magic

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:

REASON TO BELIEVE IN WHAT?

Reason to Believe

In Reason to Believe, Bruce Springsteen sings, “At the end of every hard-earned day / people find some reason to believe.” What is your reason to believe?


Believe in what? God? Fate? Myself? The wheel of Karma? The repetitions of history?

All of us believe in many things. If we look at our beliefs individually, many are contradictory, a form of doublethink. Humans have an amazing capacity to accept paradox. In this arena, superstitious atheists can contend with traditionally religious physicists for the top spot in the race for cognitive dissonance.

UU Church 44

I the end, I’m reasonably sure I believe in something but I don’t know what. Nor do I believe in the same thing every day or every hour. I can passionately endorse multiple paradoxical concepts simultaneously without it ruffling my psychic feathers.

I don’t know if the something in which I sometimes believe is sentient, tied to the magic of the Earth — or is the Earth. (Note: If it’s the Earth, whatever powers it has or represents, I bet it’s pissed to a fare-thee-well.)

Why do I believe at all?

Call me lazy. It’s much simpler to believe in something — a deity, a high power, magic, whatever — than to ascribe everything to random chance. When good things happen, I don’t know which makes me feel sillier — thanking a God in whom I believe on alternate Thursdays or expressing gratitude to “fate” which is the same thing by another name.

I follow the course of least resistance. I would like to believe, as do my dogs, that whatever is wrong, a yummy treat will make it all better. Maybe I believe science is magic and the only reason it works is because we believe it will and if we lose faith, everything will stop.

Thank you, Robert Heinlein.

WAITING FOR YOUTH TO OVERTAKE ME

Only Sixteen

Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen yet, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen. 

- – – – -

75-Kaity-HP-1

Like Merlin in some old Arthurian tales, I am living backwards in time.

Right now, I’m entirely too old and most days, including today, I feel at least 100 years old.

And I’m pretty sure I was never truly sixteen and definitely never Sweet Sixteen. I wasn’t that kind of kid. I was old when I was young, so my reasoning is that as I get older, I will finally be young, like I should have been first time ’round.

Life’s been getting up my nose recently anyhow, so I’m fully prepared for youth — at long last.

It could happen, right?

So what do I want to be when I finally slide into youth? I want to be healthy. No drama, no teenage angst. I will be smart. I will find other smart kids to hang with. I will laugh at the bullies as the losers they are. I will enjoy the freedom of being young with all original body parts working properly for however long it lasts. Magic? Sure, why not.

Going backwards in time has got to give one a few advantages. Life and Karma owe me that much.

IN THE ZONE AND OUT AGAIN

In 1965 when I was first married, we lived in an apartment in one of two identical brick buildings. Our flat was 2 Q at the far end of the hall. A corner apartment, nice because we had better than average light.

I didn’t drive yet, but it wasn’t a problem. There was a bus stop right in front of our building and the university was just a 5-minute walk. When I wanted to go into town, I just hopped a bus. No parking problems, either.

One sunny day, I felt like going shopping. I did. Had lunch, bought a few things. Having taken the bus home, I took the elevator to the second floor, balancing my packages. I walked silently down the long carpeted hallway to apartment 2Q.

I tried to put my key in the lock, and it didn’t fit. Odd. Hmm. A nameplate was firmly attached to the middle of the door.

2 Q

KINCAID

My name was not Kincaid. I didn’t even know anyone named Kincaid. It was Apartment 2 Q. But not my place. Or maybe it was, but what was with the nameplate? Hmm.

Feeling increasingly dazed, I made a quick u-turn and walked back to the elevator. I pressed the button and rode back down to the lobby. I stood there for a few minutes, breathing. Then got back into the elevator back to the second floor. Should I have taken the stairs?

96-CityNight-BWSQ-93

Ding! I arrived. Clutching my packages against my chest, I — slower than before — walked down the hall. The pattern in the paint on the wall paint seemed cleaner and brighter. I was feeling a bit light-headed when I got to the end where that pesky nameplate still read “Kincaid.”

There was no question in my mind what had happened. I’d expected it all along.

I had slipped through an invisible wormhole. I was now in a parallel universe, another dimension. Everything was identical in this dimension to the world I knew except that in this place — I didn’t exist. Where I had been, someone named Kincaid was living. Maybe Kincaid was my husband. Perhaps I did exist and Jeffrey had gone missing.

I stood there. Breathing. Staring at the nameplate. Pacing a little down the hall and coming back.  Until finally, I looked out the window. And realized I was in the wrong building.

I’d made a simple mistake and gone into the wrong building.

I have forever since harbored a sense of disappointment. However weird, I wanted the magic to be real. I wanted an adventure in The Twilight Zone.

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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.

