Today I Read…Everyone Loves Bacon

Image result for everybody loves bacon kelly dipucchioToday I read Everyone Loves Bacon written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Eric Wight.

Bacon is pretty great. He’s funny, and talented, and he smells nice, and everybody loves him. Except French Toast, because French Toast doesn’t like anyone. But some people like Bacon a little too much…

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This one is destined to be part of the birthday gift for the Trickster Baby, as well as Do NOT Open This Book. I bought it because bacon, which I maintain is a reason in and of itself. I rather enjoy this bacon renaissance we live in, and all fo the bacony goodness it has produced. The Bacon Sundae I’ve tried was actually pretty good, though the Bacon Potato Chips were a little disappointing. Adults who love bacon will find this picture book hilarious. Children, well…if they understand the twist at the end, it is actually kinda dark. At least, it is for bacon. I think you can guess what happens when someone really loves bacon? And it’s breakfast time? The illustrations are charming, of the other foods who love Bacon, and the diner they live in. Special shout-out to the Canadian Bacon in the toque who wonders why he isn’t loved as much as Bacon, since I am Canadian–sorry, CB, but you’re in an American diner and they just don’t understand you the way we do up North. I’d read this to older kids, around grades 1-2, who get why the ending is funny, because everyone really does love Bacon.

Hm, I wonder what’s in the fridge…

Today I Read…Do NOT Open This Book

Image result for do not open this book andy leeToday I read Do NOT Open This Book written by Andy Lee, and illustrated by Heath McKenzie.

Look, this is really simple. Don’t open this book. Just put it down and go read something else. It’s nice out, don’t you want to play outside? No? How about…a puppy! Yes, if you go outside right now, a puppy will be waiting for you!…A puppy with ICE CREAM!…Look, I’m begging you, stop turning the pages or else something really awful is going to happen…Stop, please…Oh no!…

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I love interactive picture books, especially ones like this where the adult reading it can really make it a performance. I ADORED The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak when I first discovered it at an OLA Super Conference a few years ago, and so did every class I read it to at my elementary school as soon as I bought a copy. This book I found at the bookstore as I was hunting for a gift for the first birthday of a friend’s child, and given how contrary the father can be, I had to get this one. (Seriously, if the world falls to a trickster/evil overlord in about 20 years, it’s going to be this kid, so might as well start buttering him up early.)

The premise is about, as is obvious from the title, a blue monster who begs the reader not to open the book, and then to stop turning the pages, or something terrible will happen (I won’t spoil it by telling you what). He rants and he raves and he begs and he tricks, but the pages just. keep. TURNING. The lettering is great, and keeps changing font size and some bits are all capitalized to add emphasis while Blue Monster is speaking , which is useful both for when the adult is performing the book for a child audience, and to use to teach learning readers about voice and emphasis. The illustrations are clean and charming, mostly of Blue Monster himself in various poses and emotions as he pleads for the turning to end.  This book is simple yet entertaining. Hmm, I wonder if I should go pick up another copy for Tiny Niece and her brother Giant Nephew. I mean, it’s not spoiling if it’s books, right?

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Today I Read… My Dad Used to Be So Cool 

Image result for my dad used to be coolToday I Read My Dad Used to Be So Cool written and illustrated by Keith Negley.

My dad used to be so cool. He was in a band! And he had a motorcycle and tattoos and I bet he had so much fun. Now all he does laundry, and he vacuums, and he ties my shoelaces, and he takes me to the park. I wonder what happened?

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I found this picture book at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May (yes, I think it’s obvious that I’m behind on posting). The author also wrote Tough Guys Have Feelings Too, which I also really liked, about how men in stereotypical male jobs like superheroes and firefighters have emotions that they can express. However, since I saw these before Father’s Day, obviously I had to get copies to troll my brothers in law.

This is a cute picture book, all about the kid musing on how his dad used to be a really cool rock star, and he doesn’t understand what changed to make his dad so boring. Through the art, we see dad taking care of his son and the home. The drum set is in the closet, the skateboard is on the wall, the motorcycle is for sale. We also see a big pull out spread of Kid and Dad playing at the park, chasing each other all over the playground, and then finally wading out into the water together. Maybe dad is still a little bit cool. But then he rocks out in the car,  which is SO EMBARRASSING! This is a nice representation of dad being perfectly  competent at taking care of his home and child, and showing that dad may still have tattoo sleeves from when he was younger but they have no bearing on his ability to nurture. It’s a nice demonstration of a step away from traditional gender roles, showing a more modern family. We don’t know if he’s a single dad, or if mom is away at work, or if there’s a second dad away at work, or what the rest of the family looks like, and it doesn’t matter. Dads do not always have to be the incompetent buffoon whose mistakes mom has to fix, and they don’t have to be the one who can fix your bike but not your sandwich, and it’s nice to see that sometimes.

Still gonna troll my brothers in law and tell them they can remind my nieces and nephew of when their dads used to be cool though. After all, what else is family for?

Today I Read…My First Book of Girl Power and Batman’s Hero Files

my-first-book-of-girl-powerToday I read My First Book of Girl Power and DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files by Billy Wrecks, illustrated by Erik Doescher.

Girls are strong and smart and brave and kind. They can be heroes! Come and learn about some of the DC Super Heroines.

And: Batman likes to know everything. He keeps files on all of the Super Friends and their special Super Powers. Let’s read his files together!

