Alexa – Write a blog post for me.

If only.

So we got an Amazon Echo.

It’s kind of awesome. Nick always finds the funny response questions, like “Do you wanna build a snowman?” or “Will you go out with me?” Sometimes the answers to some questions are different, like when you ask for its favourite colour.

I have to try really hard not to refer to the Echo as “she.”

Mostly I’ve been using it for music, and as a Bluetooth speaker for audiobooks and movies. I don’t have much music from Amazon, and I really don’t want to cherrypick 250 of my own songs (out of, you know, 6K). But we do get a lot of Prime music, so I don’t mind yet. Although I do think I need to finally get some Family Force 5 albums. Imagine Love Addict on VOLUME 10.

I haven’t actually had any trouble being understood or heard. I find it funny that the commercial handles the yelling thing so realistically, because I have noticed that a lot of people do lean in or raise their voices. For some reason, I haven’t. I think because I like to imagine that I am being listened to. Even if all I’m doing is asking who shot JR.

Some people might just treat it as a novelty for a short time and then get bored. It’s not a game, it isn’t HAL 9000 (it even tells you that it isn’t), but it is handy for a lot of things. I am a person who has never really owned a stereo, so this is incredibly new to me.

It’s a nice quick way to get the weather, and I actually have a number of uses for timers, so I love that. I actually wonder how other people are using their Echoes. Today I just kept listening to Gun.

Friday Book Review – The Doublet Affair

doubletaffair

Although my interest paled after reading some more of the books, at this point, I loved Ursula Blanchard. She tends to be very unhappy about having to act as a spy for the queen, but she believes very strongly in the importance of supporting her queen. However reluctant Ursula might be at times, she is always determined to accomplish her mission. Not because she has some saviour complex that makes her think she’s the only one who can do it, but because she was the one who was asked to, and she has a duty to do what she has said she will do. I hate saviour complexes. I love characters with a sense of responsibility.

The fact that she is a mother is diligently held up in her personality and some of her actions, even though her daughter as a character is largely rendered inconsequential by dint of rarely appearing. Sadly, this does seem to get worse in later books, where if this were a television show, I would joke that the camera is allergic to Meg. Still, she is an important factor in Ursula’s life and the actions she takes. Ursula is very much a family woman, and continues to love her husband, despite how the first book ended.

The romance is still painful and credible. Matthew is not a bad person, even though he just keeps on with his traitorous politics. Whenever he can be compared to others with the same basic goal that he has, to bring Catholicism back to England, he stands out as nonviolent and even rather unselfish. I still like his character, and I can sympathise with Ursula’s agony over their separation.

I wasn’t surprised to see that that mystery in this book had a setup that was distinctly more vague than in the first. Ursula is told to stay with the Masons (whom she met in the course of the first book), report anything amiss, and sneak into Mr Mason’s study to obtain what information may be had there. This is fine, but discovering “what is even going on” is rather a different sort of mystery than to try to prevent a death and then to pinpoint the murderer. It’s just too indirect, in my opinion.
Of course, treason appears in each case. At the time, I wondered if the scale will change later, either towards smaller struggles or beyond England. They did end up going to France in the next book. I think it’s safe to say that treason is not necessarily in every book.

This is definitely one of the more forgettable books in the series, which is too bad. Since Ursula has no clear direction beyond, “Get into the study” and “don’t get caught,” things plod blindly along for far too long. Once she does manage to uncover the plot, things pick up, but it takes a while.

I did like this book just as much as the first. Historical fiction is a genre I have developed a taste for, and Fiona Buckley’s contributions to that genre are top shelf. …to make an unintentional book pun. The story is intriguing, the characters genuine, and the writing seamless.

Ah, Holidays

I don’t think I have ever had much call to avail myself of one-day shipping, other than for my medication. And I don’t pay for that. But when I ordered some replacement round looms and knitting needles, I wanted to have them right away. I had actually intended to find a brick-and-mortar and buy them that day. I haven’t tried knitting in years, so I don’t think I’ll gain enough skill to make any gifts there, but the round looms were another story. I couldn’t even size Ollie’s and Abbie’s hats with what I had.

Or should I say, with what I have. Because one-night shipping be damned. I was supposed to get my items yesterday. Instead, we got some other order (gifts) that was coming on Prime free 2-day shipping. It came on time. The stuff I paid to have quickly did not.

Maybe my annoyance is not reasonable or even understandable, but I am still annoyed. However, it got a little funny this morning.

It’s my understanding that refunding the shipping charges should be automatic, but I don’t trust anything Amazon does automatically without there being an email or five hundred. I can’t return a library loan ebook without getting an email that my loan ended. So I checked the order to see what was going on there… and found a tracking update on the package saying that it had arrived in its destination country.

