Lock, Key – no smoking barrels

I find myself lost for nice words (jaded?). I mean, I really enjoyed Lock and Key, and here I am struggling to write down the reasons I liked it, with a prepared list of things that were poorly executed in the book.

The positive aspects, which made me read the book in three days and have a hissy fit for having forgotten my Kindle at work one day, are just too damn ethereal. It’s not about the characters. It’s not about the plot. It’s about that general feeling that seems to encompass you when you’re reading a worthy book. It infuses every minute of your day and makes it different.

Lock and Key made my days somehow softer. It made me calmer and more serene. The story goes pretty much as Goodreads says it goes. It’s not very original nor is it exactly ground-breaking in character development. It even has one of my least favourite things – first-person narrator. But it worked for me, even though throughout the whole book I was painfully aware of all the things that could have been done better.

What sealed the deal at four stars is a quote which made me realize I need to stop bitching and feeling sorry for myself.

Needing was so easy: it came naturally, like breathing. Being needed by someone else, though, that was the hard part.

Yeah, I knoooow. It’s lame, second-grade stuff, but sometimes you need someone to remind you of that lame second-grade stuff you forget along the line. They don’t stop being true, we just dismiss them, thinking we’ve outgrown them.

I’m pleased that my new vague blog category has not been a complete failure, because this books fall easily into the Maximum Coze category. I guess it wasn’t a fluke after all.

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How to Read the Bedwyn Saga

If I’ve ever wondered if there is such a thing as too much historical romance (I didn’t) I know the answer. There is. Really. I’ve read six and a half Bedwyn Saga books in a span of one month. It’s really difficult to say at which point I started feeling slightly mad.

If, at any point, you were (or are) interested in giving the Bedwyns a go, I will not dissuade you. I think that, if historical romance is your cup of tea, you really should. I had loads of fun, right until the moment I overdosed. And now, after going cold turkey a week ago, I am getting the shakes.

I am wiser now, though, and here I share my wisdom with you on how to read the Bedwyn saga:

  1. Read A Summer to Remember (#0.6) regardless of your interest/disinterest in the Bedwyns. It’s great. It really is. It’s true.
  2. Then go on to read Slightly Scandalous (#03)
  3. Take a break, breathe. Wear sunscreen.
  4. Go back to the Slightly Married (#01)
  5. At this point, if you’re not interested in Wulfric Bedwyn you should stop reading. If you are, jump to Slightly Dangerous (#06)
  6. If you’re feeling slightly bored, you might go on to read Slightly Wicked (#02) – it’s fun, although irritating at times.
  7. If you have developed any interest for Morgan (WOW!) go read Slightly Scandalous (#04) and if you actually managed to get “a feel” of Alleyne as a character (DOUBLE WOW!) you might (not sure, though – I’ve put it on hiatus) enjoy Slightly Tempted (#05).

I do wish I haven’t gone on this crazy binge because maybe, just maybe, I could have appreciated the series more. Actually, I’m almost convinced that would be the case.

Give Me My Binary Opposition

I’m really sick of being strong. Of enduring. Of keeping it real. Of gritting my teeth and pushing forward with a vengeance. I need a fucking break. Give me it. I need some leeway. I just need a minute or two where I can let go, be dependant, a pathetic, malleable jellybean.

Of course I’m ashamed of this. I’m ashamed of this desire to have the privilege of being weak. I’d probably hate it. I’d probably go mental from having someone guide me with a firm hand through even one moment of my life. I’d kick and scream, be all like:

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Still, I need my binary opposition to make sense of the world.

A Feeling to Remember

Have you ever sat by the river, watching the endless flow of placid water, listening to the rustle of leaves on the summer breeze? Have you ever sat in silence feeling the warmth of sun rays filtered through the branches on your face? Have you ever closed your eyes to better hear that moment of serenity? If you have, than you have an idea of what it felt like to read A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh.

