Friday, February 27, 2015

Meet My First Literary Crush

Becca at Book Bloggers International asked bloggers to describe their first time.  So I thought I would share the first time I fell in love with a fictional character.  So go on over, and meet my first literary crush.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scavenger Hunt by Christopher Pike

Synopsis From Back Cover:

School was almost over.  A secretive club on campus had organized a scavenger hunt for the entire senior class.  In small groups, and with the help of cleverly planted clues, the kids are led throughout the city, and then deep into the nighttime desert.  The sponsoring club has promised a wonderful prize for the first group to reach the goal of the hunt.

But for Carl Timmons, a troubled young man who has recently lost his best friend, the hunt will become a nightmare. Led astray by his love for a strangely beautiful girl, he will wander far from the other, and back into a haunted past, where the line between the living and the dead is blurred and broken.

The other day I was wanting something easy, quick, and fun to read, but I didn't feel like hunting something down in a bookstore or browsing through the NOOK store.  So I went to the greatest resource every bibliophile has, my own bookcases.  To tell you the truth, I almost forgot I owned this book, especially since I was never a huge Christopher Pike fan.  I think this is the only book of his I've owned, let along kept all these years later.

It's probably been at least ten years since I've picked it up, and it was exactly what I was needing at the time.  It had been long enough that I forgot some of pertinent details of the plot and found myself engaged from the get go.  I still really enjoyed Carl and his friends, and the journey they were forced to undertake was suspenseful enough to keep me interested.

If you are familiar with Christopher Pike's books, and a lot of you should be, you know he was good at plotting, and was decent at character development.  I think Scavenger Hunt is one of his best, and I know I'll be picking it up again sometime in the far future.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Perrin Aybara

There are quite a few characters I could single out from The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  I could probably do an entire year on the main characters alone, but since I think that would not only bore you, but myself as well, I think I'll pass on that idea for now.

I started reading The Wheel of Time series back in my Freshman year of college, which would make it 1994, and didn't finish reading it until last year, 2014.  I loved these characters for twenty years, waiting patiently for each new book, rereading them several times in between release dates.  When I finally turned the last page of the final book, it felt as if I was leaving behind my family, and that even if I visited them again, it would never be the same.   Not only had they changed over a period of twenty years, but my feelings and perspectives on them changed along the way.  There are characters I started off loving, and by the end I really didn't care that much about them.  There were others, like Perrin Aybara, that I may not have paid all that much attention to in the beginning, but by the end, I was in love with them as much as I was with Rand al'Thor, the main protagonist.

I was going to use a tired cliches and say that Perrin was the one character that changed the most over the years, but none of them stayed the same.  Over the period of 14 books, 9,839 pages, and 4,287,886 words, even with a huge cast, it's impossible for the characters to stay stagnant.  But of all of them, I think Perrin came into his own the most, and in a funny way, changed the least.  I get that he started off as a blacksmith apprentice, and ended up Lord of The Two Rivers, trusted general for the Lord Dragon, husband to a Queen, and King of the Wolves.  But who he was as a person; solid, dependable, quiet, thoughtful, methodical, loyal, loving, and the solid bedrock of the group, remained the same.  Perrin loves with all his being, he gives himself totally to those who he holds close, and there is nothing he wouldn't do for them.  None of those qualities changed, they just grew in scope.

Where Mat was the comic relief of the series, the one who kept everyone from being bogged down in seriousness, Perrin was the heart.  He grounds the rest of the characters and keeps them from forgetting themselves and where they came from.  I'm not going to go into all the ways he grows into himself, because I really do think everyone should read this series for themselves.  If I got too much into his character development, it would ruin some of the journey for those of you who haven't ventured into this world.  So needless to say, you are going to have to trust me on this.  I will say this, I would die to have his abilities with the wolves, and everything that entails.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Are Male Protagonists a Dying Breed?

