Sunday Salon: Top 8 reasons not to stay on a blog

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 Is there anything that makes you not return to a blog or not want to look at it even for the first time?

There are loads that put me off a blog! In no particular order:

  1. Autoplay music (with no chance to turn it off). Your choice of music is rarely the same as mine. I may well have something else playing whilst I browse the internet, and your music will interfere with mine.
  2. Autoplay videos – similar to above, mainly because it will interrupt or stop what else I’m playing. I’m playing my stuff because I’ve CHOSEN to play it. Don’t force your mess onto me.
  3. Badly rendering layouts – not all of us use Chrome on a laptop, I often use Firefox for instance. What renders perfectly on one often doesn’t render well on another.  This isn’t just blogs – I’ve seen it on business websites as well
  4. Pale blue text on brown backgrounds etc – in other words, illegible to the visually impaired. It’s nice to be different and stand out, but if I have a migraine starting 10 seconds into looking at your blog, then I’m off, sorry.
  5. Bad spelling and bad grammar. For example, I come across a lot of book blogs. I like to think that the more you read, the more you learn about sentence structure, spelling etc.  I have a spell checker and I am making use of systems such as Grammarly. There is no excuse for having a badly spelt blog with poor grammar. No, Laziness is not a decent excuse.
  6. A cluttered layout. If I have to spend time finding your content in between all the adverts and the external links, then I don’t want to know.  It means that you are more interested in revenue over content and it means I’m off elsewhere as I’m more interested in finding out what people have to say.
  7. A cluttered or rambling post. Posts don’t have to be long – in fact, some of the best and most useful posts can be short. If it looks like the writer has spent little time on the post, with ideas badly presented and all over the place, then again, I’m off.   This indicates a number of things from the author:
    • Slapdash writing (write once, then publish immediately).  I will go through multiple versions of a post in order to be satisfied with it. I will move words, sentences and paragraphs around. I’ll come to it days or weeks later for grammar checks. I am certainly not a “write once, publish fast” kinda girl – and I like to think you can spot it if I have!
    • A lack of imagination. When I read reviews of books, sometimes they’re only two or three sentences long (“I liked this, the lead character was haught!”). If you’re going to write a blog post, at least pretend you’ve put some thought into it and were paying attention to the book!  What was the story about? Why should I read this book (or avoid it?). If you’re going to get heavy, were there any subtexts, substories we should look out for?  On the other hand, some short reviews can be spot on, and show that the writer has put some effort into it (I can’t remember who this is attributed to, but there’s the note: Sorry for the  long letter, I didn’t have time to write you something shorter. In other words: brevity can take effort.
    • A lack of pride – why would you put something like that out for other people to look at?
  8. I look to see how you allow for comments. I’m not a huge fan of Disqus and I’ve had problems using Blogger (with Captcha) when using Firefox. If you require me to use another browser or another system to comment on your blog, then I’m unlikely to engage you on the one post, and unlikely ever to come to your blog again.

Those are the things I’ve thought off – and I’m sure that I’ve missed some – do you have anything else that turns you off about a blog?

 

 

New York Museum Of Modern Art visit 2009

Back in early December 2009, I “just so happened” (!) to be in New York for a few days with family.  On our final day, we spent some time in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Because we were short on time (we only had a hour) we agreed to target only what we truly wanted to see.

Apologies, but because of image rights etc, this post is going to be light on images, but heavy on links to some of the things we saw (I dont have the money or resources to contribute to image rights).

First we looked at the Bauhaus collection – as the site says

Founded in 1919 and shut down by the Nazis in 1933, the Bauhaus brought together artists, architects, and designers in an extraordinary conversation about the nature of art in the age of technology

It was interesting to see items that had been designed in the 20s and 30s that are still recognisable, classic items today (e.g. Marcel Breuer’s “Club chair” from 1925).  Also good to see the representation of the women of the Bauhaus, such as Gunta Stölzl, the only female director, who was in charge of weaving.

We whizzed past the Tim Burton exhibit (no loss to either of us) and it was with some regret that we decided not to look at the Monet’s Water Lilies exhibit, due to a combination of time and that one of our party was not with us that day and would have been insanely jealous if we had gone without her!