I did not fall in love with Kit, the male protagonist, nor did I wonder what it would be like to experience the things Lauren has experienced. I did not feel compelled to rush through the pages, inadvertently skipping whole sentences to see what happens next. I was not frustrated by the “unnecessary” events and descriptions which did not deal with the two protagonists.

I did not grin excitedly.  I smiled contentedly.

Normally, only the books that fall into the Personal Edification category can arouse anything similar. The fact that I enjoyed a book intended for the Guilty Pleasure section this much is surprising. Novel. Strangely exciting.

There is nothing guilty about the pleasure I’ve had reading it. A Summer to Remember is a beautiful, unassuming book. I absolutely loved it and have enjoyed the writing style, the dialogue and the many characters it manages to portray wonderfully. I respect the way it reflects the period (Regency) in which it takes place in every aspect – even when norms and propriety are toyed with.

It’s not really easy to write about this book, but where words fail, I’m sure that the fourth panel of the little comic below will best explain what reading A Summer to Remember felt like. I do wonder whether the new category “maximum coze” will have additional entries.

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The First Cheap Thrill of 2017

During my seven-day tryst with flu, I have come to recognize there are some, albeit few, benefits to being unable to exercise any type of exertion. Putting aside that you might have to do some actual work while burning up at mild 38.5 degrees Celsius, you don’t (really) need your mental faculties to be at their peak to engage in these benefits.

  1. You can read silly books to your heart’s desire
  2. You needn’t explain to anyone why the fuck you are watching Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre AGAIN.

Flu is what brings about the first  Cheap Thrill of 2017 to my blog.

I’ve stumbled upon Storm and Silence on Goodreads (trending in some context) so I’ve decided to take it up when shit got too real.

Key words: 19th century, London, feminist, suffragette, tall, dark, curt, brooding, gender bender, guns, fights, France, balls (the kind you need a gown for), commerce…

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Storm and Silence (read here) suffers from a serious case of ADHD. Its story lines disappear and reappear indiscriminately, with no sense of proportion and position in the grand scheme of things. For example there’s a story line about Ella (sister) and her love problems which took up so much of Thiers attention (for some unfathomable reason).

Boring. Uninteresting. Superfluous. Boooooooring. Skip-skip-skip. Don’t care.

After putting the reader through superfluous torture with Ella, Thier decides he no longer has any interest in it and ends the blasted thing in just a couple of pages. Could’ve done that sooner. Like before introducing Ella as a character.

There is more than one thing that warns against reading Storm and Silence such as:

  1. The main character Lilly, whose point of view we follow, balances on the edge of lunacy for the best part of the book.
  2. It takes I would say about two thirds of the book to actually get an inkling that  Rikkard (blah name) Ambrose (that’s the tall, brooding dude) is supposed to be an actual human being
  3. The end of the book is stupid, ridiculous and impromptu as the conclusion of the Ella-storyline.

However…

It’s kind of a cute book, with all its quirks and general “is-this-really-a-book” feel. I liked it. It was fun. Even when it was irritating the shit out of me I still had a grin on my face. Despite all of the above, Lilly grew on me and I ended up really liking Ambrose even though it took forever for him to take shape. Yes. It is possible it was the flu doing the liking.

However…

I have also red In the Eye of the Storm (read here). Unlike Storm and Silence, the no. 2 actually gives of a unified feeling and can be mistaken for a book. In the Eye of the Storm can face many historical romances and not blink. While Storm and Silence dabbles with adventure, In the Eye of the Storm brings it on and takes it seriously. The major fault which both instalments share is the extent to which you have to suspend your disbelief in order to digest some of the things that happen.

However…

We who are in the business of Cheap Thrills and Guilty Pleasures suspend our disbelief like you wouldn’t believe. So, I intend to read the third book here and I fully expect to be entertained.

