Review: The Blacksmith’s Daughter

First, I enjoyed this book, which is available as an ebook through MUSA/Euterpe and also through Amazon.

Second, I’ve known the author literally since she was born, and count her as a dear friend. Just to get that out there in the front of anything else.

That said, “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” is as good a fantasy first novel as any I’ve read in a while. Fantasy novels have certain things going for them, or against them, depending on personal preference. They have a fair amount of backstory/world-building to do before they can get deep into the story. Anybody who’s ever read Tolkien knows that this has been a challenge all the way since the Big Daddy First Fantasy to Rule Them All, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings. If you’re the kind of person who loves to dive head-first into a new world, with unusual names and unheard-of places and Important People you need to learn and remember early on, then you’re already comfortable with reading fantasy and won’t have any problem with all these things.

If you’re not accustomed to it, you’ll find that the Prologue is a strenuous chew. But hang in there, all will come clear and you’ll find that you needed to know all that prologue.

About midway through chapter one, “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” really hits its stride and from there on out, there’s plenty of plot to pull the reader though the occasional bit of necessary fill-in.

“The Blacksmith’s Daughter” hovers on an edge between standard fantasy, mild romance, and the Young Adult category the publishers have chosen to put it in. While many of the tropes in the story are fairly standard fantasy, none of them comes across as cookie-cutter. The pint-sized heroine is great fun, unexpected and full of twisty quirks, unusual strengths and a quiet competence not often seen in fantasy females. I love that not only is she a blacksmith’s daughter, she’s a blacksmith herself.

Oddly, the main hero character engaged me the least. He was certainly fine, but nothing really sets him apart. The main hero’s long-time best friend is far more interesting a character. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him if and when the promised sequel comes along!

All-told, “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” provides everything a reader could want from a fantasy novel: Engaging main characters, entertaining secondary characters, wizardly wizards, icky bad guys, sword play and magic. And about that magic: I’m really hard on magical systems in books and movies, because so often it’s misused as an abrupt deus ex machina. Wave your arms and make everything sparkly and fixed: That kind of magic. So I’m pleased to report that the magic in “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” has clearly been well thought out and has sane uses and limitations. Thanks, Arley, for that gift.

In conclusion, I only have one more thing to say: Where are the maps? You can’t have fantasy lands without maps. LOL It sprains the reader’s tiny mind!

My recommendation: Read “The Blacksmith’s Daughter.” And when you’re done, let me know what you think about Enith.

Because I think she’s fab. Just like the chick who brought her to life: Well done, young wizard. Well done indeed.

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under fiction, links, media consumption

Personhood: Just say No to Sex

I appreciate the beliefs of the anti-choice movement, truly I do. Truth is, in 55 years of life I’ve never met a single person who was pro-abortion. Nobody likes it. It’s a terrible option. But sometimes it’s the only option, and just making the decision to go forward with it is hard enough without all the self-righteous brow-beating that’s become associated with it.

That said, I find this Amendment 26 in Mississippi, the so-called “Personhood Amendment,” overly worrisome. My daughter takes birth control for a medical condition. Is this going to become illegal? Will she just have to live with a condition that’s easily treatable, just in case she might have sex someday? It’s insane.

Anything that makes doctors nervous gives me pause, I have to admit. Plus, it’s just going to be a huge lawyerly clusterbomb from the word go: The only people who will benefit from this amendment, born or unborn, will be lawyers billing by the hour to deal with all the lawsuits. In a state that’s already so strapped for budget that it has persistent childhood poverty and is cutting education and human services, what we really, really need is an influx of state, local and federal law suits to gum up the judicial works and churn out money for the lawyers.

If the personhood people want to go after abortion, let them go after it straight-forward. I know how I’d vote on abortion, but I also know that I’m not going to vote yes on an amendment that might see my daughter have a miscarriage someday and be charged with homicide. With all due respect, I think a lot of well-meaning people need to really, honestly read this amendment, and try to see past the “save the unborn” to all it could potentially do to our daughters.

Upon pondering, it occurs to me… If the anti-birth control amendment passes next week, women will still have one line of defense. NO. Just say no. Ever hear of Lysistrata? Get ready, ladies, for one heckuva battle. But just remember… if he hits you, it’s assault. Just say NO to sex.

My New Motto: Say Yes to 26 and Say NO to Sex. With men. Ever.

Let’s see how that freak flag flies.

2 Comments

Filed under personal

Fitting In

Most of the time I don’t care. I decided a long time ago to follow the Groucho Marx edict (or was it W.C. Fields?) who said he didn’t want to belong to any group that would have him as a member. So that’s okay.

