Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Musings: Moved

If you came here looking for Monday's post, go here:Monday Musings. Thank you!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Review: Sisters of the Raven (Sisters of the Raven #1) by Barbara Hambly

Sisters of the Raven (Sisters of the Raven, #1)Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have always enjoyed Barbara Hambly's writing. She creates interesting characters and settings, and the stories are well done. Sisters of the Raven is no exception.

The story revolves around a society loosely based on desert societies. The men here have always possessed magic and the mages are held in high regard, particularly since they are the ones who call the life-giving rains every year. But for some reason, the men are losing their magic. The mages have a harder and harder time every year calling the rains, and as this story opens, it seems that this year, they may not be able to bring the rain at all. Meanwhile, some women are beginning to show the ability to do magic. One of these has been accepted as a student with the Sun Mages. Another is the favorite concubine and trusted advisor of the king. As tensions both political and personal rise with every day the rains are delayed, these two women, along with a few others, must not only solve the mystery of the change in magic, but also try to discover who has been killing the woman mages.

I enjoyed the book. The main characters are interesting and well-drawn. The Summer Concubine is a strong, intelligent woman, who knows that she must act her part, and does without losing her dignity or identity. The king, Oryn, comes across at first as a bit of a dandy, and to some extent he is, but part of that is act, as well. He is shrewd and intelligent, and at times uses his love of fine clothes, jewels, and food as a blind. He and the Summer Concubine have a strong relationship, based on true affection and respect for each other's strengths. The apprentice mage, Raesheldis, is just rebellious enough, with a quick wit and courage. Secondary characters, while not as completely rounded as the main ones, are still fleshed out and believable.

The world of the story is well drawn. The desert setting is harsh, with wandering nomad tribes to cause trouble. The main part of the story takes place in the Yellow City, essentially the capital of Oryn's kingdom, and the area surrounding the Five Lakes where most of the civilization lives. There is enough detail to bring the setting to life, without interfering with the story or becoming boring.

The action is not slow, but doesn't have a lot of frantic pacing. There are only one or two battles, with most of the fighting relegated to street riots as the drought continues. The story moves along well, and is very character driven.

It was an easy book to read, and I look forward to reading the second story set in this world.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday Wandering: From Around the Internets

Here are a few of the things I found interesting this week:

We all face making apologies at one time or another. Here's a post from John Scalzi on his Whatever blog that gives a good template for doing it right:

And this one is Neil Gaiman's keynote address at the London Book Fair. It's a bit long (30 minutes), but worth listening to. Some interesting ideas on art and creativity. I especially liked the idea that we all should become dandelions, and spread our creativity as much as possible, in as many ways as possible, and allow ourselves to be surprised and delighted by what takes root:
Neil Gaiman at the London Book Fair

There were a lot of jokes and trying to be funny bits floating around after the Boston Marathon bombings. Many of them got the whole point of the humor that should come out of something like this very wrong. This short clip is Stephen Colbert, who got it very right:
Colbert on the Marathon bombing

The last two are cute and amusing. This first one is a girl who has trained her cat to run an agility course and do a few other tricks. It's pretty cool to see what you can do with a cat, an animal a lot of people consider not trainable. The girl has obviously put in a lot of time with her kitty, and found a really good treat reward.
Kitty Does Agility

And the last one is for my Dr. Who fan friends. David Tennant, Dr. #10, had a birthday recently, and this was posted for that occasion. One of the things we love about Tennant is the faces, all those wonderful facial expressions he could make. This is a collage of many of them, from Dr. Who and others. At the end is a short video collection of every time the Tenth Doctor said, "Allons-y!" You Who fans out there will understsnd.
David Tennant Faces

That's the internet for this week. Enjoy!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Beginning of the End?

     I saw this link on Twitter:
The Day I Forgot How to Use a Book It's an older post, but I found it interesting. I have never (yet) tried to swipe a physical book, but I wonder if others have. And, if it is a common mistake, what it may mean for the publishing industry at large, and writers and readers, as well.

