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.

 

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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.

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!

Today I Read…Up and Down

Up and DownToday I read Up and Down by Terry Fallis. In 2013 this book was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and won the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen Award and the CBC Bookie Award for Most Hilarious Canadian Book.

David Stewart has quite a challenge ahead of him. He’s just taken a job at the Turner King PR agency, and they’re going after a new out of this world client–NASA. They recently surveyed people and found that more people would rather go out for lunch than watch a space shuttle launch. They want to return to the good old days, when the Space Race was exciting and the entire country would shut down to watch astronauts leave the earth, not to mention when their funding was plentiful to match the intense public interest.

Trying to impress his new boss, David throws out an idea during a brainstorming session–the Citizen Astronaut contest. Every astronaut from the start of the space program has been a highly trained, brilliant, athletic, highly skilled specialist of some sort–they are extraordinary people. So how are ordinary people supposed to relate to and be interested in their work? The Citizen Astronaut would be an Average Joe or Jane, a regular person who would go into space and contribute to the mission, someone to rekindle popular interest by being the embodiment of the dream that anyone can go into space. It’s bold, it’s innovative, it’s attention-getting.

Well, his boss hates it. Unfortunately, it’s all they have to run with after NASA shoots down their more conventional ideas. David’s boss orders him to make sure that the randomly selected Canadian winner of the contest is young, photogenic, and your basic flannel-clad hockey-loving lumberjack stereotype. Unfortunately, the real winner is a 71-year-old lesbian bush doctor pilot with a father who disappeared 40 years ago and who is so obsessed with space that she built her own centrifuge outside her remote cabin to train herself to handle extreme G-forces. David is so compelled by her story that he pushes (and prods, and shoves, and maybe does a few other things he can’t admit to) for Dr. Landon Percival to be announced as Canada’s Citizen Astronaut. But can a senior citizen really go into space? Can David spin her story so that not only TK and NASA, but the Canadian public will embrace her as their representative on the space shuttle? And can he do this without getting fired really, really hard?

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This is the book that I got at the inaugural Wines and Lines event last year. I did attend this year as well, but it was basically a repeat of the first year with different authors so I didn’t see the need to write a review of the event.

I picked this one of the three choices because it was supposed to be funny, and it is, but it’s not really a comedy book, even though it is. It’s very funny is a realistic way–as though the events could happen (except NASA’s lawyers would probably have a collective apoplexy if someone proposed something like the Citizen Astronaut contest in real life). The title is very apt in several ways. David and the rest of the characters go through many ups and downs in their lives over the course of the book, as well as the characters who literally go up and down from Earth to the Space Station and back again.

This was something of a departure for me, since I tend to read a lot of genre fiction or children’s and YA books since I just spent a year as a school librarian. Still, I enjoyed this book very much. Like any science fiction fan, I feel a little bit ripped off that we don’t have moon colony yet, and Star Trek assures me that first contact with an alien species is due to happen in less than 50 years. The Citizen Astronaut contest, if it was real, is definitely something that would grab my attention.

David is a great character. He’s very well-rounded and realistic, and he careens from one challenge to another feeling like he’s barely treading water but rising to every problem. He’s still very young–only in his mid-twenties, and this is his second job after university. He’s inexperienced, and young enough to be little crazy, and he’s a great contrast to Landon Percival who is old enough to be comfortable being polite to everyone while getting her own way.

This is more of a quiet chuckle book than a laugh out loud one, but it’s very well-written and entertaining, while being a quintessentially Canadian humour (which is definitely spelled with a ‘u’).

Today I Read…Bi-Curious George

Bi-Curious GeorgeToday I read Bi-Curious George: An Unauthorized Parody by Andrew Simonian.

George was a curious little monkey, and he was especially curious about the sexy man in the sassy purple beret who came to his island and promised to show him all sorts of things.   After a voyage with sexy seamen (seamen, ha!), George comes to the big city, where he meets firemen (who are not sexy like his calendar), prison guards (who are not sexy like porn), and the animals at The Zoo, a big club, who definitely ARE sexy and willing to satisfy all of George’s curiosity!

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I bought this one at last year’s Word on the Street Festival because it looked hilarious, and it is. The jokes run the gamut from blatant innuendo to just plain blatant. It is very much a parody of gay culture, and uses many stereotypes, but it’s still very funny. There are mentions of drug and alcohol use, and the odd swear word, and of course sexual situations on just about every page. This is NOT a children’s book.

Bi-Curious George page 1 picThe illustrations are just as funny as the text. They’re done in the style of the Margaret and H.A. Rey books, but changed to be…more appropriate to the book, meaning not very appropriate. I don’t think he’s eating the banana… They are full of entertaining details, like the ship full of seamen being named the S.S. Cher, or the man dangling from a window in his underwear while another cross-looking man can be seen inside the apartment, or that every able-bodied seaman looking for George seems to need to bend over.

