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Archive for September, 2011

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Books are my first love, and I just read Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin and the book put me in an oddly reminiscent mood. One of the things that I’ve reminisced about was how my one true love introduced me to my other true love.

Let us travel back to the 1980s. I moved in with my first lover in 1986 and she had some sort of strange off brand computer, purchased by mail order I think, that she never used and I only tinkered around with a little bit. It had no internal memory and programs were run from cassette tapes. I got as far as creating a short Mad Libs type program using Basic, and that was pretty much it.

Fast forward a couple years to when I was living on my own again and my purchase of a TRS-80 at a yard sale, which had two 5″ floppy disk drives. I think I had some hazy idea of writing the Great American Novel using it as a word processor, but I never really did anything with it either.

My job at the time heavily relied on a computer for tracking warehouse inventory. It was a HP3000 mainframe system with only terminals, consisting of a black and green monitor and a keyboard, on our desks. By the time I lost my job in 1992 there were all of two desktop computers in the entire company.

So while I had been around computers, I didn’t really know computers.

About that time I was reading the Lauren Laurano mystery series by Sandra Scoppettone. Lauren is a lesbian PI and in the first novel, published in 1991, part of her investigation requires learning about the mysterious world of BBSes.

Remember those? You dialed in on your computer using a modem and a terminal software program to access message boards, live chat, and files. Each BBS was self-contained, usually run on a lone computer in some guy’s house. The World Wide Web was only in its initial development phase and only extreme computer geeks had even heard of it.

Reading that first book, Everything You Have is Mine, I became utterly fascinated with the concept of BBSes, just as Lauren did in the story. It was something I wanted to discover and explore for myself, but of course I had no computer and no personal access to one.

In the spring of 1992 I had to start that most miserable of occupations, Job Hunting. I was already aware that technology in the workplace was rapidly changing. When I had started at my previous job in January 1987 the company had only recently installed a fax machine, to replace their teletype, and only a few customers had one. By the time I left in 1992 everyone had fax machines and that was the predominant method for placing orders.

Also during that time automated phone systems with voice mail went from no one we dealt with having them to everyone having them. Remember those early days of automated phone systems and how furious they could make you? I often wanted to stand on my desk while screaming into my phone at the top of my lungs, “Just let me talk to a real person!!”

Kinda like the new generation of automated phone systems that require you to speak a phrase saying what you want to do, instead of offering you a menu and numbers to select to get to the right department. I can’t be the only one who turns apoplectic because the damn system can’t understand what I want. If they don’t list your options how the hell are you supposed to know which magic words will work?! Every time I start to have fits when faced with one of these recalcitrant atrocities I cling to the idea that, like voice mail, they will eventually improve to a useable level.

Ah, please excuse the tangential rant. Where were we? Oh yeah, changing workplace tech in 1992. I decided that with desktop computers coming into vogue in offices that I needed to learn how to operate the darn things in order to help me land a job. So I signed up for a beginning computer class at the community college where I was introduced to DOS versions of spreadsheets, word proccessors, and databases.

The ease of using a word processor to create documents enthralled me. At the time I was manually typing up my cover letters on my typewriter to send out with my resume. This was a major, time consuming daily project because I was a terrible typist. But with a computer I could create a few template cover letters for various types of positions and just insert the needed specifics and print it out!

I lost access to the college computer lab once the class ended. My job hunt, and the need for our own computer as an essential tool in the process, was the excuse I required to sell my then partner on the idea of coughing up the big bucks to make the investment. And true, that was a legitimate and compelling reason. But lurking in the back of my brain was the reason that was not very legitimate, but just as compelling. I wanted a modem. Lauren Laurano and BBSes were still haunting my daydreams.

In late 1992 my then partner and I became the proud owners of a 386 Windows 3.1 computer. It had a 20 MB hard drive, 4 MB of memory, and a 2400 baud modem. Once it was all set up, programs loaded, and well on its way serving as my job hunting assistant, I was finally able to get to the important part. Looking for a suitable BBS.

I don’t recall how many were available in the greater Seattle area at that time, but it was probably nearing a hundred, if not more. How to choose? That’s where my first love, books, comes into the picture again. I had been reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, about the colorful gang living at 28 Barbary Lane. There on the list of local BBSes was one called 28 Barbary Lane. It was fate. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In the many years since then, books, computers, and I have developed a loving, functioning, polyamorous relationship. My then partner is long out of our lives, but we’re still going strong. It hasn’t been totally smooth sailing, of course. All relationships have their rough spots.