After spending time in the Bauhaus collection, we then spent the rest of our hour there looking at such items as Warhol’s “‘Gold Marilyn Monroe” (which is smaller than you think), the “Campbell’s soup cans” (there’s more of them than you think!), along with items from Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, and Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night“. In particular, my sister got excited to see the Mondrian pictures, of which several were hanging up (and finally I had someone to explain that *there was a point* to this kind of picture and that all the colours are “balanced” against each other as defined by some known-to-artists values).

In short, I did enjoy my visit to MOMA and whilst the hour allowed us to get through much of what was available, perhaps another hour there would have given us the chance to look at a few more things (the Monet exhibit is the bit I regret not seeing). However, much longer and I would have easily been bored. The museum itself is excellent  and whilst the $20 ticket in is a bit of a shock to someone who can get into the museums at home for free, when you see the quality and variety of the exhibits available, then I suppose I cant really complain!  Especially when such a facility is available in central New York, well within walking distance of Times Square (where we were staying).

We also went to the Met that day, but that’s another story!

Sunday Salon: Reading on Sunny days and Rainy Days

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I have a certain level of guilt about being inside. I grew up in 1970s England to Irish parents. As soon as the weather was “decent” (i.e. “not dark, not raining”) it was certainly a case of “get outside and play”. There was certainly no problem with reading – in fact, I was able to read and write before I went to school and I can never remember not being able to read – but being outside was certainly encouraged, for the rarity in decent weather if nothing else.

Therefore as an adult, choosing to be inside when the sun is shining is certainly a great source of Catholic Guilt. If it’s sunny, you’re outside, it’s that simple. You may go outside to read, that’s ok. It might be sunny and bloody freezing when you stop for more than 2 seconds but that’s not the point

If it’s a rainy day, I generally stay inside and do stuff – most but not all of it reading. I might be doing the dreaded housework, or the ironing etc. Again the guilt factor will prevent me from spending ALL of the day reading (or sewing or watching TV…). I can hear the internal voice going “how can you sit there and read when you know the place needs a dust?!”. Most of the time I can ignore the voice, but sometimes I can’t!

 

So what about you, constant reader? Do you read more on a rainy day or abandon everything else on a gorgeous day so you can be outside?

Book Review: Late Harvest Havoc by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane (Translation)

Late Harvest Havoc #winemaker #detective

Winter is in the air in Alsace and local customs are sowing trouble, piquing the curiosity of the famous winemaker from Bordeaux, Benjamin Cooker. While the wine expert and his assistant Virgile settle into their hotel in the old city of Colmar, distinguished vineyards are attacked. Is it revenge? The plot thickens when estates with no apparent connection to one another suffer the same sabotage just days prior to the late harvest. All of Alsace is in turmoil, plunged in the grip of suspicion that traces its roots back to the darkest hours of the German occupation. As he crosses back and forth into Germany from the Alsace he thought he knew so well, Cooker discovers a land of superstition, rivalry, and jealousy. Between tastings of the celebrated wines, he is drawn into the lives and intrigues of the inhabitants.

From the publishers Le French Book, via Netgalley in exchange for a review. Number 10 in the Winemaker Detective series – I have read and reviewed the previous books in this series and links to the reviews can be found at the bottom of this post.

This time Benjamin Cooker and Virgile Lanssien are in the Alsace region of France during the wintertime. Due to its location, ie. in France but bordering Germany and Switzerland, the Alsace region has alternated between German and French control over the centuries and reflects a mix of the 2 cultures.

The story starts with Benjamin looking around Strasbourg Cathedral, where he gets to flirt and show off to a local (female) tour guide – only  to witness her death from a heart attack minutes after the tour finishes. Her death generally puts him out of sorts for the rest of the book.

Benjamin and Virgile are in the area to check on and review the output from the Deutzler family estate, only to find a crippled head of the family and a deadly undercurrent of tension going on between his offspring and their spouses (and his nurse).

Someone is vandalising local vineyards just as the late harvest is about to start. There seems no pattern to the attacks, nothing to connect the damage at one estate to that of another attack miles away (sometimes on the same night). As Benjamin and Virgile dig deeper there’s the suspicion that the attacks are in retaliation to what happened during WWII and it soon transpires that whoever is involved knows more about viniture than meets the eye – the tools involved and the damage done takes some expertise in the wine world.