Sometimes it gets pointed out in unexpected ways, though. I’m quite familiar with two specific internet communities. Technically, I belong to both, but truthfully I’m a lurker at best. The reason? I’m too nice for one of them, apparently, and too careless for the other.

Somedays you just can’t win. Look at a photo instead.

Tremble

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Author August: Lewis Shiner

Finally, an author I can make an actual comment on!

I met Lewis Shiner, briefly, in Boston in 1989. He was at NoreastCon, which was WorldCon that year, and so were my husband and I. In fact, I met him at the same time I met Connie Willis, and while I doubt that either of them remembers one fangirl among hundreds, it was a big deal for me.

I’m not quite sure how “Glimpses” and “Deserted Cities of the Heart” had found their way into my reading stack, but I’d loved them both. They were unlike anything I’d ever read at the time. The Library Journal described “Glimpses” as “… the first rock n roll time-travel novel. Ray Chackleford is a self-employed electronics repairman whose marriage is foundering and whose father has recently died. … In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Ray–a rock drummer during his youth in the late Sixties–begins to hear in his head and manages to transfer to tape legendary unfinished recordings by Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix. This music is accompanied by “journeys” into the troubled lives of these rock musicians.”

I just remember how real it felt to me, at that time. This was the ’80s, and the ’60s were well on their way to becoming the mythic land of our youth. “Glimpses,” for me, is a kind of electric koolaid acid test mixed with the sweet, honest sentiment of “Field of Dreams.” Maybe we really could have made a difference. Maybe we really could have built a better world. Instead, many of us turned into Republicans and Shiner’s writing hints presciently of that loss.

“Deserted Cities of the Heart” brought Mayan culture to my attention. And skateboarding. Yes, in the same book.

My favorite Lewis Shiner book, though, came out after that notable WorldCon meeting. It’s called “SLAM.”

Again, I can’t do the short synopsis thing any better than the Library Journal. “Realism, idealism, and fantasy are skillfully interwoven into a novel of personal adjustment and rebellion. Dave Stokes is a product of the 1960s who is trapped in a personal time warp. While his friends have compromised ideals for professions and families, Dave at 39 is newly released from prison after serving time for income tax evasion. Living on the fringes of society, associating with runaway teens, a down-and-out evangelist, a prison escapee, and other social discards, he finally makes peace with himself and his world…. As an anti-hero, Dave is ethical and likable; the secondary theme of skateboarding is unique; and the tension derived from peripheral drug deals, arson, and other illicit acts is riveting.”

“SLAM” was the strangest, most utterly cool thing I’d ever read at that point in my life, and I absolutely loved it.

Shiner kinda drifted out of sight on the SF after a while, but thanks to our friend Wiki, I see that he moved into writing more mainstream-type novels and also into providing his work online. His “Fiction Liberation Front” http://www.lewisshiner.com/liberation/index.htm offers almost all his work, in PDF and HTML format.

Shiner really deserves more recognition than he gets. His “Hunter Thompson goes on a road trip with Carlos Castenada set to an awesome ’60s soundtrack” manner is mind-strippingly original. He also lets you remember skateboarding when skatepunks were cool rather than threatening.

Go forth and read some Lewis Shiner. I bet you’ll enjoy it!

1 Comment

Filed under media consumption, personal

Author August: Rog Phillips

Okay, this is just plain embarrassing. I call myself a long-time science fiction and fantasy reader, but I’ve never even heard of this guy. At least I’d heard of Vernor Vinge.

According to Wikipedia, he wrote mostly short fiction, mostly in the ’40s and ’50s. Color me educated.

One of these days there’ll be an author I can have an opinion about. So say we all. ;D

 

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Author August: Vernor Vinge (and Joan Vinge)

Here’s an embarrassing start for me on the science fiction Author August challenge: Today’s author is Vernor Vinge and I’ve never read anything by him.

*wince*

I’ve looked at several of his books, but nothing ever really called out to me. So somebody needs to make me a recommendation. What Vernor Vinge book do I need to read?

I’ll say this about him: He was once married to Joan D. Vinge, who wrote one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels, “The Snow Queen.” I first read that book years ago, back when I was a member of the SF/F Book Club and got it in one of those cheap hardcover editions, and fell in love. For some reason, the character who resonated with me deeper than any other was Herne, the Starbuck, a furious crippled man who’d had everything and lost it. But all the rest is fabulous as well, from the star-crossed main characters to the mysterious mask maker to the Snow Queen herself. As much as the people, the world and the greater universe is also wonderfully drawn and become almost characters on their own.

I’ve probably reread “The Snow Queen” at least three times through the years. I’ve read the follow-ups as well, “World’s End,” “The Summer Queen,” “Tangled Up In Blue,” but while they’re all good, none holds the magic of “The Snow Queen.”

