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text 2018-03-29 07:17
I can't stand doormats. Especially self-righteous ones.
The India Fan - Victoria Holt

I'm remembering why I didn't like this book the first time I read it.


Drusilla is a wimp.  She admits, from the vantage point of the future, that she should have foreseen Lavinia's disasters. But she didn't.  And she never really admits to her own responsibility.


But she's also passionless.  At best she's "fascinated" by the House, but she never says why.  She goes along with Lady Harriet's plans without protest or enthusiasm.  Even through the whole business with Fleur, there's no emotion.

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review 2018-02-16 17:50
I almost bought it
Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible: 260 Exquisite Patterns by Hitomi Shida - Hitomi Shida,Gayle Roehm

Someone posted about this book on Twitter last week.  I really do enjoy knitting, and I have a stash of yarn I really need to do something with.  Right now the forecast is for two more weeks of clouds and cool temperatures, which means the studio will be too chilly for comfortable work.  Sitting in the house with a ball of yarn and some new patterns seemed like a good idea.


I made a deal with myself:  If I made enough money off last week's art show, I would treat myself to the Kindle edition, currently on sale for $8.98 US.  Last night I finished my bookkeeping and decided I sold enough at the art show to justify a slight splurge.


Having bought (or acquired through other means) more than a few craft books in my time, I knew enough to take advantage of the online previews. 


The first few patterns looked scrumptious!



I was ready to hit the Buy it Now button!


Caution took hold again.  I read further on the sample.


The instructions for each pattern are given in a symbol coded chart rather than the familiar "k1, p1, yo, k2tog" text.



A comprehensive key is provided for the symbols, but even on the "Look Inside" preview, it wasn't easy to read.  Zooming enlarged the text font, but didn't make the Key any clearer:



Discouraged, but not without hope, I decided to download the actual Kindle sample.  The screen caps above are all from my laptop and the "Look Inside" feature.  Unfortunately, what I got on the Kindle download was even worse.  Here's the Key as it appears on the same laptop via Kindle for PC:



Changing the font size does not change the size of the chart, which is formatted as a graphic.


The Kindle version, therefore, was virtually useless for me.  Others might find it workable, but I couldn't justify it.  There's still a part of me that wants to buy the paperback -- currently $14.01 -- and then re-translate it into traditional knitting instructions, but I'm not sure I'm that dedicated.


The patterns sure are gorgeous though, aren't they?


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text 2017-10-19 17:27
How Harvey Weinstein got away with it, and #metoo

This is not the Booklikes blog post I planned to write this morning, and yet it is.


Most people, like the women Harvey Weinstein abused over the years, lead lives of quiet desperation.  We're aware of the inequalities around us, and the injustices, and the inability to do anything about it.  We do our jobs and don't complain about the unfairness of the pay or treatment, because we need the paycheck.  We make ourselves believe that suffering a bit of abuse will ultimately pay off.  Maybe the boss who treats us like shit will suddenly offer us that promotion or raise, or that producer with grabby hands will put us in the role that will make us a star.  It happens just often enough to keep our hopes alive, doesn't it.


Those of us who rock the boat, who blow the whistle, who aren't content to put up with the bullshit, we're the ones who pay the price.  And we're held up as examples of what will happen to "you" if you do the same.  It happens just often enough to destroy your hopes and keep you in your place, doesn't it.


Sometimes those who dare to rock the boat are very powerful, almost as powerful as the ones who knock them down.  Mostly they aren't very powerful; they're just fed up to the eyeballs with the injustice of it all.


It doesn't matter; if you rock the boat too much, you'll get tipped out of it and left to drown.


Most of you know the basics of the saga that led to the Great Goodreads Purge of 2013.  A few of us dared to rock the boat regarding the paid-for reviews that boosted crappy books.  We documented the literally thousands of reviews and ratings that were coming from review swap groups and authors' sock puppet accounts and review mills like fiverr dot com.  We dared to out the authors who were buying the reviews.  And we dared to post negative reviews of books we thought were poorly written, especially those books written by authors who mistreated readers and reviewers.  Some of us were authors who paid the price -- in the currency of retaliatory reviews.