This is a fun, fast read. Though I will note, on my copy the front cover says that this book is an unauthorized parody, while the spine calls it An Authorized Parody. Mistake or just someone…curious?

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This is George.

He lived in the jungle.

He was a straight little monkey but always very…curious.

One day George saw a man.

He had on a sassy purple beret.

And George got excited, despite himself.

The man saw George too.

“I’m always in the mood for some hot monkey love,” he thought.

“I would like to take him home with me.”

Today I Read…Days of Future Past (and again)

Days of Future Past TPBToday I read Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont, Jim Byrne, Terry Austin, John Romita Jr., Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver, and Tom Orzechowski, the trade paperback collecting Uncanny X-Men #138-143 and X-Men Annual #4, and Days of Future Past the prose novel by Alex Irvine based on the Claremont/Byrne storyline.

2013: The fight for freedom is over, and the bad guys won. America’s mutants are dead or living in captivity, subjugated under the robotic Sentinels, who are about to expand their mandate worldwide: destroy all mutants, and anyone else who gets in their way. The nations of the world, unwilling to stand aside while their citizens are attacked, have formed a dangerous plan to nuke what remains of the United States, to stop the Sentinels. The world’s only hope lies in the hands of what remains of the X-Men and their desperate attempt to stop the madness before it ever starts.

October 31st, 1980: The day it all began. The beautiful and deadly Mystique is on a quest Days of Future Past proseto create a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and for their first act she has decided that they will assassinate Senator Robert Kelly, a vocal opponent of mutantkind. She believes that this will prove that mutants are not to be trifled with, not to be threatened or subject to government-sanctioned bigotry. Instead it leads to the death of all mutants, and the ruination of a once-great nation.

Kate Pryde, one of the last living X-Men, will brave time itself, risking her marriage, her life, and her friends’ lives, to save the life of a man who wishes her nothing but ill– in a dangerous attempt to make the world a safer place for her children who never lived. Because an X-Man never gives up.

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I was curious to read these since the movie just came out this past May, and I’d never actually read the original storyline before. I picked up both the trade paperback and the prose novel at Niagara Falls ComicCon, since I was curious how each format would treat the story. For what is considered to be one of the best X-Men storylines and to have spawned both a full-length novel and a major feature film, the original Days of Future Past story is only 2 issues long. The mind of the mature Kate Pryde is sent back in time by Rachel Summers into her 13-year-old body, to warn the X-Men about Mystique’s plans to assassinate Senator Kelly, an event which leads to a dystopia in which people are judged based on their genetics and mutants are either dead or living in internment camps. At the same time that Kate is occupying Kitty’s body, the remaining X-Men in the future attack the Sentinels’ headquarters, trying to destroy them before they can launch their attack against the mutants of Europe and force the nuclear retaliation waiting.

The prose novel stays fairly close to the comic, while making a few changes to be able to stretch the story out to a novel’s worth. Kitty wakes up in the future and spends time with them, to understand their plight and to fast-forward the action so the group isn’t carrying too many limp bodies around into action. We see much more of the lesser-known X-Men like Franklin Richards and Rachel Summers, and more about Logan’s Canadian Resistance Army.

The movie, of course, is extremely different, since it was trying to tie together the two separate movie-verses of the X-Men, and using Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as the main character who goes back in time instead of the lesser-known Kitty/Kate Pryde. They go to the 70s, instead of the 80s, so that they can use the X-Men: First Class cast, and make Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the Sentinels, the object of Mystique’s anger, instead of Senator Kelly who only feared mutants, and they eliminated the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and make Mystique a lone gunwoman, as it were. While I enjoyed the movie, it was very clearly a different universe than the comic and prose novel.

Personally, I’m fond of the prose novels that Marvel has been publishing, such as Civil War or Iron Man: Extremis, which is waiting for me on my shelves right now. I like the extra detail that novels can provide to the story. That said, the cover of Uncanny X-Men #141, used on the cover of the trade paperback as well, is an enormously evocative image–Logan and Kate on the run, cornered and afraid, standing in front of the images of their friends, all apprehended or slain. The image is repeated when Kate describes walking across the graveyard at the internment camp in New York, and all of her friends who are buried there. They died because of what they were, because people hated them because of how they were born. The X-Men have always been a metaphor for racial tensions, ever since they were created in the 1960s. Shame we still have to tell their story, since based on the news people still aren’t getting it.

A great story for Marvel comics fans, and fans of time travel stories, and the different formats that the story has been told in each add their own perspective to the tale of what happens when fear and hate are allowed to rule.

