none of them have ever seen the sun. They’re condemned to spend their lives in Lincolntown, where it’s always cold and cloudy. At the bidding of invisible overseers, the oiseau perform mundane tasks like copying notes, folding papers, and whittling trinkets. Their ignorance about the outside world doesn’t protect them from an aching emptiness as they face the certainty of their extinction. However, just a few miles away in sunny Noirville, the Herschel family hides the only oiseau who’s ever escaped, and he’s been working tirelessly on a plan to free these mysterious men the only way he knows how…