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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Friday Flash: An Unscheduled Kill

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my current work-in-progress. In it, we meet William, the bad-boy antagonist/love interest. Enjoy!

*****

Unable to sleep, William decided to go kill someone. It wouldn’t be a planned kill and his Matriarch might get angry at him for jumping ahead of schedule, but with the arrival of his foreign cousin, this unknown contender for the throne, William needed something to calm him down. It wasn’t as if he were really worried about the newcomer, but it added an unknown to a situation that his Matriarch had been planning for years. William didn’t like unknowns. He had suggested getting rid of his cousin on his first night, to send a message to the rest of the Matriarchs to not try the same sort of trick in the future, but his Matriarch had disagreed.

“Before we do anything we need to know why Agnes thinks that this boy will take the crown. She’s a tricky one and I won’t underestimate her by assuming that he’s merely a decoy in a larger plan.”

So, William went to find someone else.

He prowled the passageways with quiet practiced ease. Who would it be? Maybe he would surprise everyone and take out his own wife. Three months married and she had yet to let him into their marriage bed. “I’m too young,” she had said. Sixteen was not too young. Many of his other cousins, male and female, had already produced children. He was eighteen and he needed to get started, soon. Unfortunately she had the right to refuse him. The Matriarchs did not permit any sort of forcing. So William had to wait until Hannah relented, until their marriage contract ran out in another nine months, or until someone got rid of her and left him a widower.

But no, he wouldn’t do it. Her bloodline was too valuable. As the daughter of the current King and four other Kings in her direct line, her children would start high on the list. If someone killed her, it wouldn’t be him.

So who?

The answer came almost immediately.

Mark.

It was perfect. Although he wasn’t even in the top ten, Mark always acted as if he were already King. A year younger than William, he already had two children. If he was allowed to live, he would produce far too many rivals for William’s own future children. Better to kill him now before any more of his spawn were born.

As he made his way to Mark’s chambers, he thought about the best way to do the deed. Nighttime killings were often done with poison, drops of something smeared on a doorhandle or bedpost. Half-asleep people were often much less careful with what they touched and they rubbed their eyes a lot. But William hadn’t brought such drops with him, besides such direct methods were crude. William preferred accidental deaths. A fallen statue, a candle too close to a curtain, slipping in the bath, or a poor tackle in a game of handball.

He reached Mark’s suites without having made a decision. He would have to improvise.

Of course there were no servants on guard, why would they risk their own lives? And William had long ago learned how to get past any of the Citadel’s ancient locks. Besides, Mark was so confident, he hadn’t set any traps against intruders. Why would he? He was too low on the list to matter. But that was short-term thinking. William looked to the future and so Mark had to go. He slipped into the parlor and froze, listening for any sign that someone had heard him. Nothing. He didn’t have to worry about a spouse as Mark’s Matriarch was still negotiating his latest marriage contract. As he snuck across the open room, his hearing, smell and touch making up for the limited visibility.

He touched the door to Mark’s sleeping chamber with the tips of his gloved fingers. Mark wouldn’t be the first who had poison or otherwise boobytrapped the only way into his room. After exploring it carefully, he put his ear close, hearing nothing on the other side. The door was warm, however, which gave him an inkling of an idea. He tripped the lock mechanism and let himself in. The light from the moon shone on Mark’s uncovered body. He had thrown off his covers and wore no shirt. His pale tight skin glowed in the light, his rising and falling musclular chest two small moons.

William looked for the source of the room’s heat finding a brazier at the end of the bed. Too easy. Pulling out a strip of cloth out of a side pocket of his trousers, he slid it under the door, filling the gap that was there. A few steps back to the brazier, he crouched down over it. The coal had been burning for several hours already but there was still enough fuel left to do the job. Out of another pocket William pulled out a small cloth pouch. Inside it was a powder made from the gelder vine. Its extract was used as a powerful anathesia, but inhaling the burning fumes would produce an all-over paralysis, stopping as well Mark’s heart and lungs. The smoke would clear quickly but it would be too late for Mark.

He would already be dead.

And in the morning when his servant found him, they could only confirm that he had somehow died in his sleep.

