Stop Clicking, Get Reading

seattle-public-library-3rd-floor-2393
This is only the third floor, before you get to the book spiral, six winding floors jam-packed with books. Wikimedia Commons.

The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library. ~ Albert Einstein

I’m going to have to stay away from one of my favorite places in the world. I never thought I’d say this, but right now I have too…many…books…to read. And we’re heading into finals at school, which I should be working on, so naturally I’m blogging instead.

I love being in the Seattle Public Library, and I’m almost that fond of browsing the virtual stacks. Ooh, this looks good, and my friend liked this one, and this sounds interesting, “place hold,” clickety-clickety-click. Now it seems like everything I reserved has come available at the same time, and how do I say no to a book? I can’t. I even went to the drugstore next door and bought something I didn’t need just to get a shopping bag to lug all the books home in.

And then there’s the TBR pile of books owned, not borrowed. Some time ago I picked up Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and I’d like to actually read it. My cousin just sent me a copy of A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer, a new author for me.  I also treated myself to a replacement copy of Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, my all-time favorite comfort book that I stupidly left in storage in Nevada,  not knowing how much I would miss that torn and frayed bunch of paper that’s been read forty-eleven times.

And then there are all the e-books I’ve checked out. Oh, and final papers and stuff.

Don’t suggest just releasing the hold so I can come back to it later. I have this certain selfishness with books. I have to have all of the books. If I give it back, even only for now, I might not get it back again. Unthinkable.

I don’t even trust myself to go to the library just to study, because I always end up on the top floor in the reading room, curled up with a cup of hot chocolate (because all the best libraries have a Chocolati Cafe) and a book, of course, with the light falling on me and on everything around me like it does nowhere else, because nowhere else has this precise latitude and longitude, creating just the right angle for light to pour into these windows, which also exist nowhere else.

I’ve always liked old books, old places, old buildings, so I don’t know why this ultra-modern bit of deconstructivism appeals to me so much. Perhaps there is a smidge of sophistication in me after all. Here’s my library for you to enjoy too:

2009-0604-19-seattlecentrallibrary
Bobak Ha’Eri, used underCreative Commons License.

 

Order of Seven by Beth Teliho (Book Review)

Order of SevenOrder of Seven by Beth Teliho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bonus for real magic!

I finished this book several days ago. I had a lot of other things on my plate, full-time work and full-time school and the Tominator and Dream Girl who require care and feeding, and it had been an enjoyable read, so I gave it three stars for being a good companion for a day or two, and moved on to other things.

It stuck with me a little, though. This is not a high-action, high-tension book, but it still pulled me in and kept me turning the pages. At one point I found myself thinking, wow, this is a little young, until I remembered that it’s a YA book and it’s supposed to be “young.” Nice little budding romance, and I must say, the descriptions of Baron had me feeling like a dirty old woman at times. I enjoyed that.

Mostly, I would like to thank Ms. Teliho for writing a YA book without all the supernatural crap that plagues bookshelves these days. Nary a vampire or a werewolf or a zombie in sight. What we have instead is the supranatural, genuine metaphysics, including energy channeling and shaping, a bit of Reiki, auras, visions, prophecy, ancient civilizations, cool gods, and a wee bit of saving the planet, all with a positive bent and no gore. I don’t mind gore where gore belongs, but this was refreshing.

So, for real magic and one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while, I’m revising upward to four stars.

Split Infinity (Six Sentence Stories, Installment 6)

As she watches the blonde clop away on her ridiculously high heels, the woman seems to shimmer in the air, something else just barely visible…a man? Then it’s gone, he’s gone, and so is the woman, the inner office door snicking shut behind her.

She’s looking, bewildered, at the foreign desk top when the shimmering starts again – just behind the phone and the pen-and-paper-clip caddy, other things look like they’re fighting to become solid. Her university mug full of pencils and Sharpies, her photo of herself and her husband at Cabo San Lucas, her son’s graduation picture, the back of the nameplate she’s had for years, the one with the correct name on it, her name, not this Marilee Whoever. She has the absurd idea that if she could figure it out exactly, she could cleave this odd reality right off the top, to reveal her own reality hiding just underneath.

