Review: Christmas “Artists”

This is NOT a review on Christmas music.  This is a review on the artists who cover Christmas music. A Lot of them are doing this wrong.  This is not opinion.  It’s FACT.  If an artist doesn’t have the skill to make a song their own, they need to follow directions someone else gave them.  Anything else is wrong.

Let’s start with the ultimate example of an artist “covering” a Christmas song right.  Jingle Bell Rock.  In 1957, Bobby Helms put out a version of the classic “Jingle Bells” but in his own tune.  From the very first note you know this isn’t “Jingle Bells” – this is Jingle Bell Rock.  There is never doubt that he took the “Jingle Bells” song and made it his.

Now, when you are listening to a singer “cover” something like “Silent Night” or “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” you probably can sing along because you know the words. People love singing along.  What is wrong with the classic that the last word or the last measure this “artist” will decide to change it.  Or they’ll pace it wrong.  It’s WRONG.

IF you are set up to be able to sing along with a song and then halfway through they change a little piece it throws you off.  You stop.  You lose your rhythm and suddenly you are listening to see if and where you can jump back in.  Then they do it again.  And again you are thrown out of enjoying your activity and you are sort of listening.  But you aren’t really listening to THEM – you are listening to catch back into the tune.

Either claim the song and do it so differently people can’t sing along (ie someone who knows “Jingle Bells” can’t sing along with “Jingle Bell Rock” the first time) OR follow directions and sing it the way it was written. If anyone else hit 90% of the song, we would berate them for being a bad cover artist.  If you are going to cover it, do it right.  If you are going to interpret it – it has to be more than 10%.  Preferably more than 30%.  Enough that noone is confused.  

This halfway shit has to stop.  Do it right or follow directions.

Review: Moist Von Lipwig

I can finally review this trilogy since I finished it over the weekend.  I’ve read and re-read Going Postal and Making Money for years, but somehow I never got around to Raising Steam.  Moist was my real intro to Discworld and Terry Pratchett.  Then I went back and red Guards! Guards!  I’m working my way (slowly) through the Witches books.

But I hold a special place for Moist.  He’s awful in a lot of ways.  Like really a bad person who wants to be selfish and greedy.  At least in the first two books.  Now, he also has a strong internal set of morals and ethics – his own which no one else would ever agree with but…

So Going Postal is probably my favorite of the three.  I thoroughly enjoy seeing Moist struggle with his desire to run away and his determination to do something interesting.  The character is “forced” into his position but never loses agency or personality.  In Making Money, he’s somewhat resigned to living “by the law” but still determined he’s a crook and crooked.

It’s Raising Steam that fell apart.  Firstly, Moist was barely the protagonist.  And none of the characters really felt like they had great agency.  I feel like you can see Pratchett’s alzheimer’s throughout the book.  Lord Vetinari isn’t tricksy or snide.  He’s… human.  He never felt “human” in the other books.  It didn’t feel like he had that “I already knew that” suave demeanor.

In a book that revolved around the dwarves Captain Carrot wasn’t mentioned.  Not even a “this is why he’s missing” side comment – nothin’ just…. missing.  Adorabell felt like a trophy rather than a partner (or a person with her own agency).  Goblins were used throughout as a deus ex machina.  It’s a shame because there is an awesome core plot and Pratchett wrote awesome characters earlier in his career.

Overall, I would 100% recommend Going Postal and Making Money but not Raising Steam.  Just skip that last book.  Leave Moist on 2 books and be happy about his progress through them.

Review: Audiobook Players

This review is specifically how these players work with Android Auto (AA) in my Kia Sorento.  I can’t speak as an authority that Android Auto is the same everywhere, so this is definitely MY opinion.

There are technically 5 different audiobook players I have used/do use during my commute.  I’m really only going to review 4 however since Overdrive is pushing towards Libby – either way this is the library, so 100% free (well, paid for by our taxes).  Both Audible by Amazon and Google Play Books require you purchase your books (Audible having a subscription, Google Play doesn’t).  Lastly, the mostly-free option of Librivox.

Libby

love getting books from my library.  I do not love Libby.  This app is awkward. It only recently (like maybe this summer) finally updated to even work on Android Auto.  And it’s…. usable.  The controls are all-but useless (the skip is worthless in the car – it skips too much – I made this mistake once).