Meanwhile, someone seems to know that Cooker is in town – and considers him to be a threat – by slashing the tires on his car, making the pair resort to borrowing cars from various people

Now they are in a different region of France – and one so close to the border with Germany – it almost goes without saying that Benjamin and Virgile do not sting on sampling the local delicacies:

The small fried perch was always crusty, the baked fois gras was wonderfully creamy, and the squab was so tender, Benjamin would almost forget to put his fork to the delicate mushroom tart accompanying the dish.

in particular the cheese (Cooker seems to believe in “the smellier the better”):

He loved it particularly ripened, when the golden crust was nice and firm, and the rind had gone from soft to cream. As with wine, Benjamine Cooker assessed Munsters with his nose. He’d plunge his knife to reveal the center of this cheese from the Vosges Plateau. The more tenacious and rustic the aroma – even a tad repugnant – the more the cheese lover’s nose quivered.

As per usual, these are not long books, and don’t go into too much heavy detail as to motive etc. You are there to enjoy the scenery, the food, the smell of good cigars, and hopefully enjoy the challenge of who does what to whom, especially when people and places have long memories.

My reviews of the other books are as follows (in no specific order):

Grand Cru Heist

Nightmare in Burgundy

Deadly Tasting

Cognac Conspiracies

Flambe in Armagnac

Monmartre Mysteries

Backstabbing in Beaujolais

Mayhem in Margaux

 

Sunday Salon: What order to you read your books in?

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When you receive new books in the mail, do the older ones get moved to the bottom of your list or do go strictly “by the book” and keep your list with older books first and then the new ones?

Oh I can’t read books in order of arrival – I am very much a reader who needs to be in a certain mood to read certain books.  If I’m not in the mood to read a crime novel or a romance, and the next one on the list is a crime novel, if I force myself to read it then I will probably fail and give it an awful review.   It’s one of the reasons why I rarely take part in prescribed reading challenges – it’s a little like doing homework, in that if I know I HAVE to read a certain book next, chances are I’ll begrudge the obligation and not read it.

Where I’m reading a book based on a publication date,  I will do my best to read that as close to the date as possible, or at least publish a review close to the date. Often I will get books months ahead of the publication book, and am therefore able to read when I’m in the mood most likely to finish it.

Otherwise as far as I’m concerned it’s a free for all and I’ll write in what ever order is best!

What about you?

Book Review: Our Little Secrets by Merry Farmer

Our Little Secrets

She thought she could escape to the West and start a new life…

People are hunting Charlotte Baldwin, missing heiress, but no one is looking for Charlie West, bride of a humble frontier shopkeeper. Marrying him was the cover she needed to keep all of her secrets from getting out. But what starts as a marriage of convenience turns hot in a hurry.

He believed the sins of his past were behind him…

The final piece of Michael West’s plan to become a proper businessman is a respectable wife. Charlie is beautiful, intelligent, and surprisingly sensual. They’re a perfect match in every way. … Maybe too perfect. As passions flare, the truth comes out: Charlie may have run straight into the arms of her enemy.

No sin stays a secret forever…

I first read a Merry Farmer book a few years ago (you can find a review of “In Your Arms” here) and judging by timestamps etc, I picked this up for free – possibly from her website – not long after. I read this book back in 2015, but for some reason never got around to writing a review. Whoopsie!

Charlotte Baldwin disappears into the West to escape her confining life as an heiress unable to do what she wants within the rules set by her stepfather. Within 24 hours of arriving in town, she has met and married Michael West, a shopkeeper whose friendship with certain individuals has lead to gossip being spread around as to his life-choices.

Marrying Charlie helps keep the gossips at bay, especially when it becomes evident that Michael and Charlie are in love and have an active sex-life. Meanwhile, Charlie proves that she has a head for business and is a good addition to the store, whether she is married to the boss or not.

