A MAGICAL WALK IN A WOODS

The Ray Bradbury Noun List Twist

My list? A shiny scroll, vacuum taffy, a cake, a tool box, armor, a rainbow turtle, a bottle, a bottle of Allergone, a laser. I shall use the first seven of these nine items, with modifying adjectives to make them part of the narrative. It’s a magical adventure in the woods … or at least the beginning of one …


sun and misty woodsIt’s misty in the forest. I was hanging loose, on my recliner with the laptop. The ballgame was playing on the television, I mentally drifting, lazily thinking about supper. What I would cook. When.

Then I drifted into a trance? Just a light trance — which brought me to the forest. I didn’t do it on purpose exactly, but sometimes the magic gets loose and does its own thing.

Not sure how far from home I am. For all I know, I could be in my back yard. Can’t see farther than the trees and mist blocking my view.

I’m here for a reason, but what?

I’ve brought stuff with me. The most interesting item is a shiny scroll. Not mine. I just found it in my hand. I’m sure it’s magical. Without a power source, it’s glowing. I bet when I open it will contain instructions, or at least an explanation.

I’ve brought some favorite goodies — a half pound of vacuum-packed salt water taffy and a boxed 7-layer cake. I would have brought water, but it’s bulky and heavy. There’s usually water in the woods anyhow. In fact, I can hear water, probably a stream no more than a couple of hundred feet away. I will head towards it in just a moment.

I bought my spelling toolbox. I grabbed it as I left home. It’s my version of a magician’s top hat. I can keep putting stuff in, but it never gets unwieldy or too full.

small bottleI’m wearing armor too, just to be on the safe side. It attaches itself to me as soon as I begin a magical adventure. It knows. An old hobbit buddy of mine gave it to me when he went to the Grey Havens. It’s almost weightless, far stronger than Kevlar. Mithril. You can’t buy it anymore, not even on Amazon.

I packed my rainbow porcelain turtle. I keep it full of useful spells. I never know what I’ll need … or when. And my little golden bottle. It looks empty. but it really contains a tiny genie who can slip silently into any crevice, no matter how small.

Now, I think I’ll follow the sound of that water. When I get there, I’ll have a little something to drink, a bit of cake or taffy. Open the scroll, see what I’ll be doing for the next bit of time.

Magic is rich with the unexpected.

JIM BUTCHER: COLD DAYS

skin game jim butcherJim Butcher’s new Harry Dresden adventure will be out in a few days. It’s been a long wait, but it’s nearly over. Thought it might be a good time to remember the last book — which was one of my favorites and which I just reread to remind myself of what came before, the better to enjoy the new book: The Skin Game.


It was a long wait between books last time too. All I could do was wait, which I did with the proverbial bated breath. I love Harry Dresden’s world and with Harry, Chicago’s resident wizard. Look him up. He’s in the Yellow Pages. I read Cold Days on Kindle then listened to the audiobook.

James Marsters is a great narrator, the voice of Harry Dresden. One of the books used a different narrator and fans were seriously upset. I wasn’t as bothered as some others, but I prefer Marsters. Moving to this from Ghost Story where Harry was neither alive nor dead was rough for Harry fans. In Cold Days, Harry is back, in the flesh. Less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. Just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and aren’t going away

Cold Days is satisfying. Harry gets pulverized, attracting violence like iron shavings to a magnet. I am consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has already survived death itself. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these last few books. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse.

Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil in my reality consists largely of grey bureaucrats, corporate executives and smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. In Jim Butcher’s world, the bad guys are solid, big, and seriously bad-ass. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there battling for justice and good, even when it seems he’s taken the wrong turn.

Despite appearances, Harry is never bad. He is stubborn, overly wedded to his own opinions. He does not heed advice which has cost him dearly. He persists in believing he knows best, not only for himself, but for friends and is taken aback when friends object. Sooner or later, he will get the point. He is changing. He is painfully aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s become more a planner, less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only possible course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting.

This is good. There are six more books to come. Time to work out the unfinished relationships. Harry’s awesome world is my metaphysical escape from the life’s woes. Harry’s woes are much  more entertaining than mine. Maybe in my next incarnation I will have magic.

Including spine

Don’t miss this installment — and don’t  read the new book until you’ve read at least a few of the earlier episode (all of them is better!). It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

The Dresden Files:

MY HOLLYWOOD FANTASY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I love movies. Old movies  Movies from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. I grew up watching these films. They were movies from Hollywood’s golden age when fantasy really trumped reality. These were films seen in theaters. First, second and the beloved third run or neighborhood movies houses.

This was before television. The movie theater experience was as much fun as seeing the film. That’s where the fantasy began.

HollywoodSign

I saw my first movie in 1946. I was four years old. The movie was “The Best Years Of Our Lives”. My Mom and Dad took me to see the film in a big glittery theater in Manhattan. New York. The city that never sleeps. My Dad, in his Army dress uniform with ribbons and medals, had just returned from Europe. World War Two had ended less than a year earlier. I vaguely remembered the headlines. My Dad seemed ten feet tall in his uniform. My Mom was more beautiful than I could ever recall. She looked like a movie actress in one of those popular magazines of the day. I felt as if we were in a movie that evening. It was magical!

The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives_film_posterI don’t remember much about the movie. I remember some of the scenes. The returning GI’s looking down at their hometown from the air. The scenes of the town as the taxi took the men to their respective homes. The family reunions. The men looked like my father and yet they didn’t. I was vaguely disturbed but didn’t understand. I dreamed about the movie that night. My Dad was the star. My Mom was the lady played by Myrna Loy. I was the son receiving souvenirs from my Dad. Yes, I could see myself in the movie.