     There are a lot of people out there in the book world that will tell you real, honest-to-goodness paper books are a dying breed, kind of like vinyl records and cassette tapes. "Digital is the only way." "Ebooks are the wave of the future." From one perspective, it may seem to be true.

     Borders no longer exists. Barnes and Noble may be in trouble, as far as their brick-and-mortar stores go, and possibly their digital divisions, as well. (How Barnes and Noble Destroyed Itself and B&N Third Quarter Financial Results) Whether or not they did it to themselves, (as some argue with the Nook) the company as a whole appears to be in trouble. Independent bookstores are not doing much better, in the overall picture. Sure, there are some that are doing very well, but there are many reports of independent stores in trouble or closing. So, what's going on? Does the ease of use and availability of digital books spell doom for bound books? Will we be hoarding our hardcovers and paperbacks in special bookcases, with protective covers, like some aficionados of vinyl records.

     I don't think so. I have a Kindle, which I use regularly. I find it very convenient when travelling, as I don't have to lug heavy books with me. If, for whatever reason, I decide I don't like or don't want to continue to read a current book, I can switch easily. It fits in a purse or computer bag easily, without inconvenient shoving. It certainly is easy to get a new book- just find it online, a couple clicks, and it is right there on the device. There are many books available for free or very little cost. I have the Kindle reader app on my iPhone. I use that frequently in places like doctor's offices, where I might not even want the extra baggage of the Kindle itself. I can catch up on a few pages of a book while I am waiting. I probably have 50+ unread digital books either on the Kindle or on my computer.

     At the same time, I have about the same number of unread paper books, also. I like books. I have a lot of books that I have read and kept on my shelves. Why? I like to have the actual books by favorite authors. There is something that feels more connecting to me about being able to look at a line of books by an author I enjoy. I get a good feeling seeing the spines all lined up together. Then, there is the idea of autographs. It's hard to get a digital book signed. I have a number of signed paper books, most from personal appearances by the author. I can look at that book, and remember meeting someone whose work I admire. You don't get that in a digital book. Add to that just the simple feeling of holding a book in your hands. Something that has weight and substance, that requires you to do a little more than just swipe your finger to turn a page.

     We are physical creatures. We like the convenience of our Kindles, iPads, and smartphones. At the same time, I think we maintain a connection to things like books. They satisfy the need to have something concrete and solid to hold and use, at least for some. Of course, there will be those who think the convenience of electronic media is better. I also believe there will always be a place for those old-fashioned bound books in many people's lives.

    I have become more particular about the books I keep, I do admit that. A lot of the books I read are either given away or donated after I read them. But if I find an interesting book- an actual bound book- browsing a bookstore or swap, I will take it. I don't run to the Kindle and see if I can get it on Amazon, even though pretty much everything is there. Even if I am reasonably sure I will not be keeping it after reading. Because, for me, at least, a book is a wondrous thing to have.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What In The World?

     No Friday review today. Instead, just a few thoughts on recent events.

     A lot has happened in the last week or so. No, let me change that. A lot has happened in the last few months. Shootings, bombings, and explosions, deliberate and accidents. It’s easy to let those things take over our lives and become the focus of our attention. We are bombarded day and night with news reports and sound bites, many of which are contradicted or retracted almost immediately. It becomes far too easy to think of the world as bad or sick.

     I think that is the wrong thing to do. We live in a fast-paced world, one that changes daily, if not faster. We have access to so many sources of information, from TV to newspapers, magazines, and the internet. There is a need to be first- first to know, first to see, first in everything. It pushes us to seek out the latest news and reports, especially when tragedy strikes.

     But there is also an urge to explain, to figure it out, to ask why? And who? So we point fingers, assign blame, target someone or something in the effort to ease our own discomfort. I know I can be guilty of doing those things. I also think we should think about what we are doing. Pointing fingers and looking for someone to blame only fosters and fans the anger and fear. Perhaps we should stop, take those proverbial deep breaths, and look around.

