A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I talk a lot today...especially about books!

Hey everyone!

It's Sunday, which would be a weird day for me to do my blog posts given that I usually work on Sundays.  Except I don't work Sunday anymore.  Thanks to my awesome manager, I now have Fridays and Sundays off and work on Saturdays.  I've been trying to get off Sundays since April - when we went outbound/inbound mix at the call center and I started getting the "Why the f*** are you calling me on the Lord's Day?" comments screamed at me - and we finally got them to move me.  This means I don't get two days off in a row, but I'll trade that for an end to the tirades about calling on a day normally reserved for religious observances by a large portion of the population.

One of the awesome things about not working on Sundays is I'm finally able to take part in Twitter chats that I've wanted to get involved in but due to my job haven't been able to.  The first chat is #StoryCraft.  It's usually hosted by @AuthorKimKoning (although this week's was quite ably managed by @SheviStories and @Fireflyfly), and it's at 4 pm MST.  This week's was on world building and as that's one of my favorite topics to talk about, it of course was an amazing start to my return to the #StoryCraft chat.

The other chat I only recently found out about that I checked out today is #fantasychat.  I don't know much about it, other than there was a great deal of discussion on magic today, but I'm going back next week to check it out even more.  It looks like one of the facilitators is @marilynmuniz.  The group who chats seems friendly, and I hope for some more interesting conversations.

Today Himself found out YouTube has not only denied him access to his account but someone flagged him for copyright violation on music he composed himself.  Back when we still had the iMac, we had GarageBand and a few other programs that Himself used to create a handful of techno songs.  He put two of them up on YouTube.  He got an email today saying that one of his songs had been flagged as a copyright violation by a company called Rumblefish and that Himself would now see ads popping up on his video because Rumblefish wasn't asking to have the video taken down.  Those videos have been up since January of last year.  When Himself tried to sign into his YouTube account to do something about it, it came up that the account was closed.  When I go onto YouTube I can find his account no problem.  But on "Timeless Trial", the video Rumblefish said violated their copyright, there is indeed an ad stuck on the video.  Both of us are rather angry at YouTube for this blatant violation of Himself's copyright, and the fact that this now prevents him from utilizing his own music to create an income for himself.

I went to the Rumblefish website.  Their FAQ says he can file a dispute, and he plans on doing that.  But he's still pissed that they decided to slap an ad on his music & claim that he was using their copyrighted material when he did no such thing.  It's just more of a hassle than we want to deal with right now.

Something a little lighter.  I started reading e-books with the intent of posting reviews of them up here.  This week I thought I'd introduce you to a few more of my favorites.  First on the list is Child of the Ghosts by Jonathan Moeller.  Here's the summary as taken from the Amazon page:

When her life is torn apart by sorcery and murder, young Caina Amalas joins the mysterious Ghosts, the legendary spies and assassins of the Emperor of Nighmar. She learns the secrets of disguise and stealth, of assassination and infiltration.

But even that might not be enough to save her.

For the evil that destroyed her family seeks to devour the entire world...

I loved Caina.  She's a smart, spirited girl who starts out as a sheltered bookworm and is thrust into a world of violence and magic that utterly destroys her life.  She is rescued by the mysterious Ghosts - the Emperor's hidden assassins and spies - and becomes one of them so she can avenge her father's murder.  She grows and changes during the book, making several decisions that alter her perceptions of the world.  There are a few editing mistakes, as I've come to expect, but they didn't draw me out of the story.  This is the first book in a trilogy and is still up on Amazon for free.  The other two books in the series Ghost in the Flames and Ghost in the Blood are both $2.99.  I hope to eventually get both of these as well because I want to continue with Caina's story.

The other books I'd like to discuss were written by my friend KD (@KDSarge on Twitter...follow her, she's awesome).  Those would be the three books in her 'Dreamverse - Knight Errant, His Faithful Squire, and  Queen's Man.