Tiny Niece has started to like Superman and Batman, and as her Nerdy Auntie I feel it is my duty to encourage this. Especially Superman, who is better than Batman. But as her Feminist Nerdy Auntie, I really want her to know some of the female super heroes–Batgirl and Supergirl and Wonder Woman, who don’t have the same overwhelming amount of merchandise as the boys do. I deliberately went looking for some books featuring the female super heroes (and maybe bought some of the DC Super Hero Girls dolls, which are pretty cute and bend better than Barbie). But books with the girl heroes are actually pretty hard to find. There was one book I looked at that had 4 stories about Marvel’s Avengers, and in those 4 stories the only female character mentioned by name was Pepper Potts. And she had to be rescued. And there was one drawing of a random female bystander who also had to be rescued. Now, there have been tons of female Avengers over the years, and even the movies have Black Widow (although not my Black Widow movie, I wants it, I wants it, where is my Black Widow movie?!?) But there is nary a girl to be found in the board books and early readers I was looking at, at Chapters and the independent comic store. And as much as I enjoy the DC Super Hero Girls, it’s really aimed at an older age group than my Tiny Niece, who is just turning 4. The rare books that do include a girl hero, the ratio is usually about 1 girl character for every 5-6 boy characters. I wanted a book with a fair ratio of girl to boy characters. I ended up getting this book, which is only about girl heroes, and an early reader DC Super Friends: Batman’s Hero Files. That one has Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, with Wonder Woman and Batgirl (Supergirl not included). And there are at least pictures of Catwoman and Cheetah, though none of the villains are named.

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They’re both good books, which describe the various hero’s powers. Girl Power is a board book, and it only has a maximum of about 3 sentences per page. The language is fairly advanced, and it’s more for an adult to read to a child. Batman’s Hero Files is a reader, intended for children who are learning to read on their own, so it uses basic vocabulary and short sentences, although I’m not sure who decided ‘indestructible’ is basic vocabulary. And I do like that Girl Power emphasizes that being smart and brave and kind are qualities as worthy of praise as being strong. Hawkgirl is posed with her mace, but her description talks about her healing abilities. Batgirl likes to read books and program computers. Mera likes to explore new places. It would be nice if they included some heroines of colour–at least Batman’s Hero Files feature a black Green Lantern and Cyborg, but I guess I’ll have to be happy with baby steps of representation.

So yes, I absolutely have an agenda regarding promoting super heroes to Tiny Niece. I love superheroes. I love stories about people who try to save the world. But I want Tiny Niece to grow up to realize that she can be a superhero too, and not have to always be rescued.

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Today I Read…Toot and No No Yes Yes

Today I read No No Yes Yes and Toot, written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli. She is the same artist who illustrated the Mini Myths books by Joan Holub, which my Tiny Niece adores, so I was really interested in checking out her writing as well. These two in particular are going to be part of the Christmas present for Tiny Niece and her younger brother Giant Nephew.

Normally I summarize books in these reviews, but the titles pretty much summarize them for me. Toot is about, well, tooting. Because fart jokes are hilarious to the under 5 crowd. I fully anticipate this will be a big hit with the kids when I pull it out and read it to them on Christmas Day. Their parents may be somewhat less thrilled, but hey, isn’t the point of gifts for your nieces and nephews to annoy your siblings? I’m pretty sure that’s the purpose of noisy battery-driven toys. And while this book isn’t battery operated, it does provide the chance to make sound effects. Toot! In all seriousness, it is also good for normalizing bodily functions, and it does point out that everybody toots, even mommies and daddies and doggies. Though there is still some question about whether Fishy toots.

No No Yes Yes straddles that fine line between providing useful instruction and giving kids bad ideas. I’m sure that the scenarios in the book will all be very familiar to anyone with a toddler in their life. The language is as simple as possible, and can be used for teaching opposites as well as proper behaviour. For each double-page spread, one page is a ‘no no’ activity, like drawing on the walls, pulling kitty’s tail, and putting your toys in the potty. The opposing page has a corresponding ‘yes yes’ acceptable activity, like drawing on paper, petting kitty nicely, and pooping in the potty. Hey, toilet jokes are the next step up from fart jokes. Since Giant Nephew just hit the Terrible Twos, I’m hoping that this book might help a bit, especially the “no no” page for hitting other kids with a toy hammer. Even if it does make a funny “thunk!” sound.

I love the illustration style, simple and bright, with the same non-gendered protagonist. These two are my favourites, but Patricelli has a whole series of board books. Here’s hoping that Giant Nephew loves them as much as Tiny Niece loved Play Nice Hercules and Be Patient Pandora. Well, maybe not quite so much, reading the same book 6 times in a row is enough, right? Right? Tiny Niece, can Auntie read a different books ye–no, no she can’t. Ok sweetie.

Today I Read..The Forgotten Tale

the-forgotten-taleToday I read The Forgotten Tale by J.M. Frey, book 2 of the Accidental Turn trilogy.

After leaving behind the land of Hain, Forsyth Turn and Lucy Piper have returned to her world to settle down and live more-or-less happily ever after with their daughter Alis. It hasn’t been easy, with Forsyth getting used to a new land and a new culture and a new language, where he is no longer the rich and respected Lordling of Turnshire, no longer the powerful Shadow Hand of the King, no longer a brother or a friend to anyone. And worst of all, Alis will grow up never knowing his contribution to her heritage–she will not know the songs and stories from Hain, she will not have her place in society as the beloved daughter of a Lordling, she will not know his friends and family as her own. But they are together, Forsyth and Pip and Alis, and that is a comfort.

But there is a problem which will not go away–Elgar Reed, the author of The Tales of Kintyre Turn series. He is fascinated that his character has come to life, and will not understand that Forsyth does not want to have anything to do with this careless man who created him with so little thought, who put him through so much heartache and hardship, and who reminds Forsyth so much of his long-dead and unmourned abusive father.

Back in Hain, the famous heroes Kintyre Turn and his loyal friend Bevel Dom have done the unthinkable–they have retired and settled down (mostly) into a comfortable life together ruling Turnshire, as the Lord and his Paired. Until some long-lost family starts turning up unexpectedly. Family…and some enemies.

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J.M. sent me an e-book ARC in return for a review. Well, she sent me two copies–we had an entertaining lesson on converting files with 2 pages per pdf page into epub vs concerting files with 1 page per pdf page into epub. For entertainment, I’ll post a sample at the end.

