31 August, 2011

Tokidoki Is My Higher Power Now

Ok, that's not a book. (Technically, it's a book bag.) I'm backdating this a day so it won't (I hope) clutter your feed but my thoughts on the new Tokidoki Fall / Winter 2011 bags were too long for the message board I frequent. We'll be back to books and ways to read them right after this. I totally promise. You can trust me. While I have an absolutely absurd amount of Tokidoki items, how do often to I talk to you about them? (Define absurd? Um.. a skateboard deck, 4 hoodies, a couple dozen t-shirts, a couple dozen toys, 11 cosmetic pouches, 4 hairbrushes, 5 plush items, at least 35 handbags, 2 backpacks, 4 wallets... Hey! You're judging!! I don't feel safe discussing this with you. My bank account and I are leaving.) First up, this new Mini Crossbody bag. The size is roughly the same as the LSS Ciao. The two pockets on the front are versatile, most of my e-readers fit in the taller one. The main section has a zip compartment of it's own for stashing your wallet or stranger's hotel keys. (Or your hotel key and a stranger's wallet? Whatever works. Not my business.) On the opposite interior side there are two pouch pockets as well.

As you'll see, the lining is a lot like the current Sephora interiors. Interestingly, the company hasn't gone with the very popular nylon material used on the last two Passe Pouch sets. The bags are a polyester that gives off a slight shine. The material is soft, but I wonder about it's durability. There won't be any scrubbing of these bags with a Clorox Bleach Pen after you drop a slice of pizza on it. I can see these eventually showing wear in a way the other bags didn't. I could be completely wrong about that, it's the impression the material gives. I do like the feel. Colors really stand out on this print making it a bag that needs to be seen in person to fully appreciate. The cording on the sides has also changed. Instead of using the Pantera Print as older bags do, the new side cording is Pleather. I hate this choice. While it's visually neutral, I tend to damage pleather easily. Hopefully I won't snag or scratch it. The transition to plastic zippers I have mixed feelings about. They won't rust, they may even prove more durable, but I still prefer the Riri Rainbow. I do find the plastic zipper an improvement on the stiff metal silver zipper of the last few runs. Put the zipper down as a wash.

Tokidoki has decided to include a dust cover with each purse. Praise the biscuits and pass the butter. Made of a woven material familiar to anyone with inexpensive reusable shopping totes, the dust covers are sized to fit the bags perfectly. I wish I could order these in custom sizes for my past bags. Love This So Much. I think at MSRP $69 this bag is well priced for the quality changes they've made and a decent impulse buy for Tokidoki fans. I also ordered the Double Handle. (Love the naming of these bags. It's like, "This is my bag, Bob" instead of the naming in the past which was "Meet Alfonzo Romanatski! He's fancy!" I think I'm gonna call it Love, because Double Love Handle is often how I roll.) Love is about the same size as a Graziosa, just slightly larger than a Stellina, but with a much better capacity than either of the other two bags.

My new favorite bag size is the Double Handle. With one outer zipped pocket and three zippers across the top, this handbag is ridiculously easy to organize. The center section is the deepest and widest, offering what could be packing space for a gym trip or a sweater. One outer section has two pockets (like you would find in a Carino) and the other outer section has a zipper pocket. While the Double Handle looks small compared to a Graziosa, it easily fits my iPad in it's Zazzle case. I want a Double Handle in every print ever made. At MSRP $140 it's not quite the what the hell purchase of the Mini Crossbody, but it's great styling and perfect size makes it worth skipping a few months of Starbucks. (Wait - I don't drink coffee.) I could see using this bag as an everyday workhorse for a variety of situations. Absolute home run for me. Except I have to return it.

Click Here For A Fabric Close-Up
Sadly, my Double Handle has a crooked name plate. It would drive me crazy trying to straighten it, especially since it's riveted in place. Tokidoki responded to my email on this in about 4 minutes, promising to exchange it quickly and with the "exact same bag". I'd tell them I'm not that high maintenance but I am. I totally and completely am. (This is where you protest. You're not working with me at all today.) I really love the back of this handbag, the pattern placement was just about perfect. I'm just going to trust in Simone, Ivan and my new pal Kevin to bring Handbag Happiness to my life. Tokidoki is my higher power.

Let's close this out with a quick size comparison photo. It I didn't cover something you wanted to know about the bags, ask me here or in the forum of choice. I think Comics is a great print it would be a shame to miss. Favola went so quickly that I never got the Carino placement I wanted, but my unused Carino is paying for my Double Handle, so I can't be too bitter. (I know! It's like it's not even english!) On the adorability meter Comics is off the chart. It reminds me of Citta in it's long distance appearance while being an obvious use of the best of Sephora's Robbery print. I'm not crazy about the Royal Pride yet their use here is so clever I wouldn't want to do without them. Simone Legno's bags are at their best when he's playing around with his characters instead of randomly smacking them on a background. I like almost everything about this collection even as I wish it had a slightly higher price point so the zippers and trim were back to Riri and leather. On the other hand, at a higher price point it's probably a lower sell-through for the company. You give and the economy takes. More detail pictures (including interiors) are on my Flickr Account for those interested (and you know who you are).