First, let's talk about Knight Errant.  Here's the blurb from Amazon:

From pickpocket and con artist to little brother and trusted comrade is a tough transition, but Taro is making it. His new sister, former Marine Eve Marcori, promised his dead mother she'd "look after" him. To her that means family, home--her interstellar freighter--and a solid future. In four years she has trained Taro extensively; the next step is college. Taro would rather be shot, but he never forgets his debt to Eve, so he means to honor her plans or die in the attempt. 

When Eve rescues former joy-boy and current layabout Rafe Ballard, death seems the likely outcome. Rafe is so apparently useless that Eve calls him 'the baggage' and appoints Taro his custodian. Irritated into disobedience by his carefree charge, Taro tries to get rid of Rafe. Instead he gets them both kidnapped by the jealous husband Rafe was fleeing. Though they are off-planet before Taro can act, his training may be enough to bring them safely through--but now he has bigger problems. Forced into partnership--and freedom--with Rafe, Taro begins to see him differently. Kind, funny, and caring, Rafe is everything Taro never knew he wanted. And all he can't have. Eve's plans leave no room for a playboy boyfriend who can never measure up, and Taro can't let her down. 

Caught between the sister he'd die for and the man he's beginning to live for, Taro decides it's time to start making his own plans. And if the new skills aren't enough, he'll give the old ones a try.

Originally I got the book from KD to read and eventually review for her when she first published it back in 2010.  When I got my Kindle I actually went out and purchased the book from Amazon (it's only .99), mainly because my computer ate my copy of KE and I wanted to read it again.  Let me tell you, this woman can WRITE.

Here's my original review:

I could not...absolutely COULD NOT...walk away from my screen until I finished this. I was expecting good. I've read some of K.D.'s stuff before. But this went beyond what I'd read and elevated to pure awesomeness. This came at a good time for me, since I'd already been having a rough time and needed something to make me smile. This did just that.

Taro is a young man torn between his duty to his sister and his desire for a future of his own choosing. When the obnoxious piece of "baggage" named Rafe enters his life, it gets a whole lot harder for Taro to think straight. Especially when "straight" isn't what he wants to be. Being kidnapped, assaulted, thrown out of just about every bar he's ever been to and finding out just how badly jealousy hurts, Taro evolves into a bloody awesome young man.

Taro has to learn to stand up for himself, to get past his emotions, and to finally confront the past and present to secure his future. This was an amazingly well written story.

I don't have much else to add here, other than each time I read it I find myself rooting for Taro all over again.  Seriously, go check it out.

Next book in the set was His Faithful Squire.  Here's the synopsis off the Amazon page:

Former joy-boy Rafe Ballard will miss living on the freighter Pendragon's Dream. Under the watchful eye of Captain Eve Marcori, Marine veteran, no one beat him. He ate well, his life was rarely in danger, and—most important by far—he spent much of his days and all the glorious nights with his beloved Taro. Unfortunately, energetic Taro wants to take on the galaxy without his sister the captain standing by, and Rafe won't be left behind.

He's learned enough to get a real job so he won't be a burden. Taro is beyond capable of keeping him safe. What could go wrong?

With a Marcori in the picture, lots. By the explosive end of his first job, Taro needs back-up. Rafe is all there is.

Hedonist, layabout, and mooch he may be, but Rafe is also deeply in love. For Taro he'll surprise everyone—especially himself.

I'd post my original review here too but it wasn't all that well written.  Let me just say this: wow.  Taro and Rafe leaped off the page as realistic characters.  You get to see a side of Rafe that you didn't get to see in Knight Errant, and you get to see him evolve and change from a layabout bit of fluff to someone who will make one hell of a partner for Taro.   Rafe is actually a fairly intelligent man who has been told all of his life that his only purpose was to make others happy.  Sometimes he can go overboard with this, sacrificing his own happiness in the process.  He learns that he has a right to be happy, that he can be happy with Taro, and that letting someone know what he wants isn't as hard as he thought.

Finally, Queen's Man.  This was another 'read and review' copy from KD.  Joss is very different from Taro and Rafe.  Here's the description from Amazon again:

Joss Ravid works security for a major tribe on Kari's Star, but he'll tell anyone that he doesn't actually care if the ruling families kill each other off. He’s not interested in politics; he just likes getting paid to hit jerks, and also the many opportunities for hitting on straight men. The Galactic-imposed Interdiction may keep Kari citizens stuck on their war-torn world, but Joss has connections. If the situation gets too messy, he can leave whenever he wants.