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

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitch (2011)

London probationary constable Peter Grant hopes to become a detective, but his tendency to be distracted by details that others think are unimportant has landed him in the Case Progression Unit. That’s where the paperwork gets processed and where the biggest danger is a paper cut.

While collecting evidence from a crime scene, Peter finds an eye-witness who appears to be a ghost. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Nightingale is in charge of the secret police division that investigates crime involving the undead, magic, various deities or anything else that could be classified as weird.

Nightingale has always — and always turns out to be a long time indeed — worked alone, but incidences of the strange and bizarre seem to be increasing around town. Enter Peter Grant, the distractible cop with a natural ability to “sniff” vestiges of magic and the first official apprentice wizard in the history of the division.

I starting reading this on the recommendation of one of my readers. I’ve never been led astray by a reader’s recommendation and this was no exception. The is the first book in a series in which there are three books to date, but hopefully more to come.

I read a lot of mysteries and a lot of fantasy. Peter Grant is much more of a cop than he is a wizard, though that will probably change as the series progresses. In this first book, despite a strong magical theme, it is also a real cop thriller. There’s a lot of wonderful description about the life of a constable in the London metropolitan police. There’s even more background about growing up as a racially mixed, working class kid in London. Like whipped cream on a sundae, the book provides rich detail about everything from the social interaction of Londoners on the underground at rush hour, to architectural disasters and bomb craters … and the gods and goddesses who care for the streams and rivers of London. Lots about them.

Aaronovitch’s writing is witty — sometimes downright funny — and intelligent. His ironic humor keeps the book moving along at a brisk pace. Peter Grant feels very real. I feel like I’ve met him, would recognize him at a party. He’s got a history. He’s smart and intuitive, but also human. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He actually works at his job.

I didn’t just read the book, I also bought it from Audible and have listened to it twice. Once for the fun, and the second time to pick up details I might have missed first time around. There is a lot of detail. There’s humor, danger, magic and then there’s mood. Wherever Peter Grant goes, you are treated to a description so thorough you can pretty much see the whole thing … smell and taste it, too.

If you like audiobooks, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a marvelous narrator. He has the knack of making the book and its characters come alive but being non-intrusive so you see the book in your mind and don’t notice the narrator at all. This is exactly as it should be when the narrator and the books are perfectly matched.

I’m enjoying the second book even more than the first. Peter has begun to have more self-confidence, both as a police officer and as a wizard. I can sense where the series is going and I’m glad to be going along for the ride.

If you’re looking for a new series, this is a good one! I have a feeling it’s going to get even better as it matures.

Interview with SOLSTICE HIGH author Ardash Vartparonian

Ardash Vartparonian

The author of Solstice High discusses this and future books!

Publisher: Strategic Book Group
Urban Fantasy/Sci Fi/Young Adult
360 Pages

Solstice-High

An interview with Ardash Vartparonian, author of SOLSTICE HIGH

Serendipity:  I felt like I was reading the first part of x-men. Do I feel a series in the works?

Ardash Vartparonian: I’m actually really glad you brought this up; whenever people ask me what my book is about I answer that, in a nutshell, it’s sort of like ‘X-Men meets Gossip Girl’. I’m a big fan of X-Men, from the movies to the comics, and I’m not ashamed of announcing that it has definitely influenced my work. The line I draw between X-Men and Solstice High is that while X-Men has always been seen as a metaphor for minorities, the powers in my book are a metaphor for the struggle teenagers go through trying to discover themselves. One of the reviews I’ve had on this tour commented that the supernatural side of the novel doesn’t always seem the central aspect, and I agree wholeheartedly.

It’s obviously a really big point, and the plot point the whole novel spirals around, but at its heart I think the book is more about these four kids coming to terms with themselves, and the bumpy road that it entails.

Solstice High is a trilogy, so your suspicions are spot on. I wrote this novel chapter by chapter with a fragmented skeleton of its entirety in mind rather than knowing what would happen every single chapter. When I first started writing, I planned on it being a stand-alone book. The thing is, the closer I got to finishing, the more I realized I didn’t want to finish, I didn’t want to say goodbye to these characters I had created. I felt their stories could go on. They had more to say and live through.

So I decided to not address some issues and they would be answered in later books. The second book is finished and so is the first draft for the final book. I’m hoping to make a bit more noise with this first novel before releasing the second.

Serendipity:  Will you “age” the kids — like Harry Potter aged — with the series?

Ardash Vartparonian: When I first started writing the book I had planned on making the kids a year younger, juniors rather than seniors in high school. Then I decided to make it a lot more intense and cram all three books into one school year.

The first book takes place over nine weeks, the second in just two. It’s faster and more furious than the first, but I liked playing with that. In the first book, I had to introduce the four kids and flesh them out. The slower pacing allowed more introspection. But with the second, I barely allowed the kids a chance to breathe before all Hell breaks loose around them.