That fantasy would replay itself many times over ensuing decades. But it grew with the films of my youth. The westerns, especially. I adored westerns. I liked seeing the good guys always beat the bad guys. I liked the way the good guys dressed and the horses they rode. Curiously, none of the guys — good or bad — looked like anyone in my family but that didn’t matter to me. Didn’t think much about it. I was  all of those good guys! Most of all, I was John Wayne. Later, I was so much John Wayne I enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school. Another story.

As my fantasy grew, I also discovered I was a romantic. This is a guy secret. I liked romantic movies with happy endings. I was Joseph Cotten pursuing Jennifer Jones in “Love Letters” and “Portrait of Jennie”. I was Spencer Tracy, the underdog to Clark Gable, vying for the affections of Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert.

Somewhere, stashed away, I have an old notebook. One of those notebooks with lined pages used for compositions in grade school. I used to write imaginary castings for movies with myself as the star opposite Hollywood legends. Actually, I added some reality. I worked my way up from “and introducing Garry Armstrong”, to co-star and finally star. Fortunately, that notebook was never discovered in class.

Duke and Lone

Marilyn and I have been watching (again) a series, “MGM – WHEN THE LION ROARED”. It’s a fascinating look at the rise and fall of Hollywood’s most prestigious studio. As we look at the series, I fantasize again, now at age 72, about being there in Hollywood during its golden age.

Fantasy dissolved into a dream last night. I was in 1930’s Hollywood. I was at MGM. I saw the legends. Gable, Tracy, Garbo, Crawford and all the others. The dream unfolded rather skillfully. I was a freelance writer working under a pseudonym in separate quarters. This is how I, a man of color, could exist in that world. It was perfectly splendid. My work was excellent. Others took credit but all knew who I was, especially Louis B. Mayer. I never asked for a raise. My scripts all had the MGM touch.

In real life, I’ve had the chance to meet many of those legends who’ve been part of my dreams. As a TV news reporter, I’ve actually had the opportunity to socialize with some of the legends. You’ve read about some of them in other blogs. It’s funny when reality meets your dreams and fantasies.

I’ve done some extra or background acting. It’s been interesting but the hours are too long, like those I logged for almost 40 years in television. I don’t like getting up early anymore. I haven’t quite closed the door, mind you. I hang onto the fantasy I’ll get “the call” for a lead role in a major movie.

And, the Oscar goes to …

MEET FELIX CASTOR, EXORCIST BY MIKE CAREY

The Devil You Know | Mike CareyThere’s a rumor going around on Amazon that Mike Carey is going to publish another Felix Castor book. I hope it’s true. I’ll line up to be among the first to buy a copy. I love this series.

I discovered Mike Carey because I reviewed a Jim Butcher book and someone suggested I’d like the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. I’d never heard of Mike Carey, but I was out of new authors to read at the time and I was ready to try anything that sounded good. I got what I hoped for plus a whole lot more.

Mike Carey is not merely a good writer. He is what I would term hyper-literate. He uses words like a rapier. His prose is beautifully crafted, often lyrical, yet never treacly or sappy. He is crisp.

He actually uses words I have to look up because I don’t recognize them. It has been decades since I learned a new word. Sometimes I don’t know the word because it’s British slang with which I’m just not familiar, but sometimes, it’s a word I’ve never seen before.

He does not repeat himself. He never uses the same descriptive passage more than once, nor does he — as many popular authors do — copy and paste sections from one book to another to (I presume) save writing time. Mike Carey doesn’t use short cuts.

The result is a style that is richly descriptive, a delicious combination of gritty street slang banging head-on into literary English. Guttersnipe meets Jane Austen in the streets of Liverpool. It gives the narrative a rare and rich texture.

What’s it all about? Felix (Fix) Castor is an exorcist. He sees the dead and the undead. They see him. He is no wizard who magics his problems away with the wave of a hand or wand. He can send the dead away when they linger and cast out demons who possess humans.

Where do the dead go after he sends them away?  He’s not sure, an issue that looms successively larger as the series progresses. His weapon is music in the form of a tin whistle, a thin armament in the face of some of the perils he faces. He has a few allies — human, formerly human plus one demon in recovery.

The series consists of five books, each building on the previous one to form what is essentially a single story in five parts. Best to read the series in order. All the books are now available on paperback, for Kindle and as an Audible download.

In order, the books are:

  1. The Devil You Know
  2. Vicious Circle 
  3. Dead Men’s Boots
  4. Thicker Than Water
  5. The Naming of Beasts.

None of the books are exactly a lightweight romp through a sunny meadow, but the first three books are much lighter in tone  … and funnier — Carey has a sharp, ironic sense of humor– than the final two, which are pretty intense.

Mike Carey (writer)

Mike Carey (author) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fix Castor works hard for short money, is rarely appreciated by the people he helps, has more than enough of his personal demons, not to mention some very real, otherworldly demons who are seriously out to get him.

It’s a unique series, unlike any other I’ve read. I wish there had been more of them, though I suspect the author is done with this series.

There are so many surprises in this series. The characters constantly surprised me by growing and changing, developing in unexpected ways and not doing the obvious. Characters make unique choices and don’t take the obvious or easy way out.

Mike Carey can be very funny. His subtle and elegant humor contains no belly laughs, but irony pervades his prose. None of the books are traditionally funny nor are the situations humorous or light-hearted, but the author’s writing style is wonderfully cynical. The stories, pun intended, are dead serious. Darkness notwithstanding, you can count on Mike Carey’s plays on words and twists of phrase to keep the dread from becoming too heavy to handle.

The plots are gripping and creepy. Any or all of the books would make great horror movies. I’m surprised no one has grabbed them yet. Maybe they will. Sooner or later, someone is bound to notice, right?