He’ll also tell anyone he doesn’t care about girls, but that doesn’t stop him from rescuing 12-year-old Paige Carlyle, newly arrived on the planet and newly orphaned by tribe violence.

If Joss were making a “don’t care” list, though, at the very top would be Zeke Cayden, Heir to powerful Tribe Cayden. Never mind that he and Joss were lovers; that’s long gone. Saving Zeke’s life when the shooting starts is just business. Some tribes don’t want peace, and killing a Galactic citizen like Paige—or controlling Cayden through the Heir—would serve them well.

So Joss is on the run, risking his life, his pretty face, and his precious liberty to keep Paige and Zeke alive and the peace plan that can lift the Interdiction on track. Why? Because…how often does a guy get to piss off half a planet while displaying his talents for woodcraft, cross-dressing, and scaring straight men?

When Paige is kidnapped, though, the lives of Paige and Zeke, the leadership of Cayden and the future of Kari’s Star all ride on the wrinkled shoulders of Joss' work suit and he has to decide—does he care, or not?

And here's the review I wrote for that one:

KD offered me the chance to read an ARC of this book and I took it. I've loved her other two books - KNIGHT ERRANT and HIS FAITHFUL SQUIRE - so I was interested in seeing how Joss' story would play out. I wasn't disappointed.

Joss is a chaotic bundle of energy with little respect for authority and a big ego. When he inadvertently witnesses a murder and an attempted abduction, Joss finds himself put in the position of defending a damsel in distress - something difficult for him since he doesn't really care for girls. Paige's continued existence is key in the struggle for the removal of the Interdiction on Kari's Star, so Joss puts his freedom and his life on the line to protect her and Zeke, the annoyingly good looking heir to the Tribe Cayden, when a situation arises that forces the three of them to go on the run.

Initially I wasn't sure if I would like Joss since he was completely different from any of the other characters KD Sarge has written about previously. But as the story unfolded I actually found that he grew on me and by the end of the story I adored him as much as I adore Taro and Rafe.

KD has written a classic theme in sci fi, a war torn world and a single hero being selected to defend the key to peace, but has given it her own twist. Her humor is very much in evidence in this book and the character development is dynamic. Joss' world is vibrant and fascinating, and the characters that populate it move the story along at a brisk pace.

Seriously, just go buy/read KD and Jonathan's stuff.  They're both awesome writers (I don't know Jonathan personally but his writing speaks for itself) and they have some very appealing characters for you to fall in love with.

Amazon link for Child of the Ghosts
Amazon link for Knight Errant
Amazon link for His Faithful Squire
Amazon link for Queen's Man

And as always, if you don't have a Kindle, Amazon has a lovely set of free downloads so you can read Kindle books on your Mac, PC, Android, and iPhone.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why I should never blog while depressed

I had a huge long blog post written out, full of a lot of things that have been depressing me of late.  I previewed it before posting.  I'm glad I did.  You know why?

Because it gave me the chance to delete it.

Yes, I'm depressed a lot of the time.  But none of you need to read something like that.  A lot of it's personal, and there's no need to inflict my personal problems on you guys.

So...instead, here's some things that make me happy.

Cute baby animals
Photo by Essa al Mazrooei 

Evocative art
Picture by Jenny Dolfen

Funny pictures including cute kittens
(Sorry, no credit for this one...I don't even remember where I found it, I think it was on FB somewhere.)

My cat Reidar
Photo taken by me (@annikkawoods)

Catfight by Technoboy
(WARNING - There is swearing in this song)

Never-Ending Story by Within Temptation

Jillian by Within Temptation
(And River Tam from Firefly/Serenity...how awesome is she?!?)

Good friends:

And many, many, many others that I interact with over on Twitter

My husband (who refuses to have his online existence and/or his picture put into my blog)

And, of course, my books and my writing.

So I do have several things that make me happy, and I'm very grateful for those things in my life.