The Mini Crossbody and Double Handle pictured for size comparison with a Citta Bocce and Eco Mondo Graziosa

30 August, 2011

Review: Second Grade On The Left by Darynda Jones

Darynda Jones is my new cracktastic author of choice.

Like I've said before, the Charley Davidson series has some logistical issues but it's hard to nit pick when the delivery is so delicious. If there isn't such a thing as Paranormal Noir, then Darynda Jones is busily inventing it. Smart and smart of mouth Charley is the perfect private detective for complicated cases filled with shadowy figures. Nicely balancing her superhuman skills are all too human family issues that blindside Charley when she least expects it. Even the Grim Reaper needs a hug sometimes.

Jones is also adeptly delivering a demon saga that even a Christian could love. (I got a little nervous when the Jehovah Witnesses showed up, but Jones pulled just short of mocking them. Well, more than Charley mocks anyone.) In this chapter Charley is searching for her missing boyfriend (the actual Son of Satan), a missing person (possibly connected to a major murder) and a decent night's sleep (not anytime soon). Jones keeps the revelations in each story coming fast enough to keep the reader guessing. Resolving enough to satisfy, but leaving a bit on the hook for the next book, she's mastered the compulsive read.

Many paranormal books want to be Buffy The Vampire Slayer. With the Charley Davidson series Jones has captured the essence of that show's appeal without copying any of it's details. Keeping her read hot but not making it explicit, she aims for a wide range of readers. I'm not sure what HBO* is going to do with Charley, since she's a serial flirt but a one demon girl. In fact, I'm still not entirely sure that Charley ends up with Reyes. While he maintains he's a bad boy going good, Charley is too strong and self reliant to offer herself up to the wrong side. He's going to have to work a little harder to convince her that he wants to side with the angels. (Then again, Charley hasn't met any angels. Ouch. I apologize. Spend some time with Charley Davidson and the bad jokes come naturally.)

Charley is officially my good time girl for the duration. She can take the Grim out of Reaper for as long as she wants.

*HBO has not optioned this series, but they should. True Blood wishes it was this fun.

29 August, 2011

An Embarrassment of Riches

Sugar Free by meoskop
I've been given a Kindle.

Right? I could hate me too. Trust me when I say I am very deserving and these things could not happen to a nicer girl. Or boy. Or plurality of people. I am just that wonderful. Really. Fine. Hate me. I can't be the boss of you when I am too busy being the boss of all this stuff.

I wondered how to approach this - if I did a review of the Kindle I would be comparing it to the Sony 505 (Baby), the Sony 350 (UnNamed), the iPad (Ozy) and my new Kindle (UnNamed2). How long would a Sony vs Sony vs Kindle vs iPad post be? Um, really long! I think what I am going to do is summarize the pros and cons of each device (for reading) in a series of posts over the next few days. I think all the readers on the market have their niche (except for the ones that suck) and there is no One True Reader To Rule Them All anyway (I hate that series).

Tomorrow (ish) I will run down a device. Over the course of this week I will cover all of these bad boys and what I like or hate about each one in a shortish format. This may be ground others have tread before me. (I like a well trodden path, less likely to turn an ankle.) I'll tell you that my initial impression of the Kindle is that they barely missed the boat of being the One True Device. Makes me wonder what their tablet is going to look like. 

28 August, 2011

Review: Quinn by Iris Johansen

This one sucks. It's rare that I say a book was a complete waste of my time. Quinn was not only a waste of that time, it made me feel my investment in the Eve Duncan series was misguided. I'll address Quinn as a book first.

Quinn jumps through times, events and people so quickly that readers will need to have read Eve (at the very least) to keep up. Divided roughly into thirds, the first third deals with the meeting of Joe and Eve, the second with the people surrounding them at present, and the last with a relationship between a side character and Bonnie's father. Ending with a sharp cliffhanger, Quinn offers no resolution for a one book reader and little plot advancement for a long time fan. Johansen's work has been very erratic for the last few years. Quinn easily belongs in the bottom tier of her work. While Quinn hits paperback in November, (just four months after it's hardcover release) I suggest skipping this volume entirely and continuing on (if you must) to Bonnie.

All of that said, it's time for some spoilers. In this recasting of the first meeting of Eve and Joe, Joe finds himself in love with Eve scant days into their acquaintance. While the staple of instant attraction is an old one in romance the long time reader will recall that at one point Joe Quinn was married. Subsequent books hinted that Joe had married simply to provide Eve with female companionship, but this version of their relationship makes that explicit. Joe's wife does not exist in Quinn, he has not even met her. This means at some point Joe is going to knowingly seduce and wed a woman he does not love and then express anger at her when she is jealous of his unexpressed feelings for Eve. It is not a case of Joe not having recognized how he felt about Eve when he married, he knows it. Our hero is going to completely tank some woman's life as he tries to help Saint Eve find Bonnie of Nazarene. Also, all that stuff where he pulls the class card on Eve during her relationship with John Logan? Joe is rich too. He might not be a billionaire, but he is a trust fund baby. Nice. Ok, so now that we've blasted a hole through the interpersonal dynamics of the early books we can move on.