LOVE TO READ – HOW HARRY POTTER CHANGED THE WORLD

Recently I saw the 8th and final Harry Potter movie on Blue Ray DVD. In an introduction to the movie celebrated author of the seven Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, talked about the 13 year adventure from the time the first Harry Potter book was published until the time the 8th movie was finished. In case you did not know, the 7th book was long and made into two movies. They probably should have made books five and six into two movies each, but I digress.

harryPotter

The really remarkable thing about the series was not that it made eight movies, turned Daniel Radcliffe into one of the richest people in England and Rowling into a Billionaire. It is not that Radcliffe and his costars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are now the most famous wizards of all time, or even that a wonderful theme park was opened in Florida to celebrate the worldwide phenomenon. The remarkable thing is that it got generations of people to read. They were not reading because they were assigned these books. They were all reading because they wanted to do it.

The movie adventures came as a result of a global desire to read about Harry Potter.  It was not just hitting the New York Times bestseller list. It was rocketing through the roof.  Books were flying off the shelves like Harry in a game of Quidditch. If you don’t know that reference, than you missed out on something most of the world knows.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally published, almost exactly ten years after the first book was published, I wisely put a copy in reserve so I would not have to stand in line for the midnight release or miss out on getting a copy.

When I went to pick up my copy the following day I said to the clerk, “It must have been crazy here last night with all the kids screaming and pushing their way through.”

“The kids were not the problem,” she told me, “It was all the 20-year-olds pushing and shouting.”

It was the earliest generations of little wizards that were standing in line. Just imagine, some of them had waited half of their lives to find out what happened to the “Chosen One.” Many stayed up all night, not playing video games, but reading.

Yes, people all over the world were reading about Harry Potter, the boy wizard.

Nothing has captivated the reading public in that way since and perhaps nothing ever will again. It was the perfect mix of magic and wonder. And as Harry grew to be an adult, the stories grew to be more serious and complex. Just as Harry grew up, so did the books and with them, so did the reading public. No series had ever brought along a generation of readers from youth to adulthood merely through the pages of books.

It was the power of the books and the opinions of the followers of the boy wizard that the movies had to live up to. That is why movies five and six disappointed so many Potter fans. The books had spun the imaginations of readers into a marvelous vision of what these stories were and the movies had to cut much of the story to keep the length manageable. Reading had already painted the picture, but the movie screen did not display the scenes painted on the canvass of the mind.

Harry-Potter-And-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2

Thus book seven became movies seven and eight. There was no way to turn the long book into a two-hour and 25 minute movie. The only smart thing to do was exactly what the public was demanding. Film the entire book.

When book seven hit the shelves it sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours. It has been translated into 120 languages. I bet you did not know there were that many languages. In its first week out, not only was it number one, but the other six books were in the top 20 best sellers. Everyone was loving to read the most fascinating series ever.

What about now? What about the next generation of readers? Will there be a next generation of readers? If you read the Potter series, then you know the joy of a good book. Many of us know the joy of many good books. If I had not already run up my word count with my joy of Harry Potter, I might list some of the great reads I have encountered in life.

There is nothing like a good book. It would be highly unfortunate for future generations if they did not know that. Harry Potter proves it, not just by the sales numbers but by the reaction of the reading public to the movies. Yes, they wanted the boy wizard to come to life, but they already knew what he should look like and what was happening at all the locations in the story.

Radcliffe may have come to be the Potter we saw as we read the books, but our imaginations took us to worlds only the mind can take us. Movie makers knew by book seven, they had to try to deliver something they could not, movies that matched the stories that already played out in our minds.

Teach your children or your grandchildren or your little brother or sister to read. It is not just about learning the words, it is about engaging the mind. They will find that a good book holds more excitement and wonder than a You Tube video or X-Box game. It is better than any 3-D spectacular or animated feature. The pictures it presents are the best pictures of all time, the pictures generated by the mind.

HORROR OF DEATH WITHOUT HOPE: COBWEB BRIDE – VERA NAZARIAN

COBWEB BRIDE by Vera Nazarian

Publication Date: July 15, 2013

CobwebBride-Mockup1

Death has lost his bride and must find her, the Cobweb Bride, before he will again take up his task of bringing a close to life.

Many books … uncountable books … focus on the horror of death, impending death, death by disease, war, accident, murder. This is the first one in my reading experience that focuses on the horror of life with no hope of death, a life where nothing dies. Not a plant, animal or human. No living thing can pass out of life, no matter how damaged, mutilated or ill. No amount of pain, age or readiness will change anything.

Persephone (Percy) can see death. It is her gift, if you’d like to call it that. It makes her unique and eventually, powerful and frightening. But first, she is the most unattractive daughter in a household of three daughters, unloved by her mother, barely tolerated by her sisters. Her father loves her, though effusive demonstrations of affection are hardly his style. Is she destined to be the bride of Death, the one for whom he searches the earth?

Claere is the Infanta, only child, daughter of the Emperor and Empress. Now, because Death will no longer take away those whose time on earth is ended, though she is dead, she is not dead. She walks, speaks, thinks and (sort of) feels. She believes she is the rightful bride of Death. How much more appropriate? She is high royalty and already dead, the perfect Cobweb Bride. Is she the one?

There are others, many others for the Emperor has decreed every family must offer up a daughter (if they have an eligible girl child) to Death. He will only take one, but no one knows who it will be, from which kingdom she will emerge. All that is known is Death demands his Cobweb Bride. Until he finds her, the world cannot be made right. Soon, food stores will run dry and the world will starve to death, yet no one will die and Earth will be entirely populated by the dead-who-are-not-dead.

COBWEB BRIDE is the first book in the Cobweb Bride Trilogy, a grim Grimm-style fairy tale in a mythical version of Europe in the 1700s, a history-flavored fantasy that is both romantic and dark, full of symbolism and shadows.