And some of us got tipped out of the boat to drown -- we were permanently banned from Goodreads.


Some of us came here to BookLikes in search of a more welcoming and less hostile environment, where we could review honestly, including pointing out the author behavior that we believed was harmful to the reviewing and reading community.


For the past four years or so, we've enjoyed that environment.  We've put up with the sometimes sporadic functionality of the BookLikes site.  We've struggled with the book data base and its limitations.  We've provided content and we've provided librarian services, whether we were official BL Librarians with the little tag or just readers eager to add our own contributions from our personal book collections.


Through most of that four years, we've been reasonably safe from attack by the trolls -- most of us know who they were/are so I won't name them.  And we've been spared the spectacles of authors who gamed the system to shove their books down readers' throats and who then went into berserker mode when some honest reviewer panned their book.


Maybe our safety has been a function of BookLikes' relatively small footprint in the book community.  I don't know.  What I do know is that as soon as I read about the demise of Amazon's discussion forums a few weeks ago, I worried that authors desperate for a place to promote their works would eventually find BookLikes and disrupt our peaceful community.


I don't want to rock the boat.  I like it here at BookLikes.  Despite what certain people may think -- yes, I'm looking at you, Melissa -- I get no pleasure out of reading a badly written book and pointing out its flaws.  I can understand the temptation of reviewers to post only great reviews, because life is often simpler if you just praise everything and criticize nothing.


But that's not me.  I don't go out looking for poorly written author-published books so I can rip them to pieces.  Unfortunately, my book-buying budget is very limited, and therefore I seek out the affordable books which are often written by the authors who publish them.  And unfortunately, many of them don't meet my personal standards.


Other people seem to love them, or at least they post glowing reviews.  Are they like the fans who flocked to Harvey Weinstein's movies or who watched Bill Cosby's television shows and just didn't know the sordid details of what was going on behind the scenes?  Would they have cared if they had known?  Or would they have said, "I don't care what he does; I like his work and I'm going to continue to support him, because my pleasure and enjoyment are more important than the price people have to pay to bring it to me."


Those people, the silent ones who never rock the boat, never see themselves as contributing to the abuse.  Of course not!  Are they free to continue to enjoy the products?  Of course!  But I am just as free to point out the full story.


See also Joanna Russ's What are we fighting for?


There are reviewers here on BookLikes whose reviews make my brain hurt, and for a lot more reasons than any of you might think.  The grammar and spelling and usage are appalling, to the point that I sometimes wonder if English is not their native language.  I wonder how someone can be an avid reader and not have picked up by osmosis the basics of the language, yet there appear to be many who have.  Some of the books read and enjoyed and given glowing reviews strike me personally as horrible, depressing, worthless, and I can't imagine anyone finding the reading of them pleasurable.  But that's their right, and I may not agree with it, but I respect it.  Some reviewers appear to me -- if not to anyone else -- to have a particular agenda which I find personally abhorrent.  They have as much right to express it as I have to express mine.  I keep my mouth -- or my fingers -- tightly shut.


The reason I remained silent was that I firmly believed BookLikes afforded us as readers a level playing field, as free from official interference as possible.  (Obvious cases of bullying or other overtly bad behavior would and should be dealt with accordingly.)  I was as free to express my views on books and book-related issues -- and even on non-book issues -- as anyone else.  The apparent favoritism of Goodreads and Amazon toward those books and authors and reviewers who drove the bottom line was virtually absent from BookLikes.  There were no paid promotions forced into our individual dashboard feed; we didn't have to feel we had to like certain books or authors or risk retaliation from The Powers that Be.


A few days ago that all changed.


I'm a writer.  I've been a writer almost as long as I've been a reader.  (But not as long as I've been a rock hound!)  I love writing and I love talking about writing.  I made a comment on someone else's blog post about the difficulty of crafting villains in my work, an innocent and non-controversial comment, or so I thought.


Not long afterward, I received a private message from another BookLikes member in response to my villain-creating comment.  I thought the message was likewise innocent and non-controversial; I welcomed him as a new member to our community and added him to my Following list.