Like that horrible fight we had while installing a new modem that involved obscenities, the inappropriate use of force, and a viciously hurled screwdriver. And for the past couple of years the books on my shelves have been seething with jealousy over a new addition to our little family, a hybrid of books and computer, the Kindle. But we’re working it out.

I will always be terribly thankful to my first true love, books, for introducing me to my second true love, a computer with a modem. Though I still haven’t written the Great American Novel.

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[At the Amazon Kindle Community forum there is a monthly thread where participants list and comment on which books they’re reading at the moment on their Kindles. These aren’t full reviews, just relatively brief impressions. I’m copying over some of my comments made there into Book Bits posts here.]

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Originally posted on 8/8:

I’ve been dreading posting this cause I’m gonna have to duck rotten tomatoes hurled by Koontz fans. I was reading Watchers ($9.99 right now, I got it on sale for $1.90 quite a while back) but finally ditched it at about 42%.

I had been really looking forward to it and it did grab me at first. It’s the first Koontz novel I’ve tried and I know he has a big following. But there were so many little things that were bugging me and they finally added up to be too much. There were a lot of little inconsistencies, such as a weapon being a shotgun when first mentioned, then a rifle a few paragraphs later. Or a conversation taking place near a cabin and then, without moving, at the edge of the clearing next to trees.

Then there were the clunky, awkward descriptions/metaphors/similes. Such as eyes being “the precise blue of a summer sky.” Maybe it’s the “precise” that really made that stand out, but summer sky around here comes in several shades of blue, all of which would stand out as unusual/bizarre as the color of eyes. Or then there was the silence, the silence of a vacuum. Brought me to a screeching halt as I remembered oh yeah, sound doesn’t travel without air. If it had been a novel set in space I might not have batted an eye, but here it just totally threw me off.

When I got to the part with two police officers discovering a badly mauled body and thinking the murderer was hopped up on PCP and inside the building, but they went after him anyway (with predictable results) without calling for back up, I just finally decided I wasn’t enjoying the book enough.

I will say that I loved the character of Einstein! He was the only character I was really interested in.

I’ve now started Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart, which is the first book in the Jane Lawless mystery series. ($5.99) I read the book when it was originally published in 1989 and hadn’t read it again since then, though I’ve mostly kept up with the series, which is still being added to.

It’s really interesting to go back to the beginning after all this time and see the growth of the author. The writing in Hallowed Murder has some rough edges here and there and info is presented in a clunky manner at times. But it’s still an interesting story and I’m very much enjoying my re-read. One thing Hart nailed right out of the gate is the character of Cordelia Thorn (Jane’s longtime friend and sidekick). I’ve already laughed out loud several times.

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Originally posted on 8/16:

I finished reading God Save the Mark by Donald E. Westlake earlier today. (I got it for free, it’s $3.69 right now.) It was originally published in 1967 and I think it holds up well. The narrator of the story is basically the most gullible man alive and spends his daily life as the victim of grifters and their cons. Then he inherits a bunch of money.

The book was often amusing, though not laugh out loud funny. I did think it could have been edited down to a shorter length and it would have been better for it. There were a few times I thought it was starting to drag and I was ready to move on. But over all it was a fun and entertaining read.

Here’s one of my highlights from the book:

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God Save the Mark (Donald E. Westlake)
– Highlight Loc. 3049-50

Gertie said, “Start walking again. Casual, like we don’t know nothing’s going on.” We started walking again, stiffly, as though we knew exactly what was going on.

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I’ve now started reading Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead. (On sale right now for $2.99.) I’ve enjoyed her Dark Swan books so figured I’d give this series a try, especially since the first one was on sale.

I got absorbed into the book pretty quickly and there’s some decent humor. So far so good.

Here’s a highlight from this one. It’s nice to know that even a succubus has her priorities right when it comes to books:

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Succubus Blues (1) (Richelle Mead)
– Highlight Loc. 436-37

Sleep with Seth Mortensen? Good grief. It was the most preposterous thing I’d ever heard. It was appalling. If I absorbed his life force, there was no telling how long it’d be until his next book came out.
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Originally posted on 8/17:

I finished Succubus Blues. It wasn’t flawless, but it was a very enjoyable read. I really liked the main character, I guess at least partly because I’m sort of a sucker for a somewhat tragic figure trapped by past decisions. She’s a succubus who is jaded from living for many centuries and not really into being good at her craft anymore.