There are multiple sub-plots and intricate relationships that develop along the way. As the first book of a trilogy, the landscape is laid out for you. The cast of characters is presented and introduced with their histories, strengths, failures, hopes and fears … but without resolution. I usually avoid reading the first book of a trilogy unless at least the second book is already in print. This time, I didn’t have that choice, since I am reviewing the first volume before its release. I wish there was a next book to read.

Corpse Bride in Cobweb inspired dress

Photo credit: lora70

This is a goodie. It’s different. A little slow getting started, but once it does, the concept and characters are intriguing, the story sufficiently unique that I was hooked.

How dreadful a world-view the author paints where there is no relief from life, when eternity looms before everyone. How bleak and terrifying is the prospect of eternal life? I’ve always thought that the only thing more frightening than death is the prospect of living without possibility of death, the premise on which this book is built.

The premise and the story work, probably because of the richly drawn characters and plot. The players are different, strange, and alluring. The dead and the living interact, to no one’s particular pleasure.

The living dead have varying reactions to their unexpected change of circumstance. The power mad feel they’ve found the ultimate road to even more power. Others wish only for oblivion. What do you do when you are in love with the man who murdered you? When you have to choose whether to obey the insane directives of a dead-not-dead monarch? When does loyalty end in the face of a world that has changed beyond recognition?

In an alternate reality, somewhere in a mythical “pocket” of not-quite-Europe in the Kingdom of Lethe, the strangeness unfolds and everyone must walk a path no one has trod before.

* * *

Vera Nazarian is a two-time Nebula Award Nominee, award-winning artist, and member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a writer with a penchant for moral fables and stories of intense wonder, true love, and intricacy. She immigrated to the USA from the former USSR as a kid, sold her first story at the age of 17, and since then has published numerous works in anthologies and magazines, and has seen her fiction translated into eight languages.

She is the author of critically acclaimed novels Dreams of the Compass Rose and Lords of Rainbow, as well as the outrageous parodies Mansfield Park and Mummies and Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, and most recently, Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret in her humorous and surprisingly romantic Supernatural Jane Austen Series.

After many years in Los Angeles, Vera lives in a small town in Vermont, and uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art.

Visit her official author’s website at http://www.veranazarian.com.

Love bites dark shapes

Love Bites – A dark tale of love, desire and dentistry.

Marilyn Armstrong:

If this isn’t the perfect opening chapter to a novel, I don’t know what is. I loved it. It’s wonderful, dark, sexy, and beautifully written. I presume fiction.

Originally posted on Beasley Green:

A dark tale of love, desire and dentistry.

He opened his eyes. His eyes saw nothing and his mind felt nothing. For a moment he had no idea of a before or an after. He had no interest. All was now and now was all inky-black nothing. He was blank.

Then clarity began to permeate the blackness. Sparks of memory, like tiny, phosphorescent, deep sea micro-organisms, flickering on and off like a coded signal trying to tell him something. Just small flickers of light, a slight pulse, then gone… then a sting, and that fire in his blood… Darkness swallowed him up again and he went under.

Love bites dark shapes

Zoe had dumped Luke almost a year ago. He hadn’t seen it coming – although she had been thinking about it for weeks; apparently. It was a few weeks before Christmas, which was harsh. But at least it gave Luke the ideal opportunity…

View original 3,723 more words

THE HOLLOWS RETURNS, FEB 2014 — THE UNDEAD POOL by Kim Harrison (Review by Annie Tegelan)

See much more about this book, this review and all things Hollows-related on KIM HARRISON’S DRAMA


Reviewed by Annie Tegelan
Posted January 1, 2014

Paranormal

Welcome back to the Hollows! In THE UNDEAD POOL, the twelfth book of the series, Kim Harrison gives readers exactly what they have been wishing for.

Witch and day-walking demon Rachel Morgan has a new set of problems wreaking havoc on Cincinnati. Spells are misfiring everywhere, but the origin of the glitch seems to be her ley line. Which makes Rachel responsible for cleaning up the mess. The timing is bad, to say the least. The union of humans and Inderlanders is shaky and Rachel wonders if this task is too big even for her. With undead master vampires in the mix, it could become war. There’s no time to waste.

If things aren’t sufficiently complicated, there’s the ongoing, always tentative relationship between Rachel and Trent. They’ve been dancing around it for what seems — forever? As they circle one another, giving hints and kisses, readers are on the tenterhooks while Harrison addresses the burning question: “Will Rachel and Trent finally get together?”

Harrison’s writing and amazing world-building are second to none. It’s no wonder this series has gained such a passionate following. The characters continue to grow, the world is constantly changing — and the plot in each book feel fresh and new. THE UNDEAD POOL is without question the best of the series!

In Pale Demon, Rachel Morgan saved the demon’s Everafter from shrinking and ultimately disappearing. But it came at a high cost. Strange, dark magic is attacking Cincinnati and the Hollows. Spells backfire or go horribly awry. The truce between Inderlander and human is breaking up. Rachel must stop the dark necromancy before the undead vampire masters — those who keep the rest of the undead under control — are destroyed bringing an all-out supernatural war.

Rachel knows of only one weapon with the power to ensure peace: ancient elven wild magic.  Which carries its own perils.

And painful experience has shown Rachel that no good deed goes unpunished . . .

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

My favorite series is drawing to a close. This isn’t the final book. There will be one more ( I keep hoping for even more). In the meantime, I’m experiencing advance withdrawal pangs!

See on freshfiction.com

COLD DAYS IN THE DRESDEN UNIVERSE

Congratulations to Jim Butcher. Cold Days is the winner of this year’s GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS FOR THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR in the Paranormal Fantasy category. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the past half-dozen years in any genre. I unreservedly recommend the series. However, if you have not read the earlier books, do not start with Cold Days. You need the history and back stories from earlier books for this one to make sense.