So thanks, Vernor Vinge, for once upon a time having an awesome wife.

3 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Kind words live a long time

When my husband says to me, “I’m proud of you for how hard you fight,” meaning the ongoing battle against manic-depression, that makes me feel about two feet taller and twice as strong. When he says, “I’m glad you’re so good at keeping the house clean enough,” that makes me happy, too. I know I’m not a great housekeeper, so “clean enough” is high praise.

When my daughter says to me, “All my friends think you’re really cool,” well… who wouldn’t be flattered? Seriously. When she thanks me, in her way, for giving her four years of extra attention and all the education I could manage to squeeze into a homeschooling setting, that makes life worth living.

But I was challenged to think of the best compliment I ever received, and after some pondering, I think it has to come down to two.

In college, I minored in Speech and Theater. I loved everything about it, from solo performances to big plays to painting sets to doing makeup to competing in Forensics Tournaments. I had a bit of a crush on one teacher. Heck, I think every female in the department had a crush on him, and maybe some of the (deeply closeted at Bible college) males. He was tough and demanding, but he wasn’t afraid to give some praise if needed.

During my last semester, I didn’t have any classes with him or contact with him at all. I’d changed from glasses to contacts, done a mind-blowing student teaching job, and among a lot of other things, took part in a production staged by a graduating friend. In the line after the show, which was a one-shot thing, this teacher came up to me, looked at me as if he’d never seen me before, and said, “You were wonderful. And you look lovely.”

Well. Well well well. That was unexpected, and I walked on air for several days after that. All the way through graduation, in fact.

But cool as it was, that’s not my favorite compliment.

For just under ten years, I taught college. I taught journalism and writing and mass media history, among other things. It was early on during that part of my career that I received my best compliment ever. A student lingered after class and said to me, “Y’know, I never thought about it that way before.”

Can a teacher receive a better compliment?

What are we there for, as teachers, if not to help our students see things in ways they’ve never seen them before? Whether an equation, a diagrammed sentence, a previously despised book, a lab experiment or a different slant on some segment of history, teachers make it clear. They make it understood. A good teacher opens doors in minds, not so she can fill them with her own opinions, but so they have room to consider a larger portion of the immense world.

“I never thought about it that way before.” The best compliment ever. I’m honored to have gotten it more than once.

Truth is, I miss it something fierce. Teaching, I mean. Next time around, I’d like to be a teacher again, letting fresh air into sometimes sludgy minds.

2 Comments

Filed under personal

Book Review: Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher

First of all, if you don’t know who Jim Butcher is and you haven’t read any of his previous Harry Dresden novels, this is NOT the place to start. Got that? Start with “Storm Front,” the first of now-13 amazingly entertaining books about the adventures of Harry Dresden, Wizard for Hire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s not to say that you have to read all the books, although once you’ve read one I defy you to stop. They’re like the best, most addictive potato chips ever. Compulsively readable. Butcher builds a strong cast of primary and supporting characters slowly through all 13 books, until it seems as if the stories are as much about Michael and Molly, Susan and the vampires, Thomas and the other vampires, Harry’s fairy godmother, Butters and Maggie and Mort and Kincaid and Ivy and Ebenezer and… the list goes on… as about Harry. And of course, they’re all about Chicago cop Karrin Murphy and Bob the Skull. Not to mention Mister the cat and Mouse the temple dog.

I’m reading back over that paragraph and thinking, sheesh, this sounds like just about the most twee thing since the invention of twee. But it isn’t. The cover copy on “Ghost Story” suggests crossing Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Phillip Marlowe, and that’s not far from accurate.

Harry’s a wizard. The supernatural obviously plays a huge part in his world. But you’ll find no Disney fairies or True Blood vampire hunks here. Dresden’s supernatural is vast, tricksy, and might just as well rip you to shreds as talk to you. Dresden himself, the character, pulls all these books out of the slop-bucket of quasi-fantasy crap that’s been sloshed on the SF/F reading world in recent years. Dresden is a loner, a smartass, witty and funny and capable of enormous destruction. He’s kind, will do anything for his friends and often for complete strangers, and he makes mistakes. Oh, boy, does he makes mistakes.

And his mistakes have consequences. Which brings me to “Ghost Story,” the 13th Harry Dresden novel, in which entire coops full of plot chickens come home to roost in Harry’s world. How he deals with the repercussions of past successes, past mistakes, and past failures is a large part of the driving force of the novel. Oh, there’s a standard plot, and it’s a terrific Dresden adventure on its own. But “Ghost Story” is more about reflection. It’s about the time which comes to most everybody, when you stop slogging and pushing and fighting to go forward and suddenly are forced to look back at what you’ve left in your wake. Intentional and unintentional.