This is the second book in the trilogy, and comes after The Untold Tale and Ghosts: An Accidental Turn Novella. I would definitely recommend reading The Untold Tale before reading The Forgotten Tale, as it does rely fairly heavily on what has gone before. Ghosts is more of a bonus–you’ll get by without having read it, but you’ll recognize more if you read it first, especially since it is where Bevel Dom really has a chance to shine.

This book is a great example of how “and they all lived happily ever after” is a cop-out, a phrase that glosses over the reality of what it really takes to make it happy day after day. Yes, both of the Turn brothers have married the loves of their lives, and had children, and settled down into a second line of work that they reasonably enjoy. They are also finding out that love is hard work, and that it requires constant work to stay a happy marriage. For all that Forsyth and Kintyre are very different people who married very different spouses, sometimes they can be remarkably similar, and make similar mistakes with their families which they need to recognize and correct to be both happy and healthy as a family. They are not alone at fault–their family members also need to learn to communicate their needs and listen to what Kintyre and Forsyth need. Pip condemns Forsyth’s anger instead of listening why he is frustrated, and Kintyre’s newest family member causes a great deal of trouble when he glorifies Kintyre’s past adventuring over his daily life of running the Chipping.

They also see the dark side of families, when they meet a relative of an old enemy who threatens their world, out of love for the villain. I won’t give away too much here, but just remember that the best bad guys never stay dead for long. As Buffy Summers told Dracula, “You think I don’t watch your movies? You always come back.”

Forsyth’s interactions with Elgar Reed are particularly fascinating to read. For Forsyth’s point of view, he and everyone he knows from Hain are people–flawed, complicated, fully developed people. Reed keeps being surprised as he learns about Forsyth–there are things he never thought about, things that he included as throwaway lines or as convenient plot points, that were never supposed to mean much. He never considers how such things affect people’s lives. Reed comes from the place of ultimate privilege–he is literally the creator of the world of Hain and everything in it. However, he is also a careless creator, who never once considered that his creations might have their own thoughts and feelings and desires, because he thought they were fictional. He is absolutely gobsmacked when he discovers just how far past Forsyth is from what he intended. For example, Forsyth points out that he was written as a scholar and a polyglot, with a knack for learning languages–in Pip and Reed’s world, this means that he picks up very quickly on programming languages for computers and becomes an accomplished hacker for CSIS. How does a fantasy world character react to the modern real world? By using his skills as best he can and relating his new life to his old one, and learning to adapt and survive.

One more thing I realized upon reflection of this book–J.M. once more demonstrated her talent for making me think about fictional conventions and my own reactions. There is a character from The Untold Tale who shows up again with their nonhuman partner, and who seems to be flirting with a new character (I don’t want to give too much away.) Both characters are presented as make, but I asked J.M. if the returning character is going to be revealed as a girl in disguise, because they seem to be a new love interest in the early stages. Specifically I said “Pretty sure [X] is a girl is disguise…Well, [Y] is a hero in training, and you’ve killed his first love interest to prove the situation is serious and torture him a little, so he needs a new love interest that he can forget about by the time the next book begins. And knowing you, she’ll make him work for it and won’t be that forgettable. But there’s something.” J.M.’s reply was “It’s like you study this stuff or something”. Which, yes, I do. But that can also trip me up. Why should [X] be a girl in disguise? That’s actually pretty heteronormative of me to assume. Why can’t they both be male and flirt? Just because [Y]’s first love interest is a girl, doesn’t mean that [Y] can’t be bi, or pan, or whatever they call it in Hain. I confess to accidental bi-erasure, and I apologize J.M. You caught me again. You always do make me think, and I can’t really give a higher compliment.

And one last thing–anyone in the Toronto area, the launch party for The Forgotten Tale is happening tonight on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 7:00 PM at  the Hard Rock Cafe Toronto. This will be the very first chance to buy the book, in advance of the release date on December 6, and a great time to get it signed by the author as well. Hope to see you there!

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With words tasting of bitter almonds, I say: “I hack.”

Reed’s sadness dissolves into confusion. “Hack what?”

“Whatever the Canadian Security Information Service tells me to,” I answer with a shrug, being deliberately glib. “I learned of hacking quite early upon my arrival here, and it was easy enough to read the many volumes available regarding coding. I am a polyglot, you recall—you wrote me that way. JavaScript and C++ are just another set of languages to perfect. And it was the easiest way to set myself up with a legal identity.”

“But . . .” Reed blusters. “Computers?”

“Of course. It is not so different from the work I did as the Shadow Hand,” I sneer, raising my hands to indicate the walls covered with wires and screens, and the small bookshelf overflowing with programming books, Alis’s favourite board books, and stuffies. On the wall above my main console, Smoke has been hung on a cherry wood plaque board. “I investigate, I read, I synthesize data, and I return recommendations and command actions. And just as before, I have found a way to ingratiate myself to the governing body of this nation.”

Reed’s jolly fat cheeks drain of color. “But you’re a scholar.”

“And in this world, libraries are digital and computers are books,” I say, stunned by his lack of comprehension. I scowl. “I was no mere book-mouse,” I push. “You know that.”

Reed staggers back a step, reaching out blindly behind him and crashing into the wall, clutching at my desk chair to remain upright. “I don’t . . . I didn’t . . .” He gasps for air, sweat pearling on his forehead.

His reaction startles me. Derision, I expected, but not this shocked horror. Unless . . .

“Reed . . .” I say slowly, horrified in my own right. For how, how can a Writer create a character and not know all of their nuances? How could he have . . . put this in motion and not realized it? “You do recall that I was the Shadow Hand, do you not?”

“I . . . I do,” he mutters. “I just . . . when I set it up, it was a . . . a bit of a throwaway, really. It was such an offhand comment. I didn’t . . . I didn’t expect you to . . .”

A throwaway? The most important aspect of my life, the only part of me that I felt made me worthy, and honorable, and good, the thing of which I was proudest and which redeemed me from being, I felt, a spoilt younger son, and my creator tells me it was a throwaway? Barely remembered, hardly thought about?