Check out all the winners on Goodreads!

I waited with a proverbial bated breath for this episode of the Harry Dresden series. I am enchanted by Jim Butcher’s writing and the world he has created, in love with Harry, Chicago’s resident wizard. Look him up. He’s in the Yellow Pages.

I read Cold Days on Kindle then listened to the audiobook. James Marsters is a great narrator, the voice of Harry Dresden. One of the books used a different narrator and fans were seriously upset. I wasn’t as bothered as some others, but I prefer Marsters.

Moving to this from Ghost Story where Harry was neither alive nor dead was rough for Harry fans. In Cold Days, Harry is back, in the flesh. Less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. Just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and aren’t going away.

Cold Days is satisfying. Harry gets pulverized, attracting violence like iron shavings to a magnet. I am consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has already survived death itself. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these last few books. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse.

Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

I’d keep reading the books even if the characters started walking on their hands and speaking Latin, but wouldn’t mind less abrupt transitions when a character is about to flip from the dark to the light side. It’s not a matter of believability, more like giving readers a chance to catch up with the author. If you are a Harry Dresden fan, reality is not your issue. You probably left it behind a long time ago.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on my reality plane consists of grey bureaucrats, corporate executives and smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance.

In Jim Butcher’s world, the bad guys are solid, big, and seriously badass. This is where Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there battling for justice and good, even when it seems he’s taken the wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad. He is stubborn, overly wedded to his own opinions. He does not heed advice which has cost him dearly. He persists in believing he knows best, not only for himself, but for friends and is taken aback when friends object. Sooner or later, he will get the point.

He is changing. He is painfully — in the most literal sense — aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s become more a planner, less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only possible course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. This is good.

There are six more books to come. Time to work out the unfinished relationships. Harry’s awesome world is my metaphysical escape from the life’s woes. Harry’s woes are much  more entertaining than mine. Maybe in my next incarnation I will have magic. In this life, I shall settle for unmagical me.

 

Including spine

Don’t miss this installment. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

The  Dresden Files:

Book 1: Storm Front

Book 2: Fool Moon

Book 3: Grave Peril

Book 4: Summer Knight

Book 5: Death Masks

Book 6: Blood Rites

Book 7: Dead Beat

Book 8: Proven Guilty

Book 9: White Night

Book 10: Small Favor

Book 11: Turn Coat

Book 12: Changes

Book 13: Ghost Story

Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files

Book 14: Cold Days

RAI KIRAH, CAROL BERG – A MAGICAL LISTENING EXPERIENCE

The Rai Kirah Trilogy: TransformationRevelationRestoration

Listening to this series was a revelation. I’ve read the series several times, but I never listened to the books. When I got the series on Kindle, it was unavailable as an audiobook. When finally it became available, it took a while to collect all three books. I’m still collecting other series by Carol Berg on audio. And I’ve been busy with other reviewing commitments. Finally it was time to give myself a treat. I settled in to reread the series through my ears.

Listening to this beautifully narrated series, I heard much I had missed when I read it. I read too fast, so I read books at least twice.  Even so, I miss stuff, often a lot. When I listen, I cannot listen faster than a human narrator can read and I discover entirely new dimensions. Audiobooks have a unique ability to create a movie in my head. I see characters, hear them, see their world.

Carol Berg’s worlds are magic. The fantastical is normal. Those who wield magic are powerful, but not invulnerable. Sometimes, their magic makes them more vulnerable and puts them in danger. And there’s alway a price to pay.

Seyonne spent 16 years as a slave. He is beaten, branded. Horribly mistreated. Subjected to the destruction of his religion, morals and powers. When he is acquired by the spoiled, bad-tempered Prince Aleksander, his situation does not improve.

Aleksander is as cruel a master as any he has had. But there is something about Aleksander, something different. Seyonne only catches it in flashes. One day he looks into Seyonne’s eyes and what he sees changes everything. Aleksander is destined — unless he is stopped before he has the opportunity — to save the world.

The Rai Kirah — demons — are trying to destroy Aleksander. Kill him, discredit him. Prevent him from becoming the official heir to the empire. With Seyonne’s help, Aleksander can defeat the plot. Working together to save the world from demons, the two men save each other, physically and spiritually and form an extraordinary friendship.

Victim and persecutor evolve together. Seyonne and Prince Aleksander, heir to the Derzhi Empire, learn to trust each other. Considering the amount of wrong Seyonne and his people suffered at the hands of Aleksander’s family, there’s a long road to travel. In the process, both transform. They save each others’ lives. Their fates are intricately linked. I found their relationship deeply touching.

Despite some childish nonsense from other reviewers, two people of the same-sex who love one another are not necessarily homosexual. If they were, I wouldn’t care, but in this case, they are not. In my world, loving non-sexual relations are called “friendship.” To those who have a problem with this, get over it. Drinking beer and watching a game is not necessarily the highest level to which a friendship can rise.

In the course of Rai Kirah, a selfish, cruel monarch transforms into a compassionate man and ultimately, a great ruler. The former slave rises while a king’s fortunes rise and fall. Both are redeemed. More or less.

There’s plenty of action. Battles are fought, magic is wielded, blood is spilled. The writing is intelligent and the author never takes the cheap way out. The plot is complicated. No “deus ex machina” appears to fix problems.

Rai Kirah is beautifully crafted. The story is riveting. There’s a very satisfying amount of action, romance (think “Dumas” rather than “Harlequin“), nobility, fantastical realms and magic.

Hearing on audio was a far more satisfying experience than reading it. If get buy the audiobook and the Kindle version, whichever you buy first, you get a substantial discount on the other. I suggest you should buy Kindle first. The discount is more substantial on Audible. You can then, through Whispersync, literally listen while you read, a “follow the bouncing ball” reading experience.