Popping open the top of the brazier, quickly so as to not burn his gloved fingers, he dropped the sachet on top of the charcoal and closed it again. He would have a few minutes before the bag would burn through. Enough time to get to the window and get out.

Movement on the bed caused William to crouch down even further, but after not hearing anything else he risked a peek. Mark had rolled over, taking the blankets with him and revealing that he wasn’t wearing anything at all. In the light from the window Mark’s buttocks looked even more like two small moons than his chest had. A sizzle from below told William to get out, and fast, if he didn’t want to die along with his naked cousin. The window eased open without a noise and William was on the ledge outside in moments. Some people liked to stick around to watch the fruits of their labors, but not him. Witnessing an accident implied trying to help and some accidents just couldn’t be helped. He slid along the wall and disappeared around the corner where he could get back in through an empty bedroom.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Friday flash, Online Fiction

 

Book Review: A Posse of Princesses

Cinderella went to the ball, we all know that, but what happened at the ball? What were the other guests like? What did people talk about when they weren’t dancing, and who became friends with whom? What was going on behind the scenes?

A Posse of Princesses answers those questions. Princess Rhis doesn’t think she’s necessarily going to snag the prince (though she can’t help hoping), but she’s determined to have a good time at the ball, and she does. But there’s more going on than meets the eye, and the adventure she and her new friends find themselves in when the most obnoxious ball guest is kidnapped snaps with excitement and surprise.
from an Amazon.com review by Far-Ranging Reader

Sherwood Smith’s A Posse of Princesses does something that few female focused YA fantasies seem to do these days. She gives us a smart heroine who isn’t a passive cypher waiting for others to use her and act through her. Nor is the character operating in a depressing, dystopian world against unsurmountable odds. In fact although Rhis thinks she’s a rebellious princess, she’s actually well behaved and rather conserative.

However, despite all that, she’s probably one of the stronger feminist characters I’ve read in a long time. Yes, she thinks of boys a lot (what sixteen-year-old doesn’t?) but she isn’t defined by them. She doesn’t accept people’s opinions as fact and seeks to discover the truth on her own. She also refuses to be a part of any one group, thus making herself a leader to others who also don’t fit into the popular crowd.

A Posse of Princesses could very well have been set in a modern high school as much as as fantasy realm with magic and fancy dress. This is a story about finding one’s place in the world while everyone else tries to do the same.

However this book will ever reach the bestseller level that books like Meyer’s Twilight and Hocking’s Switched have, which to me is a real shame. The protagonists of the latter two books are held up as examples of modern teenage girls and worshipped for their passiveness. The Twilight and Switched characters are too caught up in their own woe-is-me attitude to grow as people until they are forced to (kicking and screaming) while Rhis, when presented with unpleasant aspects of herself and her actions, first rejects the critiques as most people do, but then considers them and decides for herself what is true and what isn’t.

She’s consciencious and conscious – that is she cares about other people and she moves through life awake, aware and always open to learning. Unfortunately in our apathy-adoring culture, she’s too nice, too active and has too many social skills. You only need to turn on any reality-TV program to see how little appreciated these traits are. We prefer our role models to be disconnected, lazy near-sociopaths who can’t think beyond “what’s in it for me?”.

As a teacher I see far too many Bellas and Wendys (both male and female), but it’s the Rhis-like girls and boys that I put my faith in for the future. It’s just too bad that the rest of the world doesn’t see how important a role model like Rhis really is.

If you want to read a good solid story that’s entertaining as well and hope-for-the-future giving then go buy Sherwood Smith’s A Posse for Princesses now.

You can download yourself a copy (for Kindle) from my Amazon store, or link through to a print version if you prefer.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Friday Flash: An Unintended Consequence

Hannah hated how helpless she felt. She had never allowed herself not to succeed at something she wanted and she wasn’t going to let this happiness thing beat her. Just because she was dead and overly full of a joy she didn’t want, that didn’t mean she still wasn’t herself.

Which, she supposed, was a part of the problem. Having never cared about pleasing others in life, she had no idea how to go about making people happy now that she was dead. What made it even more difficult was that it seemed that no one could see her. With much practice she had learned to move things around but instead of cheering people up it just scared them and they would run away.