I'm not sure if it's because of the book blogging world, which is dominated by women, a world where most of the books being reviewed are general fiction, romance, and YA; all of which seem to have been taken over by female characters.  Or maybe I'm just buying my books in the wrong stores.  It seems every time I stop and look at the new fiction tables, or the best selling racks, they are almost all about female protagonists.  Even in genres that used to be heavily dominated by men; mystery, fantasy, and science fiction, it seems as if the male hero is a dying breed.  Now I know there are a lot of exceptions to my observations, and that you can all give examples of great fiction featuring male protagonists, but it seems as if they are in the small minority, that the female hero has risen up to smite the men.  So please do not list all the male lead books, or the male heroes of your favorite series.  I promise you that I'm already familiar with them, I just think they are becoming harder to find.

Now I'm not saying I've done a scientific study or anything, but going through all the blogs on my blog roll, over 70% of the currently reviewed books (the books on the first page of their blog) featured female protagonists, and the majority of the male protagonists were regulated to the espionage or action genres, or they were in older books.  A quick glance at the New York Times Best Seller List shows the majority of them feature female heroes, and the same goes for a lot of the other best seller lists I took a look at.  And a quick glance through the books that have been made into movies the last few years, it seems as if the majority of them, especially the YA movies, are again featuring female protagonists.

Before you guys start yelling at me, and screaming words like sexist and misogynistic, I'm not trying to say there is anything wrong with this trend, assuming this isn't all in the my head.  Nor am I really trying to engage in an educated sociological discussion on the merits of this phenomenon.  To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure I have a serious point to make, or a profound observation to share.

By this point in time you are probably wondering, even if this is really what's going on, what is your point of all this?  I'm so glad you asked.  Other than the fact that I've not bought books I've liked the sound of, but didn't care for the sound of the protagonist, I'm afraid that it pigeonholes boys into reading certain types of books, or keeping them from reading all together.  I totally understand the reason for strong female protagonists, as it gives girls and women someone to emulate or relate to.  But don't boys, teens, and adult men need the same thing.  Is there a reason why men should be forced to read two or three genres in order to find male heroes they can relate to?  I could be over thinking it, and working myself into a tizzy for no reason, but I'm not so sure I'm wrong here.  If this trend is stopping me, someone who already loves to read and has always been pretty open in what I do read, from reading entire genres or avoid certain plots lines, how would I not assume it's doing it to those who don't read that much or haven't found a love for reading yet.

So am I out on a limb here?  Is this something that really doesn't exist, and that it's pure coincidence in the books I'm noticing in the stores and on blogs?  And if it is real, what's causing it.  Do women make up the majority of the American reading public?  Are most of the new authors being published now women?  And, assuming this is a real phenomenon, is it the problem I seem to think it is, or is it benign and not worthy of notice?  I'm not sure about any of the questions I just asked, but I'm curious to see what you guys have to say about it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

The colonies on Altair were frontier settlements whose raw materials fed the factories of Earth.  It was no surprise after torrential rains thundered across Altair that the small Rowan Mining camp was totally destroyed in a mudslide. What was surprising was the psychic wail of agony that went up, so loud and clear that it pierced the mind of every halfway sensitive telepath on the planet - and more surprising still, the discovery that this strong new psychic voice belonged to a three-year-old child, the lone survivor of the disaster.

The named her "the Rowan," not knowing any more about her than that, and she grew into a beautiful, magical-looking woman. She was also the most important Talent on the planet, using her enormous mental powers to help move cargo loads to all of the other inhabited worlds. 

But it was a lonely life - an especially lonely life for a lovely woman who had been deprived of her childhood.  The men who loved her were beneath her, and she loved no one - until Jeff Raven entered her life.  His voice appeared in her mind one day: the strong call of a fellow telepath in distress, Jeff was a wild Talent, his latent abilities called forth by an alien attack that threatened to destroy his planet.  With the Rowan's help, he rove back the invaders; now he wants only to find out more about he strong and fascinating woman who helped save his world.  

Their tumultuous love affair means the end of loneliness for the Rowan, and the union of their Talents makes them the most powerful team in all the inhabited worlds - ready for the challenges they expect may await them, as the rest of the universe begins to notice the expansion of human settlements in space. 

The Rowan, and it's sequels, are comfort reading for me.  I'm not a huge science fiction fan, nor am I really a fan of Anne McCaffrey.  I've tired to read the Dragonriders of Pern books, but really can't get into them at all.  But there is something about this series, these particular characters, that I can't seem to ever let go of, and choose to revisit every once in a while.

I'm sure part of it's because the Rowan, whose real name ends up being Angharad Gwyn, and her sense of isolation and loneliness that tugs at those same feelings in my own life. Because of all the moving and traveling we did as a kid, I never really had the opportunity to stay around kids my own age, which means I really never learned how to develop lasting friendships.  I couldn't relate to them, so loneliness was a very real thing for me growing up.  Add in the feelings of growing up a gay kid, and you can imagine that it wasn't a ton of fun for me.  Like the Rowan, I grew up, and while that loneliness never goes away all the way, I've learned to deal with it, and have come out of my shell quite a bit.  She is an amazing character, one that changes so much through this books, and it's sequels, but like a lot of my favorite characters, she is more than that for me.  She's like a sister I never knew I had, or a long lost cousin, one I get to reconnect with every year or so.

What really sets this book apart from the rest of what I've read from McCaffrey, are the secondary and supporting characters.  There really isn't a weak or unnecessary one in the whole bunch, and I'm in love with them about as much.  I adore Jeff Raven, and his mother for that matter.  He's such a quietly confident individual, and he is the perfect match for the Rowan.  They compliment each other in ways, I can only hope of finding in my own life.  I've always pictured them this way; take the relationship that Nick and Nora Charles have, take away the alcohol, give them monstrous telepathic/telekinetic abilities, and put them in space.  They are one of those couples that just fits, and nothing could ever force them apart.  There's also Afra Lyon, who I love just about as much, and a whole host of equally compelling characters.  When you put them together, it's the perfect family portrait, just mixed in with telepathy and invading aliens.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Life Lessons by Kaje Harper

Synopsis From Publisher:

Tony Hart's life has been quiet lately.  He has good friends and a rewarding teaching job.  Then the murdered body of another teacher falls into the elevator at his feet, and Tony's life gets a little too exciting.

Jared MacLean is a homicide detective, a widowed father, and deeply in the closet.  But form the moment he meets Tony's blue eyes in that high school hallway, Mac can't help wanting this man in his life.  However Mac isn't the only one with his eyes on Tony.  As the murderer tries to cover his tracks, Mac has to work fast or lose Tony, permanently.

I've always wondered if I would have the strength to date a man in the closet.  Part of me, the selfish part of me, doesn't think I could do it.  I've been coming out since my Sophomore year in high school, and I know dating someone who is not out, would force me to go back in.  I wouldn't be able to share the relationship with anyone in my life, we couldn't go out in public, and I would constantly be freaking out, scared to death that the man I was with would decide the closet was more important than me.  Then there is the side of me that hopes I could understand, and be accepting of the reasons he was in the closet.  I actually did start dating a guy in the Air Force, before Don't Ask, Don't Tell was revoked, but my life was a little too chaotic at the time, and I really never did give the guy much of a chance.  I get that some men stay in the closet because of their job, and I would hope if I was put in the situation where I found myself dating one of them, I could be understanding and supportive.  I know if I was in Tony's shoes, and the guy in the closet was Jared MacLean, I would do anything to make sure that man stayed in my life.

Tony is adorable, and probably one of the most open and likable characters I've come across in a long time.  He has such a good heart, loves what he does, and really wants to make a difference in the world.  He's inquisitive, isn't afraid to fight for what he wants, and is a truly honorable and loyal friend.  His life is turned upside down when the murder victims falls on top of him, and nothing in his life will be the same.  He is attracted to Jared from the start, but assumes the man is straight.  As the story progresses, and the danger to his own body becomes more severe, Tony doesn't lose himself.  Even when he is almost killed, and his best friend loses his life, Tony's heart doesn't close off, nor does he allow himself to grow bitter.  And when things start to progress with Jared, as he falls in love with Jared, even though he knows Jared is so far in the closet, he goes for it.  He allows his heart to want what it wants, and even though he knows it may not last, he's willing to go with it.  Even when he's kidnapped, and in serious danger of being killed, Tony has faith in Jared, has faith in himself, and has the courage to do what's needed.

In his own way, even in the closet, Jared is a man on honor and integrity.  He has a daughter, but he has never slept with a woman.  He married his wife to keep her in the country.  She was a young woman who was brought to this country as a bride to a rich white guy.  When he turned abusive, and started pimping her out, she did what she could to get through it, and when the time was right, she tried to go to the police.  Jared, being the young, idealistic police officer that he was, married her to keep her from being deported, and to provide a father for her unborn child.  When she died from cancer, he took the responsibility for raising his daughter seriously, and every decision since then, including staying in the closet, was with the thought of giving her the best life he could.  He is a dedicated detective, who can turn on the charm and get any witness or suspect to open up to him.  His attraction to Tony is instant, and can't be denied.

The two of them together makes a supremely hot couple.  They compliment each other in ways I can only dream of finding in a partner, but they aren't perfect.  The closet, no matter how much Tony wants to understand the need for it, is a mighty big weight on the relationship.  Of course it also doesn't help that Tony keeps finding himself in danger,and Jared is never allowed to show how important he is to him, even when he is negotiating with the man holding him captive. As a reader, while you know they are going to have bumps and obstacles in their relationship, they are one of those couples you can't help but fall in love with.  You know that nothing will make them stop loving each other, and you know they will do everything they can to make sure their relationship works, even if those around them aren't even aware of it.

Since I'm sure you guys are just as curious about the mystery aspect of it, and since I don't want to spoil it too much for you, I will just take a few quick sentences to tell you about it.  I have to admit that when I started reading m/m romance books, I wasn't expecting the writing to be that great.  Boy, have I been wrong.  This has a supremely well written mystery, with all the right plot twists and built in suspense to keep picky mystery lovers, like myself, fully engaged in the story.  I'm not saying it's Agatha Christie level plotting, but I would put it up against most of the "cozy" stuff that is being written today.  I will admit that I didn't pick up on who the murderer was right away, though once the story is finished, I was able to pinpoint the scene where the first clue to his identity was revealed.  The characterization of everyone involved is spot on, and the motive is fairly easy to understand.   It's a well crafted mystery, and I know if some of my friends could get over the m/m romance aspect of the book, they would thoroughly enjoy it.

This is the first book, in a four part series, so I'm looking forward to bringing the other books to your attention.  I'm just hoping that I can convince some of you to give them a shot.

Challenges: A-Z Mystery, Men In Uniform

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Ian Hunt

For whatever reason, and I'm sure it has something to do with the reading audience, most of the books I've seen that deal with a parent rescuing a child, it's the mother who's the star.  Either the father is the villain, worthless, or dead.  It's the fearless, heroic mother who is charged with pulling up the proverbial boot straps, and doing whatever it takes to protect their child.  I'm going to be honest with you guys, as someone who was a single father for over ten years, I found the this phenomenon to be rather odd, and in a strange way, just a tad bit sexist.

Needless to say, when I found the books that featured a father doing everything they could to protect their child, it was something I could connect with and understand.  The first father who comes to mind for a lot of people is the unnamed father in The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and I'm sure he will feature in a future Favorite Fictional Character post.  Today's post is about a father, Ian Hunt, who did everything he had to, including some intense violence, to rescue his daughter form the man who kidnapped her seven years ago.  He is the tortured protagonist in Ryan David Jahn's The Dispatcher.

When Ian is first introduced to us, he is an emotionally crippled man, barely functioning in his day to day world.  His daughter was kidnapped seven years ago, and his life has fallen apart since then,.  His wife left him for another police officer, he is estranged from his son, who he partially blames for the kidnapping, and he hates himself for it.  When he receives a 911 call from his daughter, he is thrust into a violent confrontation to save his daughter. 

He is forced to cross boundaries he never thought he would, including the torture and murder of a man who knows more than he is willing to say.  He is thrust from one violent situation to another, bent on securing his daughter's safety, and nothing is going to stop him.

What I love about Ian, other than his overriding paternal instinct, is the hope he has for himself and his daughter.  He is not only undertaking a journey to bring her back home, but it's a journey of self redemption.  He not only unjustly blamed his son for the abduction, but he placed a lot of the blame on himself.  He truly believed he was deserving of the way his life fell apart over the last seven years.  This is his one change to not only protect her, but to prove his worthiness as a man and a father.  He is one of those characters that is in so much emotional and mental pain, that almost nothing is off limits.  

Truthfully, Ian is a hero to me.  Despite anything that he is forced into doing in this book, I can't see myself doing it any differently.  As a father I would have done anything to protect my son, and once he was safe, I would have worried about the consequences.  I just hope I would have the same mental fortitude to get the job done.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Granddaughter of the sorceress Kethry, daughter of a noble house, Kerowyn has been forced to run the family keep since her mother's untimely death.  Yet now at last her brother was preparing to wed and when his bride became of the lady of the keep, Kerowyn could return to her true enjoyments - training horses and hunting.

But all Kerowyn's hopes and plans were shattered when her ancestral home was attacked, her father slain, her brother wounded, and his fiancee kidnapped.  Driven by desperation and knowledge that a sorcerer had led the attack, Kerowyn sought her grandmother Kethry's aid, a journey which would prove but the first step on the road to the fulfillment of her destiny.  For facing her family's foes would transform Kerowyn into an outsider in her own land, a warrior bound to the spell blade Need, and a mercenary forced to choose between her loyalty to her comrades in arms and the Herald of Valdemar, whom she had rescued and who in his turn had helped to awaken her to the true meaning of love and to her own unique powers of magic. 

If I had to pick a favorite Mercedes Lackey character, after Vanyel Ashkevron, it would have to be Kerowyn.  It's a hard decision to make with all the great characters she has created to dwell in Valdemar and it's surrounding countries, but Kerowyn is such dynamic character, that it's hard to not like her.  By the Sword is where we first meet her.  She starts off as a young noble woman, sharp of mind, and possessing a strong desire to be doing something with her life.

Throughout this 492 page book, her journey takes her from her famous ride, to commanding her own mercenary company,and finally into the fold of Valdemar's Heralds.  This is one of the books that takes place in the "present" timeline, though there are now quite a few books after the events in this one.  Selenay is Queen of Valdemar, the Tendrel Wars are about to rage, and magic is "still" a thing of mystery withing the confines of Valdemar's borders.  Kerowyn is not from Valdemar, and though I'm never sure it's ever implicitly stated, but I've always assumed her to be Rethwellen, though I'm not sure it really matters all that much.  Actually I do know why it matters, it's the decisions she makes; backing the King of her home kingdom into coming to Valdemar's aid, agreeing to lead her mercenary troop into battle for Valdemar in the war, and eventually being chosen by the Companion Sayvel, those decisions, even if some were influenced by Need, helps cement her to her new homeland, despite where she may have come from.

And, in part, I think that is why Valdemar is such an unique and special place.  It's a land where all are welcome, all are valued for their talents, and where all faiths are free to worship who they choose.  It's a land were race really doesn't matter, or where being schaych (gay) doesn't matter in the broad scheme of things.   It's why Valdemar is one of those places that needs to be protected.  It's a land defined by it's people, more than by it's boundaries.

Challenges: Password (By & Sword)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wordsmithonia Radio --- The Eyes Have It

Nobody can really agree on who first commented on the eyes being the window to the soul, but I'm not really sure the source really matters all that much.  I think almost all of us have experienced that sinking feeling, looking into someone's eyes for the first time, and getting lost in them.  Our eyes are almost the perfect barometer, reflecting our emotions, our fears, and our dreams.  I'll be the first to admit, the eyes are the first thing I'll be attracted to when I meet someone knew, quickly followed by legs, but that's for another post.   

Today I just wanted to bring you ten songs that gets that idea across.  They are songs that reflect both love and pain, songs that truly do reflect our souls.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Harriet Baxter

Today's Favorite Fictional Character post has me in a bit of a quandary.  The character I'm wanting to share with you guys is from one of my favorite books of 2012, or all time for that matter.  I still remember finishing Gillespie & I by Jane Harris, and feeling this overwhelming need to tell every single living soul about it.  It is an amazing book, with an even cooler "protagonist", and I really can't fathom why any of wouldn't have read it by now.

By know you are probably trying to figure out what the hell my problem is, so I'll tell you.  When I wrote the review back in 2012, a lot of it was what I thought of Harriet Baxter, the main character of the book.  She is what made this book so great, so it was impossible for me to really review the book, without talking about her.  For the last few hours, I've been trying to figure out if there was something else I could say about her, improve upon what I wrote a few years ago.  After trying it a few times, I came to the conclusion that I really can't say anything new, or reword it in a way that made sense in the end.  I didn't really want to re-purpose what I wrote earlier, and I even went on Facebook to see if anyone would think it's cheating.  After getting a few opinions and realizing that I just can't improve upon perfection, I had to conclude that I'll just use what I wrote then, and hope it convinces you guys to discover her for yourself.

What can I say about our "heroine" of the piece, Harriet Baxter?  I could say she has a gift for words.  I could even say that she is extraordinary in her storytelling capability.  I may even mention that she is secure within herself and knows exactly how you and I should see her.  After all, I'm pretty darn sure it's the way she sees herself as well.  Now Harriet would tell you that she is a compassionate human being who just wants the best for those around her.  I think she may even mention selfless, kind, a good friend, and she may even bring up that she misses having a father figure in her life.  Now you may only get that last part out of her if she is in a sentimental mood.

What I'm pretty sure Harriet won't mention is that she's delusional, egotistical, manipulative, cunning, has the intelligence of a sociopath, and for all intensive purposes is probably a murderess, though indirectly.  Now does that make Harriet a bad person?  I would have to say yes.  What I would also have to say is that I loved every minute spent in her company.  I think in the back of her head, she knows exactly what kind of person she is, and she loves it.  She is, despite everything bad she has ever done, one of the coolest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and I would love to hang out with her.  I have never loved such a horrible person more than I do her.

Now I know that Harriet is the one narrating this story and that there is no way she would have said of the comments I included in the last paragraph.  Instead, and I think against her will, she sprinkles the clues to her true personality throughout the book.  For every once in a while when Harriet is describing an encounter with another character or her behavior in a particular situation, you get the impression that not everything is what she's saying it is.  Harriet herself has no problem mentioning a negative reaction she gets from someone, but she has her own spin on it.  Sadly for her, all those incidents end up adding up.  It doesn't take long to realize that Harriet isn't being as truthful as she could be.

Just let me know if you guys read this book, I really want to know what you think of dear Harriet.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

No True Way edited by Mercedes Lackey

Synopsis From Back Cover:

An ancient order of Valdemar's protectors, the Heralds are trained to be emissaries, spies, judges, diplomats, scouts, counselors, and warriors.  these heroes are drawn from all across the kingdom, from all walks of life, and at all ages - and all are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women.  They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more.  Sought and chosen by mysterious horselike Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic creatures, a powerful partnership that supports each Herald as he or she rides circuit throughout the kingdom.  Heralds of Valdemar are charged with protecting the peach,and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.

Now, sixteen authors join Mercedes Lackey, adding their own Heralds, Bards, and Healers to the well-loved fantasy realm of Valdemar.

A father and daughter circuit he kingdom together, after a Companion offers to accompany the child.... Twin brother and sister Heralds are stalked by a mysterious danger....  A widowed, middle-aged mother is unexpectedly Chosen by a Companion....  A Healer with Animal Mindspeech must save a village from a nightmarish beast....

This is the eighth anthology of short stories set in the kingdom of Valdemar and it's surrounding countries, and I'm already looking forward to the ninth.  If you guys have been reading this blog for any length or time, you know that I love Valdemar the way others love Hogwarts, Narnia, or Middle Earth.  If there was a teleportation portal that connected our two worlds, I would gladly go across.  It's the world I escape to when I'm needing to forget what is going on around me.  It's my second home, and I never miss an opportunity to visit.

What I love about these anthologies is that other authors get to add their imprint to the Valdemar.  They introduce us to new characters, some of which come back in several anthologies.  Some of the characters are from the past, enriching Valdemar's history, others are from the present, striving to make sure Valdemar has a future.  It's a way to make the world all that much concrete and vibrant, and I appreciate all the effort that goes into it.

While I loved all sixteen of the stories that were presented this time around, the one that really stuck out for me was "Written in the Wind" by Jennifer Brozek.  It's one of the shorter stories in the collection, and it's small in scope, but it's so powerfully moving, especially if you are familiar with the Vanyel and everything going on in his time period.  Vanyel doesn't make an appearance in this story, nor is he mentioned, but if you have read The Last Herald Mage trilogy, which I think everyone should, then you now this piece of Valdemar's history.  Someone is setting out to destroy the Herald Mage's and rob Valdemar of their strength.  It's not noticed at first since the casualty rate has always been high with Herald Mages, but it starts to take it's toll.  Fewer and fewer youngsters with the Mage ability are being chosen, and nobody seems to know why.  It seems as if someone is targeting the kids before they even have a chance to be chosen, killing them off, one by one.  This story is about Orun and Milla, twin brother and sister who not only have a Mage gift, but seem to have ForeSight as well.  For years now they have know they will be chosen on their birthday, and from that day onward, there are two paths.  One of them leads to a rich long life, the other to a short one ending in violent death.  Sadly it's that second one that find these two young people, and wipes them out before they even make it to Haven.  What I found remarkable about them,,and what I admire about anyone who is chosen to be a Herald, is the willingness to do what is needed of them, despite the dangers to themselves.  These two children knew they were probably going to die before they were even going to be able to start training, but they stepped up, got on the backs of their Companions, and set off to Haven in the hope that they could at least let others know what is going on.  They are remarkable kids, and this is really the first time we get a glimpse at what could have been.

While I do think you guys should start your explorations of Valdemar with the Last Herald Mage triogy; Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, and Magic's Price, the anthologies are a good way to step the toes in the water, and test out Valdemar for yourselves.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A-Z Mystery Author Challenge

So I'm freaking excited that Michelle of Red Headed Book Child is doing her A-Z Mystery Author Challenge again this year.  It's going up a little late this time around, so I'm not going to be able to use the books I read in January, but I'm okay with that.  I have yet been able to get through the entire alphabet, but I'm going to try my best this year.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Hank Palace

It's been a bit since I've done anything with this feature, and it's one that I've been missing for quite a while.  Now that I've gotten back into the rhythm of blogging again, it feels right to start sharing my favorite fictional characters once again.

When I started this feature back in 2009. it was born out of a need to express why I get so engrossed in a good book, movie, or TV show.  It's the characters that matter almost more than anything else, because if they don't get me to feel something, the story really doesn't matter anymore. I don't need to like them, but I need to feel something for them.  I need to have a connection with them in some way, otherwise I lose focus, and I end up not giving a damn about any of it.

I will be the first to admit that when I first started this feature, it was to showcase my all time favorites; the one that made me fall in love with them, or even the ones that scared the hell out of me. No matter what emotion they made me feel, they were the best of the best.  Over the years, I started to lose focus on that, and some of my character choices were less than inspired.  They were still characters I liked, and connected with, but they weren't the ones I loved, the ones I needed to spend as much time with as I could.  My resolution this year is to make sure that all my choices really do matter.  They will be the characters that I do love, the ones I seem to go back to year after year.  I've already shared with you a lot of them, especially those first 20 or so; Vanyel Ashkevron, Auntie Mame, Eeyore, Buffy Summers, Brainy Smurf, and Nick and Nora Charles.

Because of this, I'm not going to stick with any sort of monthly theme, or try to plan this too far out in advance.  Instead I'm going to wing it, go with my gut, and hope you guys fall in love with these characters enough, that you will be willing to discover them for yourselves.

To start this off, I'm going to go with one of my most recent literary crushes, Det. Hank Palace.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Hank Palace, he is the star of the Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters.  In that series, he is a detective with the Concord, NH police department, and his is a world on the brink of extinction.  He is living in a reality that has a meteor set on a collision course with Earth, and there is not a damn thing anyone can do it.   The entire world knows they only have a few months left, and most people have walked off their jobs and away from responsibility.  They are living out their last wishes, or simply ending it now, before it's ended for them. Almost from the beginning, I know that Hank is different, that he isn't one to shirk away from his duties, that in fact he is one that takes it upon himself to make sure the job gets done, that society is protected, even if it means he hurts himself in the process.

I'm going to be honest, I fell in love with Hank in The Last Policeman, admired him in Countdown City, and fell even more in love with him in World of Trouble.  He is the type of man I wish I could be, if I found myself in those same circumstance.  I'm almost positive I wouldn't be, but I would like to think I would at least try.  Regardless of whether or not I could live up to that ideal, he is the kind of man I would want by my side, in any sort of capacity, if I was living in a world about to end.  I would know, no matter what else happened, that he would have my back, and be there for me.

He rises to any problem that occurs, he doesn't lose sight of the suffering of others, and he is always trying to do what is right.  Not just right for him, but what is right for a society that is quickly crumbling into chaos.   He is courageous, loyal, and has a strong sense of duty.  With all those traits going for him, he still isn't a god sent from above to save the world.  He is just a everyday man who had the character to rise to the challenge, when so many others failed.  He isn't the most intelligent guy, but he is methodical and knows how to get the answers he needs.  He isn't a muscle bound gym bunny, or a tough ass street fighter, who has the skills to take on a countless stream of enemies, but he can hold his own in a fair fight.  Nor is he a movie idol stepped off the silver screen, able to charm the pants of everyone around him just by smiling and showing a dimple or two, even if he managed to charm me.  In other words, he is not the archetypal Hero.  He is simply a man.  A man who had that core strength to seem him through what was needed to be done.

To be quite honest with you, when I finished reading the last page of World of Trouble, my heart broke a tiny bit.  Over the course of three books, Hank stole a piece of my heart, and since I can pretty much guess how his story ends, though the author never gets that far, I'm saddened that I will never know for sure how it happens.  I'm not sure if I even want to know how he leaves the world, the pain he is still going to face before the end comes.  But I know if Hank were a real person, and not a fictional character, I would do everything in my power to make sure I was there for him when the time did come.  There aren't a lot of truly Noble characters being written anymore, but I can promise you that Hank Palace is right up there with the best of them.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard (Password Clue)

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

The Despair has plagued the earth for five years.  Most of the world's population has inexplicably died by it's own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive.  A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead.

In the crumbling state of Florida a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America.  It's rumored that a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won't be easy for Norman to get there. 

You guys already know this about me, but I'm not a huge fan of science fiction, or dystopian fiction.  There is actually very little of either genre that I tend to enjoy, but when I do, I love them.  I think I can still count on two hands, the total number of books or series that I enjoy from either genre.  I first read The Suicide Collectors back in 2009, when it first came out.  I hadn't started blogging yet, hence I've never written a review for it before, and since I decided to dust it off, and give it another go, this is the perfect opportunity for me to convince you that you really do need to read this book.

It actually came to my attention because of the Barnes & Noble Book Clubs, which sadly are now defunct.  They used to be a lively and engaging group of message boards, covering a wide swath of topics.  It was on the Fantasy Board that this book was first introduced as a monthly read, and I jumped a the chance to get my hands on it.  The cover was extraordinary, the synopsis had me hooked, the moderator seemed to be really excited about it (thanks Paul),  and the author was from my home state of Minnesota.  As soon as the book was released, I took a trip to Barnes & Noble, paid for the book, and had it read in one sitting.  I was actually hoping to link that old discussion for you guys to read through it, but sadly they decided to not even keep the archives up.

I really don't want to go into too many plot points or character studies.  You guys know that I normally don't really have that much of  an issue doing that, but this is one of those books that you really do need to discover on your own, and it would be so easy for me to spoil something for you.  I am willing to say, and it's even more so now that I've done a second reading, that Norman is one of those character that you can't help but fall in love with.  There is an inner strength to him, one that is not forced or contrived.   He is one of those  men, who may not be the most eloquent in verbally expressing how they feel, but you know that you can depend on them for whatever you need, that they are true "men" in every sense of the word.

The only other tidbit I want to throw out there is this, I love the way the author chooses to keep the cause of the Despair a little foggy.  I've never been a huge fan of books, or movies for that matter, that feels a need to explain every little detail.  I seriously doubt the characters are really ever going to be aware of every little nuance or piece of back history, so why should the reader.  Some things simply can't be explained, there needs to be a bit of mystery to them, otherwise they just aren't that impactful.  Explaining everything, takes away some of the punch.  I think that was part of my problem with The Town that Forgot How to Breathe, it was too neatly wrapped up, too explained, hence it lost some of it's mystery and horror.

So please, if you only read one book that I recommend this year, let it be this one.  It's a gorgeously written journey, one that explores what it means to be human, in the face of overwhelming heartache and pain.  It's a story that will stay with you for days after you turn the last page.

Challenges: Password (Suicide)