Quinn is so far removed from the Eve Duncan I fell in love with. This series is like an abusive relationship for me. Every time I try to leave the carrot of resolution is held out. (I swore off Eve Duncan books right before this trilogy was announced. With Eve I thought we were nudging closer to the right track, but Quinn is off the rails.) When we first met Eve she was a hard working recluse who was driven by her work to resolve deaths for other families. Remember her? When is the last time Eve worked on anything? Saint Eve brings all the crime lords to her yard as she dips into the world of mercenaries, psychics and sadistic killers without finding her daughter or a grave for herself. People meet Eve and they are willing to give their lives for her. Eve, carrying the standard for Bonnie of Nazarene, charges blindly into every fray. Bonnie started out as a cute kid whose unsolved murder was the catalyst for her mother's valuable career as a forensic artist. Now she appears to people in psychic visions and is a perfect shining beacon of light. She can lead the dying back to life, instruct the living on their next move, and sing songs to captured prisoners across the world. If she had a loaf, she'd turn it into fish. She isn't a kid anymore, she's a cult leader.

This is another problem. When we met Eve and her daughter they were normal people in a tragic situation working toward improving the lives of other victims. Now Eve commands a multinational task force, seemingly unlimited government resources, and the belief that she can judge who lives or dies. She's a tyrant. These same shadowy government types working all around her have lifted this hard working single mother to an iconic figure. From drug lord to psychic to man on the street, Eve Duncan has only to speak to them to enslave. It's all a bit much. Her child's murder will turn into a kidnapping as her "special, special, Bonnie" is shown to be some sort of super human used for nefarious purposes by those same government agents. The reason she can't find Bonnie's grave is that there isn't one. I will bet you that right now.

Perhaps I could accept this shift of narrative if it were more smoothly executed. Instead Quinn is filled with clunky conversations and long passages where motivations are told repeatedly instead of shown once. People are presented as ideas and abilities border on the superhuman. Motivations shift. Tracking down who she believes to be Bonnie's murderer, Eve's friend Catherine pauses to wonder if she will kill him or sleep with him. No, really, she does. She thinks she's on the track of an unstable child killer, she has left her own recently returned child behind, and she rolls about in Gallo's sheets 'sensing him' (even though others have been sleeping in the bed and the sheets are fresh) while wondering if they will be lovers. These have become some sick individuals.

25 August, 2011

Review: The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley

People love this book. I get it.

I waited a few weeks to review The Many Sins of Lord Cameron because explaining my negative feelings about it requires spoiling some key plot elements. I should probably wait a bit longer (fans of the book will suggest forever) but I'm going to take the plunge. I'll tell you when we get to the spoilery bits. River Song is really... (no, I'm just kidding).

Right, so Dr. Who references aside, here is what I loved about The Many Sins of Lord Cameron. In Ainsley we have a very original heroine. She's doing the whole friend of the Queen thing, but she's doing it for money instead of love. Ainsley is the widow of a much older husband whom she both respected and slept with (is that a spoiler or just a shocker?) and now she runs sensitive errands for Queen Victoria. Ainsley is interesting. She's also a bit inconsistently drawn, but only a bit. If the whole book hung on my feelings about Ainsley we'd be sitting pretty right now. Cameron carries over well from his previous appearances. He's still treating women like Kleenex while haphazardly single parenting an overly precocious son. (Bonus points for the way said son tries to parent his father. That rings true and shows he's got some tightly packed baggage of his own.) So, consistent Cameron and appealing Ainsley should make a perfect evening, right? Here comes the plot revealing part of this. Meaning now. Duly warned!

It's Scottish Romance meets Telenovela. Cameron's dead wife wasn't just crazy. She was maniacal played by Jack Nicholson we'll sell you the whole seat but you only need the edge crazy. Cameron in an abusive relationship? Sure. His wife being manic, or bipolar, or suffering from postpartum depression? I'm right there with you. A completely unhinged sexually voracious suicidal murderess who sodomizes him with a poker? Um, make up your mind? Cameron is afraid to sleep with women because his wife repeatedly attacked him despite his attempts to confine her or protect himself. It's the repeatedly that gets you. Sure, she shoved a poker up my ass, maybe even a few times, but that's no reason to lock her up away from the kid and me, is it? Sure, she's crazy as all hell and sleeps around when she's not lying to my face, but I have to keep her close just in case she's having my kid! My crazy dad was still alive, so my options were limited!  It's a bit much to ask of the reader. Yes, there are people that crazy and there are people that live with them, but I wasn't willing to believe it of this group.