The end of the third book shows the plans the four kids have for their futures when they finish school and go out into the “real” world. They are only plans of course.

One thing I wasn’t happy about with the final Harry Potter book was how fixed the endings were for Harry, Ron and Hermione. I would have preferred the book without the epilogue, allowing me to imagine what the future held for them.
So, no. I’m not aging the characters. All three books take place in the same school year, but I believe the end will be satisfying. I’d rather readers imagine how Matt, Rochelle, Daphne and Jonas’ futures play out, though I’ll definitely show what path they are on after school.

Serendipity:  Are you planning to add more characters to the core group? Or is this going to be a closed set?

Ardash Vartparonian: In the second book — because of plot points I don’t want to spoil — the character set expands and you get a deeper look into characters introduced or briefly mentioned in the first book. Bethany and Abigail, for example, while simultaneously introducing new characters. They aren’t new to the school, but new to readers.

The four main characters are still the four points of view in the next two books: Matt, Rochelle, Daphne and Jonas. As soon as I knew I was going to write a second and third book, I decided I wanted to expand the character scope.
I had to pace myself. I didn’t want to overcrowd the book with too many characters by the third book. But there are always ways to make room for new characters and remove older ones, if you know what I mean. LOL.

Serendipity: What about babies?

Ardash Vartparonian: The only baby in the books will be Harmony’s. The second book takes place in just two weeks and the baby doesn’t arrives until the third book.

When I thought Solstice High would be a stand-alone book, I planned on having Devlin force Harmony to terminate her pregnancy which would have given her a motivation to turn against him. I ultimately decided it would be too dark and touchy a subject. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable or ready to tackle it. It also gave me another plot point for the next two books.

Harmony’s baby is quite an issue. It will be the first baby born to someone with active powers. What does that mean for the baby? Or Harmony? I decided to tackle the questions I thought would be particularly interesting to explore.

Serendipity:  What decided you on making one of the characters unashamedly homosexual? This is the first openly homosexual “superhero” I’ve met. There have been a few who were probably in the closet, but Matt is obviously what he is. Did you think the world was ready or was there some other reason?

Ardash Vartparonian: To be honest, Matt being gay was never debatable for me. He just is. When it came to writing, I was at first a bit cautious about love scenes between him and Julius — as opposed to the relative comfort I felt writing about Rochelle and Jonas for example.

Then I thought “You know what? Screw it! It’s (when I was writing) 2007!” I decided I would treat Matt just like I would a straight character with the same exposure. Equal treatment in things like love scenes even if they might be sensitive subjects. Matt being gay for me doesn’t make him special. It’s who he is. So I made to give treat him the same as a straight character. All his successes and failures are unrelated to his sexuality. They grow out of his persona.

To be honest, Matt is my least favourite character. It has absolutely nothing to do with his sexuality. It’s purely based on his personality. His self-pity and angst. I’m sure I like him least because out of the four, he resembles me the most, personality-wise … when I was his age. I always find it interesting when someone says Matt is their favourite. I’m thinking “Really?”

There will always be — at least for the next few decades — people who have a problem with a gay main character. That doesn’t bother me. If you have a problem with it, don’t read the book. It’s that simple. I’m not going to turn Matt into one of those two-dimensional, “sexless” gays portrayed in lots of literature and television as comic relief. Or just add a gay label on his head and not explore that side of him to sell more books.

I think the world is ready for having a gay super-powered character. Authors need to create more of them so they become part of the norm instead of a ‘special’ character as in ‘oh, right, him, the gay one’. There should be more gay characters, but I don’t think their sexuality alone is what should make them stand out.
Marvel Comics are handling this issue quite well in their Young Avengers comics. These feature two gay teen characters who are a couple. I think we are ready for this and need more of it.

Serendipity:  Since Solstice High loses its infrastructure, will the kids finish their education somewhere else?

Ardash Vartparonian: Solstice High will be opening its gates again in the second book right off the bat. In the book, only a few weeks have passed. I won’t say whether or not it stays that way, but I think the school has become almost a character of its own. For 17 to 18-years-old, whether you like it or not, and if you realize it or not, the building where you are going to school is a huge part of your life. It’s not just the amount of time you spend in it. It’s what goes on there too. High school inevitably ends, but it leaves a lasting impression and may even influence the person you are.

About the author:

Ardash Vartparonian was born in London, but raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the age of 18 he began his début Ardash-Vartparoniannovel, Solstice High, and continued writing throughout his last year of school and first year of university, where he moved back to the UK to study English Literature at Edinburgh University. Now a fourth year student, Ardash enjoys going out with his friends, watching horror movies and reading fantasy books while trying to keep up with his university work.