He had only a couple of blog posts here, and they were almost all self-promotional.  He had no books shelved, no reviews posted.  He had only three followers, one of whom was myself.  But, he was new.  I thought he'd learn the ropes and join in.


A day or so later, I received another message from him, this time soliciting his newsletter on a subject in which I have never shown any interest.  There was no reason for him to send me this solicitation, so I wrote back that I had no interest in it and I warned him against spamming. 


BookLikes does not have a specific policy against spamming, so there was no reason for me to report him.  He wasn't breaking any Terms of Use, though it was very likely that kind of behavior might lead to his becoming less popular. 


As events unfolded, I was very glad I hadn't reported him.  He responded unpleasantly to me, which didn't hurt my feelings at all, though I did post a bit of a warning to my personal community of followers here.  The sentiment seemed to be that he had indeed spammed and that behavior wasn't welcome.  It should have dropped off the radar screen right there and then.


It didn't.


Though he had not been active in terms of shelving books or posting reviews, he had written several BookLikes blog posts about his writing.  I did a tiny bit of follow up because I had a personal interest in the subject of some of his work, and I was disappointed to find hints of potential -- in my opinion -- plagiarism.  But again, I kept most of my thoughts to myself or only shared them with my followers and very quietly.


Or at least I did so until the book in question began to be promoted personally by one of the few visible BookLikes employees.


Now the balance of power had shifted enormously.  Now I was just another BookLikes user, subject to banning or other disciplinary measures at the whim of those nameless, faceless Powers That Be.  I no longer had a safe voice.


My fellow BookLikes friends suggested that well, BookLikes staff had the right to review, and probably the right to reblog as well, which was how this had all come to my attention.  I decided I must just be alarmist, even though I felt very uncomfortable. 


I felt even more uncomfortable when I downloaded this author's free book from Amazon.  I found more evidence of potential plagiarism (and perhaps copyright infringement, too) but I felt helpless to do any more than post a review.  Even then, I knew I was taking an enormous risk.  The weight of official BookLikes favor might be behind the promotional post and reblogs, but it might not.


Today that changed again.  Now the support is official, with the promotional post coming from BookLikes itself, not just a staff member.  Is this author now protected against negative reviews by the BookLikes support?  Will we ever know?  BookLikes isn't based in the United States, so it may not fall under the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission, which rules paid promotion has to be disclosed.  Was BookLikes paid to support this author?  Do they have a financial interest in promoting this book?  Will other authors be pressured to pay for promotional support?


Will other authors be prevented from posting negative reviews?  Technically, under those FTC regulations, authors are not supposed to post negative reviews of their direct competition.  That's the rule that kept me from posting reviews on Amazon; it's in their guidelines and is based on those FTC regulations which have the force of law in the US.  (I'm old enough to remember the Payola scandals of the 1950s, which led to some of those FTC regulations.)


BookLikes has always had this power, to promote or to silence.  As far as I know, they've never used it or threatened to use it, and from that has come this feeling of safety I've enjoyed -- and perhaps you have, too -- for the past four years.


I'm here at BookLikes as a reader, as reviewer, as an artist, and only lastly as an author in search of readers.  I value my friendships here on BookLikes -- yes, even with those reviewers whose spelling makes my eyeballs ache and whose reading choices make my stomach queasy -- as friendships, and not as potential sources of income.  Once in a while I make reference to my own books, but I have never solicited and will never solicit sales or reviews.


Nor have I seen other authors do so, at least not within my limited circle of friends on the site.  We may make announcements, yes, and comment on our writing progress.  I confess, I'm now extremely uncomfortable even posting about my writing projects still in progress.  Will I be required to pay BookLikes even for that kind of promotion?  Is it considered spam?  Are my followers uncomfortable with it?


Do I have to worry now that if I write a negative review, I will be punished by BookLikes, even to the point of being banned from the site?  Will I, or other writers, or other reviewers, feel pressured to post only positive reviews?  Will I, or other writers, or other reviewers, feel pressured to post only positive reviews of books and/or authors openly and officially promoted by BookLikes?


BookLikes has flexed its muscles.  It has reminded all of us that it holds enormous power.  Does it have as much power as Amazon or Goodreads?  Perhaps not, but it has the power to silence.