Followed by BOTANY, AU.

long trip

I almost wish I still worked at the post office so I could brag about this evidence of UPS not being good enough. I should have laughed my head off. What I did was panic and rush to contact a service rep. Because I wasn’t even sure I’d get a S&H refund without doing so. What about having to get my order replaced because a derp sent it off to some suburb in New South Wales that’s the size of Bee Cave.

The rep I got was oddly chatty and apologised so much I wanted to flick his nose. Which is hard to do over the internet. I got a refund, but now I don’t even have a good idea of when I’ll get my package, other than being asked to give it ’til the end of the 20th.

Just goes to show. Practise patience, or you’ll find yourself becoming intimately familiar with Botany Bay. Or something.

Crafty

A million years ago, I was super into knitting hats with a round loom. I used to sell them in school. This is largely because I used to make them at school, often instead of eating lunch. Although I did make some with absurdly long length (and still have one of my favourite oversizes) and figured out how to add a bobble once, I never actually made more with the round loom than hats.

Recently, I dug them up out of wherever they’d been put away and found that a lot of my yarn store had survived. However, my looms did not. Some of the awesome wooden ones are still there, in a decent range of sizes, but it seems my Knifty Knitter looms are almost all gone to the great beyond.

They were also apparently discontinued by the manufacturer three years ago. I don’t think that’s changed, but I was able to find one of the 4-loom sets online.

In the meantime, I used my wooden looms to make a hat for Lucas, and one for Owen.

2hats

Friday Book Review – The Duchess War

duchesswar

Oh, the feels.

One of the hallmarks of Courtney Milan’s books is the use of very real, often very serious psychological problems that the characters have. And not just the hero and heroine either. Her alphas are damaged, possibly even broken men, who have plenty of character to develop and flaws to iron out that may not have anything to do with the heroine beyond her ability to understand his difficulties and accept them as a reality. Often, one or both of them will have a history of abuse, but not always.

That said, this is a book that demands emotional investment. It is essential to enjoying the book. It isn’t mawkish. Both of the main characters have very traumatic pasts, and you have to care. If you don’t, or you’re more interested in a light read, then the resolution may leave you behind. Or the emotional content could seem over the top.

Obviously, I didn’t have that problem. But I can see where someone else might have. In the same vein, I can see why someone might see Minnie as yet another scarred or shy girl who gets a great catch husband-wise–a bit of a stand-by trope–but I didn’t feel that way. I focused more on Minnie as a woman with a secret (a heroine trope that I like) than a mousy or scarred woman. In fact, mentions of her being mousy tended to confuse me.

Minnie is hounded by a scandal in her past, and just wants to stay out of crowds and avoid attention. To this end, she is aiming for a marriage with a man who wants a mousy wife. Robert, the Duke of Clermont, also wants to avoid attention to a degree, but his reason is due to a possible future scandal. Like many good Milan books (particularly in this series), there is a spoiler-ish thing right a the beginning, so be aware that I’ll have to bring that one out or fail to discuss most of the book.

After meeting the duke, Minnie is accosted by her friend’s fiancé, a jumped-up little trout, who accuses her of being responsible for handbills encouraging workers to unionise. This is untrue and ridiculous, since she’s trying to keep her head down and hide her past. Unfortunately, he threatens to dig into her life in order to prove his idiot theory, and she fears him finding out her real secret.

Minnie is one of those wonderful heroines who has not a mere informed talent, but actual talent and intelligence that you actually get to see her use. (For someone used to YA, this could be MIND-BLOWING.) She discovers that the duke is behind the unionising handbills very quickly, and her logic makes sense. She’s like Batman (the great detective version, not the overdone my-parents-are-still-dead version). Her genius for strategy is based on her skill in chess, which is part of her backstory.

Anyway, she takes her friend as chaperon and goes to the Duke of Clermont in order to accuse him (correctly) of being the one writing the handbills, and to ask him to cut it out because her life is on the line. He makes a counterproposal, which she doesn’t really go for, and they depart having declared a small internal war. He wants to be seen to be pursuing her, so that people won’t question his reason for being in the area, and she wants him to bugger off so she can marry a bland protector and get on with things.

The handbills and unionisation is very important to Robert. His father the previous duke was a repulsive man who abused his power in every way imaginable, and to the detriment of literally everyone around him. Thanks to this example, Robert wants to overthrow the class system and put people on a more equal standing.

Very often, I either dislike or simply tolerate heroes. Robert is one that I really, really liked. Maybe it’s a broken bird thing (I loved the hero in To Beguile a Beast, too) but I don’t think so. I loved his lack of tiresome aggression. He wasn’t exactly submissive, he just wasn’t a grunting, snorting bull all the time. He even made a point of staying away from prostitutes (again, citing his father’s disgusting example). He can’t rape or impregnate his hand.

My absolute favourite thing about this book is, of course, a spoiler. They both betray the other in the one way that for each seemed unforgivable. Forgiveness happens, and it’s completely believable. When she betrays him, he apologises for his own part in it. Which he absolutely should have done.