Find out more at http://sbpra.com/ardashvartparonian/

Buy Solstice High:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Book Depository

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Growing up super strange – SOLSTICE HIGH

Solstice High by Ardash Vartparonian

Publisher: Strategic Book Group
Urban Fantasy/Sci Fi/Young Adult
360 Pages

Solstice-High

Reading Solstice High was an interesting experience for me. As a grandmother, my high school years are long past … but I have a not quite 17-year-old granddaughter going through the angst, misery, insecurity and social anxieties which seem an inevitable part of the high school experience. No matter who you are or what family you come from, no one is comfortable in his or her own skin at that age. You have to make decisions affecting the rest of your life, yet you are completely unready to make those decisions. Even the most mature teenage is overwhelmed as they try to do what they must and become who they should be … while their hormones rage. Everyone feels like a freak.

Solstice High isn’t your average high school either, nor are Matt, Rochelle, Daphne and Jonas typical anything. Four students beginning their senior year enter a locked room. An unknown gas is released and each begins to develop strange, unique powers. Super powers. Each copes in his or her own way. Some welcome the changes. Others see them as torture.

The plot is less important than the characters. Most books about teenagers are written by authors long past that stage of life. Solstice High is unique and far better than the typical books of this genre. The author was just 18 when he began writing the book. He isn’t far past it now. For him, the experience of being a kid and coping with its problems are fresh. This perspective makes Solstice High much better than the usual book about a bunch of teenagers discovering their powers. It makes them real. Kids with problems, trying to fit in and having no easy time of it. Add in rapidly developing superpowers and you have a bunch of kids whose lives are a fury of chaotic emotions

They support and help each other as one terrifying experience after another forces them to use their newborn powers as well as their creativity and intelligence to survive. The school principal is the villain of the piece. He has an agenda that has nothing to do with education. The school is a laboratory and all the students potential lab rats. The four youngsters must fight him, improvising as they go. Meanwhile, they still need to get decent grades and cope with dysfunctional families.

Ardash Vartparonian writes with authority and compassion. His closeness to his characters brings them to life in a way no other book aimed at young adults has done … at least not in my experience. This isn’t Twilight. It’s not Harry Potter. The magic is there, but so is suffering humanity. It’s a wonderful book for kids. Good for adults too, especially if you have teenagers in your life. It’s an up close and very personal look at the real world of high school. Read it then pass it to a teenager who’s having a hard time. Probably any teenager you know. It might help them.

This is the first book of a trilogy. The author promises the next two books will be even more intense. Hard to even imagine!

Tomorrow Serendipity will feature an exclusive interview with the author. Don’t miss it!

About the author:

Ardash Vartparonian was born in London, but raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the age of 18 he began his début Ardash-Vartparoniannovel, Solstice High, and continued writing throughout his last year of school and first year of university, where he moved back to the UK to study English Literature at Edinburgh University. Now a fourth year student, Ardash enjoys going out with his friends, watching horror movies and reading fantasy book while trying to keep up with his university work.

Find out more at http://sbpra.com/ardashvartparonian/

Buy Solstice High:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Book Depository

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Dragons rock in audio! Song of the Beast – Carol Berg

Song of the Beast is available on Kindle, paperback, and now, from Audible.com.

Song of the Beast | [Carol Berg]After years of waiting, the book finally came available as an Audiobook. Since I already have the book on Kindle (and as a hard copy), Audible.com let me buy the audiobook for just $4.49, a bargain I was delighted to snatch. A steal!

After being terribly disappointed in the recording of Kevin Hearne’s Hunted (disappointed enough to ask for my money back), I was delighted this book was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Maybe better. Narrated by Claire Christie and Jeremy Arthur, I was (again) surprised at how much more I get from an audiobook than from print. I think it’s because I read very fast. When I listen, the pace is that of human speech, perhaps slightly slower than normal conversation. I absorb more of the story listening than reading.

The dual narration works well. Aiden and Lara having their own voices and perspectives is appropriate. Usually I don’t like multiple narrators, but I like them in this book.

Song of the Beast is Carol Berg‘s is a standalone book. I wish it were a series. I have it on good authority that another story (short story — not an entire book) will be coming out based in the same world, though not featuring the same characters. I would prefer a book or two, but I will happily settle for whatever I can get.

If Carol Berg writes it, I will read it. I think she’s brilliant and not nearly as appreciated as she deserves.

I came to love her dragons. There is a faint whiff of Pern to these dragons, except no dragonrider of Pern would so mistreat a dragon. I’m a sucker for dragons. Any dragon. And these are fabulous dragons.

I found the story’s characters well-drawn and three-dimensional. Many relationships are between different species because, unlike her other books, not all characters are human. The relationships are logical extensions of the cultures from which they come. The slightly abrasive relationships between differing humanoids is fundamental.