Since the second book in the series, Succubus on Top, is reasonably priced at $5.58 it made it super easy (much too easy?) to click on it instead of looking for a book already on my Kindle to read next.

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Originally posted on 8/25:

I finished High Five in the More Plums in One ebook bundle by Janet Evanovich. ($12.99 for three books, so a decent deal.) I liked it better than the fourth book, I thought it was better paced. I’ve just started the sixth book (third in the three book bundle).

I think Evanovich is a good writer and very clever with how she words things. I love the sarcastic and irreverent humor. But one thing that’s really starting to irritate me is Stephanie Plum’s apparent inability to learn from her mistakes. The whole bumbling newbie thing was fun and funny for the first three books. But after six books she should have adjusted so she’s not repeating past mistakes, and instead making new ones. But nope, she’s still rooting around in her handbag for her mace buried under her other purse crud in an emergency, and carrying an unloaded gun (which she isn’t even trained to shoot with).

I’ve read that others have the same issue with the series, so I’m obviously not alone in this, just experiencing it for myself now.

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Originally posted on 8/29:

I read From Words to Brain which I got for 99 cents. Someone else in this thread mentioned it recently and I thought it sounded interesting so bought it. It was definitely worth the dollar. It’s $2.99 now, which to me is overpriced for what is essentially a long article with less than 400 locations.

It was an overview, so didn’t go into a lot of depth, but I did find it extremely fascinating. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in how our brains work, especially in relation to reading. It’s not technical, anyone would find it highly readable. Though it might be a good idea to wait and see if it goes on sale again.

Then I read Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane, still on sale for 99 cents right now. It’s the first book in the Downside Ghosts series. This is another book that someone in this thread mentioned a few months ago and I had looked at it at that time and decided to pass on it. When I saw it was on sale for 99 cents I figured I’d definitely like to give it a try for that price and am glad I did.

It’s classified as urban fantasy, but it’s not as easy to pin down as that. The setting is near future dystopian, with fantasy, paranormal, and horror elements. It’s very different from anything I’ve read before and I ended up really liking it a lot. I read it almost as soon as I bought it because books 2 & 3 are also on sale for $4.99 and I wanted to get them while they’re available for that price if I decided I wanted to continue with the series. I do and bought them both earlier tonight. So my next book I’ll be starting is Unholy Magic.

The reason I’d decided to pass on the first book when I originally considered it is because several people, even those who liked the book, mentioned that the main character is a drug addict and she abuses them willy nilly throughout the book. This is true. Though it didn’t end up bothering me as much as I thought it might because the story itself was so compelling and her drug addiction is part of the key to her past and who she is.

Quite a few other reviewers commented that they couldn’t relate to or didn’t like the main character. I can see why that is. She’s someone with a tough shell, and definitely more of an antihero. Despite all that, I thought this was one of the best urban fantasy series I’ve started reading in a long time (except for an enormous plot blunder concerning tunnels hooking up that I had to willfully overlook). This series is unique, dark, and gritty.

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 [At the Amazon Kindle Community forum there is a monthly thread where participants list and comment on which books they’re reading at the moment on their Kindles. These aren’t full reviews, just relatively brief impressions. I’m copying over some of my comments made there into Book Bits posts here.]

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Originally posted on 7/8:

I finished reading Kindred by Octavia Butler ($4.95). It was very good.

It’s the story of Dana, a black woman, who is inexplicably drawn back in time to 1815 in order to save the life of a white man she soon realizes is one of her ancestors. She’s drawn back several times because of their link, some of the periods of time lasting several months. The location is Maryland, a slave state, so she has to deal with everything that entails.

I didn’t have a very distinct picture of who Dana was as an individual, her personality isn’t really very fleshed out, especially in the first part of the book. In this case that doesn’t really matter, it’s the story, her experiences, and how she has to adapt that are of central importance. One of the main themes of the book is the ease with which a powerless person can become a slave, both literally and figuratively. It really was a fascinating story and I enjoyed it.

In sort of keeping on a theme of racial relations I decided to start A Passage to India by EM Forster ($4.93). Unfortunately I’m struggling with this one. The first chapter was all description which bored me to tears. The second chapter introduced characters, but nothing is grabbing me. I think I may have to ditch this one. It’s feeling more like a book I “should read” as opposed to one I want to read.

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Originally posted on 7/9:

Well I threw over A Passage to India by EM Forster. I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up to read again. I’m leaving it on my Kindle to see if I can give it a go at another time in the future. It’s not all the book’s fault though, I’ve been antsy.