It's very possible that BookLikes did what they did in the belief that they were only helping someone who deserved it.  The problem is that they have the power -- which they have now used -- to determine who "deserves" promotion and who doesn't.  Does that mean the deserving are those who pay?  And in what currency?


I've been a victim of #metoo abuse, in ways that I'm not at liberty to divulge right now.  Maybe that's why I'm more inclined to speak out than many others.  But there have always been those who threw caution to the winds, who put justice above their careers, and did the right thing.


I've spent the past week or so giving some serious thought to what I want to do with the rest of my life.  I turned 69 last Friday, so I'm sure there are a lot of people who think I'm a little late in getting around to that.  But when I woke up this morning at 3:00 a.m., I knew that I had come to a more or less solid decision to focus more of my time and energy on my writing.  I love the rocks and gems, I love the other creative endeavors I'm engaged in, but the writing is my first love, and over the past couple of years it has proven to be the most remunerative as well. 


When I logged onto BookLikes and saw the official post promoting one author, my heart sank.  I'm not morally capable of the kind of kissing up that's required to gain the favor of the powerful.  And I'm not financially capable of the kind of promotional expenditure that others are.  I've always had to rely on the quality of my work to speak for itself.


Now I know that on BookLikes, that's no longer enough.  The playing field is no longer level and now it's all about power.


I have none.




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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-03 22:30
Halloween Bingo - Darkest London - Should never have seen the light of day
The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes: A Mystery (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries) - Leonard Goldberg



Disclosure:  I read a digital copy of this book through my public library's eCloud Library program.  Therefore, page numbers cited in this review may not reflect pages from either print or other digital editions.


First of all, as mentioned in a previous status, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes was a crushing bore.  That did allow me to skim without losing track of the story, but it did not make this an enjoyable read.


Charles Harrelston dies in a fall from a building, but the determination of suicide is questionable.  Then enter the cast of cardboard characters, flimsy resurrections of the originals from Conan Doyle:  Dr. John Watson, Jr., who is accompanied by the original Dr. Watson; Mrs. Joanna Blalock, widowed mother of young Johnnie who was an eyewitness to Harrelston's death; Inspector Lestrade, son of the original.  Dr. Watson still resides at 221b Baker Street, where the housekeeper is Miss Hudson, daughter of the estimable Mrs. Hudson who kept the place for the late Sherlock Holmes.  Joanna Blalock is soon revealed by Dr. Watson, Sr., to Dr. Watson, Jr., to be the daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.  Also brought on stage is Toby Two, descendant of the dog in The Sign of the Four.  And probably a few others.


How unimaginative!


Joanna Blalock, the daughter of the title, is every bit as much a boring arrogant prig as her father.  Though trained as a surgical nurse, she shows no real humanity.  I expected the writer would have created a new character for her, something to differentiate her from her father's cold smugness, but nope, she's just a much an asshole as he was.  (If there was any description of her marriage and what led her to actually have enough sex with her husband to produce a child, I must have skimmed it.)


Watson Junior of course is INSTANTLY attracted to her.  (rolls eyes)


Oh, her 10-year-old son Johnnie is a smart ass, too.


Though the Amazon listing says the book is set in 1914, it's not.  It's set in 1910, though what time of year isn't clear.  In one scene they're walking in the park in mild, sunny weather, in another it's frosty and cold.  Although there are plenty of place names mentioned, there's really not much London atmosphere described.


The plot is boring and was very similar to the aforementioned Sign of the Four.  Four military buddies acquire a treasure and devise a code to communicate about it.  Charles Harrelston is the first of the buddies to die.  He's soon followed by another.


The medical detail was excessive -- shades of an author showing off research into 1910 medical procedures -- to the point of obscuring the drama.  The book could easily have been reduced to novella length.  Again, I skimmed and skimmed and skimmed, mainly in search of the mystery.


There's little to indicate that this is early 20th century London.  No mention of the technological advances is made until perhaps the latter third of the novel.  Transportation is all done by carriage, with no mention of motorized vehicles until Ch. 18 (pg 196)



but it comes without observation.  I was expecting some comment from Watson Sr. regarding the changes in London from the days when he and Sherlock were doing the detecting, but there was nothing.