However, it turns out that Michael has secrets of his own, and it all comes to a head near the end of the book, with a decent “didn’t see that coming” plot twist.  This is the standard “they fall out over a misunderstanding, one leaves, true love wins out” but there’s enough difference to make this book a decent read.   The secondary characters, especially in terms of Michael’s friends, are decently drawn, and there’s the possibility of one or more of them having their own story told, as seems to be the tradition now.

In summary: This is a good and decent contribution to the modern canon of slightly steamy romance novels, where the sex can be explicit and some less-than-traditional choices are in there (Farmer seems to make a point of having same-sex couples in her books)

About this author

Merry Farmer lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. She has been writing since she was ten years old and realized one day that she didn’t have to wait for the teacher to assign a creative writing project to write something. It was the best day of her life. She then went on to earn not one but two degrees in History so that she would always having something to write about. Today she walks along the cutting edge of Indie Publishing, writing Historical Romance and Women’s Sci-Fi. She is also passionate about blogging, knitting, and cricket and is working towards becoming an internationally certified cricket scorer.

I did an interview with Merry Farmer back in 2014 and it can be found here

I also did a Release Announcement for her book Trail Of Kisses

 

 

Book Review: Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David, Colleen Doran (Illustrator)

amazing fantastic incredibleIn this gorgeously illustrated, full-color graphic memoir, Stan Lee—comic book legend and cocreator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk, and a legion of other Marvel superheroes—shares his iconic legacy and the story of how modern comics came to be.

Stan Lee is a man who needs no introduction. The most legendary name in the history of comic books, he has been the leading creative force behind Marvel Comics, and has brought to life—and into the mainstream—some of the world’s best-known heroes and most infamous villains throughout his career. His stories—filled with superheroes struggling with personal hang-ups and bad guys who possessed previously unseen psychological complexity—added wit and subtlety to a field previously locked into flat portrayals of good vs. evil. Lee put the human in superhuman and in doing so, created a new mythology for the twentieth century.

In this beautifully illustrated graphic memoir—illustrated by celebrated artist Colleen Doran—Lee tells the story of his life with the same inimitable wit, energy, and offbeat spirit that he brought to the world of comics. Moving from his impoverished childhood in Manhattan to his early days writing comics, through his military training films during World War II and the rise of the Marvel empire in the 1960s to the current resurgence in movies, Amazing Fantastic Incredible documents the life of a man and the legacy of an industry and career.

This funny, moving, and incredibly honest memoir is a must-have for collectors and fans of comic books and graphic novels of every age.

Christmas 2015 gift from my boss. Cue “Do you know who he is?” “Something to do with Marvel ain’t he?” “Something….?” Sputters. Sometimes I think she does it to wind me up, other times….

Anyway, Stan Lee turned 93 in 2015, and with the 75th Anniversary of Marvel comics, it was apparently time to produce his backstory in comic book format.   Due to the time span and the size of the book (a multi-volume, 1000+ page tome this ain’t), this doesn’t go into too much depth as to any event, and some are handled lightly if not at all.  Lee’s mother’s death is handled in a single frame, his father’s death not at all. Steve Ditka leaving Marvel and Spiderman gets a page, the legal troubles over the movie licencing gets 5.

Lee says he doesn’t know why Ditka, Kirby et al left Marvel (or incarnations thereof) and whilst I didnt necessarily believe him (is he really that self-absorbed that he knew nothing?) it’s easy to see this book for what it is and gloss over the negatives/omissions.

It’s a lighthearted and amusing tale of a man who has seen much in his 90+ years, knows that he’s probably been used along the way by various people (including Governments, Hollywood, Presidents etc), but who remains upbeat, positive, and is intent on getting as much out of life as possible, even when things are potentially bad (e.g. the death of his second dughter at 3 days old is mentioned so that he can recognise that it happened, but he’s not prepared to dwell on it).   As a man in his 80s, to start getting a new wind in cameos in practically ALL the Marvel movies and TV programs seems to be a delight to him – hopefully the link below will give you an indication as to what he’s done…

 

 

The story never gets too “heavy”, Colleen Doran—Lee manages to impart enough of the “Stan Lee” bravado/self -esteem so that the reader never has to worry about “Jeeze, not again” for Lee’s positivity to be too wearing.

In the end, the book is only as good as the source material. I know it’s flawed, but it’s a happy read and you come away feeling that anything can happen!