You see, last Tuesday Heartless by Gail Carriger ($7.99) downloaded to my Kindle because I’d bought it a while back as a pre-order. It’s book number four in the Parasol Protectorate series. Which is kind of a mashup between Steampunk and Paranormal Urban Fantasy.

The problem was that I hadn’t yet read book three, Blameless. I’d somehow missed it when it was released. I was trying to patiently wait for my next payday before I bought it, so was killing time reading books I already owned like a good girl. Well, you know how that goes when you’ve got a Kindle. If the itch gets too bad all self-control flies right out the window and there you are with the “forbidden” book on your Home menu!

So I guiltily, but happily, started reading Blameless, only to realize I’d forgotten way too much of how book 2 ended for book 3 to be truly enjoyable. I was too lost. So the only solution of course was to start re-reading book 2, Changeless! Which means I should have just held off buying book 3 after all. Oh well. At least I’m enjoying my reading now?

For anyone interested in the series Soulless is the first book. The books are truly delightful, especially if you love humor associated with Victorian language and etiquette, with a few werewolves and vampires thrown into the mix for fun. And for queer readers there’s the added benefit of a foppish gay vampire (starting in the first book) and a cross-dressing lesbian inventor (starting in the second book) as secondary characters. The first three books can be purchased in an ebook bundle for only $9.99, which is a great bargain.

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Originally posted on 7/19:

I’m finally up to date on the Parasol Protectorate series having finished book four, Heartless.

This series can be difficult to describe. I think I’d put it like this: Jane Austen writes a mashup of Steampunk and Paranormal Urban Fantasy. A lot of the humor in the books comes from Victorian manners and sensibilities being satirized. The books really are very clever, though I found it was a bit much to read three in a row like that.

The third book doesn’t have as strong of a start as the others and both books three and especially four get a bit repetitive. But they’re still rollicking good fun. I think my favorite so far is still book two, but not because the following books are duds or anything.

Carriger adds her own unique twist to werewolves and vampires which is quite a bit different in many ways than anything I’ve read before, which also helps make these books fresh. Plus she makes the addition of “preturnaturals” which are rare individuals who are born without any soul. When I read the first book I kept waiting for something to come along to make the characters realize that there’s no such thing as a person without a soul, but it turns out no, that’s exactly how it works her alternate world. The amount of soul a person has directly relates to a lot of different things in the word.

Earlier tonight I finished reading Dare Truth or Promise by Paula Boock, which is on sale right now for only $2.99. It’s a YA novel, so it was a quick read. I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially because it was by a New Zealand author. It’s the story of two high school age girls who fall in love with each other and everything that entails in terms of discovering who they are, how they have to deal with their families, etc.

Unfortunately the Kindle edition has quite a few OCR errors remaining that should be cleaned up by the publisher. Things like the letter F often displaying as H, the name Louie sometimes displaying as “Lome”, etc. It wasn’t bad enough to ruin reading, but it was enough to get irksome at times.

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Originally posted on 7/26:

I just finished Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. ($4.93) I urge anyone who has any interest in apocalyptic fiction to get a copy of this classic if you haven’t already read it.

The book was originally published in 1951, yet the story holds up quite well. I can really see the influence on later books such as The Passage by Justin Cronin and Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling. The story turned out being very different than what I was expecting, but that didn’t end up being a bad thing. I thought it was going to be a story about the day plants invaded from outer space and took over the world. But the plants were actually already spread all over the planet by the time the incident takes place and served as an extreme complication, rather than the cause of the apocalypse. It was an excellent read.

The ebook is obviously created from an OCR scan, but the only truly annoying artifact is quite a few missing periods. It wasn’t bad enough to ruin reading though.

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Originally posted on 7/30:

I read Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. It’s $7.99 right now, but I was lucky enough to get it on sale for only $1.99 last year. It’s the first book in the Amelia Peabody series.

It was a wonderfully entertaining read, especially since I’ve always been fascinated by Egypt. People have mentioned in this thread that Amelia Peabody isn’t a particularly likable character and I agree with that to a certain extent. Yet somehow that doesn’t detract from the book at all, she’s a fun character to read about all the same.

The mystery wasn’t too difficult to figure out. I knew who the culprit was through most of the book. Though there was an additional twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. Knowing who it was didn’t ruin much.

What was really interesting to me was reading this so soon after I read some of the Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger. Her character, Alexia Tarabotti, is obviously a direct literary descendant of Amelia Peabody. They have a lot of things in common, including a penchant for using parasols aggressively.

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