Adding to that, you've got what borders on a bad case of Magical Romney. Why can't people just have met? Why does someone have to have saved someone's life? Why does one side of the equation have to be servile (yet appropriately disrespectful) to the other? Then you've got the mustache twirling bad guy who lives only for profit, unless that profit is made from a a Scottish purse, in which case he'd rather try to... I couldn't even follow it. There's this horse, right? And this crazy dude wants to race it so he bullies Cameron into training it. Horse doesn't win, guy ramps up the bullying, but Cameron is just training the horse because he likes it. Guy won't sell the horse because Cameron is Scottish. Guy wants the horse to win so he can sell it. Cameron says name your price and the guy refuses because, again, no doing business with a Scotsman that you're already doing business with. Guy isn't just mean to horses and a bad businessman, he's a bigot! Because no one in this book ever says "Eh, WTF, let's find something else to worry about." No, they have Epic And Unsolveable Problems.  Of course, it's Ainsley who makes the shocking realization that someone else could buy the horse. Someone who (wait for it) isn't Scottish! You can see why the Queen trusts her to deal with blackmailers and stuff.

Victoria is her own issue. Depending on the needs of the plot Ainsley is either entirely at her beck and call or able to freely leave her side. When the queen is utterly displeased with Ainsley and sends her away, Ainsley responds by making physical contact with the queen and speaking freely. You know, as you do with a boss you just totally pissed off. You give them a smooch and a few words of advice while they're firing your ass. (I don't think Ainsley is going to be eligible for rehire). I didn't hate The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, but I struggled to finish it. The flaws were not enough to put me off the series. I'll be back for the next chapter. I hope it's a bit calmer than this one. I'm an old(ish) woman. I can only take so much drama without a nice lie-down.

22 August, 2011

Review: One Night In London by Caroline Linden

* Teal is the new pink.

One Night In London might have the WTF cover of the year. From the pearls draped just so in her cleavage to the frankly awkward pose, this is a cover Anonymous would use. Perhaps we should have a contest - what activity is our heroine engaged in? It's obviously less than enjoyable - look at her face. She's not quite certain she wants to move forward with whatever it she's currently doing. I tried the pose and considered the options. It wasn't a pretty assortment.

One Night In London was my first Caroline Linden read, or at least the first that I can recall. This one is definitely a Mixed Bag, but the book has good bones.  (Courtney Milan did the bigamous father better.) Linden is stretching her resolution over several books, a tactic I find annoying. Story points arcing through several books is fine, but there has to be enough advancement for reader satisfaction. (Alternatively, the heroine's custody plot is exceptionally well done and fully resolved.)

I like Francesca. She's a bit of a user, but that's ok. (Francesca has a friend without benefits. She leans on him heavily, hangs with him constantly, then gets irritated that he loves her.) She's got a serious temper and flirts with social ruin (A woman planning a custody fight!) but she's fair. Her frustration in the face of the twin obstacles of social class and gender are understandable. Anyone who has ever been helpless in a custodial situation would relate. Edward is the family fixer. You know the one, thinks he controls it all, pretends his ducks are neatly aligned, the whole time frantic not to drop any of the things he's juggling. His older brother is the drunken party animal, his younger the man of action type. Edward makes sure the bills are covered. He is all about understanding, until his fiancee defies his comprehension. I liked him too.

So here we have sympathetic adult characters engaged in high stakes situations (gaining custody of a child, proving their legitimacy and saving their family home) but ultimately end up with a hot and cold read. I'm pretty open about being a skimmer. It's a rare sex scene I will read. One Night In London is not weighed down with sex, but when it arrives it's a story stopper. They thud onto the page and seem to last forever. Skimming, I was thrown out of the story wondering how much longer they'd be going at it. This wasn't the rare book I read every page of, but I'd expected it to be. I still think One Night In London is worth the time, but the twin flaws of extended climaxes and lack of primary plot satisfaction keep me from loving it. My TBR Lindens have moved to the front of the stack, I like her willingness to embrace flawed heroines.

18 August, 2011

Review: Carnivale by HBO

Ok, this wasn't in my book bag. 

The thing is, it's rare to find a work as detailed as Carnivale. The casting is so perfect, the myth so well assembled, that I am willing to forgive it being so celebratory of rape culture. On the surface, Carnivale seems anti-woman. As the show progresses, we come to understand that the women are central. (It doesn't resolve Babylon, one of the most haunting and disturbing hours ever filmed, but it mitigates a lot.) Carnivale is also very white world. All the major players are white, all the minor players are white. If you want a minority you can choose from whores or tribal dancers. (And did I mention rape?) Yet I still loved it.

The basic set up is that during America's Dustbowl the forces of good and evil came to a major clash. The pace is as slow as the times with sudden shocking bursts of momentum. Events shift in and out of focus, motivations and allegiances are rearranged with each revelation. What keeps Carnivale from collapsing under it's own ambition are the actors. This is a remarkable work. As a human character study Carnivale is perfection itself. Late in the series a character (Samson, played by one of my favorite actors, Michael J. Anthony) is challenged for hypocrisy. Why will he undertake an action for one person but not another when the stakes are unchanged? "He was my friend. You ain't." Exactly. In the land of Carnivale, in the human fight between good and evil, the personal is what matters. Personality dominates morality.