The main character — Aidan McAllister has been imprisoned and tortured. His beautiful voice has been silenced, his hands brutally destroyed. His music, which offered solace and hope to war-torn Elyria, is gone. The god in whom he never lost faith and nurtured him and his music since he was a child seems to have abandoned him.

Yet no one has yet told him what his crime was. He has no idea what earned him such punishment. He has emerged from prison a broken man, battered beyond endurance, wanting nothing more than peace and safety … and the end of pain. Having lost himself, he must find his way back to himself, remember who he was because that’s the key to what happened to him, what is happening to the world and the dragons. There is, of course, a beautiful woman.

Through it all, Aiden remains a gentle soul in a cruel world, a man to whom violence is abhorrent no matter what was done to him. He’s neither vengeful nor mean. Music is his magic.

I wish there were a sequel to this book. I wanted to know what happened next, how this society evolves. The book left me with lots of questions. It isn’t a cliff hanger — not exactly — but it didn’t seem quite finished to me. There’s plenty of room for more stories as this world realigns and reconstructs itself in the wake of a new understanding of dragons.

I liked the book so much I was sorry it ended. I never want any of Carol Berg’s books to end.

Song of the Dragon is available via Audible download, on Kindle, and as a paperback. It was originally available in hardcover and I have that, too. Next up, Rai Kirah in audio! I have the first volume and this month will get another. Listening my way through all Carol Berg’s books, one series at a time is the best part of my life these days.

 

Trapped, Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 5, by Kevin Hearne

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I got the notice from Amazon. Kevin Hearne’s latest new book in the series — HUNTED – was delivered to my Kindle today. I’m not going to have time to read it for a while. I have a long list of books to review and many pages to go read before I can read anything not on my “to read and review” list.

In honor of the new release, here’s my review of Book 5, TRAPPED.

This book was released November 27, 2012. I had it in hand the day of its release. I took several weeks to read it. It wasn’t terribly long, but I wanted it to last. Then, after I finished reading it, I got the audiobook and read it a twice more. Just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I read the first three books Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered. I liked them. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but I enjoyed them enough so that when the fourth book came out, I bought it. I liked it better than the first three and when this most recent book was released, I was right on top of it. Each book has been better than the one before it and I can hardly wait for the next volume.

Trapped is the fifth installment of the Iron Druid series. It is wonderful. The writing has smoothed out, the characters have become more solid, three-dimensional, real. Atticus finally has a human companion. He’s always had a companion, of course, his faithful wolfhound Oberon. More about Oberon later. But now, it’s the beautiful Granuaile, his apprentice now about-to-be Druid.

One of the things I most like about Kevin Hearne‘s writing is the care with which he constructs his world. It has rules, axioms, standards. Within his world, his characters and nature obey. There is symmetry, logic and order. The world feels right. Although it’s a different reality than ours, but makes sense. Nothing falls up.

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The story has more than adequate action to satisfy any fantasy reader, but it is also graceful and elegant. Add to that a hefty dollop of wit, humor, historical tidbits and mythology. It scratches all my literary itches at the same time.

Many authors supposedly base stories on mythology, but really, they use names taken from mythology but that’s as far as it goes. Hearne’s gods, from whatever pantheon they are drawn, are remarkably true to their namesake. My very first literary crush was on Apollo via Bullfinch and I’ve come a long way since then, but my affection for gods and goddesses and their many descendants remains.

sausage-festThen there’s Oberon the wolfhound. If I had no other motivation, I think I’d read these books just for Oberon. He has a wonderful “dog’s eye view” of the world and human relationships. He is the first “talking dog” who is a dog, not a furry human. He thinks doggy thoughts, lusts after sausages and poodles. He has a big vocabulary and great communication skills, but he is a real dog. And funny.

I liked everything in this book: an intelligent plot, fully realized characters, lots of action, care for the details. Best of all,  the story is unpredictable — full of  surprises, plot twists and wonderful words.

I would not — as others have — compare Kevin Hearne to Jim Butcher. Although both write in the fantasy genre and I love both authors, the worlds about which they write are very different. I’m sure Harry and Atticus would like each other and enjoy a glass of brew, but they move in different circles. I’ve never liked comparing authors as if they were interchangeable parts. There’s more than enough room for everyone and plenty left for those who have yet to set pen to paper.  Atticus isn’t going to replace Harry or vice versa.

Should they find reason to join forces, that would be very cool. I bet Oberon and Mouse would get on  too … but if they never meet, I’m sure that both will do their part in saving this sad old world of ours.

The Iron Druid Chronicles — Hounded to Trapped — by Kevin Hearne

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The Iron Druid Chronicles includes (to date) five books: Hounded, Hexed, Hammered, Tricked, and Trapped. The books follow the adventures of the last of the Druids,a  2100-year-old survivor of the Roman massacre of the Druids back in the reign of Claudius (41 AD to 54 AD).