Today I Read…The Shakespeare Notebooks

Today I read Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by James Goss, Jonathan Morris, Julian Richards, Justin Richards, William Shakespeare, and Matthew Sweet.The Shakespeare Notebooks

William Shakespeare–without question one of Earth’s greatest writers of all time. His works and life have been scrutinized over and over again, by historians, literary analysts, students of all ages, and fans of the Bard. And yet so many questions remain.

At last, Shakespeare’s personal notebooks have been discovered and made available to the public. Anecdotes from his personal life, early drafts of many of his greatest works, and insight into the thought processes of this remarkable man can at last be shared with the world, including his strange relationship with a man known only as the Physician. Was Shakespeare ill throughout his life? Were they friends? How much influence did this mysterious Doctor have on Shakespeare’s work? Would a Doctor by any other name still save the world?

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I love the Doctor Who episode “The Shakespeare Code”, so I was interested when I heard about this book. On reading it, it is both brilliant and hilarious, but will probably appeal most to those who are both Doctor Who fans and Shakespeare fans.

The book is a collection of sonnets and scenes from plays, rewritten to include the different incarnations of the Doctor and his Companions. It really is amazing just how attracted aliens are to England–it’s a bigger tourist destination than Disney World!

It’s actually quite interesting seeing Shakespeare’s purported thought processes on some of the works–going through what he might have thought about as he was writing, the revisions to the works, and the ‘final’ drafts that were lost or changed for various reasons. Presumably he didn’t actually include all of the references to the Doctor–but then again, who knows? Many of the passages end with an unrelated quote that has been changed to include the Doctor, such as “Friends, Daleks, Cybermen…”, “To reverse or not to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow?”, or “That which we call a Rose by any other name would still be Tyler.”

This is a great book if you have a liberal attitude towards historical correctness and a lively respect for Shakespeare as a popular storyteller instead of an old man in a ruff reciting dead words.

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Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a Type Fifty?
Thou art more lovely and more temporal:
Rough time winds shake the positronic flow,
And Fast Return hath all too short a spring:
Sometime too hot the Eye of Harmony
Is by a Temporal Orbit stopped at last
And every wheezing groan sometime declines,
By chance, or Vortex changing course untrimmed:
But thy materialisation shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of thy Time Rotor,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st Gallifrey,
Wherein eternal Rassilon dost thrive,
So long as Time Lords plot, or Daleks kill,
So long my TARDIS will you serve me still.

 

 

Today I Read…Hero is a Four Letter Word

Hero is a Four Letter WordToday I read Hero is a Four Letter Word by J.M. Frey. Frey is also the author of Triptych.

We look up to heroes. We place them on pedestals, crown them with laurels, and marvel at the tales of their great deeds. But what do the heroes see when they look in the mirror? In her first short story collection, J.M. Frey shows us three heroes behind their magic swords and capes. Sometimes the hero’s journey starts with figuring out who they are and what they’ll fight for.

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J.M. Frey has previously explored the idea of the hero in the anthologies When the Hero Comes Home and When the Villain Comes Home, both edited by Gabrielle Harbowry and Ed Greenwood and published by Dragon Moon Press. Her stories from the two anthologies, The Once and Now-ish King and The Maddening Science are included in this collection, along with a previously unpublished short story, Another Four Letter Word.

As usual, Frey runs the full emotional gauntlet from laughter to heartbreak, with stops along the way at bitterness, regret, anger, determination, desire, and absurdity. Fans of rewritten myths and legends, both ancient and modern, will love her twist on feats of derring-do and what the heroes are really thinking behind their posing and finger-wagging at villains and exclamations of “You can’t do that! That’s naughty!” (All of the points to the first person in the comments to guess the reference.)

Heroes are born to be extraordinary. But these heroes are all the more extraordinary because they insist on being Destiny’s partner, not her pawn.

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The first thing that Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future (well, Now-ish) King did upon his rebirth into the world at the moment of Albion’s greatest need, was to open his shrivelled red mouth and squall out: “Oh hell,no.

Which startled his Mother quite badly, you’ll understand, as she had just put him to her breast for his first little feeding. She shook her head and glared balefully at the IV needle in the bend of her elbow, ignored her new son’s outburst, and went about her task.

The second thing that Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Now-ish King did upon his rebirth into the world at the moment of Albion’s greatest need, was to consume his body weight in breast milk. After which, he soiled his nappy, burped quite dramatically, and took a wee bit of a nap.

Getting born was hard work, you know.

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“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Carterhaugh,” he whispers. His eyes are gravity wells. As deep and as appealing as Da’s grave.

“Pleased to make yours, Liam,” she replies, enchanted far too easily by his smooth manners.

He raises her hand to his mouth, brushes a dry kiss across the back of it. Then, from somewhere behind him, he produces a flower. It is one of the late-blooming wild roses, two blossoms fully blown on a single stem.

Jennet can’t help it. The spell is broken. She throws back her head and guffaws.

He stands there, roses upheld, looking equal parts surprised and hurt.