I don’t have enough glowing adjectives to tell you how very much I love Carol Berg as an author, the worlds she creates. Her characters, stories. Everything. I’m a fan. Big time.

THE RETURN BY MELISSA DOUTHIT – PART 3 OF THE RAIE’CHAELIA TRILOGY

96-THE RETURN MELISSA DOUTHITTAfter a fall  from the Maaldan cliff (for anyone else, it would have been fatal), Chalice rejoins her friends. The time has come to finish what they began. Chalice is coming into her full power, her potential is being realized. The degree of power she is able to summon is awe-inspiring. Terrifying not only to her enemies, but to herself and her friends.

She is young and angry, has little experience of life. Not enough to guide the decisions she needs to make — on which the fate of the world depends. Her powers exceed her control. Her temper is hot, abrupt. She makes mistakes, finds it hard to stick to plans. Or think clearly if her emotions are involved. Worse, she cannot (literally) tell Jeremiah — or anyone — the whole truth. Jeremiah has his own secrets. Many secrets, many people.

Now that she reunited with her friends on a journey that takes them to the coastline of Ielieria. Led by Chalice, who has gained knowledge from her father by traveling into a strange dream world, they sail the seas. There will be war. They need to prepare.

And then, there’s her father. What will happen when she returns him to the throne? What he learns some of the things she has done, by mistake and on purpose?

Meanwhile, Lucca hates Chalice with his entire being. His obsession to find and destroy her is his one vulnerability. As he searches the kingdom for Chalice,  she must lure him out, ultimately let him find her. It’s a potentially lethal game of cat and mouse. The prize? Everyone’s freedom and the future of the realm … not to mention life and death for the rebels and their sympathizers.

This is a fun book and a good read. Lots of action — magic, young love, battles and war — and one amazing horse. Don’t underestimate the horse; she’s a major character. If you love horses (I do), it’s a great addition. There’s a lot to like, memorable and sympathetic heroes and heroines. Plus some very sinister bad guys.

This is a young book, aimed at a youthful audience though suitable for adults too. Chalice and all her compatriots are kids and act like it, so you can’t blame them for doing stuff kids do. If you think it’s unrealistic, it’s not. Throughout history, the very young have led armies. Princes in their teens, generals barely ready to shave. Only in recent centuries as life expectancy increased has leadership transferred to older generations.

I read the entire trilogy from the first through this, the third and final book, without a break. For all practical purposes, it’s one book broken into three parts … like Lord of the Rings. I don’t suggest reading this as a stand-alone. If you haven’t read the first two books, read them before you read this.

Prequels

The Journey Begins: A novella prequel. Chalice’ story before the first book begins.
The Vanishing: A novella prequel. Jeremiah’s story before the first book begins.

The Trilogy

The Raie’Chaelia: Book One.
The Firelight of Maalda: Book Two.
The Return: Book Three.

Available from Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Returning to the Dresden Universe — Cold Days in Audio

Including spineListening Cold Days again took me back to a world I love. James Marsters is a wonderful narrator. Marsters has become the voice of Harry Dresden. One book used a different narrator and fans were up in arms. I wasn’t quite as bothered as some, but I prefer Marsters. He strikes that perfect balance to enable me to see the story in my head. My own movie.

I am a Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher fan, so there’s no way for me to discuss any of these books with even a semblance of neutrality. If you also love the series, the enchanted world of Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher … I’m with you.

In the last Dresden book, “Ghost Story,” Harry was neither entirely alive nor quite dead. It was a difficult excursion for Harry’s fans. I liked it well enough, though it was different from any previous Harry Dresden adventure. I was sure it was an important bridge to the next phase of Harry’s world and I was right.

“Cold Days” is more satisfying. Although Harry gets pulverized (as usual), I’m consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has, after all, already survived death. Earlier books ended with more resolution than the last few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line. “Cold Days” brings Harry back in the flesh. Changed, less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. This is just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and they aren’t going away.

Jim Butcher is a clever. He extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces horrendous odds, then adroitly uses these apparently hopeless situations to move the story in a new direction that will become the next book. Nothing is superfluous. It’s all part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of the full picture to be revealed in a subsequent installment.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on this plane is likely to consist of grey bureaucrats, smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there fighting for justice, even when it seems he’s taken a wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad, though he is stubborn, too wedded to his own opinions. He’s a poor listener and does not heed advice, a combination that has cost him dearly.

Harry is changing and growing. He’s painfully (in the most literal sense) aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s not cocksure anymore. He has become more of a planner. He is less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. All to the good.

I’m sensing a climactic conclusion to the series coming. I wish the series would go on forever, but Jim Butcher has said it will be 20 books and a trilogy. I’m not sure if the trilogy is part of the 20 books or in addition to it. I keep meaning to ask. Maybe I’ll just wait and see.

I hope — by now — the next installment of the Dresden Files is nearing publication. I’ll be waiting and ready to read when it comes around! Meanwhile, if you haven’t gotten to this one, don’t miss it. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey (2009)

Sandman Slim is fantasy, horror, and mystery, gift-wrapped in a deliciously witty package. It’s got the cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and every place in between. Enough zombies, in various flavors, to satisfy anyone’s enthusiasm for gore. Enough violence to get your heart pumping.

Cover of "Sandman Slim: A Novel"

The writing is sufficiently sophisticated, literate and sharp-edged that you have no doubt you are reading a book for grown-ups. This is no excursion into adolescent sparkly vampires. The undead are as far from cuddly as a bunny is from a crocodile.