Carnivale is not without flaws. Aside from rape and race there are moments where characters should challenge each other but do not. As most of this occurs late in the second season, I suspect cancellation was upon them and the push to tie the series off was strong. While I had heard the ending was a sharp cliffhanger, I disagree. Obviously written while hoping for a renewal, Carnivale's ending is perfectly suited to the tale it tells. There are no full stops in the struggle of light versus dark, there can be no true resolution. The big wheel has to keep turning or the ride is over.

I think Carnivale is well worth the time. It's opening titles are unsurpassed, it's visuals are exceptionally well conceived and it's acting is largely perfection. There are exceptionally dark moments but rarely gratuitous ones. (Again, accepting it is super white and rapey.) I found that watching too many episodes in a row was bad for me. Like potato chips it was hard to stop cramming them down, but without a break I felt sick for days. Carnivale could easily be rebooted, the action moved forward a few years, the actors returned to their marks. It is a series you never forget with plenty to fire the imagination. Or you could hate it. That's the beauty of a Carnivale, it's all in the eye of the beholder.

15 August, 2011

Review: Record Collecting For Girls by Courtney E. Smith

I feel bad about this review and I haven't even written it yet.  Let's preface everything by saying I hope between the time I write this (May) and the book's release (September) the publisher seriously reconsiders both the marketing and the cover copy. Record Collecting For Girls absolutely fails to deliver what it promises.

On the positive side, the design is fantastic. Arresting, visually assertive, all around excellent cover work. As well, the first chapter is fantastic. While reading it I was planning who to buy the book for at Christmas, who'd talk with me about it first. It was the proverbial hit single of a dog album. The rest of Record Collecting For Girls took me from irritation to rage and then to resigned disillusionment. The cover promises "Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd One Album At A Time," It also vows "Gives Readers Tips For Curating A Real Record Collection." That bit is a complete joke. Smith doesn't believe in record collections, she believes in Hype Machine and extra hard drives and pirating singles instead of evaluating albums. Her records and CDs have been boxed for years, by book's end she is discarding them. This is not a girl's guide to a broad appreciation of music, it's a long recitation of the romantic failings in Smith's life and what she chose to listen to while she got over them. Let's go chapter by chapter.