Insulting! Beyond the pale!

“What I do here, it is the same!” I insist. I cannot . . . this is untenable! “This is meaningful.”

“But . . . computers,” he repeats. “I just . . . I expected more . . . I don’t know . . . bafflement?”

“I have lived in this world for nigh on two years,” I snarl. “How simple must you think me? I am no Kintyre, to bash around, and bull ahead, and understand nothing.”

“Hey now,” Reed says, rising to defend his greatest literary achievement.

“Spying is the same no matter where it happens. I can learn all I need about a target by following their social media accounts, tracking their IP, watching their online spending habits. It is identical to my old duties, only I need to send out no Shadow’s Men, write no blackmail expense slips, take no in-person meetings with the king. Here, I need not even don the Shadow’s Mask, or Cloak. Here, I need not even change out of my sleeping clothes, if I so desire,” I add with a derisive snort.

My dark amusement rubs Reed the wrong way, and his hackles rise. “But being Shadow Hand wasn’t important! It was such a secondary feature of your character that I . . .” He trails off, eyes falling to his feet, shamed and confused. “I only put the Shadow Hand in one book.”

“Secondary. Secondary?” I hiss. “After Lewko the Elder was tortured by Bootknife, you chose me for Shadow Hand because, what? It was convenient? Because I was nearby? Being the Shadow Hand of Hain was my whole life! It was the only thing that was mine, truly mine!”

“Forsyth, I—” He swallows hard. “You’re just Kintyre’s little brother. You’re not supposed to—”

“Ah!” I snap. “And there is the crux of the problem! I am no hero, and so I cannot have a passion, have a desire to help? I am a citizen of Canada now, am I not? Do I not owe it to my kingdom to serve her best interests?”

“But it’s beneath you!” he shouts, his ire rising to match mine.

His disapproval surprises me. I expected him to understand. I don’t know why I did, because every conversation I’ve ever had with him has given me evidence enough to assume that he would not. Call it blind hope. Maybe, I thought, if I could make him understand, make him see it from my perspective, maybe we could have . . . reconciled our differences. Maybe we could have found the friendship he so clearly wants. Maybe, secretly, deep within the part of my soul that was born of his typewriter, I had wanted. . . . Ah, but it is pointless to wish for that which one cannot have. Reed will never understand how much he doesn’t know about what he has created.

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From the mixed-up files of Wading Through Books (not an actual quote), for your entertainment:

Elgar Reed, unfortunately, is. He sent us a very large nose, and Pip’s Asian facial structure.  But the look in her bouquet of flowers and some celebratory wine, along gaze when she is plotting mischief is all Kintyre Turn. with a startlingly large painting of Turn Hall looking, Right now, Alis is bouncing gleefully in a romper well, exactly as it ought. It was signed in the bottom attached to the lintel of my office doorway, smashing a corner by one of those fellows who worked on the Lord sodden Library against the edge of the harness each time of the Rings film designs, and was Reed’s first, but sadly her chubby little feet leave the carpet, and practicing not his last, foray into breaching the tight-knit tapestry three of the four words she has— book, Da, and no. Ma is of our family.

 

Today I Read…Ghosts

ghostsToday I read Ghosts, An Accidental Turn novella by J.M. Frey.

The great hero Kintyre Turn and his companion Bevel Dom have just finished another adventure, when they are summoned back to Turn Hall by Kintyre’s younger brother, the Lordling Forsyth Turn. He has a quest for them to undertake. However, first they need to travel to Turn Hall, which is some distance away. They stop for the night in the town of Gwillfifeshire, where they meet a ghost and learn a valuable lesson about just where they ought to be sticking their swords, especially when it is uninvited. And when it is gladly welcomed…

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J.M. sent me an ebook ARC of her upcoming novel, The Forgotten Tale, and I bought Ghosts to fill in the blanks between the first and second books in the series. It takes place during The Untold Tale, right before Kintyre and Bevel go to  Turn Hall and meet Lucy Piper and Forsyth Turn, and it also connects with events that take place in The Forgotten Tale.

This time when I was talking to J.M. I told her that Ghosts made me sympathize with the little hedgehog (Bevel). I told her that he reminds me of a “grumpy, make, middle-aged Gabrielle” from  Xena: Warrior Princess. “Especially the episode where they’re traveling and you see the unglamorous side of heroes, where they fight about using Gabrielle’s scrolls as toilet paper and her best pan as a weapon. Where you see that they’ve been together long enough to drive each other nuts, but they still stay together because they can’t be apart after so long.” (For the record, I was talking about the episode A Day in the Life) J.M. asked me use that exact analogy in the review, so here you go.

As the storyteller, Bevel has always been the second fiddle to Kintyre. Kintyre is the hero, the one everyone wants to hear about. Bevel is the sidekick, the one who helps fight the extra minions while Kintyre fights the Big Bad, the one who tells the stories to the adoring crowds afterwards so Kintyre doesn’t seem like he’s bragging about what he did and can just not-so-graciously accept the accolades, the one who cleans up all of Kintyre’s messes because he really is pretty self-involved. Ghosts is where Bevel finally gets a voice to tell his own story, even though it is still all about Kintyre. It’s not precisely that Bevel minds–he just wants people to acknowledge his contribution, he doesn’t want to diminish Kintyre’s glory. More importantly, he wants Kintyre to acknowledge what they are to each other. Seventeen years…that’s a long time together. Seventeen years of fighting, of traveling, of being honoured by kings and seduced by beautiful women together. Seventeen years of eating together, sleeping together, bathing together. Of fighting over whose turn it is to do the laundry–well, who took the last clean shirt? Did you remember to buy the supplies? No, it was your turn, and you forgot to buy the flour so I can make bread. Have you seen my dagger? No, not that one, the other one.  Have we passed by this farm before? Yes, we did, and we slept with the farmer’s oldest beautiful daughter, so let’s leave quickly before they find out we’re here again. Seventeen years of you smell like a dead dragon–yeah, well that’s because we killed a dragon and you’re covered in blood too. After that long, either you love someone, or you kill them. Some days the choice between the two may rest on the flip of a coin.