The story is a little marred by the fridge horror that Robert’s desire to be loved and fear of being denied it are so deeply entrenched that I’m not sure he can have a truly healthy, adult relationship with Minnie without some kind of therapy. It follows him very close to the end, and throughout the book, I could see how his severe emotional trauma affects his ability to make decisions and what those are. I guess you could say that he is a little too shaped by his past. And yet, I can’t say that I would believe it if he weren’t.

Overall, I loved this book. The conflict was surprisingly complex, the characters were strong and had a wonderful dynamic. I believed their romantic love, although I thought their physical chemistry was a little bit weak.

After having read most of the rest of the series (At present, I have yet to read the last book and Talk Sweetly to Me), I have to say that I’m less impressed with Robert. He seems more timid in retrospect, and lacking in strength in a couple of ways. His goals are important to him and he does exert himself to attain them, but when it comes to people whose love he craves–and “craves” is most definitely the word–he is weak and missish. He and Minnie were at times evenly matched in passion and drive, but her emotional health outdoes him even more than her genius over his average intellect.

I also really do not believe in his friendship with Sebastian, but I’ve already talked about that.

I really don’t go looking for these things

They just seem to find me. I rather prefer it when the things in question are in the vein of The Egyptologist, or even Royal Spyness (which is to a much lesser degree, of course). This one seems to have an incredibly strong, but accidental, subtext that may or may not have been improved by being upgraded to context.

When I read Standard Hero Behavior, I found it quite funny that just when I was wondering if I had randomly picked up a a middle grade book with a progressive romantic subplot, female love interests cropped up, and neither romantic subplot was well-developed or even interesting. It felt very, “OH CRAP THESE GUYS ARE GETTING TOO INTIMATE TO BE JUST FRIENDS UMM AND SUDDENLY THERE WERE GIRLS OKAY?” And then the relationship between the main character and his guy friend kind of vanished. Seriously, I think they either argued or just stopped talking to each other because of the girls for some reason.

It was more than a little sad after that one funny realisation.

Then yesterday, I took a break from my Currently Reading list with another Avalanche book: The Shadow Throne. Almost before I’d finished the first page, I said, “Oh, just make out already.” And then I had to explain a little, because I said it out loud. Here, I want to go into my reasoning in-depth (obviously) so there will be spoilers for the Ascendance trilogy (but mostly just for the first two books).

The False Prince is the story of Sage, a boy who is taken from an orphanage to compete with three other boys for the role of Prince Jaron. The prince has been presumed dead for a couple of years, but as his royal family are known to be dead, an advisor/regent thingy has a plan to suddenly produce the not-dead-after-all false prince and control him like a puppet. Only it turns out that Sage is a revoltingly good liar and is actually the prince the whole time.

He manages to win over two of the other boys, as well as the AR thingy’s right hand man. However, his relationship with the third boy, Roden, is tempestuous from start to finish, and Roden’s maniacal desire to be the false prince actually made me wonder at his sanity. Roden refuses to believe that Sage is really truly Jaron, because he has somehow fixated on the idea that he himself would become the false prince. Like any good madman, he rejects anything that can pop his little daydream.

But for some reason, Jaron wants this guy to be his general.

Okay.

In The Runaway King, the ENTIRE BOOK is about Jaron chasing after Roden and begging him to just give their relationship a chance. All right, that is leading language, but come on. The book is literally about Jaron’s inexplicable desire to bring into his inner circle a guy who has only ever shown strong negative feelings towards him. The first thing Roden does in the book is try to kill Jaron. One of the last things he does before magically agreeing to do things Jaron’s way is to break the guy’s leg so badly that he’s still recovering in the third book.

The way I described it to my husband was a bit like this:

Jaron: But we’d be perfect together!
Roden: Go away!
Jaron: Come on, I made a list of all the reasons we’re a perfect couple!
Roden: Stop talking to me!
Jaron: Why won’t you love me?! I am literally about to die for you!
Roden: DAMMIT FINE BUT I’M JUST YOUR FRIEND OKAY
Jaron: Good enough for now. But I haven’t given up!
Me: orz

After all of this, all of the chasing and murder attempts, and hate and torture… They are having a lovers’ spat on the first page. I have no other way to describe it. Jaron is bitching about Roden not listening to his orders, and Roden is spouting off something about not taking orders from a foolish king.

Add to everything the fact that Jaron’s official love interest is about as intriguing as a glass of water. His attraction to her is 100% author mandate, and although his betrothed, Princess Amarinda, is probably supposed to be gorgeous, Jaron could not seem less attracted to women on the whole whenever she is around or even mentioned.

This is not a reading preference I have. In fact, I very much doubt that this kind of belligerent sexual tension and completely boring and lazily-written heterosexual love interest are intentional. To me, they look like a writer who saw her characters get away from her and then papered over the cracks as if no one would notice that the window was actually a door.

Now I’m mixing metaphors.