  • Record Collecting For Girls will sell a lot of copies as a Kindle sample. It's funny, focused, and correct in stating music conversation is dominated by the male perspective. Someone should take this chapter and write the book it belongs in.
  • Top Five Lists does feel like a springboard to a real conversation about music as Smith explains how (to hold her own with boys) she came to her cutting edge choices of Elvis Costello, REM, Sleater-Kinney, Stevie Nicks and Fiona Apple. Here, among all these (white) critical darlings, you start to realize that you're going to Epcot instead of on a World Tour. (Fiona, Stevie, not your fault.)
  • Where Have All The Girl Bands Gone? Mixing a small bit of info about the Go-Go's with an assertion that The Bangles were underrated Smith takes a drive by at Phil Spector's influence and name drops some early punk and post Lilith Fair without really exploring much of it. Sex sells. Unless you're the Dixie Chicks.
  • My Scrobble, Myself. How to see what boys like to listen to and evaluate what you're listening to. 
  • Making Out With Romeo And Juliet. How to decide what to play while trying to get laid, by a boy, and how to impress that boy (never a girl I guess) with your fine taste in music without scaring him off with your mad taste in music and a little bit about how soundtracks are compiled. Plus, boys (not girls) and making out. 
  • Guilty Pleasures. Smith feels if you don't have a guilty pleasure you're pompous or boring. She likes the Pussycat Dolls. She thinks you should like what you like unless it's the Black Eyed Peas and then you shouldn't. 
  • The Smiths Syndrome. Where to start? Pick a band, then refuse to ever date anyone who likes that band because they are all the same. To back this up, (Why are we still talking about dating? When do we really talk about music, it's evolution, or crafting a course of personal study?) she declares that all avid Smiths fans are mommy's boys obsessed with serial killers. Wow. That's so offensive and wrong I'm not sure how to articulate it. As an avid Smiths fan (by her criteria) and one of Moz (although I am currently boycotting him)  as well I must say I can't agree. Nor do the male Smiths fans I know discuss serial killers, concern themselves with serial killers or wear pompadours. And yes, we do travel long distances to see Moz. Hey, that's her world, she can live there. Nothing to me. 
  • Give It To Me For Free shows Smith claiming that free music sells music. While I agree with that assertion, it's hard to take it seriously amid her repeated urgings that we get all our music from Hype Machine.
  • Are We Breaking Up? Smith has music she likes to listen to when boys dump her or she dumps boys. She'd give up on boys but she still wants someone to pay half her bills. (No, really.) This chapter caused my partner to say "If this is how women discuss music it's amazing Joan Jett can stand to be a lesbian."
  • The Next Madonna holds Madonna up as awesome. For all her flashing of her indie music creds and bragging on the width of her musical knowledge, Smith spends all her time in the top of the pops. Is Britney the next Madonna? Is Gaga? Why is Madonna herself? Let's talk about these three white girls a lot. I suppose the many women who worked in music during Madonna's career can never matter as much as Madonna. Let's just move on.
  • Music Blogs Are Just Dadaist Conversation. Smith feels people are inadequate when they write about music. (The jokes write themselves here.) You should find some blogs and download lots of free music to see what you like. Maybe even set up an RSS feed to amass more music than you can practically listen to. (Waiting for the bit about buying music to show back up, but it doesn't.) All free and semi legal, she says. While I am not against music blogs (I use plenty) it's a bit both sides of the mouth, her position on paying for your tunes. Don't archive records or CDs, amass free tracks - and then what? Buy legal copies of the mp3s? 
  • Our Song, Your Song, My Song is a way to talk MORE about dating. Having established in the intro that a problem with women breaking into music is their quality being viewed through the lens of male attraction, we now view our music as it relates to attraction. (That's deep, huh?) How do you know if it's your song? What if it was already their song? Let's talk even more about the authors love life, because this book isn't really about music and how to love it, explore it, understand it - this book is about the author and boys. 
  • The Death of the Record Collection - Oh yes she does.
  • Adventures in Second Live shows Smith doesn't just use RSS feeds, MTV freebies and the like - she also enjoys hard to find sections of online gaming. Because it's hard to find, it's awesome. 
  • Rock'N'Roll Consorts. At first I thought Smith had tired of talking about her own sex life and was moving on the sex life of others, but really she wanted to talk more about hers. First we talk about how ick groupies are (never mind she is mostly judging a woman from the 1960's who experiences a culture and state of mind that Smith shows no real interest in exploring) and how kinda ick wives are and how no one should ever get involved with men (or girls?) in rock because they all suck and will do you wrong like this rock guy did her. 
  • Beatles VS. Stones is based on someone having told her that girls who like the Stones will bang you. It's like the black guy in the bar telling you he only dates white women because they (insert offensive assumption here) but Smith runs with it, explores it, talks at length about how the Stones and Beatles being at odds were just marketing ploys (you don't say) and the Stones are icky because they are too old to perform those songs and should just retire and stop trying to make money. Ageism on parade, but I think the Stones fans won't be bothered.
  • Down The Music K-Hole! This is it! We're going to discover how to expand our musical preferences! How to move from one genre to another! How to discover new sounds! What types of things might.... oh wait, we're just going to say "go to a web site and hit some buttons and listen to some stuff and mostly just listen to Prince cause I think he's awesome." Except we're going to do it with Choose Your Own Adventure stylings (or automated customer service phone menus).
  • Acknowledgements - This book was a dream and so many people helped her make it. This I totally believe. 
I am sure Smith is a lovely women. If I had approached this as "My Years At MTV" or "The Guys I Dated And The Music We Listened To" I am certain my reading experience would have been different. Perhaps not totally different, but different all the same. Instead, I was expecting a conversation about music, how to love it, how to evaluate it, what to do to expand yourself, how to build your tastes, and I got an awful lot about how Smith can't find a nice boy to open a joint account with. I can't say either of us are better for the experience and I regret my negativity. If it's any consolation, this is the measured and mild version of my disappointment.

10 August, 2011

Review: The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh

I don't even know what to do here. Be careful what you wish for?

The story of Lady Angeline Dudley has been one Balogh fans were eager for. Unfortunately, it fails to engage. This is the first Mary Balogh title I haven't read cover to cover in a single sitting. This is a stay-up-to-five-am author for me and yet I failed to finish The Secret Mistress. After two attempts I am setting it aside on page 130. Mary Balogh's books are often deeply rewarding for a patient reader, with unexpected twists coming from the smallest of moments. Unfortunately, I never emotionally engaged with bright fragile butterfly Angeline or her stiffly proper flame, Edward. I am sure those small moments were coming, but I felt I was slogging instead of running toward them.

When we meet Angeline she's an absolute teenager. Impulsive, giddy and wild, she is finally going to meet her adored brothers after years at school. I have no idea (nor will the reader) why Angeline so adores her brothers unless it is the love of the abandoned child for the deadbeat parent. Her brothers haven't bothered with her in years, sending her back to school after she is orphaned and taking their holidays elsewhere. Angeline worships them, yet knows she wants to marry someone completely unlike them. Meeting both Edward and one of her brother's friends in the public room of an inn, she decides on the spot that only Edward will do. Love at first sight. First eligible man she's ever seen. It's almost painful, watching this neglected girl throw herself at a dream of a man. She, who is not valued, is going to woo this man. I want to stop her, not cheer for her.