The good guys aren’t particularly warm and fuzzy either. It’s a new perspective on angels and demons, good versus evil. The distinction between the good and bad guys is a matter of degree and ultimate intent. Both commit atrocities. It’s a matter of whose side you are on and what your final goal happens to be … and whether that’s evil or holy is a matter of opinion.

In Kadrey’s world, angels are as lethal as any of the bestial dead. Flaming swords or not, there’s nothing human or huggable about these heavenly hosts.

Meet Lucifer, Uriel and a few other big shots of the hereafter. Spend some time in Hell. Take a quick peek at Heaven.

Kadrey’s biting wit makes this first book and subsequent books in the series addictive. I read the first one, then hustled over to Amazon and bought the next two installments (Kill The Dead and Aloha From Hell).

It’s set in Los Angeles, but this is not your grandfather’s L.A.

Richard Kadrey

Richard Kadrey

“L.A.” says our hero, if indeed Sandman Slim can be classified as a hero, though he is indeed heroic, “is what happens when a bunch of Lovecraftian elder gods and porn starlets spend a weekend locked up in the Chateau Marmont snorting lines of crank off Jim Morrison’s bones. If the Viagra and illegal Traci Lords videos don’t get you going, then the Japanese tentacle porn will.”

In terms of hyper-literacy, Kadrey rivals Mike Carey, although these books are darker — and the Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books are very dark — and noticeably more violent. And gory. Jim Butcher on steroids and meth.

If fantasy is your genre and you don’t mind violent and gory, check these out. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they are extremely well-written and the perspective of God, Heaven, Hell and human life is sufficiently unique to hook me. I don’t usually like quite this much violence and am not especially into zombies … but these are good. Intense. Reeking of testosterone.

Gameboard of the Gods, Richelle Mead

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

PENGUIN GROUP, Dutton Adult

Publication Date : June 4, 2013

Every once in a while, a book takes you by surprise in a good way. This was one of those times.

English: American author Richelle Mead (born N...

Author Richelle Mead

June 4th marks the introduction of Richelle Mead’s new “Age of X” series. Gameboard of the Gods is a science fiction urban fantasy cum mystery that’s got all the stuff we want in the genre in the right quantities to make it yummy and leave you wanting more.

In a future world nearly destroyed by strife resulting from religious extremism, Justin March lives in exile. His crime? Reporting the truth of what he saw … an inexplicable, possibly supernatural phenomenon. He could have done as others had done before and simply deny what he’d seen, ascribe it to something easily explained by trickery and special effects, but Justin has been touched by something he can’t understand, but which has a power he cannot ignore.  Justin’s job was to disprove the existence of anything supernatural, investigate religious groups, void their claims, and disband any group that presents even a hint of threat to the establishment. He failed to do it, and for his failure, was exiled to the backwater of Panama, where laws are loosely enforced and civilization has a thinner veneer than in North America.

To his surprise, Justin gets a second chance. Justin’s special investigative skills uniquely qualify him to investigate a series of ritualistic murders that have defied all previous attempts to solve them. A delegation from RUNA (Republic of United North America) is sent to get him and praetorian Mae Koskinen — a member of RUNA’s military’s elite — is assigned to protect him. Mae has personal issues of her own and believes that she herself is a breath away from disgrace, proving that what you believe can be more important than facts.

Justin is given only a month to solve the crimes.  Considered a genius by many, a dangerous madman and a charming fraud by many others, Justin March is determined to do it. With the deadline breathing down his neck, a hostile partner (Mae is not exactly thrilled by her assignment as Justin’s protector), he begins to unravel the complex cases. There seem to be no threads to tie the crimes together or any solid evidence to go on. Justin eventually realizes he and Mae not just investigators, but are at the heart of the mystery. Nothing is simple or clearcut. The truth will put their lives in jeopardy and if they survive, it just might prove their professional undoing. The personal and professional choices Mae and Justin must make as they battle dark forces and their attraction to each other is more perilous than either imagined possible.

There’s nothing in this book that you haven’t read in other urban fantasy novels, but it’s written very well. It’s hot, exciting. It kept me glued to the story from start to finish. I was instantly ready to read any number of sequels, but alas … the sequels aren’t written yet. I am forced to patiently wait for new installments. Rats. I’m not kidding when I say I can hardly wait.

Mae, as an “enhanced” soldier with semi-super powers of endurance and strength, and Justin, as a profiler-cum-genius detective of the supposedly supernatural are a wonderful team. They have a powerful attraction to each other and powerfully good reasons to not satisfy their attraction. The push-pull of the relationship is just abrasive enough to make the relationship interesting, sexy enough to keep you flipping pages, but not so focused on sex that you feel like you’re reading soft porn dressed in science fiction clothing.

This is a fun book and a promising beginning to what I hope will be a long series. If you like the genre, absolutely give Gameboard of the Gods a read. You will not be sorry. The book is available for preorder from Amazon and other outlets in hardcover, Kindle and audiobook.

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Rereading Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart

Cover of "Earth Abides"

When I first read Earth Abides by George R. Stewart more than 40 years ago, it wasn’t newly published, but it was new to me.

Unlike many other books I have read and forgotten, Earth Abides has stayed with me. I’ve returned to it many times in recent years, but there was a period of almost 30 years when I couldn’t find a copy of the book anywhere. Nonetheless, I could recall it with remarkable clarity. It was especially remarkable considering the thousands of books I read every year. That I could remember this one book — not to be too punny — spoke volumes. It turns out that I was not alone. Many people found the book unforgettable, including many writers. George Stewart’s masterpiece became the jumping off point for an entire genre.

Earth Abides is a “foundation book,” one of a handful of books that you must read if you are a science fiction fan. It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. A foundation book it most definitely is, but classing it as the “original disaster story” rather misses the point.