The Beginning: Hounded (May 2011)

Atticus O’Sullivan — not his real name, but we never find out what his real name is, though many hints are dropped — survived the long ago massacre by fleeing to North America which had not yet been discovered by the Old World. After many years, he has established a peaceful life in Arizona where he runs an occult bookshop, does a bit of  shape-shifting that lets him enjoy hunting with his Irish wolfhound, Oberon. Atticus’ shifted shape is also a Wolfhound and his friendship with Oberon goes far beyond dog and master or even dog and dog.

Atticus’ appearance suggests a young man in his early 20s, belying his two millennium life. Through his long years of survival Atticus has gained a great deal of power, drawn mostly from the earth to which he is bound.  Personally, he’s pleasant, witty and hyper aware of the forces of earth, air, water and other. He has not survived for so many centuries without gaining enough wisdom to know when to fight and when to run. He has power, but he is also a survivor, choosing his battles with great care.

In the course of ages, he has come to possess a magical sword — Fragarach, the Answerer. Fragarach is coveted by an ill-tempered and powerful god. Although Atticus initially prevails and keeps the sword, many wheels are set in motion by the battle for its possession and the scene is set for the next five books in the series.

From the Paperback edition

Hounded was recently reissued as a Mass Market Paperback.

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Most Recent: Trapped (November 2012)

I’ve followed the adventures of Atticus, Oberon, and more recently, the beautiful Granuaile, his apprentice who is now about to become a full Druid in Trapped, released November 27, 2012. I had Trapped in hand the day of its release. I finished reading it, then got the audiobook and read it a couple more times. Just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. That is a pretty fair indicator that I very much enjoyed the book.

Hounded was the first of the series and while I did enjoy it, I felt each subsequent book has been better than the one before it. Trapped was the best to date. With Hunted due to be released soon, I can hardly wait!

All of the books are rousing good fantasy yarns. Even better, Hearne has done his homework. His Pantheon(s) of Gods are pretty accurate, much more so than most fantasy books that call on various gods. The writing is intelligent, witty, fast-paced and original. Kevin Hearne‘s world is constructed with care. Within that world, the characters and nature itself are subject to natural law and logic. There is symmetry and order. The world feels right. It’s a different reality, but nothing ever falls upwards.

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Each story has more than enough action to satisfy any fantasy reader, but it is graceful and elegant.

sausage-festAtticus is the kind of character I’d love to hang with, but if I had to take my pick of one character with whom to spend some quality, it would have to be  Oberon the wolfhound. Oberon has a delightful “dog’s eye view” of the world and human relationships. He is the first “talking dog” who is a dog, not a furry human. He thinks doggy thoughts, lusts after sausages and poodles. He has a big vocabulary and exceptional communication skills, but he is a dog. And a funny dog at that. He has a thing for poodles which I have actually heard criticized as sexist. Folks, if this bothers you, perhaps you are taking life too seriously. Really.

The Iron Druid has it all: intelligent plots, fully realized characters, lots of action, great detail. Best of all,  the stories are never entirely predictable. There are enough surprises and plot twists to keep you hooked. The words are delightfully well crafted. For me, books are always about the words … and Kevin Hearne uses words beautifully.

I would not — as others have — compare Kevin Hearne to Jim Butcher. Although both write in the fantasy genre and I enjoy both authors, the worlds about which they write are significantly different as are the personalities and lifestyle of their protagonists. I’m sure Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan would appreciate each other and might enjoy a glass of brew together, but they move in different circles. I’ve never liked comparing authors as if all writers in the same genre are essentially interchangeable parts. There’s more than enough room for everyone and plenty left for those who have yet to set pen to paper.  Atticus isn’t going to replace Harry and Harry is unlikely to be at home in Atticus’ world.

And that is the way it ought to be. Should they find reason to join forces, that would be cool. I bet Oberon and Mouse would get on well … but if they never meet, I’m sure both will play their part in saving this old world of ours.

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The Abracadabra Solution

When I was much younger, I played a mental game where I would pretend I was God. I could do anything, so what would I do to fix the world, its people and make life the way it ought to be?

It’s easy to say I’d make it so no one ever needs to fear hunger, homelessness, or lack of medical care. Everyone would be warm, fed and safe. There would be no war, plague or famine. Everyone I love who is sick I would make well, including me. Except when I got into the nitty-gritty of how to get it done, even as God, it turns out to be exceedingly complicated. Unless you go with the “abracadabra solution.” That’s the one where you wave a wand and voilà! Everything is fixed, everyone is fed, housed, and the whole world is playing “nice” with all its neighbors.