Or maybe she’s just having a stroke.

neurons-creative-commons-uc-regents-300x248
UC Regents, Creative Commons

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment. The cue was “cleave.”

Click here for Installment 5.

Click here for Installment 7.

Click here for great Six Sentence Stories by other writers.

Math on Trial by Leila Schneps (Book Review)

Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom by Leila Schneps

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a love-hate relationship with statistics and probability that is subject to adjustment pending how well I do on my final exam. 🙂 Still, the concepts and applications are intriguing and the law and math combine for a read that is hard to put down. This book is the horrifying recount of people wrongly convicted by bad math, as well as an interesting lesson in criminal history and a reasoned call for standardized applications similar to those placed on other forensic sciences.

View all my reviews

Death to Word

I hate Microsoft Word with a flaming purple passion.

I have no knowledge of programming, of code, anything like that. But, I have been using word processing since it first became generally available, in the offices of the early 80’s. The first one I used was a Lanier, a stand-alone computer that several of us shared, saving our work on floppy disks, and weren’t we just the high-tech shit, too! To manage information about donations and donors for the college I worked for, I was able to build a database (using dBase, does anyone remember that?) and integrate that with the Lanier program to create “personalized” fundraising letters for different categories of people. I wrote letters on it, and small health handouts with the text forming specific shapes, and articles for the school magazine. And I did all of that with one machine, without white-out, without carbon paper. To compare, in the job before that, I’d typed up, to be camera-ready for printing, an entire library catalog on a typewriter. (Yes, I’m old.)

That Lanier was revolutionary. It was efficient. It was wonderful.

I write and type a lot, and I’ve been writing and typing a lot for a long time, and as far as I’m concerned, the mark of quality technology is whether I can use it easily and whether it does what I want it to do with a minimum of fuss.

Microsoft Word sucks.

I’ve used a variety of programs since those first Lanier days, some Lotus and some WordStar, but mainly WordPerfect. (No Wang, and I’m disappointed about that, because “Wang” is just fun to say.) And here’s the thing. Before the most recent one (a horror story I won’t go into here), the attorneys I’d worked for hated Word as much as I did. It’s buggy, it’s cumbersome, it just decides to do things its own way no matter how much you tell it to do what you want. It’s not intuitive at all. With WordPerfect and those others, if I wanted to, say, set off a section of text with single-spacing and double indent, I could click a couple of things and figure it out, without utterly destroying the surrounding paragraphs like some ebola pandemic for formatted text. I sat down to use these programs and I just used them, producing professional-grade documents, no big deal. With Word? Not even close. My bosses, smart and learned men all, saw this as well, and stuck with WordPerfect. They might still be using it, but I’m not sure Windows even supports it anymore. I’m pretty sure that’s intentional.

As I poke around the job-hunting area here and there, what dismays me is that everyone requires “proficiency with Word.” That damned program has somehow has become the industry standard, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Why is something so incredibly popular, when you need several days of training to even learn how to use it? Why is it so incredibly popular, when even after such training you still have to battle the bugs, the bugs that only get embedded more deeply with each new release? And most of all, why is it so incredibly popular, when you have to pay money for this?

I’ve managed to get through more than two years of college now, producing four-point-oh quality research papers, essays, and slide presentations while steadfastly refusing to use Word, for the simple reason that there’s better stuff out there. There is Google Docs, which performs all of the necessary functions of Word and requires no hard drive storage beyond a flash drive if I’m really paranoid about something. Sign up for a Google account, keep your stuff on the cloud, and access it from anywhere. I’ve worked on research papers using my phone while waiting at the Metro station. If the cloud makes you nervous, there is Libre Office, which is a free download worthy of any donation you may wish to make, and does a grand job. Both are much more intuitive than Word; I don’t need three goddamn “ribbons” with hieroglyphs and a doorstop For Dummies book to figure out how to do stuff. Both are bug-free as far as I can tell, both are compatible with Word so there are no translation problems when you do run into Word, which is out there like a plague. Both Google and Libre Office have other offerings similar to those of Microsoft Office  – a spreadsheet program, a slides program similar to PowerPoint, and so on. They are simple to use, they work fine, they play well together, and they’re free.