Ghosts  is entertaining as a stand-alone story in a larger universe, but where it shines is as a connection, as a bridge between the novels and as an interlude that serves to give the reader (and the Reader) a deeper understanding of the character that would bog down the action of the novel. It’s a bonus, an extra scene on the DVD–not necessary, but a pleasure, especially to the completist who wants to read EVERYTHING set in that world. And since it’s available now, it’s something to keep you occupied until The Forgotten Tale is released on December 6. If you love the land of Hain, you won’t regret meeting this Ghost.

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I always thought there would be children in my life. I actually want to be a dad. Being an uncle is wonderful, even though I only see the little pests infrequently. I love the squirts, and it’s great to see how much they’ve grown, all that they’ve learned, the ways their personalities and preferences develop between each visit. The youngest of the horde seems to think that “poop” is the funniest damned word the Writer ever Wrote.
I want their chubby, sticky fingers locked around my neck, the sweet kisses, the cuddles, the little feet racing through the hallways shouting, “Da’s back! Da’s here!” There’s something more, something magic in the way they say that to their fathers, different to the way they shout “Uncle!” when I surprise one of my six brothers at home. Almost like “Da” is a Word, instead of just a word, and one that I want to mean me. I would like a home to go back to, I think. A place where it’s warm, and I can sit by the fire and and be adored by everyone around me because I adore them back.

That had always been the plan, anyway.

Grow up, work with Da in the forge, marry a farmer’s daughter, build a croft, raise a brood, and spend the rest of my life shoeing horses and being loved.

But then a handsome lord’s son had come along, and that was the end of those dreams. I could have a wife, a home, the children, if I wanted. But that would mean no Kintyre.

A sudden thought drops into my stomach like a fire-warmed stone: I’m tired.
This is not the grief-born weariness I was feeling this morning. This is something else, something deeper, something that has soaked into my skin and settled in the dark marrow of my bones. This is something that is etched on the very fiber of my muscles, the pull of my tendons, the lining of my stomach. This is something born of Dargan’s careless teasing, yeah, but also the contemplation that his words have caused over the weeks since I was in that tavern with him, both of us a little too far into the keg.

I am tired.

I am tired of walking, tired of traveling, tired of having nowhere to call home, no place to call my own, no pillow and bed waiting at the end of the day, no surety of the next meal. I am tired of following after Kintyre Turn and wanting. I am tired of not having.
I am tired, and I want to stop.

I could pay for somewhere to call my own, true; I’m not much for banks and moneylenders, but I’ve squirreled away the  reward purses I didn’t give over to Mum over the years. I don’t need to build a croft now—I’ve got more than enough clink to buy a cottage, a few acres, some pigs. Probably a calf. Or five. Or ten, really. Right, so there’s actually probably enough to buy a title and the estate that goes with it.

Hells, King Carvel has offered me one often enough. Maybe I could just write to him and tardily accept. Though what on the Writer’s hairy backside I’d do with the trappings and responsibilities of a lord, I don’t know. I wasn’t raised to it. I’d have to hire someone to do all the actual work, and the life of an idle gentleperson is not even close to appealing.

The only thing I am certain about is this: Kin would never live with me.

Even if Kintyre Turn did finally settle down, turn in his sword for a ledger or a plowshare or a guardsman’s cap, it would be with a buxom woman who could gift him with little Turnlings. More likely, it would be with some nobleman’s daughter or simpering princess, and it would be on the coin of a king, or the late Aglar Turn’s estate, where his brother Forsyth would maintain the responsibilities of Master while Kin enjoyed the luxuries with which he’d been raised.

If Kin stopped, that would be it. There would be no room in Kintyre Turn’s life for a Bevel Dom, his questing partner, sword-mate, and dogsbody. And a life for Bevel Dom with no Kintyre Turn in it is a life I’m afraid I might not actually have the strength to live.

I know with the surety of a man who has been in love for half his life with someone who will never be aware of it that I will die of heartbreak, or maybe by my own hand, the day Kin marries someone else.

And Writer, that sounds melodramatic as bloody anything. More fit for my scrolls than my thoughts, but there it is. I jam my fists down harder in my pockets and hunch, chewing on my bottom lip to keep from scowling.

And the bastard is still walking, just a few paces ahead, like his long legs can’t be bothered to shorten his stride for the sake of anything as banal as a short companion. Fine.

So I do as I have always done: I put one foot in front of the other. I shove the weariness away, raise my chin, squint to keep the sun out of my eyes, and follow after Kintyre Turn.

The tiredness can be ignored.

Oh , The Places You’ll Boldly Go!

Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go!

oh-the-places-youll-boldly-goSo David Gerrold, who will have “Creator of Tribbles” on his gravestone, has a Kickstarter project for a Star Trek version of Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go!  That’s pretty much all I needed to hear. There’s not much in the description or the video, but the concept alone caught me, as two of the best things ever mashed together become something even greater. You know, like how peanut butter and chocolate make Reese’s Cups. As of this time, it is fully funded so it will be made, but there’s still 9 more days for people to get their orders in before the campaign is over. Ty Templeton has mocked up covers for two of Gerrold’s other books, The World of Star Trek and The Trouble with Tribbles, and to be honest I would probably buy all three if they really were all picture books. A Seussical picture book telling the story of The Trouble with Tribbles? Perfection! Unfortunately, I think they are just covers for existing books, but maybe a series? Huh guys? Seriously, there are alien species in Star Trek just begging to be Seussized. Seussised? Seussinated? Suessed? Not sure about the grammar here, but I’d be willing to work on it if it means more of these adorable books.

suess-kirk-and-gornsuess-bones-and-spock

 

 

suess-tribbles

Today I Read…Jem and the Holograms

Jem and the Holograms coverToday I read Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (issues 1-6), written by Kelly Thompson and art by Sophie Campbell.