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In a real world, there has to be enough food to go around and farmers to grow it. You need to harvest and distribute food because it doesn’t automatically go from the field to the kitchen table without a good deal of other stuff happening in between. You need doctors and nurses to run hospitals. You have to manufacture stockpiles of medications, clothing and other goods. Unless we plan a fairyland built on a child’s imaginings, the mechanics of a perfected world are staggering.

If I had the power to change just MY little piece of the world — a different question — I would make it so that we would have cures for our ailments and all the money we paid into programs that were supposed to take care of us actually would take care of us. I’d want a life in which we could live without the shadows of fear darkening our days, without the gnawing worry we’ll end up homeless, sick and forgotten. I would make it so I would never again wake up in the grip of terror because I have no idea how I will stretch the money to match the month.

Maybe I should just go with “abracadabra” after all.

Harry Dresden’s Magical Chicago

Storm Front: The Dresden Files, Book 1 | Jim ButcherI was feeling a bit forlorn after I completed Mike Carey‘s Felix Castor series until Harry Dresden tapped me on the shoulder and invited me into the world created for him by author Jim Butcher. As I read my way through the entire series, 14 books to date with more on the way, I felt I’d found a perfect combination of gumshoe and wielder of magic. Everything I enjoy most in fantasy is in this series. Harry is a wise-ass, witty guy. And smart, sometimes too smart for his own good.

Grave Peril (novel)

Grave Peril (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Harry is a powerful wizard. He takes on challenges that should kill him, sometimes almost do and arguably have done so at least once , yet he is ever on guard to protect his city and the whole human world against the forces of darkness. A man with great power, he also packs a gun because magic is great stuff, but sometimes, there’s nothing quite like bullet to get the job done.

He’s witty, funny, sentimental, and foolhardy, prone to give the benefit of a doubt to the wrong people and end up paying heavily for being nice. He’s loyal to a fault and hates following rules. He’ll protect those he loves at the cost of his own life and soul. If your back’s to the wall, Harry’s the guy you want at your side.

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He’s listed in the Yellow Pages. Look him up. He doesn’t do kids’ parties.

For nearly a year, as I read my way through the earlier books in the series, I was entirely engrossed in Harry Dresden’s world. Eventually, much to my chagrin, I realized I’d reached the end of the already-published books. When I finished Ghost Story and Changes, I knew I’d reached the series’ turning point. I moped for a while, but I had to trust the author’s ability to bridge the changes in story and characters with his usual skill. When Cold Days was released, Jim Butcher had indeed moved the series to a new level. Harry was back, better than ever with power to spare. It isn’t the “old Harry.” It’s a wiser, more temperate Harry.

Harry has seen the other side. He no longer acts as if he is invulnerable. He knows he can win the day yet lose his life … and life is more precious to him than before. Holding the title of Winter Knight, Champion of the Winter Fae (Mab’s realm), he has great power for good or evil. He will be a knight like no other before him. Which is good because a war is shaping up. The lines are forming. Harry holds a unique position as the fulcrum of forces in this great battle to destroy or preserve the world as we know it.

Ghost Story: The Dresden Files, Book 13 | [Jim Butcher]To say this is a wonderful series doesn’t quite cover it. There are many series in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Some are so lightweight they float away and you can’t remember anything about them at all. Some are pretty good, others even better. A few are great. This fits nicely into the “great” category.

But why? you ask.

Fantasy series and stories are not known for complex, multi-dimensional characters .  Heroic, powerful and brave no doubt, but when you read a lot of books in this genre, you usually know what’s going to happen long before it does. Harry and his crew are unpredictable. They grow, they change, they develop. They form relationships. The mourn their losses, celebrate their victories. They go through hard times and if they survive, are changed.  They are magic-wielding wizards or some other magical being, but emotionally they are like people you might know, if you include in your circle people who can cast spells to blow up a city block or reanimate a Tyrannosaurus Rex. None of my friends can do that — as far as I know — but they probably wouldn’t tell me if they could. The world of magic is secretive.  Sometimes, if I’m feeling whimsical, I imagine Harry and a few of his pals settling in Uxbridge. Their secrets wouldn’t stay hidden for five minutes.

I read most of the series as audiobooks, but some in print too and a few of them in both formats. I own the last four or five in hard cover because there is something yummy about a fresh, new hardcover. I don’t read the hard covers: I just savor them. I line them up on my shelves in pristine splendor, then I read them on my Kindle. The entire series is available in paperback, if that’s your preference.

Following is the full series to date in order. Although you do not have to read the first few books in order, if you have a choice, it is easier to follow that way. As you progress in the series, you really can’t read the later volumes out-of-order if you want them to make sense.  Harry grows and changes a great deal from the first book on. He’s barely a kid when it starts, but he is all grown up by the time he arrives at Cold Days.