(As for the book reviews I WAS going to do...I left my Kindle at work so the books I was going to review & my notes on them aren't present...presently.  I'll try to resume the book reviews shortly.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

WARNING! Political commentary ahead!

Hello lovely people~

Today I'm interrupting my (semi) regular blog posts to put my thoughts out there on the current state of affairs here the U.S.A.  I am not a political commentator.  I don't write political theses or spend hours pouring over newscasts and internet news sites looking for the most recent news.  But I read.  And I listen.  And I observe.  And right now, my observations frankly scare me.  This is not a normal post for me, and next week I'll go back to my usual ramblings about life and writing and miscellany.

But today...today is political.

Let's start with the economy.  Our economy sucks.  We're in a recession, and part of the problem is people living outside their means can no longer sustain their lifestyles.  Banks are Big Business, folks.  I know.  I work for one in the collections department for one of their many credit card divisions.  Banks are not out there to be nice to people - they're out there to make money.  They WANT you to use their credit cards, take out loans, have more than one mortgage.  That's part of what caused this issue in the first place.  A lot of people made some risky and ill-informed decisions, the banks supported them, and now no one has any money.

I keep hearing these reports on NPR and reading through various media outlets online that the economy "is improving".  Really?  Where?  Certainly not around here, where jobs are at a premium and there are thousands of people out of work.  Why don't we know more about these people?  Because some - like Himself - are ineligible for unemployment benefits either because they were self-employed, were small business owners who went bust, or (again, like Himself) are screwed out of unemployment because of legal loopholes.  Something that shouldn't be a newsflash...employers don't WANT to pay their laid off employees unemployment.  That's right, folks.  Unemployment comes from unemployment insurance purchased by companies and they will do ANYTHING to cut costs.  And if you're self-employed or a small business owner, chances are you don't have unemployment insurance to begin with so if you go bust you're screwed.

Something else I'd like to do is challenge those in power - the President, those Senators and Representatives who sit on their asses and moan about how bad things are but won't do anything, politicians and the 1%-ers in general, actually - I'd like to challenge them to live like we do.  Live from paycheck to paycheck, never knowing if they're going to have enough to buy gas and food, not being able to cover medical expenses because even with insurance it's too damned expensive.  Let's see THEM live like this for a year.  Let's see THEM get told "fuck off, we're not going to help you lazy people" when they try to get help to cover their expenses.  Let's see those billionaires and millionaires who refuse to pay equal taxes to the rest of us, let's see them lose their money and live like the rest of us for a while.  I bet things would change rapidly if we got past the "it's not me so why should I care" mentality they seem to have.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I do believe that those in power should be paid well for their work - assuming they actually work FOR the people and not for themselves.  I don't believe that corporations should have any say in how laws are written.  In fact, I feel that lobbyists and those who spend all their time paying for a Senator's vote are parasitical leeches and need to be excised from our government.  I also don't think the government should be on the payroll of big businesses regardless of how much money is "donated" to them.  Let's be honest here, folks.  Those aren't donations.  They're buying preferential treatment.

We spend so much money on foreign policy, where we go in with military force and try to establish our way of thinking on other nations, that we're cutting spending to families, the elderly, education.  Veterans are coming home from these wars and are being told that they now could risk being evicted, losing their homes, etc. because no one is hiring.  People who should be retired are being forced back into a workplace that doesn't want them just to survive.  People can't live on their pensions and Social Security anymore.  The cost of living is too high and the benefits that so many people rely on keep being cut back.

Another thing I find hard to accept is how much we pay the President, the Senators, and the Representatives AFTER they're out of office.  Pay them while their in office.  All well and good.  But STOP giving them the benefits once they're out of office.  They're not working for the people anymore, if they ever were to begin with.  Make them get jobs, pay for their own insurance, take care of their own expenses without relying on tax payer money to subsidize them.  In short, treat them like the rest of us.  No one gives regular people a break on anything.  Once they're out of office, they're regular people again.  Make them live that way.