     Look around at the good and the beautiful. Look at the babies born on the days of tragedy, new lives just beginning, full of hope and promise. Look around at the people in our lives who make those lives so much better- our families and friends. Look around at the world we live in. Despite the wars and unrest, wrapped around the hatred and fear, is beauty and life. Our world is waking up from its winter sleep. Grass is greening, flowers are blooming, and birds are singing again. I was out  walking the dog the day after the marathon bombings, and I felt the warmth of the Spring sun, and saw the blue sky, and smelled the fresh, new air. Of course, the things that have happened are terrible and horrific, but I felt a peace and joy that somehow, helped.

     Don’t ignore the tragedies. Don’t bury your head in the sand. But maybe, just maybe turn off the TV news, dial the car radio to some great music, use the computer and cell phone to do something other than Google the news. Spend time with your family. Have dinner and enjoy the company, and maybe a few laughs. Meet a friend for coffee. Don’t focus on fear and death. Stop pointing fingers and blaming or criticizing. Put more joy and happiness and good out into the world. I promise, you will feel better. And maybe if enough light is released into our lives, we can make a real difference, one of us at a time. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Out and About on the Internets

     I'm going to try to get out a post once a week with some links I've stumbled across during the previous week. They will be things that interested me. All are things that I found amusing, informative, weird, fun, thought-provoking, profound. (Don't expect too much of that last one. I lean more toward the amusing or weird.)

     So, here's this week's list:

     First, a link to an article on hacker attacks on WordPress sites that some fear could spawn a super botnet:
WordPress Attacks

     Second, four simple things to add to your daily routine for a healthier life:
Four Things to Add to Your Day

     Third, seven tips to boost your productivity:
7 Productivity Tips
Some of these I already do (most of the time), and others I thought were interesting and maybe worth a try.

     This last one is personal. Chronicle, a program on one of the local Boston TV channels, did s segment on Concord, MA. One of the places highlighted is the Nashoba Brook Bakery, which not only makes awesome bread, but our youngest daughter is the cafe manager there. The NBB segment starts at about the  2 minute mark, and she is on camera twice briefly. She is the one at the cash register in the burgundy shirt. The beginning of the segment may be of interest to some, also, because it highlights The Concord Bookshop, a nice little independent bookstore that promotes local authors, both living and dead:
Concord MA on Chronicle

     Those are a few of the the things I saw this week that I found interesting. Did you find anything fun or informative out there?

Monday, April 15, 2013

OMG! My Privacy!

< rant >     I had a completely different post started for this week, but that will wait for another time. I am going to address something that I have been seeing with increasing frequency, including a couple forwarded emails, that I think needs talking about.

     I'm referring to all those posts, links, and other notifications warning everyone about the (lack of) privacy protection on social media like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and others. The gist of most of them is something like this:

    "Do you think your privacy is safe on Facebook (or wherever)? Think again. These so-called social media sties don't care about your privacy, and you will regret it if you allow them to continue to do what they are doing." Often, these dire warnings are followed by some procedure you can do to "safeguard" your privacy.  It all sounds so horrible and threatening, doesn't it?

     I call bullshit. First of all, while the social media sites do, indeed, want you to feel that you can use them to whatever extent you feel comfortable with, they are not there to lockdown every piece of information you may type into your profile or posts. They give you settings to tailor the visibility of your information, and you should use them. Ultimately, the one responsible for your privacy (or lack of) online is you. Yes, you. And you. You, too. You are the ones who decide what to make public and what not to.

     It goes way beyond just adjusting your settings, however. Because, let's face it, this internet thing is public. Always has been, always will be. Social media sites are just that- social. And public. Despite the best intentions of any provider, the hackers and other unsavory types are out there, and they are working constantly to find workarounds to any and all of the safeguards. As soon as one is plugged, someone finds another loophole.

     Added to that is the fact that providers like Facebook make their money off advertisements. You didn't think they gave you this huge forum for keeping in touch with your friends and family out of the goodness of their heart, did you? Not that I don't think they have good hearts, but it's expensive to run a thing like Facebook (or any of them), and goodness don't pay the bills. Facebook says upfront they will use your online activity to target ads to you. Your activity goes into a database. Want to see less of those ads? Think about what you say, what you like, who you follow. If you like every puppy and kitty you see, you can bet you are going to get pet related ads. Personally, I'm okay with most of that. The ads are reasonably unobtrusive, and I can ignore them easily. But they are going to be there, and there isn't a whole lot you can do about it.