The worst thing is the launch.  Libby doesn’t remember I was just listening to the damn book. I have to push the icon for audio (because Libby was my last used app on AA).  I then have to OPEN the menu, pick my book, and click “resume.”  GOD FORBID I am running around doing errands jumping in and out of the car at various stops – I have to do this EVERY TIME.

It exists but it is NOT user friendly.  If it wasn’t linked to the library books…. I’d probably skip it.

Audible

Ok, so disclaimer here, I haven’t used my Audible in about 2 months – I’ve got like 3 books stacked up on it, but I’ve had library books that were on hold that came available and I had to splurge through like 3 audiobooks in 6 weeks.  So they could have updated, and this is definitely the most out-of-date app for me to say “I used this ‘recently,’ I swear.”

But it’s a good app. It works and registers I was reading a book.  On the AA launch page I can just hit “play” and it resumes my book.  I don’t think I ever had to skip around a book for anything, if I did it was so easy I don’t even remember it.

Their subscription prices are also (in my opinion) competitive.  I think the average audiobook is about $20.  There are a decent number that are $10-15, but there are also a bunch that at $30-40. So for $15 you get 1 and $21 you get 2 books per month.  At $21 each of these books is $10.50 – which is well below any average for audiobooks.

Google Play Books

This might be my favorite interface.  Not because of anything really unique, but very simply for one setting.  The speed.  You can set/change the speed of the reading on Android Auto.   So if the reader is a bit slow (I’m looking at you Michael Kramer) you can reset to 125%, and then when it switches (*ahem* Kate Reading) comes on switch back to 100% speed.  I don’t always remember, but if it’s bugging me that day – it’s easy.

Now, the downside is the 100% must-buy-the-book-at-list-price.  Now, they also seem to run lower average prices and deals regularly/all-the-time.  I also use Google Rewards to earn credit.  Now, this credit might get me one audiobook every six months – but still!  For telling Google where I really was (or more likely wasn’t…) I get ~$0.20 each week.  Maybe.

Librivox

I am going to give a lot of leeway for Librivox.  If you don’t know Project Gutenberg and Librivox – you need to.  These groups take books/writings that are in the public domain and put them out for free.  Gutenberg in text, Librivox uses volunteers to make audiobooks. Their app can be free – and supported by ads, or for $1.99 you can get it ad-free.

Really, there are several “weaknesses” to Librivox, but the only one in the app itself is it’s memory.  I know of once I was most of the way home and someone called me – interrupting the book.  When I got off the phone I went to resume and…. it had reset to where I had been at the beginning of my commute.  It took a few minutes to get back to my spot (or at least close).

The downside to volunteers is the quality.  Some readers are really amazing.  Some of them suck.  Sometimes it’s their pronunciation (people shouldn’t fake accents), sometimes it’s clearly they are using less-than-professional equipment (echos and breathing).  I try to be patient with these things, but there has been at least one book I had to either muscle through bad readers on certain chapters or give up because there was only reader and she was awful (that particular one she didn’t understand commas, periods or inflection).

The interface itself isn’t bad at all, again – nothing too special.  All the interfaces for Android Auto tend to be very simplistic (I mean, the goal is to be driving, not paying attention to your book).

Review: The Veil of Gold

The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins was good, but I can’t quite give it great.  It grabbed me pretty quickly, I didn’t hit 100 pages before I was carrying it around so I could read anywhere I found myself with a few moments.

The characters were interesting.  I wouldn’t give them all kudos on being well-rounded but they were definitely interesting and I really liked that the main male in the novel was in a lot of ways very anti-trope.  He was nervous and uncertain and very kind.  And yet I never would call him “whiny” (ok, not without really good cause– ’cause he had one!) and I would never think he wasn’t a man.

Ok, so let me get straight to my biggest beef.  The ending.  It was abrupt.  There was all this lead up and build and then in like 20 pages tried to tie everything into a bow that ended up being very messy instead of amazing.  The story kind of desperately needed a denouement.  It felt like the author knew she hit her 50k in NaNoWriMo and just tried to wrap it up ASAP instead of giving it the same depth and attention she had given the first 50,000 words.