Another sore point with me is education.  Our teachers are paid substandard wages, expected to maintain discipline over 30+ students, expected to teach with sometimes outdated materials, and suddenly we're supposed to be a well educated country?  When so many children get through HIGH SCHOOL without being able to do simple math or English?  When hearing someone ask "Oh, where's that?" about a state in the U.S. isn't shocking...when they're asking as an adult?  I've had adults who asked me in all seriousness "Is Idaho in Canada?"  What the fuck?  How the hell do you get to be 20+ years old and not at least have a vague idea of the country you live in?

And higher education costs are going up, while loans and grants are going down.  It's getting to the point where only the wealthy can go to college.  How does that help the job market?  I don't have a college degree.  I can't afford to go to school to get one.  Himself doesn't have a degree either, although he's desperately trying to get loans and grants so he can go.  We can't afford anything out of pocket for him if his applications are denied.  Yet people are telling the both of us they won't hire us because we don't have that stupid piece of paper that says we spent tens of thousands of dollars to get an education.  Honey, I've got more life experience and more job experience than some of those college graduates do.  Yet I'm passed over time and time again for jobs, promotions, etc. because I don't have that piece of paper.

Another hot button these days is gay marriage.  Honestly, WHO GIVES A FUCK?  Give them equal rights under the law and let them get married.  Marriage should be between those who love each other, not strictly defined as being between a man and a woman.  Domestic partnerships are recognized in some states, and those can be between same sex pairings or a man and a woman.  If we recognize domestic partnerships as being allowable for all genders, then why not marriage?  Let a same sex couple cover each other on their insurance.  Let them adopt.  There are tons of children in this country going without a decent home life because "normal families" can't be found.  Who defines a normal family anyway?  Personally I believe a "normal" family is parents who love their children - whether or not those parents are both men, both women, or a man and a woman.  Or even a single man or a single woman.  No one should have the right to say that a person is an unfit parent unless that parent is seriously causing harm to a child.  And no, seeing a gay/lesbian/bi/transgender person or persons together does NOT constitute causing harm to a child.

Legalization of marijuana - I don't use it.  I've tried it twice in my life and will never touch the stuff again.  I didn't care for the feeling I got from it.  But for heaven's sake, people, legalize the shit and tax the hell out of it like you do cigarettes.  Put an age restriction on it like you do alcohol and cigarettes.  At least marijuana is less detrimental to the body than alcohol is.  (Yes, I know all of the propaganda out there.  Believe me, I wouldn't be making these statement if I hadn't done the research.)

This fall, I have to pick between two politicians I neither trust nor want to see as leader of this country when it comes to the Presidential election.  I did that four years ago.  I voted for Obama.  Not because I thought Obama would be an awesome president - because I didn't - but because I didn't trust McCain to do the job.  Now I have to choose between Obama and Romney, and while Romney will never get my vote I'm not sure I want to vote for Obama again either.  But I will do what I can with my vote to keep Romney out of office.  That man scares me more than McCain and Palin did combined.  He'd set this country back 50 years, destroy the rights that we women have fought for, and do it all in the name of "good Christian values". Fuck off.  I'm NOT a "good Christian woman".  I don't want your values imposed on my life.  There are many in this country who are not Christian.  Whatever happened to religious freedom and the rights of those of us who live here to worship as we desire, so long as we don't kill people?

I won't voice my opinion on the abortion debate.  I just won't.

I am neither Republican nor am I a Democrat.  I am a U.S. citizen and a woman who demands fair and equal treatment.  I do NOT want men telling me I can't take birth control because it's "immoral" when I use it to keep me from dying every month from the cramps caused by my menstrual cycle.  I also don't want politicians telling my friends who do not want/are not in a financial position to afford/are at risk with their health so a pregnancy would be a BAD IDEA that they can't take birth control.  Don't tell us we can't possibly know what is good for our bodies.  We know them better than anyone because we live in them.

To sum this up - our economy is shit, I want fair taxation for all people and no exclusions, legalize gay marriage and marijuana, and for the love of little green apples stop fucking up our nation.  We used to be great.  We can be great again.  But only if we destroy party lines, work together, and push past the blockage that happened when politicians lost sight of the "government by the people and FOR THE PEOPLE" and started looking at it as "government by the rich to screw the poor".

/end rant