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Homo Mensura

The Flanders Panel
Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Part of the infamous and no-longer-neglected Mini Book Club (featuring moi and Lukre)

Throughout most of the effort of completing the Flanders Panel, I genuinely hated the thing. I despised its inability to give depth to its characters, its inaction and unnecessarily long-winded philosophical musings. Reading it was a horrible experience. Truly, an excruciating feat. There’s nothing happening in this book. There are characters which talk a lot about what’s happening (which is nothing). It’s a jumbled mess of art, chess and dime-store philosophy which only dabbles in mystery.

But (I’m still having difficulty accepting there’s a but!), having completed it, it seems that the objective suckiness of the book has been misplaced by what I have decided it was lacking,

My participation in the recreation of the story has rendered it not-so-horrible. My irritation with the lack of proper emotional response of the characters to the atrocities in the book has, inadvertently, infused them in my mind with exactly that. Even though the flat protagonist Julia has failed to be appalled and heart-broken, by noticing her failure and purely by thinking about how she should have felt, I have somehow redeemed this bad piece of writing. This does not happen often, and I don’t know why it happens with some books, while not with others, but I ended up not giving a one-star review.

I’m a bit distraught by this, but at the same time I love it because it reflects that which I love about books – the words they contain and the stories they tell are subject to endless interpretation of the reader and how much that reader dedicates himself or herself to the process. The whole process is so delectably unstable and open – beautiful.

As I usually do, I rummaged through Goodreads in search of positive reviews which only confirmed that we only think we are reading the same book because it has the same content.

The Flanders Panel still sucks, tho. It’s one of those books that should have been good, because it has all the ingredients. However, as we all now, it’s crucial to know just what to do with those ingredients.

One damp afternoon, Arturo Perez Reverte sat down at his usual table in the quasi-artistic cafe El Museo, somewhere on the way from La Navata to Madrid. Quasi-artistic because its clientele comprised of art enthusiast and connoisseurs. Salvador Dali, who would meet his demise in January next year, never sipped absinth in the dim, smoke-infused interior while pondering the finer nuances of artistic expression.

Arturo was looking through the newspaper he found lying languidly on the table. He looked up briefly when the waiter inquired of his beverage of choice.

“Gin”, he replied, smoothing out his moustache, “with a twist of lemon, if you please.”

He went back to the newspaper, stopping at the art section. Apparently, there was a possibility of Spain housing the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.

August Thyssen, the founder of the Thyssen family’s financial empire and a passionate art collector would not be found in El Museo, Arturo thought, without malice or envy. He liked El Museo. He liked the reproductions which hung on the wall and the quiet discussions about art and an occasional game of chess which included more pensive stares than actual moves on the board.

The lanky waiter set the lemony gin on the table with a polite word or two, prompting Arturo to look up and smile. His smile froze beneath his moustache when his eyes caught a game of chess being played under the reproduction of the Arnolfini Portrait.

Being one of those art enthusiasts, he had a vague idea about the Flemish school and Van Eyck, but his knowledge of the 15th century was far from vague. All those bits and pieces of information, some larger, some smaller, coagulated in his brain to form an idea that will take the form of The Flanders Panel.

A Year in Life

Some 15 years ago I had a big fight with my mother. I was in high school (yes, I am that old) and we were watching the latest episode of Gilmore Girls. This was before Netflix, before binge TV. This was in the world of Napster – when it took hours to download a single song. This was a world in which, after a weeks’ worth of downloading you had an album to burn on a CD (a round disc with a hole in the middle which went into that slot in your computer, you know – the cup holder). Back then you could use your mobile phone for five things: call, text, calculate, wake up and play the snake.

In that world, in that particular episode Rory gets hurt after going for a drive (to get ice-cream) with Jess in a car that Dean had built for her. Lorelai, being a Jess-hater that she was, freaks out at Jess’s role in the accident. I don’t remember the particulars, but basically she blames everything on the irresponsible, token bad-boy of the show. She’s presenting her frantic case to Luke when I remark she’s overreacting and that she’s being a bitch about it just because she doesn’t like Jess.