I am not alone. Google “i hate microsoft word” and scroll through the results. This blog post and this tech article explain the logic behind my hatred of Word, while this Reddit user expresses how I feel much more viscerally. And there’s lots more.

Death to Word!

Seriously.

I do not understand why we, the consuming and writing and typing world, don’t look like this:

Torch-and-pitchfork-mob

This is undoubtedly the best copyright/licensing info I have ever seen, and I quote: “Licensed under absolutely nothing. Have a fucking field day. Abuse this for your own sick pleasures.”

Into the Fray (Six Sentence Stories, Installment 5)

Marilee, where have you been? “ a woman’s voice staccatos.

“I’m not…?”

“And where is that brief I asked you for an hour ago? ” the blonde homunculus snaps.

“I–”

“Never mind, got it, so let’s see how much you’ve screwed this up,” the harridan continues, snatching a sheaf of stapled pages from the alien desk.

The fact that she seems, somehow, to have become someone named Marilee adds two more nerves to the three hundred billion that are already fraying badly.

 

Frayed Nerves PaulineMoss DeviantArt
PaulineMoss, DeviantArt, Creative Commons License

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment. The cue was “fray.”

Click here for Installment 4.

Click here for Installment 6.

Click here to read great Six Sentence Stories from other writers.

Wild Places (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Congress of Rough Writers February 10 Flash Fiction Challenge: In 99 words, no more and no less, write a story about wild spaces. Bonus points for inducing something cute and furry.

 

Urban Jungle Luke McGuff Flickr CC
Luke McGuff, Flickr/CC

The funny part is, this isn’t even her home. No city is her home. She came here from the country, the outskirts of a small town about an hour’s drive from the middle of nowhere. Scorpions, snakes, badgers, and worse. Scorching heat and drought. You needed knowledge and instinct to live well.

Although there are parallels, she muses, steering wide of a shouting drunk. The wildlife is different, the dangers are different, the space itself is different. Concrete, traffic, street people, bureaucracy. But skill and instinct are just as necessary. She’d rather face a rattlesnake than any cop here.

Author note: No bonus points.

Holiday in Death by J.D. Robb (Book Review)

Holiday in Death (In Death, #7)Holiday in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really need a book that doesn’t annoy me. Three strikes in a row, now. I’m glad this isn’t baseball.

The murder mystery itself was well done, with a fairly original killer (I know, it’s all been done) and modus operandi.

I’m starting to have problems, though.

Most specifically, the scene where Roarke handcuffs Eve in bed. No, I’m not a prude. I think handcuffs are fun but they are not for everyone, and I find this scene completely out of character for Eve. The rest of the book focuses on how hard these crimes are for her to deal with. The bound and raped victims are triggering flashbacks to her own horrific childhood and making her snarl at everyone worse than usual. (Maybe that’s starting to wear a bit thin.) I’d think she’d have come across brutality like this before in her ten years as a New York cop, but okay, I’ll go along with it, for the sake of story and character development. But Eve herself is handcuffed by surprise and that doesn’t elicit any negative reaction? Is that just because it’s Roarke doing the handcuffing, ultimate manly man Roarke who can give her an orgasm with just one touch? (Maybe that’s starting to wear a bit thin, too.) The handcuffs she is magically free of a few sentences later? And he ripped her skirt right down the front? Actual Fact Discrepancy: It takes a lot of physical force to literally rip someone’s clothes off. Continuity Discrepancy: She just came home from Cop Central, where she had “denim-covered legs” as usual. Character Discrepancy: Since when does Lt. Eve Dallas wear a skirt voluntarily?

Where the hell did that whole scene come from?

And there’s the thing with Peabody. No spoilers, but…what the actual hell?