It wasn’t a “bad” ending per say, just very, very abrupt and jarring in that abruptness.  So much of the rest of the novel had been more of a slow burn to have that sudden explosion and then nothing beyond it…. was jarring.  It’s the best description I have.

The plot was fabulous through 95% of the book.  REALLY compelling and awesome use of Russian folklore and history.  I loved the intertwining of the magical and real worlds.  The way the characters wove worked wonders.  Pun might be intended because of the wondrous nature of the plot….

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairy tales but not to just anyone.  I would definitely say it’s more of 15+ age as there is some graphic language, descriptions of violence (Russian fairy tales are NOT generally nice), and sex – although it isn’t erotic or “sexy” but the topic comes up in enough ways I’d bring the age up a little more than I might otherwise.  If not for the sex & language, I’d probably put this at 13+ and then only because of the complexity of the journey itself.  But anyone who’s read Lord of the Rings (read it, not watched the movie) could definitely get through this book – except for the age-potentially-inappropriate content.

I think overall, I’d give this 3.5 out of 5.  Good, recommended to people who I think would enjoy it – but not a “if you don’t read this you are denying yourself pleasure in this life you should regret” level.

Manners: Remove Thyself!

I read this comic this week: https://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=3837 (and if you don’t read QC – you should!)

And I don’t want to talk about the content per say – but rather when it’s time to remove yourself from a bad spot.  I definitely had that in 2 jobs.  I knew things were turning sour and I couldn’t see how to fix it without compromising myself/my ethics.  So it was time to start job hunting.

And this is true of relationships too.  Sometimes it’s a catalyst like Basilisk (the purple lady in the comic) experienced that just makes her see it.  Sometimes it builds up over time and one day you look at the mountain of evidence and say, “Oh. Wow.  Ok, that isn’t good anymore.”

Knowing this is hard though.  I’ve always been afraid I’m going to “give up” on stuff too quickly, which sometimes means I “stick with” it MUCH longer than I should.  I hate giving up.  I hate admitting defeat.  I hate admitting I made mistakes.

But you know what, I like seeing reminders that I should look for catalysts.  I should listen to the piles of evidence. So should you.

Review: Shopping eShakti

So this is NOT a book review – it’s a review of an online shopping site called eShakti.  I have looong avoided buying clothes online.  My luck with places like Wish or Amazon or even “traditional” stores like Macy’s or JCPenny was awful.  Mostly misses and rarely hits.  And returns…. ugh!

So when my Facebook began showing me super-cute dresses from this site called eShakti I was wary.  To say the least.  But one of them was just too perfect and so I took the risk.  I used my credit card I trusted would allow me to refute the charges if I did end up in some kind of fight and ordered 2 dresses (there was a Buy One, Get one 1/2 off).

So the huge boon to eShakti is for $9.95 ($10) they customize size, sleeves, length – whatever.  Even without $10 they demand your height and hem it accordingly.  I put the $10 on each dress and ended up at $82.75 – which at ~$40 per dress is at least as good as I would buy at a Macy’s or JCPEnny or Kohl’s (normally).  Yes, I love finding dresses on sale for $20, but let’s be honest – decent dresses run $39.99 on sale.

So I get the two dresses in July.  One of them I am in love with.  It’s a great green and has a POCKET – like a real pocket.  Like my 5″ phone disappears and doesn’t even screw up the line sized POCKET.  OMG.  It’s a great jersey-knit cotton that doesn’t wrinkle easily and I am obsessed.  I would wear it pretty much every day if I could.

The second dress did not meet my approval.  I had thought I was buying something casual, but when I got it – well the material was more “formal” of a polyester.  More of a chiffon than a cotton.  Fortunately, this gave me the perfect opportunity to make a return.  They say it’s easy but…

Well, it was.  They automatically include a return label and all I had to do was print off my return information from the website and mail the box.  It took about 2 weeks and they offered me either store credit or to return to the cost to my card.  I went ahead and took the credit and ordered another dress – another one I’m in love with.

So eShakti isn’t the cheapest – but between their $10 customization and constant sales, promotions & deals… They are running about the cost of a “professional” dress at most of the major stores around me AND they have real pockets.