     So, what do you do?

     Well, for one thing, if you truly do not want anyone other than a few select people to see any part of your information, don't post it online. Give it to them personally. If you don't personally know or can't independently verify the person, organization, business, or charity that wants you to "Like" or "Follow" them, don't. It's very easy for phishing scammers to set up bogus accounts that look real. Look at them as closely as you would a suspicious email. Trust me on this- hundreds more cancer patients are not going to die, and thousands of kittens are not going to be killed, if you don't Like some random social media page. If you wouldn't give out certain information in a public place where anyone could overhear it, maybe you shouldn't post it online, either.

     Parents, monitor your kids. Sure, they all want Facebook and Twitter and all that, but if they are under consenting adult age, and they live in your house, they live by your rules. In other words, be parents. Don't expect Facebook and Twitter to do it for you. Make sure your kids friend you, and don't hide or block anything from you. If they do, cut them off. Give them some amount of freedom, and don't breathe down their necks night and day. However, if something does look suspicious, or they are liking every random page that comes across their feed, talk to them about scammers and why they should be careful.

     I don't want to frighten anyone. I love Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other online communities. I use them every day. I keep up with friends, family, and things I enjoy. I talk to people I don't see often, I share jokes, I discuss issues, and I will continue to do so. I do exercise caution. I do verify and check and try to make sure what I pass on is real. Do I make a mistake now and then? Sure. I am human. But each time I do, it serves to remind me that I should be more careful. After all, we are all responsible for whatever we do, online or off. The spammers and the phishers and the other less than legitimate types aren't going away. But if we all take a little care, we can lessen their effects. So, go on, update your status, tweet away, laugh at the latest joke making the rounds, and "awwww" at that cute kitty or puppy. Just be sure it's a real kitty or puppy first.

     Oh, and please do not ask me to change my settings to "make things more secure." I have my settings the way I want them, thank you. And most of the time, those things either are already set that way by default, or the change won't do what you think it will. For example, the one you see all the time that says to click on my profile picture, and uncheck photos, and other items? All that will do is unsubscribe ME from your posts, and I won't see them. Which sort of defeats the purpose of being friends online in the first place, doesn't it?  I won't do it. I'm content with my online experience as it is, and I don't feel that my privacy is in any way threatened by what I am doing.<  /rant >

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Graceling tells the story of Katsa, a young woman in the court of her cousin, a manipulative and vindictive king. Katsa is a Graceling, one of a a small percentage of the population given a Grace, or special ability. There are many Graces, from mundane things like swimming to fighting and mind-reading. Gracelings are identified by their eyes, which are two different colors. Katsa's are green and blue. Her Grace seems to be killing. Her cousin uses her as an enforcer, sending her to physically punish and even kill those of his subjects that have crossed or angered him. Katsa deals with the guilt by forming a secret Council, who take on tasks promoting justice and tolerance. During one such mission, to rescue a kidnapped noble from a neighboring kingdom, Katsa gets involved in the machinations of a cruel and abusive king. In the process, Katsa learns the true nature of her Grace, and begins to let down her own walls.

I don't normally like YA stories. I think it's because I'm a cranky, old lady, and when faced with characters who are not quite children and not quite adults, I find myself muttering, "Grow up, already!" far too often. Of course, the growing up is the point of these stories. And this is one I had a hard time putting down. Cashore manages to give Katsa all the issues and emotional turbulence of any young person trying to find their way to adulthood without turning her into an overly moody teenager. Katsa is tough (or at least she thinks she is), active, and intelligent. She does not open herself to friendship easily, but she has had a secluded life. Her ability to kill with her bare hands manifested early in her life, and people pulled away from her in fear.

The setting is a typical fantasy world, without races other than humans. There are multiple kingdoms with their own intrigues and political maneuvering. Characters are well drawn, with even some minor characters taking on a fully realized personality. There are a few stereotypes: the cruel king who tortures and kills for pleasure, a suitor who can't understand Katsa's reluctance to accept him, but they are few.