Jerrica Benton and her sisters Kimber, Aja, and Shana are an amazing band, and they’re ready to share it with the world. Well, her sisters are–Jerrica suffers from crippling stage fright, and she’s the band’s lead singer. But a mysterious gift from their late father may just solve their problem–and lead them into a wild, rocking new future! Prepare for glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, with Jem and the Holograms!

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How do I begin to explain my love for Jem and the Holograms? It was my all-time favourite cartoon when I was little. Every time we went to the local Blockbuster I always wanted to rent the VHS cassette of the two episodes they had (yes, I’m aware of just how badly I dated myself there, it was an 80s cartoon okay? This was the prehistoric Time Before Netflix). I had still have my Jem/Jerrica doll. I bought the complete series on VHS off eBay before they released it on DVD, I hand-sewed a Jem dress for Hallowe’en one year in university (no I’m definitely not putting up a picture of that mistake), I have every song from the series on my laptop, I love Love LOVE Jem.

So I can’t even explain just how hard I squeed when the revival started. The DVD releases, the new dolls (which are gorgeous and out of my price range, sigh), the movie (which I had such high hopes for, bigger sigh), and the comic–it’s a good time to be a Jem fan. Ah, the comic. This comic is now officially my personal example of how to do a fabulous reboot. It retains all the charm of the original while updating it for modern tastes and plugging up some of the (many) plot holes. The writing is terrific and the art is gorgeous. The only thing that could have made it better would have been mixing glitter into the ink used to print it.

The original cartoon was a wonderful example of girl power, and Jerrica was the first girl to have it all. She was secretly a world-famous rock and roll star, and in her civilian life she was the head of a major record label and the manager of the Holograms and she was in charge of the Starlight House for orphaned girls and the Starlight Foundation. Her band was composed of her sisters, who each had their own talents and interests in addition to music: Kimber was a talented songwriter, Aja was sporty and fixed things, and Shana was a fashion designer who designed and made all their on stage costumes. They were adults, not teenagers, and they were in charge of their own stories. Jerrica’s boyfriend Rio worked for them as a road manager, they didn’t work for him. Rather than the still-popular ratio of a team of men with one token girl, they were a team of women with the occasional appearance of a boyfriend.

That said, Jerrica’s reasons for not telling Rio that she was Jem were pretty lame, and he was a bit of a jerk for dating Jem and Jerrica both, even though the show tried to portray it as romantic, that Rio was attracted to Jerrica no matter what holographic disguise she was wearing. And except for one brief mention in the pilot, they never discuss calling the police on the Misfits, their constant rivals. The list of crimes the Misfits and their manager Eric Raymond commit is so lengthy it’s absolutely ridiculous–theft, grand theft auto, embezzlement, kidnapping, kidnapping a minor, reckless endangerment, attempted involuntary manslaughter, industrial espionage, accessory to attempted regicide, accessory to terrorism, assault, slander, arson, destruction of property… Seriously, CALL. THE. POLICE! Rewatching things as an adult can really change your perspective sometimes.

The comic reimagines both bands–Kimber, the youngest, has just graduated from college. The sisters want to try to make their band a success before moving on to more mundane careers, and they volunteer at a community center and teach music there instead of running a foster home. The Misfits are a signed band trying to promote themselves via a Battle of the Bands contest, and while they are mean and selfish and don’t care if other people break the law for them, they don’t actually break any laws. Rio is a music journalist writing a profile on the Misfits when he meets Jerrica and is intrigued by her, not a long-standing boyfriend that she really should trust with her big secrets. Jem is Jerrica’s protection, a way for her to be someone else to avoid her stage fright–there is a reason to not tell anyone who she is, in addition to protecting Synergy, the wildly advanced AI and hologram projection system that the Holograms’ father built for them.

While the original Jem and the Holograms did a pretty good job representing racial diversity, with the (eventually) 5 members breaking down as 2 Caucasian, 1 African-American, 1 Asian, and 1 Latina, as well as the Starlight Girls being from multiple ethnicities, the comic goes even further by making them more diverse in sexual orientation and body types. Kimber from the Holograms and Stormer from the Misfits have always had a special connection that disturbed their respective rival bands, and this has metamorphed into a lesbian relationship. The only objection that anyone has is that they are in competition, not that they’re both girls.

The Jem cartoon was first developed in order to sell the dolls, since the toys came first, and they all had exactly the same body so that the clothes would fit all the dolls, which is great for marketing but less great for representation. Since that’s not a concern for the comic, these uniformly tall, slender, curvy characters

Original Jem

It’s truly, truly outrageous

Original Misfits

These are the Misfits. Their songs are better.

 

 

 

 

 

have become this fabulous range.

Holograms

The new Jem and the Holograms

Misfits

The new Misfits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side note: if you were reading the issues as they came out, you may have noticed that the artist for the first issue was listed as Ross Campbell. After it was published, Campbell announced that she was transgender and issues 2 and after list her as Sophie Campbell, including the trade that I’m reviewing here. She writes in her afterword in the trade that she feels like she’s “finally cut loose and the floodgates were opened artistically and emotionally.” I’m not familiar with her art outside of Jem, but I do know I love what I see here, so if this is what she makes when she’s happy I hope her life is ecstatic. And kudos to IDW for supporting her and using her new name on the cover of the comics. /sidenote

In the end, Jem is just plain fun. It’s super-girly in the best way possible, and shows both the allure and the hard work involved in a career in music. It’s about supporting your family and chasing your dreams. It’s about clothes and music. It’s about glamour and glitter, fashion and fame, and it’s truly, truly outrageous!

Today I read…The Untold Tale

The Untold TaleToday I read The Untold Tale, the first book in the upcoming Accidental Turn trilogy by J.M. Frey.