Not at all productive.

After who knows how long trying to find someone who wasn’t scared of moving-on-their-own objects, she gave up. As weak as the living was, they weren’t able to handle her. At least that hadn’t changed from living to dead.

But it meant she had only one option left.

She was going to have to do anonymous good deeds to spread the happiness about. She gagged on the thought. If she had to make others happy, she at least expected credit for it? It was like working for free and she had never done that, not even as a child when she wouldn’t do any household chore without some sort of contract written up between herself and her parents.

In the end, however, she decided to do it. The contract would be between herself and the unwanted happiness.

“If you agree to leave me alone, I will do my best to spread cheer and not look for any credit.”

Of course, the happiness didn’t respond, unless she counted the ever-present ecstasy that underlay everything she did or thought. It was all she had, so she accepted the self-imposed contract.

She took the next few days to scout out a good recipient of her good deed. A stickler for solid research, she wouldn’t go into this willy-nilly. It needed to be ordered and carefully arranged for maximum happiness dispersal. And if she could do something that would bring happiness to more than one person, all the better. She only wanted to have to do this once.

After looking at several possible locations, she decided on a school yard. Her memories told her that there was a whole lot of unhappiness to be found there and she also seemed to remember that most children (who weren’t her) swung from mood to mood like a pendulum. Surely a good deed would have a desire effect in a place like that.

A few more days gave her the participants as well. In the elementary school she had chosen, there were three distinct groups of children: the bullies, the bullied and the ignored. The ignored made up the majority, but they lived in fear of becoming one of the bullied.

In her various experiments with her abilities, she had discovered that she could lower the ambient temperature of the air around her. By focusing on this talent strongly enough, she could create ice of out thin air.

Her plan was a simple one. The next time the bullied group found themselves being victimized, she would freeze the ground beneath the bullies and give them an etheral push. Once everyone had seen the untopple powers in the school struggle and fall for apparently no reason but their own clumsiness, they’d rise up and lose their fear, making everyone happier. Well, not the bullies, but she couldn’t please everyone.

She kept vigil, every day waiting for just the perfect moment when all the bullies had gathered together to pick on someone in front of a large audience.

Hannah slid through the air and touched the ground beneath their feet willing it to freeze. She was about to give them the final push when the doors to the school burst open and three teachers came storming out. The bullies scattered, managing to stay upright as they ran off the narrow strip of ice.

Unfortunately however, the teachers strode straight at where the bullies had just been, right onto the strip of icy playground. In their dress shoes they suddenly found themselves without any traction and as one they flew up into the air, then danced in a line, trying to regain their balance.

The whole playground, bullies, bullied and ignored all burst into peels of laughter.

As did Hannah. Unwillingly she gaffawed like she had never done in life. Her spirit writhed in coils of glee as the slapstick-quality accident unfolded in front of her. Yes, the children were momentarily happier watching their teachers pinwheel across the pavement, but she hadn’t counted on the happiness within her reacting to the comedy in front of her.

And instead of ridding herself of her happiness, she had managed to increase it.

Damnation. That was not supposed to happen.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Friday flash, Online Fiction

 

Kindle Roundup: Related Purchase Review

Again, with so few new releases in the Amazon Teen Fantasy Kindle section, I went back to the books I had already bought and in Amazon looked for what others had purchased. In each case I tried to find an author I had never heard of before, or in the case of authors I love books I didn’t know about.

This week, I was way impressed. Every single book I looked at went into the Buy Now or Maybe pile. It was like Christmas and my birthday all at once!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: There’s something about strange adult-like children who are creepy and cold that makes for great comedy. While these characters are completely unreal and if they were I’d hate to be around them, they do make for great reading. Flavia de Luce has the potential to become one of my favorite fictional people. Obviously this one went into the Buy Now! pile.

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves: How could you not love someone who gets lost in his own house? Add in quantum multiverses and you’ve got me hooked. Another definite Buy Now! book.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: Traditional fantasy with a practical girl forced into having ambitions she doesn’t want. Seems to also have a touch of steampunk to it. Politics, intrigue, magic and gadgets. The formal language also hooked me, reminding me of Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic. Let’s hope it’s anywhere as good. Buy Now!

Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones: Three Chrestomanci stories that I’ve never read in one book. A no-brainer. Buy Now!

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale: I love fairy tale retellings and no one has ever done the Goose Girl before so yeah, I’ll give it a try. Plus I loved the cover art. A strong Maybe.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier: We’re moving down the insterest level here. This is another retelling, this time of the Six Swans but in a Celtic setting. Having done Celtic Studies in university it’s hard sometimes to read books in an Old Irish setting because it doesn’t ring true, but I’m willing to give this one a try. Maybe.

Hush Money by Susan Bischoff: The weakest of the books this week. It’s an urban fantasy along the lines of X-Men. People with superpowers being taken away and things happening to them. It could be good, it could be horrible. But the opening wasn’t bad, so it goes into the Maybe pile for a day when I’m out of other books to read.

And finally, The Ferryman by Charles de Lint and Christopher Golden: I’ve never been as much of a fan of de Lint’s dark fantasy/horror as the rest of his stuff, but it’s an interesting combination of authors so it gets a strong Maybe.

I’ve already downloaded and started Bradley’s novel and am loving it as much as I expected to. I also have waiting for me on March 8th the new Thursday Next novel by Jasper Fforde. Sooo excited!!!

See you next week!

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Book Review: The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint

While Charles de Lint writes a lot of YA fiction, The Mystery of Grace isn’t one of them. That’s not to say that teens shouldn’t read it, but it deals with themes that aren’t very YA. It starts out with a one night stand and love at first site, spends most of the book exploring death and separation, and meditates on what it means to live a full life.

Despite all that, as a teen, I certainly would have read it and loved it. I believed in the possibility of a love strong enough to surpass death. I was certainly morbid enough to revel in the big life-after-death questions and I had VERY strong ideas what it meant to live life fully (unlike now where I think I might have a vague idea).

De Lint does his usual amazing job at creating believable, normal characters who find themselves in very not-normal situations. And as always he mixes first and third person points of view to draw us in and keep us slightly distant from the various characters. For that reason alone I’d recommend the book for anyone – of any age. His storytelling skills are topnotch.

By the way, what does make a book young adult? One rule of thumb is that the characters should be at the most a few years older than the target readers, but again, I remember reading a lot of “adult” fiction as a teen and not feeling like I couldn’t relate. The main character, Grace, could be anywhere from late teens to early forties. I’m sure the book says how old she is somewhere but her exact age doesn’t matter. Her situation is one that a whole range of people can identify with.

Another rule is a coming of age theme. With introspective novels like The Mystery of Grace you could say that they are all coming of age novels if you take coming of age to mean learning to be true to yourself and to act with integrity. That’s a lesson for anyone, not just teens figuring out what it means to be an adult. As I said above, my opinions were much stronger as a teen than they are now and so coming of age stories have a much greater impact on me now than they did when I was younger and less open to new ideas.

I know that books need categories. Without them we wouldn’t be able to find anything in the bookstore or library, but at the same time, categories can sometimes box in a book and lock it away from others who might appreciate it.

So, if you’re a YA reader, break out of your box and give The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint a try. As with all my reviews, it’s available for Kindle from Amazon.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Friday Flash: Death & Happiness

Hannah didn’t know what she hated more, being dead or being happy.

She could accept one but not the other. Both together was just too much and her practical mind would shut off before comtemplating the two realities. Habit insisted that she choose the death focus and ignore the happiness, but the constant joy that refused to leave her incorporeal body overruled her practical side and couldn’t believe that it was dead.

This not surprisingly left Hannah frustrated and unsure of what to do. Which made her cranky. She had always known what to do. From her earliest memories she had always been one hundred percent certain of her actions. This shouldn’t have changed just because she had died. Before happiness had struck her down, she would have said that when she died she would go to Heaven where she could help God keep the world free from the Devil’s chaos.

But here she was, a happy ghost with no Heaven and nothing to organize.