Harry Dresden books don’t make me cry. This one did.

So… don’t start out with “Ghost Story.” But if you’ve got time to spare and you’ve been looking for a series that will entertain, enlighten, amuse and sometimes cause you to chew your fingernails, pick up a copy of “Storm Front” and start reading. And when you get done with “Ghost Story,” drop me a line. We can hold cyber-hands and get ready  to move on.

P.S. This feels kinda disloyal, especially after raving about the Dresden books so ardently. But Jim Butcher has another six-book series called “The Codex Alera.” I can’t recommend it. Truth be told, I’ve never managed to finish chapter one of book one. It’s dense and wordy and takes itself too seriously, for my tastes. And I love “The Lord of the Rings,” just to be clear on this. ;D

So Jim Butcher “Dresden Files” series, many many thumbs up.

Jim Butcher otherwise, you’re on your own.

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Early Encounters with Death

My maternal grandfather died when I was five years old. He was buried on my sixth birthday.

That was my first brush with death, other than the death of my first kitten, Smokey, who was hit by a car and killed about a year before that. I never saw Smokey’s body: My mom or dad took care of getting it out of sight before telling me what had happened. But with Pa, it was different.

I was never a huggy, kissy child, and my Pa was a very huggy, lovey grandpa, or so I was told. I never liked to sit on laps and be cuddled, so even as a small child, Pa and I had reached some sort of standoff, apparently. I’d agree to sit on his lap for a few minutes and suffer through a hug, and that’d be that. Don’t get me wrong: I loved my grandpa. I just didn’t like being held. Never did, not from the start.

So it was all good with us. Everybody enjoyed a laugh about prickly Judy, who didn’t like anybody hugging her, and that was my oddity in a large extended family that seemed to treasure oddity.

When Pa died, of heart failure on an icy December day, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mostly, I have two memories from that time.

First, Pa was lying down in the living room. I’d never seen Pa lying down before. He was a rugged, rangy Southern dirt farmer, accustomed to hard work and hard play. He always seemed to be moving, even when sitting down. But he just laying there in the living room, inside the oddest bed. Of course now I know it was a coffin, but I didn’t really have any words or experience to account for that. The living room was full, as it almost always was, but everybody was being very quiet. And I remember it was colder than usual, that the living room fire was barely lit, and it was so very cold outside. My adult self reckons that was to hold the body off from decay for a little while, but to my child self it was just another oddity.

The second thing I remember is my mother’s sweater. I spent a lot of that time on her lap (Mama was the only person I’d voluntarily allow to hold me). She was wearing an open sweater (a cardigan) I’d never seen before, soft and solid black. It had small, domed buttons that were pearly gray-white. I sat on her lap for hours, playing with those buttons and keeping an eye on all the comings and goings between the living room and the kitchen, and in and out the front door.

My Pa had a large family – 13 children, probably half of them married and parents by then – and he was known and liked in the small rural community, so there was a lot of foot traffic.

But when push comes to shove, those are the only real memories I have of my first encounter with death: the pearly buttons on my mama’s sweater and the oddity that Pa was lying down in the living room.

Sometimes I think it was a good thing that I had that experience. I’m glad I had the chance to experience death as a natural, organic part of life, not as something that happens shut away in a special building with machinery and mysterious goings-ons. Pa was alive and then he died, and his body lay in rest in his living room, where he had so often sat and laughed and fussed and talked, and it was perfectly right that it should be so.

That was the first and last in-home “lying-in” I ever saw. But I think it might have been healthier than how we do things now.

ETA: Pa died on Dec. 13. He had 13 children at the time, and 13 grandchildren. Family legend says that he had gone out to bring in the family’s 13 head of cattle, and that the temperature had gotten down to 13 degrees the night before. I can neither confirm nor deny any of the legend, but I’ve decided to believe it. It’s a little bit of cool, no?

Leave a comment

Filed under personal

Space, the final frontier…

Somebody on Facebook asked, a while back, why we need the space program. Why, when our society has so many deep and vital needs, should we spend money on something as whimsical as space exploration?

Obviously, the reasons are many, beginnning with all the benefits (electronic, computer, medicine, even agriculture) we’ve gained as side-effects of NASA’s research and development.

But I think it goes deeper than that. We need the space program because we need the opportunity of a communal dream. If we look around us, and even behind us, the world sometimes seems awfully grim. No matter what each of us does, we can’t seem to make a difference.

It’s vital for the human spirit to have something to dream of, something to potentially accomplish if we all want it badly enough. The space program is a small expense, budgetarily, that gives a huge, monumental, return. To cease funding it would be a diminishment of hope. And I’m not sure we can take much more cynicism and lack of hope.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under personal