At that point my mother says, calmly, that I shouldn’t comment because I don’t have any children. Today, my mum and I have a relationship akin to Rory and Lorelai. Back then we were Lorelai and Emily. So I freaked out, of course, because I believed (and I still do) that just because I have not experienced something first hand doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have an opinion about it.

All hell broke loose because the fight transcended into a fight about my right to have an opinion, to voice it and to have my opinion acknowledged. Note, it was a MASSIVE fight.

This is, I think, why people care about Gilmore Girls. Female people, that is. I think every mother wanted to be Lorelai to her daughter and every daughter wanted Lorelai to be her mother. With all its ups and downs, it was a relationship we wanted.  Some of us wanted to go to a fancy private school and live in a fairy-tale little town. Most wanted Dean, Jess or Logan. But I think it all boiled down to that mother-daughter relationship.

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It was hard not to get excited about A Year in Life, because it reminded me of how much I wanted to see how everyone was doing. It might sound sad, but fictional characters make out a significant part of my life and, often, they don’t give you closure. Closure rarely happens in fiction, because you don’t want the fiction to end.

Yes, A Year in Life did not show me what I wanted to see. There are some things that I consider stupid and unnecessary, but it didn’t diminish anything about it. Because I always thought what happens in Gilmore Girls just has to happen that way. It’s how it’s supposed to be, because that’s how life goes. Silly, I know, but I have always accepted the plot as a fact of life. Sure, I believe that some (most) plot choices in A Year in Life were made due to the availability of the actors, but I don’t care because it’s Gilmore Girls. It’s the way it should be.

2016 has been one of the lousiest years in my life. Made me question pretty much everything. Everything but my family. And that’s what Gilmore Girls is essentially about. It’s about family, and people you consider to be your family. Frankly, I think that family can get you through everything, even 2016.

In case you were wondering…

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The Best Productivity App

This post will be about the best productivity app ever – Any.do. People I work with know just how much I love this app. I think they might know it all too well. Note, only one of my co-workers actually installed it and is using it, which I consider my personal (and professional) failure. I have tried out pretty much every to-do app there is, and this is the only one which met all of my finicky requirements – basically when it comes to any app, I can tolerate only one thing that bugs me. Any.do has zero.

Why do I like it?

General app observations

  1. No ads

I hate ads. Hate them (if they don’t serve an actual purpose, which they rarely do). I don’t care if the app if free. I want those ads to fuck off and leave me alone. That’s why the “no ads” feature of the app is no. 1. Sometimes (veeeeery rarely) you’ll be offered an option to buy the full app for a discount or something, but it does not interfere with the reason why this app exist – and that’s productivity. The “buy the premium version” is not constantly visible – you have to search for it in the section of the app you (I) never use.

  1. It’s pretty

Superficial, you say? Irrelevant? No, I say. It’s no.2 thing among general requirements the app needs to fulfil in order to stay on my smartphone. Come on, if I’m going to use it every day and look at it, the least it can do is look good, right? Right.

  1. No “I could buy the premium version” thoughts

I’ve never considered buying the full version. Yeah, it has some cool shiny features, but I do not need them (see no.1 and no.2 on the list).

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I’ve discovered (after finding a victim who responded positively to: You really should install Any.Do) that the option to share tasks is limited in the free version . Now, the support.any.do says:

  • Regular users can share one task while Premium users can share an unlimited amount of tasks.

However I currently have two shared tasks, and I have previously shared some tasks, so I’m not sure about the limit. Btw, is it really correct to say “amount of tasks” shouldn’t it be “number of tasks”?

(I’m currently exploring the “share list” option.)

  1. Works on my computer and tablet perfectly

A perfectly functional and good looking extension for chrome is available, which makes it much easier to follow your tasks. The app available at the Windows Store (I think that’s its name) is also usable.