Earth Abides isn’t merely a disaster story or post apocalyptic science fiction. Above all it is a book of rebuilding, renewal and hope. The event that initiates the story is a disaster, a plague resulting from either a natural mutation or something escaped from a lab that runs amok. Whatever its origins, it kills off most of Earth’s human population. As has been true of plagues throughout history, a small percentage of the population is naturally immune. Additionally, anyone who survived a rattlesnake bite is immune.

The plague is the back story. The front story of Earth Abides is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and gradually create a new civilization. Through marriage and the pressures of survival, groups become tribes. Simultaneously, the earth itself revives and finds a new balance.

Most diseases of old earth are eliminated by depopulation. New generations are wonderfully healthy. Along with physical disease, mental illness, archaic religious and outdated social structures are shed. New human generations have no memory of institutionalized bias and prejudice and the color line becomes non-existent. There is much that needs doing in this new world, but there’s an infinite amount of time in which to do it.

Ultimately, earth will be repopulated. But gently … and hopefully, in peace. The reborn world will contain bits and pieces of what went before, but without its demons.

The book was re-released as a 60th anniversary edition in 2009, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I read it was immediately after it was re-released. Four years has given me time to be surprised by the book all over again. Be surprised by how much Ish — the main character — changes over the years, how much he grows and matures. How his belief structure adapts to new realities, how much more open his mind becomes. It’s a rare transformation from a literary point of view. Few characters I’ve read have transformed as much as Ish does in Earth Abides.

Earth Abides was published in 1949. In some parts of the U.S. and other countries, the issues with which the book’s characters grapple are still very much alive. They shouldn’t be. We have moved on but only to a point.

The technology stands up surprisingly well because it’s essentially irrelevant. All technology disappears, so it doesn’t matter how advanced it used to be. When the power goes off, it’s over. The world goes back to pre-technological. It has wind, water and sun. Books remain, so knowledge exists, but in stasis, waiting to be rediscovered and deployed. Meanwhile, earth abides.

The world ends, the world begins. Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and make a better world.

Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth. There’s an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart – The EARTH ABIDES Project. Definitely check it out!

It’s available in every configuration including Kindle, Audible download, audiobook (CD and MP3), hardcover and paperback. There was time when it was difficult to find, but it seems to have found its way back. I have owned at least a dozen copies of Earth Abides and keep an extra copy tucked away to give to friends who haven’t read it yet. I’m glad.

It remains among my top five all time favorite science fiction novels and if you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present. I have a spare copy, just in case.

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGES – At Winter’s End, Robert Silverberg

Original Publication date: October 1, 2005, Kindle Publication date: May 14, 2013

At Winter’s End: The New Springtime, Volume 1. By Robert Silverberg, .

The falling death stars came again at last. Long predicted, the recurring catastrophic collision of earth with the world-destroying celestial bodies arrived on scheduled. In its last pass, it had killed the dinosaurs, brought the ice ages and ultimately, the ascendency of humankind as Earth’s dominant special.

It is many hundreds of thousands of years in the future when the cycle recurred. By then, Earth had not only humans, but other intelligent species — vegetals, mechanicals, hjjk (insect-like) and emerald-eyes (heirs to the dinosaurs) sharing the planet. Of the intelligent earth-based species, only humans and the hjjk were destined to survive the longest cold winter of the Earth. The others either could not or would not endure the 700,000 years of the Long Winter.

Simians who will become heirs to humanity have survived in an underground cocoon. Within this highly structured, rigidly organized society, they are driven by a singular goal. Endure until the New Spring comes. Survive until the sun warms the Earth. It’s an unthinkably long wait.

When finally signs portend the arrival of spring and The People are led by their chieftain Koshmar and chronicler Taggoran from the cocoon into the Outer World, it’s terrifying to many. The odds against survival are formidable. There are but 60 of them in total, the exact same number who entered the cocoon. This number has been maintained through ruthless reproductive control and pre-scheduled death dates. The number of tribe members has never in all 700,000 years been allowed to grow by a single member. But now, it’s a new day. The rules are gone and from where will the new rules come? robertSilverberg

Earth does not exactly throw the People a welcome party. Many are glad to see them, but not for the happiest of reasons. The rat wolves, the bloodbirds, endless vermin, bizarre predators and hideous insects await them … hungrily. With the warming has come the yearning for a taste of warm flesh.

The hjjk — those strange, cold insect like beings — have survived, to no one’s surprise. But there seem to be no other humans or humanoids anywhere. Koshmar’s band is so small and the earth so huge and empty. Losing Taggoran, the Old Man and Chronicler — preserver of the People’s knowledge and history — to the rat wolves means Koshmar must anoint a new Chronicler. She chooses the 9-year-old prodigy Hreesh-of-the-questions. It’s never been done before … but nothing is as it was. Everything must change.

Can this small doughty band of survivors fulfill the age-old promise to become the masters of the new-born Earth?

This is a long book with a lot of philosophical content. I enjoy the speculative nature of science fiction. That’s why I read it and that is, in my opinion, what sets sci fi apart — as a genre — from other kinds of fiction.

Sci fi is concept-oriented rather than centered on personal and emotional stuff. This is classic science fiction. There is a lot of thought-provoking stuff in here, much of it about the importance of following rules — and when rules no longer apply. How to know when it’s time to change and when it’s better to stand fast. If you are looking for a novel that explores the personal feelings of people and their relationships, you’ve come to the wrong book. If you like to give your brain a little exercise, don’t mind philosophical meandering (better yet, you enjoy it), give this one a read. And then read volume 2 — The Queen of Springtime. If you like one, you’ll like the other.

 At Winter’s End is available in hardcoverpaperback and now in Kindle. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking novel of world’s end, world’s beginning. Robert Silverberg is a  master science fiction writer. Earth and its people reborn.