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Although the series is mostly fun, there is a serious undercurrent. Butcher has put a good deal of thought into the nature of good and evil, the choices we make and price we pay for these choices. Life in the real world is never black and white, nor is it in Harry’s world. It is in the gray areas that Harry operates; rarely are his choices  purely good or evil. His life is complicated and the complexities make the stories more interesting. This is one of the very rare series where I don’t always know what’s going to happen before I read it.

Jim Butcher is a fine writer. The stories are witty and charming. It isn’t all darkness and violence. Dialogue is snappy and intelligent. There are no dummies on Harry’s team.

The  Dresden Files:

Book 1: The Dresden Files – Storm Front

Book 2: The Dresden Files – Fool Moon

Book 3: The Dresden Files – Grave Peril

Book 4: The Dresden Files – Summer Knight

Book 5: The Dresden Files – Death Masks

Book 6: The Dresden Files – Blood Rites

Book 7: The Dresden Files – Dead Beat

Book 8: The Dresden Files – Proven Guilty

Book 9: The Dresden Files – White Night

Book 10: The Dresden Files – Small Favor

Book 11: The Dresden Files – Turn Coat

Book 12: The Dresden Files – Changes

Book 13: The Dresden Files – Ghost Story

Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files

Book 14: The Dresden Files – Cold Days

Changes: The Dresden Files, Book 12 | Jim ButcherIf you are a fan or a writer, the video that follows is a comprehensive interview with Jim Butcher during which he answers  many questions about what’s going on in the Dresden universe and what is likely to come in the future. The interview took place shortly the release of Cold Days in November 2012. Unlike other interviews, this one is well recorded and you can hear the questions and Jim’s answers. It runs a bit more than 45 minutes It’s a great interview and well worth your time.

The insights are not only into Harry Dresden‘s world, but into the world of the author. For me, as a writer, I’m always fascinated by how authors do what they do, how they figure out which characters are going to be prominent in this book (or the next). How they inspire themselves to keep producing day after day and in the case of Jim Butcher, producing high quality work fast.

No two authors work the same way. As many authors as I’ve listened to, corresponded with, read about, each is unique. What inspires one would drive another crazy. You’ll learn a lot of interesting stuff in this interview. Jim Butcher is witty and articulate and offers genuine insight into his work.

This interview does not answer the burning question “Are Harry and Molly going to get it on?” Sorry. You’ll have to wait for the answer with the rest of us. However, if you watch the video, you will learn a lot about Harry, how he got to be the way he is, and where he and his friends are going. If you are a writer, the detailed explanations of Jim Butcher’s writing process are priceless.

When I Could Fly

Do you remember flying? I do.

When I was very young, before I was five, I could fly. I remember clearly. I could close my eyes, think “up in the air” and fly. I never doubted that I could. After I started school, I couldn’t fly any more. The magic went away.

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These memories go back at more than 60 years. That’s a lot of years. Memories usually fade, become dim and gauzy over long decades, yet these remain clear. I remember where I was, how I felt, what I saw. How I flew. I have no idea of the physics or the scientific probabilities involved. I just know it happened and have never made an effort to apply scientific analysis to what clearly won’t lend itself to that kind of scrutiny. I could never prove the veracity of my memories.

The Flying Baby

Flying Baby

Normally I’m very logical. If anything, I tend to be overly analytical but I recognize when something defies logic.

I have been touched by the inexplicable several times, leaving our Pastor to ask me if I required a picture ID before accepting that I had been “God-touched.”

Thing is, I never doubted I had been touched, though lacking a picture ID, I can’t say which entity was involved. I have been twice restored to life and issued an explicit (and apparently one-time only)  invitation to dedicate my life to a particular path. At the time of the invitation I was nine months pregnant and could not accept … and no further invitation ever came my way. I wish I could have said yes.

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I am not ungrateful to have gotten my life back. I am extremely grateful. I acknowledge were it not for timely intercessions, I would be dead twice-over. When something with the power of life or death pops into your psyche, tells you to go forth and live, asks nothing of you, then departs, it doesn’t allow time for a post-intercession Q & A period.

You couldn’t anyhow because “struck dumb” sums up your verbal abilities of the moment. Anyway, I would have had just one question: “Why me? I’m not so special … so why me?” But you don’t get to ask so you may never have an answer. Maybe there is no answer or none we could understand.

I am far from ungrateful. It’s just that I want to ask for my magic back, even if for only a few minutes. I want to fly, to feel that swoosh of wind as I take off, feel those moments of freedom, of being unbound from the earth.

Do you have memories of flying? I know others remember similar things. Most of us don’t talk about it lest people think we are nuts. I don’t care what anyone thinks, because I remember flying until one day I couldn’t.

And for all these years, I’ve been wondering why the magic went away.