  1. It’s simple stupid

There is no useless feature in this app. None. It doesn’t offer a million of useless options which make the app which makes you feel like using the app is a task in itself.

  1. Widget in the Today View

For an app to fall into the “productivity” category, in my book it has to have a widget available for the Today View. I start my day by opening the Today View, checking out the weather, seeing what’s next on my calendar and seeing if there’s any interesting words of the day on Merriam Webster and The Free Dictionary. Of course, this includes seeing which tasks I have to complete that day and which ones I might postpone. Because a good productivity app has to also allow you to procrastinate.

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Functionality

Any.do gives you everything you need; nothing more and nothing less.

  1. do@any.do

The number of shit e-mails I get is immeasurable, those e-mails with minor tasks which I can do with my eyes closed, using only my left thumb. Those bitches are the worst because it’s so easy to forget about them. That’s why I forward them to do@any.do, I edit the subject and they appear on my to-do list. The text of the e-mail is available in the notes section of the task, so I don’t have to dig through my inbox once the task is on my immediate agenda. Awesome feature. Love it. Thinking about marrying it.

  1. No proliferation

If you have a task which requires you to do several additional things, you can add subtasks and notes to it. I like to keep my to-do list clean and unencumbered because I don’t want to see my to-do list in the morning and decide to off myself rather than going to work. Of course, you organise your tasks in lists – I have a separate list for each of my clients and for bigger projects and campaigns. There’s an option of adding photos and files and what not to individual tasks, but I have rarely used this.

  1. Procrastination

Any.do allows you to procrastinate, which is a very important thing in my book. You can schedule your tasks and you can nicely push them back if you they don’t require your immediate attention. The fact that there is a desktop version of the app helps fine tuning the art of procrastination.

  1. Badge

This is the only app on which I tolerate badges because they remind me that I tasks to complete and it tells me how many there are for the day. Yeah, sometimes it freaks me out, but it also helps me to say on my toes. The “No proliferation” part is what allows me to stay reasonably sane.

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What about Android?

I use Any.do mostly on my iPhone, so I’ve decided to give it a go on Android, just to see how it compares. It’s pretty much identical. I like the fact that the Android version separates subtasks from notes and you can follow how many subtasks you have left. As much as I can remember, most Android phones don offer badges, which is a big minus for me in this case. I’m sure there are more differences, however I will not find out before publishing this post because Googling it would be like cheating.

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A thank you note for my dad

Dear dad, happy birthday.

Thank you for being the best dad ever. Thank you for always treating me like a person, never like a child. Thank you for always expecting more from me than anyone else. Thank you for being the sort of person who makes this world a better place. Thank you for your support, for tolerating me in times when I could not tolerate myself. Thank you for raising me not to care about money and material things and for teaching me that giving your best for something you believe in is the only way to go through life.

Thank you for never lecturing me, but talking to me like an equal. Thank you for being one of my best friends in the world.

I’m thankful for all your shortcomings, for your stubbornness and lack of patience because without them you would not be you.

Nikoleta

P.S. I do wish you would take better care of yourself.

Everything at the same time

Stranger Things should have been a jumbled mess of everything. It’s an homage to a time long dead; it’s a teen show; it’s a horror show; it’s a drama; it’s a children’s show, it’s a paranormal show.

By all intents and purposes, it should have been shit. Because it’s been more than I care to remember since a show or a movie actually managed to balance more than one idea throughout its duration.

Maybe balance is a poor choice of word, because it sounds like the show is teetering on the edge of losing it. Stranger Things is everything at the same time. Most importantly, it has soul – that something that is only theoretical, inexplicable and all-encompassing, summing up character, feeling and essence of the world. The something that cannot be created by sheer force of will.

It has been far too long since we were given something with a soul – something that’s more than a sum of its parts.

Stranger Things has a life of its own because someone loved it long before it ever came to be.

Also this.

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