Forsyth Turn knew exactly who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the hero. He wasn’t big or brave or strong. He wasn’t bluff and hearty and called friend by men from every land under the sun. He wasn’t handsome and smooth and accounted a skilled lover by women from sea to sea. He wasn’t the man the bards sang of. He wasn’t his brother Kintyre Turn.

Lucy Piper knew exactly who she was. She was a normal woman with a normal life. And just like many other people, she was a fan of the wildly popular The Tales of Kintyre Turn series by author Elgar Reed. In fact, she wrote her thesis on the books. But they were just books.

Two very different people from two very different worlds. And they are about to discover that they are both very, very wrong.

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First, I’m really sorry J.M. that this review is so late, but I’ve been working in a library (yay!) and have less time to write (boo!).

J.M. sent me an ebook ARC to review some time ago, and I did read it, but I haven’t been able to write my review until now. But now the paperback and the ebook are both available for all you lovely readers to go out and buy, so yay! The Toronto launch party was December 10th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club, with hosting duties by author Adrienne Kress and entertainment provided by Chantal Barette.

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Whenever I finish reading a new J.M. Frey book, I send her an initial thought before I sit down to write my full review. (Okay, that’s a lie, first I cry a little and wonder why I keep letting her play with my heart like bubble wrap, but after that I message her.) For Triptych I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” For The Untold Tale I told her that it was “A horribly uncomfortable story that everyone needs to read. And yes, that’s a compliment.”

Forsyth is…familiar. He is the voice in your head, telling you that no matter what you do it will never be good enough. That you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, charming enough, working hard enough, resourceful enough, considerate enough, talented enough. That those whom you care for regard you with pity, not love. That you are tolerated, not respected. That the Other–your sibling, parent, friend, peer–is so much greater than you are, and that all who know you both compare you and find you lacking. That whatever you try, you will fail. Forsyth is depression and fear and insecurity. And then he meets the mysterious Pip, who he loves without feeling worthy of her, and she says such strange, wrong things. That Forsyth is handsome, that he is clever, that he is responsible and loved by his people. That his brother Kintyre is not better than him. Things he would love to believe, but just can’t.

And Pip, who has loved the books for so long, and who is starting to realize that sometimes fantasy worlds are better as fantasies. That they can be incredibly problematic for people who don’t fit the dominant narrative–that people of colour, or who are queer, or who don’t fit nicely into little gender role boxes, or who are anyone other than the brawny hero and those in his direct orbit, don’t really get their stories told. That maybe the brawny hero is pretty darn tired of sleeping with random maidens and getting soaked in blood, and sometimes just wants to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. That the love interest has a story, and the sidekick, and the villain, and the innkeeper, and the maidservant. That the story that the Author tells about the characters is not necessarily the story that the characters wish to tell about themselves.

There are other things I could talk about–the romance that does more than merely nod towards the concept of consent certainly comes to mind, and the way that Pip and Forsyth navigate their way through both rape and rape culture and how it affects them both, and not in a superficial way. They suffer, and they think, and they (eventually) talk to each other.

And as a fangirl, the thought of a fictional character attending a convention and seeing what fans think of their world is…both delicious and cringeworthy. There is a scene where Forsyth, dressed as Forsyth Turn from the Elgar Reed books, meets a female cosplayer in a genderbent Kintyre Turn costume who proceeds to hit on him, not caring that a) Kintyre and Forsyth are brothers and Forsyth is clearly not into incest,  and b) Forsyth says no. Cosplay is not consent people… Well, read it.

Frey has a knack for writing books that are incredibly hard to describe properly. It’s a fantasy, but a very real and aware one, which examines the tropes and both celebrates and criticizes them, and thus proves it’s love. You can’t really love something if you only love the good parts–you have to look and know the bad, and acknowledge it, and love it anyway without washing the bad away. I recently read A Game of Thrones for the first time (yes, I’m behind, my to-read list is in the triple digits at this point). I posted on social media when I finished that I thought it was compelling yet highly problematic for the female characters. I raced through reading it–it was one of those books that you just can’t put down. But in my opinion there wasn’t a single well-rounded female character.  Frey comes from an academic background, and she’s a fangirl through and through. She’s used to analyzing her beloved fandoms and figuring out why she loves them, but also where the problems are.

The Untold Tale is the first in a new trilogy. The story feels complete as it is, and at first you wonder how there can be more. But then you start thinking about what happens after ‘and they lived happily ever after.’  That too is another untold tale. The second book will be The Forgotten Tale, and the last will be The Silenced Tale, and I’m sure that both of them will make me think about the title and what it really means just as much as The Untold Tale has.

Oh, and J.M.? You’re going to break my heart again, right? Please?

Chantal Barrette

Chantal Barrette performing at the Untold Launch

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When Bevel has imbibed enough liquid courage—I don’t know what his gauge is, but he seems to have met it—he stands and sways over to Pip’s side.

“Sorry he hurt you,” Bevel slurs gently. He’s not quite too drunk to be clear, but his lips are  tumbling over the consonants.

Dismissively, Pip answers, “Kintyre should be apologizing, not you. You’re not his keeper.”

Bevel laughs. “Oh, but I am.”

“And aren’t you sick of it?” Pip challenges.

Bevel shrugs. “That’s just Kintyre. You get used to it. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well it bothers me,” Pip returns. “Actually, no, you know what bothers me? It’s not that he doesn’t know the social cues and common practices of politeness. What bothers me is that he observes them around him every day and has decided, however unconsciously, that they aren’t anything he needed to bother himself with. That learning to communicate and interact with other human beings was beneath him. That everyone would just recognize his superiority and marvel, and obey. That is what bothers me.”

I am so stunned by the boldness of her words that my tongue seems to be blocking up my throat. My heart is there, beating alongside it, hard and loud and painful. I have never, ever heard anyone challenge Kintyre this way.