Edward is all about not being his brother and doing right by the family and blah blah blah. He whines about wanting to marry his girlfriend, but also checks out Angeline from the corner of his eye. This isn't a case of her incandescent joy illuminating hidden corners of his life - this is him viewing her with some distaste. You don't want him to have her, he doesn't deserve to have someone like her handed to him. While the conversation is as delightful as any Balogh has written, there is a fundamental flaw in the couple the reader cannot overcome. Even knowing (based on later books) that Edward will value Angeline, will see her worth, you can't support events as they unfold. Making matters even more complex, Angeline is perfectly happy flirting with her brother's friend after he realizes his public room antics were inappropriate. Angeline doesn't care that he would still treat her that way if not for the discovery of her social status, she sees these predatory men as harmless and entertaining. She is so painfully young.

It's possible, probably even likely, that Balogh resolves most (or all) of these issues by the close of The Secret Mistress but I couldn't spend any more time watching Angeline beg people to want her. I couldn't tolerate Edward's displeasure at having to assume the responsibility he appears to have wanted, or his treatment of both the women in his life. I think I would have adored The Secret Mistress if Angeline had stood up at her second meeting of Edward and brushed him off like the mistake he appears to be at that point. Instead her girlish infatuation becomes determination, and my concern for her surpassed my enjoyment.

03 August, 2011

Review: Silk Is For Seduction by Loretta Chase

Pity Loretta Chase.

At a certain point every successful author hits the invisible wall where no book can ever measure up to the book the reader thinks the author should have written. Either it's too this or it's not enough that. If you've really made it, they will claim that you phoned it in while sipping Mai Tai's on The Cartland or hired someone to write for you while you ate bonbons with Other Famous Writers and giggled about the ease with which one can dupe the book buying public.

So she can't win.

Loretta Chase could be forgiven for giving up or phoning it in considering nothing she writes is ever again going to surprise us with it's brilliance. With Silk Is For Seduction she's done neither. Chase has started a new series with an absolute joy of a heroine. Single mother, successful business woman, frantic older sister keeping too many balls in the air - Noirot is wonderful. I loved her clear eyed cynicism, her unapologetic ambition, her realistic parental fatigue and her willingness to say "Screw it" occasionally and embrace life. When we meet her, she's chasing a Duke. (Because there is always a Duke, isn't there?) Choosing the incredibly underused time between George IV and Victoria (Is this the first King William IV romance? I think it might be. I can't recall another.) Chase sets Noirot after the Duke intent on capturing his future wife's patronage. Not him.

The Duke isn't really there for me. When I think about him he's kind of great, but on the page he was The Guy Noirot Is Talking To. But hey, he's a Duke and apparently the only one around. He's into her being a working woman, he never degrades her for it. Over the course of the book he grows up a fair amount, he's good with kids, he knows how to apologize and to grovel if he needs to, but he's still The Duke to me. I was bracing myself for the moment where he asks her to give up her independence for love, but it never comes. He actually respects her. (I know!) So that's a win.

What keeps me from being over the moon about Silk for Seduction is a bit of a drag in the middle and a slice of the Master Race. When you start the book you know Noirot has the proper degree of inbreeding for  acceptance among the nobility, if not the proper amount of cash. The Duke has an annual income I calculated to be about 83 million bucks a year. (I dunno, you do that math, it's complicated due to fluctuations in buying power and stuff like that, but he has an income of 100K in 1830-whatever.) You'd think, with 83 million bucks a year, that he could just buy some friends if they don't like her. I guess not, because there are several mentions of Noirot having the right ancestry. It's not that she looks great (she does) speaks well (you know it) or has flawless manners (give that a check mark) she's one of the servants betters. His staff is all, oh, we can totally tell. She is the Princess to our Peas. That one, she's Nobility By Birth and all.

Look, I am not unfamiliar with the inbred classes. They are as varied as the rest of us. Take away their cell phones, dump them on Survivor, and you'd have a hard time basing personal worth on their DNA. I do not deny the class system or the realities of Ducal Mating, but c'mon. Even the wage slaves have to claim roses fall from her lips when she speaks? She can't just be a hard working single mom without the genetic stock showing through? It sort of does Noirot a disservice. She can't simply be a kick ass woman, she has to be a woman who is kick ass through the power of Eugenics. I'd rather she had one of those pyramids made out of drinking straws people hung over waterbeds in the 1970's. The science is roughly equivalent. (I had a fun fact for you as a reward for making it through that rant, but I think we'll just stop with Pyramid Power. That's fun enough.)

02 August, 2011

Review: DRM vs Piracy

They say it's collapsing by meoskop
They say it's collapsing, a photo by meoskop on Flickr.

In many ways publishing has refused to learn the lessons of the recording industry. DRM is being used to combat piracy, while we all know DRM does nothing to combat piracy and even encourages it. Which is why we're talking about music today. I love music more than books. If I had to choose between losing the publishing industry or the music industry, publishing would have to go. I seek out b-sides, live tracks, Edison cylinders, field recordings, talent shows. I love music. Books I just like. I used to read a few books a day, now I read at least one. Music I might not listen to for weeks, then gorge on for days. It doesn't make logical sense, but there it is. I tell you all of this so you will understand that when I say I have over 30,000 legally purchased tracks I am not kidding. I'm going to Lollapalooza this weekend, so I will probably come back with a dozen or so additional albums. I buy music. I buy books. I pay for things all the time. 

When mp3s went legal they decided to combat piracy by putting DRM on everything. I have a few hundred DRM laden tracks in my iTunes that I never bothered to strip. This week I set up Amazon Cloud and Spotify to do a comparison of the services. Both offer unlimited music storage, one offers new music discovery, one offers a much lower fee. I can't upload those DRM laden tracks to Amazon or Spotify. I'm going all caps here to make a point. IF I HAD STOLEN MY MUSIC I WOULD BE ABLE TO UPLOAD IT.  Although the interface to upload is criminally slow, Amazon will let me listen to anything via their cloud player that I can listen to on my iThings, unless it has DRM. If I stole the music, I could load it. Because I legally paid for it, I cannot. Spotify goes one better - it loads the tracks then highlights them to tell you that you can't play them.

One more time, for the cheap seats. With DRM, paying for a product is actively discouraged. Right now, Publishing is relearning that lesson. I can buy a book to use only on Adobe, to use only on Kindle, to use only for myself for as long as I can remember my passwords and get my computer permissions to agree, but I cannot pay more for an ebook than a paperback and expect to be able to freely use that book in the future unless I remove the DRM. Or, I could just steal everything. Maybe it's not Music and Publishing that are failing to learn these lessons, maybe it's me. Perhaps I shouldn't be buying things. I can't help it, I raised myself not to steal. So instead of enjoying this afternoon and finding new things to buy I will be removing DRM from my music tracks so I can enjoy my purchased music the same way the criminals do. No resentment going to be built there, no sir.

Anyway, back to Amazon Cloud vs Spotify. Spotify is a thousand times faster but wants a minimum of $10 a month to be mobile, which makes sense as they also offer what is in effect a portable listening station. Frustratingly, tracks I would like to purchase frequently come up as "the artist has chosen to make this track unavailable in your country" so it cannot be previewed or purchased, unless it is stolen and uploaded. Amazon is basically free, giving me unlimited storage for music and 20GB of space for a buck. we will see what they want to charge next year. The downside of Amazon is that they don't offer full previews of other albums or the sort of radio on demand thing Spotify has got going on. I'll need to use both for awhile and see what I prefer. iCloud has priced itself ridiculously out of my market. It would  cost hundreds of dollars a year just to store what I already own. There's no reason for me to even explore iCloud as a music option. (Update note, iCloud will offer a plan that allows unlimited music storage for free. We will see what happens.)

Whatever my iLibrary looks like in a few years time I don't want it to be full of books I paid 30 - 40% more for only to find myself unable to read. When DRM started I was anti piracy all the time. I had no understanding or compassion. Having lived through DRM in music and DRM in books I find myself having less patience with both industries. I share their goals of capturing revenue for artists and those who package art, but I cannot support their delusions.

01 August, 2011

Review: The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood

Garwood's back.

(I don't know if you're going to be sorry or not. That's on you.)

I don't mean back like, "Julie Garwood has a new novel out." I mean back like "Oh wait, I really like Julie Garwood." Sometimes a favorite author hits a patch of books so not to my taste that I open them with a little sigh of resignation. It's like a friendship you can't quite end because the good times were so good and the bad times aren't that bad but the lunch date isn't something you're excited about. This isn't that book. This is the book that reminds you how much fun you can have together.

The Ideal Man is refreshing for what it isn't - there's no attempt here to reach outside of what Garwood does to reach a new audience. Julie Garwood is best at family relationships, character quirks, and books so ready to be Hallmark Hall of Fame films that they should come with a greeting card. Her books are a bowl of soup and a blankie on a miserable day. I read The Ideal Man after an intense surgery and it absolutely soothed me.

Possibly coincidence, possibly because the heroine of Sizzle was an absolute idiot, The Ideal Man features trauma surgeon Elle Sullivan as a child prodigy once driven from her home by an obsessed classmate. (You might scoff, but I jumped off the prodigy track and those kids are twisted.) Awesomely, that obsessed classmate has almost nothing at all to do with why Elle ends up needing protection from FBI Agent Max Daniels. Elle has a wonderfully self centered sister driven to say things like "Why can't you stop ruining my parties with people trying to kill you?" Every sibling of a romantic suspense heroine should be as free to express her emotions!

Max is actually protecting Elle because she witnessed a shooting and saved a life without even getting blood in her hair. Elle rings true both as an exhausted trauma surgeon and a distanced family member. Her parents work as frustrated working folks thrust outside their comfort zone by life's events. Her siblings are a bit trickier - but hey - I'd have problems if my parties kept bombing too. Max works both as an agent slightly outside his comfort zone and a man for whom family is foremost. Together they tell a smoothly entertaining tale for a late night read or a sunny snooze.