This may be a spoiler, but I think it also needs to be a trigger warning. Sexual assault is a sensitive issue. This book was an excellent opportunity to address some things with sensitivity and compassion, but nada.

Bad copy editing is annoying me more and more. “Devises” instead of “devices,“ “sculpture” instead of “sculptor,” having someone sign a “waver.” In the last book I tripped over mourners lowering their heads “respectively” and people walking “passed” things, twice. At the risk of sounding overly picky, I did not learn how to write correctly in English or writing class; I learned to write correctly by reading. It matters. Spell check is not copy editing. A writer of Robb’s reach and stature should have proper copy editing.

This series started out fairly enjoyably, good for mindlessly killing time on long commutes, but it’s seeming more and more hackneyed. It’s probably time to find greener pastures.

View all my reviews

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn (Book Review)

Mistress of Rome (The Empress of Rome, #1)Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This wants to be an epic but it only achieves soap opera, one level up from romance. The best thing about this book was one of those characters you love to hate. Perhaps it says something about me that the plotting, grasping slut was the character I most got into.

It’s a good premise, building a fictional story around the historical fact of an astrologer’s prediction of the day and hour of Emperor Domitian’s death. Unfortunately, the characters are flat, moved around and doing things to bring about a specific end. We don’t know much about them as people. What motivated Lepida, what was the black hole inside her that made her so utterly evil? How did Thea actually feel about being betrayed over and over, bought and sold and forced to sell her body, ripped away from her lover and from her son?

The multiple POV’s are clumsily written. Sometimes Thea was first person and sometimes Lepida was, but I wasn’t hearing from either of them; I was hearing from a narrator who was pretending to be them, by turns. Then it would go to third-person omniscient-narrator POV for no apparent reason. If we’re going to do all this switching around, I would have loved to hear from other characters, such as Marcus Norbanus, Arius, Vibia Sabina (who is denoted as an actual historical figure; if this is same Vibia Sabina who became Empress to Hadrian, her parents have been fictionalized), the Empress (Domitia Longina, I assume; she is never actually named), Paulinus, who is supposedly also an actual historical figure; I can’t find him, and that may be because (as other reviewers have pointed out) his name has been butchered. So much potential there lost by just shoving them into standard slots: Cuckold. Little Girl Who Saves the Day. Ice Queen. Sap. Gladiator. Slave. Juvenile Delinquent. Joan of Arc. Mean Girl. Two dimensions only.

The sense of place was not exceptional, mainly expressed by women constantly draping their stolas, and the dining couches and Praetorian guards on almost every page.

Despite all this the story itself was decent, until the scene where Lepida’s scheming against Thea bears fruit. (That is not a spoiler; Lepida’s scheming runs through the whole book, beginning at page 3.) At that point it took a hard left turn and everything became transparently contrived and very silly.

This would normally be a one-star read for me, but I did care enough to finish it, for a second star.

If you like romance-y books with bits of history splashed around as stage setting, this will do. If you like actual Roman history and characters with depth, read Julian or I, Claudius or even I Am Livia.

View all my reviews

Displaced Indeed (Six Sentence Stories, Installment 4)

Feeling better than she was, she still clutches her to-go cup of warm tea for more comfort, enduring the elevator ride up as she always does, trying not to think about how high she is rising.

The elevator dings: Twenty-second floor.

Anxious to get to her desk now, to shake this off and return to normal, she bypasses the main entrance to the suite and the friendly, chatty receptionist, turning aside for the hallway that runs behind the restroom area. She fumbles her key out, lets herself in, and has bent down to slide her handbag into the desk drawer when she slowly straightens up again, bewildered.

This is where her desk is, where it should be at any rate, and it looks like her desk well enough – but whose things are all over it?

She draws a sharp breath when she sees the nameplate on it.

Sha Sha Chu via Flickr CC

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment, #4. The cue was “draw.”

Click here for Installment 3.

Click here for great Six Sentence Stories from other writers.

Photo: Sha Sha Chu, Flickr/CC