Same with the telephone, which received (unless I skimmed others) one brief mention.


And one would think that the development of the electrocardiogram machine would have brought some discussion, but it, too, was just mentioned in passing.



Lights were turned down in the rooms at 221b Baker street, suggesting the residence was still lit by gas; there were no references to electric lights.  Again, maybe that was in all the stuff that I skimmed.


Use of the slang term loo was jarring, regardless whether it originated well after 1910 -- one reference suggests it wasn't in common use until the 1940s -- or earlier.  Worse, however, was the use of the work "check" when the English "cheque" would have established the atmosphere a great deal better, and the awkward reference to the terms of nurse and sister.



Over-written, over-long, over-hyped, this was a monstrous disappointment.  Not at all recommended.  The only really good line in the whole book:



And the worst?


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review 2017-09-22 04:46
Halloween Bingo -- Gothic -- more like patriot's snooze
Patriot's Dream - Barbara Michaels



Published in 1976, this can't be anything but a blatant and really crass cashing in on the popularity of the American Bicentennial.  It just wasn't that good of a book.  Not the story and not even the writing.


Jan is 23 years old in that summer of 1976.  I think her last name is Wilde, but I'm not really sure.  She lives in New York City, where she has been an English teacher.  At first she taught in the public schools, then in a private girls' school.  She hated teaching, hated what she saw as the futility of it.  At her mother's urging, Jan has left NYC and gone to Williamsburg, Virginia, to spend the summer "resting" and helping her aged great-aunt and great uncle.  Camilla and Henry Wilde have sold the family home to the Williamsburg Foundation, which will take possession of it upon their deaths and add it to the tourist attraction.


On her first night in the Wilde home, Jan has a remarkable dream of being in the house on the eve of the American Revolution.  She dreams again the next night, and the next.  Her dreams are remarkably clear and in fantastic detail.  They feature the Wilde family as it existed at the time, as well as numerous other figures, historical as well as unknowns.


The bulk of the novel is taken up with the activities Jan sees in her dreams, which is basically her ancestors' involvement in the war for independence.  Most prominent among them are Charles Wilde, who is presumably the forebear of Uncle Henry, and his dear friend Jonathan, last name not revealed.  (This is weird, because Michaels provides a family tree that clearly shows Jonathan's last name is Muller and that he is Charles's first cousin.)


Jan becomes a bit obsessed with her dreams, but there's no real reason given for why she becomes obsessed.  And other than the conflict between the two cousins Charles and Jonathan, there's not much drama in the historical sections of the book.  Charles heads off to war; Jonathan, for various reasons, doesn't.  I reached the point where I skimmed those parts in the second half of the book.


Aunt Camilla -- who is only a Wilde by marriage, obviously -- seems obsessed with getting Jan married.  Various suitors are paraded for her benefit -- the local doctor, one of the craftsman who works in the Williamsburg village, an obnoxious lawyer -- but Jan doesn't seem interested.  I'm not sure if the issue of her "resting" for summer is some kind of hint that she had or is about to have a nervous breakdown because of her teaching experience or what.  But Camilla's interest in the family seems awkward, since it isn't really her family anyway, and I'm not sure exactly how Jan's lineage fit into the family tree.


The last fifty or sixty pages of the book finally got interesting, and the twist toward the end of the historical part was quite clever.  The actual ending of that part, however, was nasty and really didn't make any sense.  (Mary Beth would never have done that.  Never.)


But long before I reached the last fifty or sixty pages, I was bored to tears.  Or yawns.  Or snores.


The plot was weak, but the writing wasn't much better.  The historical characters were much better drawn than the 1976 people, most of whom were little better than caricatures.  During Jan's dream sequences, point of view shifted not only into the various historical characters but also into an omniscient third person narrator.  I think that was part of the reason I never got any clear idea of how Jan really felt about the dreams; the events in them were detached from her.


The book reminded me in some ways of Daphne DuMaurier's The House on the Strand, except that book was much, much creepier.  Patriot's Dream was just a snorer.






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