“Oh, your face!” Jennet howls. “Did you think that would work?

“It always has,” he pouts. “Do ladies no longer like roses? Have they fallen out of fashion?”

“Do you hear yourself?” Jennet laughs. “You sound like a period drama!”

Liam drops her hand and turns away, obviously upset, and rubs his free palm on the thighs of his dark jeans.

“Oh, come on,” Jennet says, calming down. “Don’t get your feathers in a ruffle. It’s a very nice rose. And your manners are lovely. And I do appreciate you not throwing rocks at my windows.”

He turns back to face her, face twisted in a strange rictus of amusement and horror. “Ladies are not at all what they used to be,” he says, definitive.

“Nope,” Jennet agrees. “And thank the Lord for that.”

Liam runs a frustrated hand through his hair, and gold fluffs up like dandelion down. “You’re not making this easy, Jennet,” he huffs.

“What’s meant to be easy?” Jen counters. “Me?”

“Oh, no,” he says, eyes immediately round and apologetic. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Tell me how you meant it, then, and choose your words carefully.” She pats her back pocket expressively.

“How is a man enchanted with a woman meant to behave, if not like this?”His arms spread in askance. The heads of the roses bob, as if to agree with his frustration.

“Well, threatening the safety of a woman by behaving like a horrible creeper is right out of fashion, now-a-days,” Jen says, and she can’t help the lilt of tease that slips into her voice at the end.

“And what then?” Liam asks, receptive to her smile. His frustration is ebbing, replaced with interest in her explanation.

“Most guys chat up women in the grocery store, or in a bar,” Jennet says. “Somewhere public, you know? Sometimes they even call a girl. Or message them on the internet. Send them cards, or knock on their doors. Anything but skulk around, alone in the forest with roses and cheesy lines.”

Liam grins puckishly and dips another theatrical bow. “But it worked, didn’t it?”

Jennet snorts. “Only because I decided to listen to you instead of brain you with a branch. Which I may yet regret.”

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In the morning, I’m troubled. I think I’ve made a very bad choice, but I’m not sure how to rectify it. I am not even sure how to articulate it.

Rachel was right. I am lonely. I am desperately, painfully lonely. And I will be for the rest of my unnaturally long life. But Rachel is lonely, too. Desperate in her own way, desperate for the approval of a mother I can only assume was distant and busy in Rachel’s youth, and then too famous and busy in her adolescence. Rachel wants to be nothing like her mother, wants to hurt her, punish her, and yet…wants to impress her so very badly that she is willing to take the ultimate step, to profess love for a man her mother once hated, to ‘fix him,’ to ‘make him better.’ To make him, me, good.

Only, Rachel doesn’t understand. I don’t want to bebetter, or good, or saved. I just want to live my boring, in-extraordinary life in peace and quiet, and then die. I don’t want to be her experiment.

 

Today I Read…The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

The Thousand Dollar Tan LineToday I read The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, the first Veronica Mars original novel, which follows the recent movie.

Ah, spring break in Neptune, California. There’s nothing quite like it. The time when hundreds of drunken college students descend on Neptune’s sun-soaked streets to party like they’re not flunking out of the very expensive schools mommy and daddy are paying for.

And Veronica Mars is right back where she started– back in Neptune, working in her father’s detective agency and trying to help people and pay the bills, in the face of a corrupt and incompetent sheriff’s office. Nancy Drew never had to put up with this shit.

But now girls have started to go missing from the wild parties that happen every night, and the good and very rich people of Neptune want these unfortunate and tourist-unfriendly events to stop happening. Oh, and to save the girls too, of course, as long as it’s handled discretely. Too bad they hired Veronica Mars to find the girls. Because discrete is definitely not her middle name.

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So, I loved the Veronica Mars movie (proud Kickstarter backer here!), and I was happy when Rob Thomas announced that he would be continuing the story in a series of original tie-in novels. It’s always best when the creator continues the story–they know their world the best, and Rob Thomas is definitely no exception. It’s a serviceable stand-alone mystery, but it shines best as part of the world of Veronica Mars. It’s filled with in-jokes and references that only the obsessive fan will catch, such as Martina Vasquez and Norris Clayton. It needs more Logan, but then I usually want more Logan. There’s some great set-up for future books, but I don’t want to get too in-depth since the movie is still in theaters. I will say that you should definitely see the movie before reading the book–the book occurs two months later, and there are a lot of events that have happened in Veronica’s life since we last saw her at Hearst College at the end of season three of the TV series. There’s a bit of a recap, but you’ll miss a lot of details if you don’t watch the movie first, and Veronica Mars has always been all about the details.

I know that I said it was a serviceable stand-alone mystery, but I would really recommend this book first to fans of Veronica Mars. Rob Thomas has said that he made the movie first for the fans and then for the wider audience, and the book is clearly the same. