I had an interesting experience at work last week. Because of the serendipitous nature of life, it was perfectly reflected in the book I was reading. I often wonder if I’d recognize life’s meaning if I couldn’t connect my daily experiences to the deep truths I find in my beloved fantasy stories.
Normally, I avoid young adult or new adult stories; too much angst and not enough sex. Add to that my typical avoidance of apocalyptic books and those with love triangles, and the Arcana series would normally be relegated to my top three Greatest Miss List. But I’m a sucker for Kresley Cole. I would read toilet paper if she wrote on it. But, I’m hooked on the Arcana Chronicles. All hail Tar O! Also, there’s only one book left (which I’m sure will take at least another year to come out, dammit!) so I gotta find out how it ends.
I retreated to my comfort zone for … well, comfort. I rewarded an author who made money recycling previously published stories by compiling them into a single book. I figure that because I pay for convenience in a thousand ways a day, that I might as well add a new book of old stories to my pre-washed, bagged lettuce, my pre-measured instant coffee packets, my detergent and softener pods, and the drive through pharmacy, bank, and brew-through. The few bucks I spent on The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories is a small price to pay to keep company with one of my all-time favorite characters.
I’m on a roll of outstanding books. I’ve already mentioned Demon, Interrupted by Elliot Parker, and this week I devoured Robyn Peterman’s latest offering in the Magic and Mayhem series, Three’s a Charm.
I’ve found several new authors of late. My dry spell is over. Phew. These authors are self-published or published by small, independent presses. And it’s hard out there, I know. But, thankfully, quality rises to the top.
I'm still enjoying Jon Merz's fascinating character, Lawson, the Vampire Fixer. Think Ray Donovan with fangs. In fact, I would be delighted to see Liev Schreiber play Lawson in the film adaptation of the series. Jon, you with me? Last time, I wrote about Lawson's absolute discipline and my extreme envy of this—admittedly fictional—quality. Today I want to turn my attention to Lawson’s abiding sense of honor. He is an honorable man, or, more accurately, vampire. He says what he means and he does what he says. He follows through on commitments no matter how difficult or inconvenient. Or even dangerous. He can be counted on. He has honor. Honor is a characteristic I admire.
People tell me I'm a disciplined person. “Are you on drugs?” is my usual response. I feel like the least disciplined person in the world. I’ve broken every resolution and promise I’ve made to myself again and again. I succumb to every temptation. I'm constantly trying to trick myself into following a routine, sticking to a plan, practicing discipline. Today, I'm thinking about discipline through the lens of a new author, Jon F. Merz, and an exciting new series featuring Lawson, the Vampire Fixer. I finished the first book, called, appropriately, The Fixer, and am enjoying the second, The Invoker, with no discipline at all—ravenously devouring page after page. Lawson is an exceptional character.
It's been an eventful couple of weeks. We've enjoyed Christmas and New Year's Eve and all of the joyful mayhem that these holidays entail. In addition, my family managed to squeeze in our sons' birthday. That's right, eighteen years ago, three days after Christmas and three before New Year's Eve, we were blessed with a set of beautiful baby boys, weighing in at over six pounds each and putting their mama into intensive care for three days. Not that I hold that against them. Most of the time at least… And you know how everyone tells us how freaking fast it goes? Well, they were right. And while many of the days seemed endless, the years have flown by and our babies are now adult males who had to register for the draft.
I’m still thinking about Amid the Winter Snow, the wonderful anthology I wrote about last week. This week, my Muse was tickled by another novella from the book, The Storm, by Elizabeth Hunter. This is the story of Renata and Maxim, long-time lovers whose chemistry eventually overwhelms the armor around Renata's heart to find their HEA. Joyful. Renata has suffered terrible loss and devastating grief, so much so that she is incapable of any joy. She remembers that her mate, family— her entire community— was slaughtered by their enemies, leaving her mired in her despair. Renata can only remember the pain without the happiness that preceded it, until she is gifted with a release that enables her to access the joy she once felt. The themes of grief obliterating joy and the gift of unencumbered memories touched me deeply.
You know I love my fantasy with a strong dose of truth. I believe in happily ever after, but I also believe that life, specifically mine over the last couple of weeks, sometimes gets in the way. I've had to make some difficult choices about where and how to spend my time. Most unfortunately, my blog has been the big loser in my time management of late. But never fear: I will adjust to my new normal and I will learn how to get 'er done. All of it. Somehow. Luckily, I enjoyed a special treat this past week: a new Thea Harrison novella. I'm on her ARC team (yay!!) and was given an advanced copy of a new anthology, Amid the Winter Snow, with her story, The Chosen, nestled in the middle. It was transportive. And authentic. My favorite.
I've written before about the gift of gratitude and how sometimes we need a little help to focus on what's good instead of what we wished were better. How many of us sit at a Thanksgiving table laden with a ton of traditional fare, football games playing in the background, the hangover and food coma just around the bend, our attention fixed on anything other than giving thanks? I believe this happens more often than not, but maybe I'm projecting my own gratitude inadequacies on the rest of humanity.
I'm devouring the latest (and penultimate!) Charley Davidson book, The Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones. This series is beloved because Charley is a phenomenal character; getting into her head is a joyous privilege. The plot has become a tad complicated, but Ms. Jones gives us a primer on events thus to date and I'm following along pretty well. In this latest installment, Reyes, Charley’s smoking hot husband and deity, has gone to Hell and returned a changed man. [Go figure, Hell has quite an effect on all beings] Charley, a deity in her own right and the Grim Reaper on this plane of existence (complicated, I told you), is trying to discern whether there is anything of the husband she knows and loves left in Reyes' distorted psyche. And while the divine aspects of the story strain credulity the heart of the issue does not.
It's a week later and I'm no longer slogging. I'm into A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne and I can't wait to find out how it all turns out. If this is the first in a series and I don't find out what happens until the end of the series, I'm going to be angry. In the meantime, it seems like every other page has a deep thought that inspires further rumination, which is why I love Kevin Hearne. Today's perfect line describes "perfect contentment. That sublime moment when you're at peak anticipation of something and you know you'll get it soon. I often think that moment is better in some ways than getting the thing itself: it's the awareness of your own joy at being alive..." Interesting concept. Can the anticipation of a thing can be more enjoyable than the experience itself?
I'm slogging through the new Kevin Hearne book. Yes, you heard me, it's a bit of a slog. It's not his fault. Really. It's just that I love my fantasy, but only the paranormal and urban variety. Mr. Hearne has gone and written himself a book of high fantasy—think The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. And while I loved the George R. R. Martin books (reinforced by the brilliance of the HBO series), the rest of the pure fantasy genre leaves me as cold as winter at the Wall in GoT. First off, the usually oversized cast of characters is hard to keep track of, especially because of the second reason I struggle with this genre: the unpronounceable and difficult-to-remember names. There are no Toms, Dicks or Harrys to be found. Nope, we've got Dervan du Alöbar, Gorin Mogen, and Nel Kit ben Sah. I have no mnemonics for any of these beyond the Star of David—Mogen David that is. L’chaim.
I just finished the inimitable Robyn Peterman's latest in her Hot Damned series, Fatally Flawed. This hoot of a novel is written from the first-person point of view of Satan, the Devil himself. As always, Robyn Peterman made me laugh out loud as she plumbed great depths. This outing takes us on a magical mystery tour of fate and destiny, along with one of my favorite topics, free will. In the book, Fate is a bitch. As in she is a mean and terrible woman who toys with people for her own twisted ends. And while humans have free will, immortals, like the Devil, do not. They have destiny and their fate is manipulated by Fate. That’s the price of immortality, I guess. The subject of destiny, predestination and free will fascinates me. In this fantasy, Satan is willing to meet his fate (as determined by Fate) head on. According to the Devil, "Fate had a way of revealing itself as you went along with your daily life…If we go about business as usual, whatever fate intended will find us.” It's an interesting perspective.
I just finished Cold Reign by Faith Hunter, the latest in the Jane Yellowrock series. The plot thickens. Lots going on here, a bit difficult to follow, but excellent nonetheless. In this outing, Jane goes head-to-head with her old beau, Rick. He left her for another woman. In a brutally public way. Sure, he was being magically coerced, but that's no excuse. Even if it is, it didn’t lessen Jane’s humiliation. In this book, Jane examines her heart and realizes she's over Rick. Hooray! But she also understands that while she's moved on with Bruiser, there is a place in her heart where Rick resided. That place is now empty – because each and every person who claims a piece of our hearts makes an impression. Like a meteor hitting the Earth. And while they are in our lives, that crater is filled. And when they leave, either by choice or by death, their custom built home in our chest lays empty forever. I've experienced this with boyfriends, but also with friends and family who stay for a time and then move on, whether by design or mortality’s limits. The effects on the heart are substantial.
I'm enjoying the latest Jane Yellowrock novel, Cold Reign, by Faith Hunter. Ms. Hunter writes about a Native American Skinwalker as if she had firsthand experience -- the mark of a great writer. Over the course of the series’ many books Jane has evolved and been forced to compromise her moral convictions—occasionally. But Jane has never wavered in her moral compass, and that steadfastness is one of her defining characteristics. So, it is no surprise that Jane is deeply disturbed when she is forced to psychically bind a vampire to herself—forcing another being into virtual slavery. In a previous book, the Master of the City had tried, unsuccessfully, to enslave Jane who remains outraged at the attempt to bind her. What does it mean to be bound to another? There are many ties that bind. Ties of love and affection. Ties of duty and responsibility. Ties of dependence and subordination. Ties of weakness and ties of strength. And there are strong and weak ties within each type of connection. There is much variation in the realm of binds and bondage.
I'm still thinking about G.A. Aiken's Bring the Heat, the latest in her Dragon Kin series. I love these books. The characters are so deliciously bloodthirsty and direct. It's refreshing. So many in this world hide behind silence and indirect attacks. I love the lack of filter, having almost none myself. It's good to spend time with those of a like mind, even if it's only between pages. Especially then. But I digress before I've even begun. Why am I thinking of filters and frankness? Because G.A. Aiken also writes about the sensitives in the world—hers and ours. In describing one of the characters who "felt more deeply, lived more heartily, loved with her entire being," the author also noted that "she could also break more easily and all that lovely goodness curdle." In our world, we call these people "snowflakes," those who melt at the first sign of any heat. Let’s unpack these ideas. In today's society, we are encouraged to have a thick skin, not to take insults, snide remarks or petty slights personally or seriously. If we take umbrage we are often exhorted to act like a duck and let the offense roll off our backs. And there is wisdom in that approach. We can't let insults from idiots ruin our day. On the other hand, sensitivity is a desirable trait in life, allowing us to read people and situations, giving us emotional intelligence that can lead to success and happiness.