The storyline is well drawn. Plot points move along quickly, with a good amount of action. I found the climax a bit too quickly won, but not enough to ruin the reading experience.

Graceling is one of the better examples of genre YA and is certainly worth a read, not only for young people, but anyone who likes a good fantasy with an interesting concept and believable characters.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: Dragonfire (Dragon Keeper #4) by Donita K. Paul

DragonFire (DragonKeeper Chronicles, #4)DragonFire by Donita K. Paul

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is technically the fourth book in the Dragonkeeper series, but it is the second I have read. Much like the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, there is an undercurrent of spiritual idealogy in the stories. And, as with Narnia, you don't have to be a religious person to enjoy them. The religious underpinnings are not so overt as to take over the story. They are there, but Paul does not beat you over the head with them.

In this part of the story, DragonKeeper Kale Allerion is married to Sir Barton, and they have been living in the Bog, working to clean it up of various unsavory creatures. They happen on the cure for Gilda, one of the intelligent dragons. They leave the bog to find Gilda. They find her, and enact the cure, but also find the land being ravaged by the battle between two evil wizards. The people are somewhat indifferent, just hoping the war doesn't affect them too much. Kale is charged with hatching and training an army of dragons, a quest she is aided in by her father, also a DragonKeeper. Bardon is sent on his own quest.

The story moves along fairly quickly, with few passages that bog down the story. The world is fully developed by this fourth book. The cast of characters is fairly large, and it is sometimes hard to keep all of the different races (there are seven higher and seven lower races here), but the glossary at the end of the book and the character list help there. Paul does not shy away from conflict or unpleasant imagery, but nothing is exceptionally graphic. There are religious undertones to the story, but at its core, it is a story of the conflict between good and evil, and that is a familiar theme to readers of fantasy, religious or not.

I found it an enjoyable, easy book to read.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"That's Wonderful, Darling, But What's My Motivation?"

     That's the question I was asked the other day by one of my characters. The story he's in is still in its early planning stages. I've got the two main characters identified, and I know what they are doing. The problem is, with one of them, I don't know why he's doing what he's doing. With the other, it's relatively easy- he's doing  things that are consistent with who he is, for the most part. With this one, he is doing things that are not what you would expect from this type of character. I know what he's doing, I just don't know why. And the why is the thing.

     Motivation is one of the key things a writer needs to know about her characters. Because without motivation, there is no reason for the events that happen in the story. Just as we all have our reasons for doing the things we do, so must our characters, if they are to be believable. And it is especially important for those who do things outside of their normal actions. Readers won't believe in a character who is acting outside his normal boundaries without any reason for doing so.

     And so, yes, darling, we will figure out why you are who you are. I'll give you your motivation. Just let me think about it for a little while, okay?

     In other news, it got cold again! I spent part of Monday out in the garden, cleaning up, digging in compost, and getting the cool weather plant bed ready to be seeded. And then, I wake up Tuesday, intending to test the irrigation system, and plant the bed, but it is cold out there again. And windy, which made it worse. So, no garden work got done.I've been leaving the door open so some fresh air gets in the house, and I was thinking about opening a few windows. But not now.  I want my warm weather back, please.

     Easter was a nice family day. Jill, John, and Carter came for dinner, as did Krysta, Kleber, and Will. The BaldMan cured and smoked a ham, and grilled a lamb roast. We also had German potato salad, blood orange glazed carrots, and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. I made Williamsburg Orange Cake for dessert. I made it as cupcakes, instead of a full cake, because Krysta is mildly allergic to walnuts. With cupcakes, I could put nuts in some and leave some without. I haven't made that cake in years, mostly because we really don't do dessert a lot. I originally got the recipe from my old Betty Crocker cookbook. It was the first cookbook I owned, and has since fallen apart. I did save our favorite recipes from it, though.

    I'll close with a few pictures from Easter dinner:

That's me, Stephanie, and William

John, Jill, and Carter

Stephanie, Will, Krysta, Kleber, and John

And lots of food! It was a good day.