And the most irritating part of it all? She didn’t care. She was happy, deliriously so and that dominated every other emotion, including the frustration she felt at being so joyous.

When people used to tell her that ghosts were lost souls who needed to resolve their issues before moving on, she would answer that it was all BS and anyone in that situation just needed to get their crap together and get over it.

She had no issues. Her life had been exactly as she had wanted it, ordered and organized. It wasn’t her problem that no one else could be like her, so why would it carry into the afterlife? No, it wasn’t her fault. It was the happiness. If it weren’t for all this excess ecstasy, she would have moved on by now. Of course if it weren’t for the excess happiness she wouldn’t have been dead in the first place, but she couldn’t do anything about that now.

There was, therefore, only one possible solution. She had to unload the happiness as quickly as possible. Which unfortunately was easier said than done.

She first tried passing it onto the first ghost she found. It had been a pathetic thing, all dark and moaning. Dead from a drug overdose, the creature was all paranoia and darkness. A perfect object for a happiness injection, no? Pass along the happiness, take away the paranoia and both of them could pass on to Heaven (or likely Hell in the addict’s case). But when she explained the situation and the offer, the thing screeched then launched itself at her. If they’d had bodies, it would have done some serious damage too, but by having no physical form they passed through each other and the whole experience only succeeded in increasing Hannah’s happiness. First because she considered herself lucky not to be such a waste of a ghost and second because her ghost state had saved her from getting hurt.

She then tried to talk to a different ghost, one a little less crazy but the dead woman had just politely thanked her and said that “everyone must walk their own road” or some similar trope and sailed away.

Which left Hannah with one option. She was going to have to do the one thing she had hated more than anything while she was alive.

She was going to have to make the living happy.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in Friday flash, Online Fiction

 

Kindle Roundup: New Fantasy Titles

This week there was only one new release in the Amazon Teen Fantasy Kindle section, so I went over to the General Fantasy area and downloaded samples from there. I have to say that I wasn’t that impressed.

The Sea Watch by Adrian Tchaikovsky: Not off to a good start. The first two sentences have something happening to the main character. “What the boy remembered was…” and “Paladrya was pushing from behind…” I suppose I could have read more, but I’m sick with a sinus cold and have even less patience than usual for stories that don’t grab me right away. Next!

Timeless Conflict by Ute Perkins: We get a body that’s been stripped down to sinew and then we’re dropped into a summary of the history the relationship of two FBI agents. Please don’t tell me about them. Let that information come out naturally. I felt like I was being introduced to them by an over-eager party host: “You remember Marcus and Travis, don’t you? Marcus and Travis have been partners for years and are like family to each other.” Next!

Roots Run Deep by A.J. Walker: This one starts with a description of a goblin ghetto and a quick summary of the politics of the situation. Again, let this stuff come as part of the story, people. Don’t force it in with a shoehorn, especially not on the first page. (Yes, I am extra cranky today.) Next!

Never Knew Another by J.M. McDermott: This one is probably the best of the bunch this week but still it didn’t grab me. It appears to be about a demon-hunting husband and wife team who may not be human themselves. Actually, it’s not bad at all, quite lyrical in style and original in its voice. But just not my style. So it gets a Next! but not for the same reason as the rest.

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht: Another well written one but it starts in the violence of early 1970s Northern Ireland protests. Not my thing. At all. Next!

The Key to Tantalis: Here we get a description of a box. “A wooden box. It had all started with one small, beautiful wooden box.” Now this may be my crankiness, but who the *insert appropriate swear word here] cares about a box? Not me, not today. Next!

The Far Side of Evil by Sylvia Engdahl: The only YA entry in this week’s list and it’s not a new book. It’s one that’s been in and out of print since 1971 (what’s with that date this week?). Another well written book and given the number of reprints, quite popular (although I’ve never heard of the author). But the style and alien-visitor-trying-to-save-the-planet main character don’t hold my attention enough to warrant purchasing it. Next!

Except that once again we’re at the end of the list. Last week I said that I’d read the Hocking book and review it to see if it lives up to its hype and the answer, for me, is no. Take a look at my reasons why on Monday’s book reviews post.

See you next week!

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in Book Reviews