Bevel isn’t certain how to respond. “Listen,” he says. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. You’re a pretty little girl–” he doesn’t seem to catch Pip’s incredulous look at the insulting diminutive “– so why don’t we just jump ahead to the end of the evening, hm? We promise we’ll be very gentle with you, won’t hurt your back at all.”

“And what happens at the end of the evening?” Pip asks, wary.

I cover my face with my hands. I cannot watch this. Either Bevel will insult and embarrass himself, or Pip will say yes, which will be worse. Either way, I do not want to see her face when it happens. I couldn’t bear it.

Bevel leans in close and whispers filth into her ear.

“What? Both of you?” Pip yelps, and her face twists in disgust. Bevel leans close and says something else, and Pip physically shoves him back. “No! No, I’m as happy to have a threesome with two hotties as any red-blooded girl, but you guys are complete sleazes. Get off me.”

She shoves him hard enough that Bevel knocks my chair and I have to look. He is stunned. I don’t know if he’s ever been turned down before. And Pip looks like fury incarnate.

On the other side of me, Kintyre raises himself from his indolent slouch and scoffs. “So I suppose it will be to Forsyth’s bed you go tonight, then?”

Pip goggles at him, eyes wide and mouth a scandalized ‘o’. “Hey, how about I go to nobody’s bed because, one, I am in pain because of you, you stupid behemoth, and two, because I’m not a prize that’s meted out at the end of dessert. Here’s a startling and revolutionary idea: maybe I just don’t want a fuck!”

Ah, so that’s what that expletive means.

“Maybe you’re just a frigid bitch,” Kintyre snaps.

Pip rocks back in her seat, stunned. “Oh my god! I cannot even believe I used to look up to you! You’re incredible! You’re nothing like Forsyth!”

“So that’s what this is about,” Kintyre snarls, his bright blue eyes snapping over to me. “Forssy’s already got his scrabbly little fingers and flaccid little prick into you.”

Pip pushes up to her feet and leans over me, her face puce with fury, to get up into Kintyre’s. “Don’t talk about your brother like that! He’s a good man! Better than you’ll ever be!”

“Oh, and now you let your woman talk for you, too, brother?” Kintyre sneers, rising to his own feet. “Perhaps she’s the man between you? Does she stick it to you? Do you think you’re in love, just because she hasn’t run away from you yet?”

I shrink down in my seat, too mortified to even get my tongue to stop fluttering against the roof of my mouth. I could never even make words like this.

“And is there something wrong with taking it up the arse?” Pip challenges. “Does it make you less of a man? Because Bevel seems to like it!”

Bevel and Kintyre both go pale and stagger. Bevel clutches at his chair. “How did you know?” he hisses.

“Silence!” Kintyre booms.

“Oh my god!” Pip says, exasperation written into every feature. “What does it matter what you two do together? Bevel’s disgustingly in love with you, you ridiculous moron! He always has been! It’s barely even subtext! He sets up threesomes for you just so he can touch you! Is that what all this macho manly shit is about? Cause there’s nothing wrong with loving who you love!”

“Nobody loves Forsyth Turn,” Kintyre snarls.

“Qu-qu-quiet!” I snap, standing and pushing Pip and Kintyre away from one another. “E-e-enough!”

“Not here,” Pointe snaps, his voice just loud enough for us to hear, but quiet enough that music keeps his words from reaching my guests. He crosses behind my chair to lay hands on Kintyre’s shoulders. “You’re not doing this here, Sir Kintyre. You’re drunk and shaming yourself. Master Bevel, get him into Forsyth’s study.”

But Kintyre is incensed. He is insulted. He pushes the Sword of Turnshire away and holds a hand out to stay Bevel. “I am shaming myself? Me? You’re the one shaming the Turn name, brother! You are pathetic,” Kintyre sneers. “Deciding that the first woman to show a grain of interest in you is actually infatuated with you? Look at you. What in the world could she find attractive about you? You saved her, that’s all. She’s being nice to you because you saved her, not because she likes you. And everyone here knows it.”

Faces frozen with shock all around us narrow and shut down. Nobody, not one guest, makes a sound in my support. Of course. They are laughing at me, silently, inside. Laughing at foolish Forsyth Turn, who thought he could make this woman fall in love with him.

“Now,” Kintyre says. “You are going to apologize and sit down and act like a proper lady, or I will leave you here to rot and never take you home!”

“I will not!”

“Kintyre…” Bevel starts, plucking at his sleeve, but Kintyre is embarrassed and feeling cruel and pushes him away hard enough that he slams into the table. Bevel turns hurt, dark eyes up at my brother and goes silent, biting so hard on his lower lip that the flesh turns white.

All the breath rushes from my body. Oh, incredible, Pip was right. Bevel Dom is in love with my brother and I never noticed. Poor Bevel. I hate the hedgehoggy little lackey, but to be in love with my brother and Kintyre so in love with women’s bodies… how cruel this Elgar Reed is. Poor, poor Bevel.

“Sit!” Kintyre repeats, pointing to the chair magnanimously, and Pip throws her own finger into the air, the middle one. It is clearly a rude gesture, but its exact meaning is unclear.

“I am not some docile dog you can order around,” Pip screams. “You are an asshole and a bully, Kintyre Turn, and I don’t want your help!”

The whole room falls into a screeching hush.

Kintyre goes very, very still. I can’t help the involuntary step back as his fingers twitch into a fist. It seems the survival instincts of childhood are still deeply ingrained.

“Good,” he grunts, fury in every line of his face. “As you will not be receiving it.”

“Kin!” Bevel squalls. “You can’t just turn down a maiden in distress.”

“I can and I have.”

“I’m not a maiden in distress,” Pip snarls, rounding on Bevel, who is utterly unprepared for his own tongue lashing and stumbles back into my brother’s arm. “I’m a woman and I am damn well capable of rescuing my own damn self, thank you very much.”

“Let us hope so,” Kintyre rumbles. “For your sake.”

And then he pushes past Pointe and storms out of the hall, Bevel quick on his heels.

Me and Untold Tale

Mine, all mine!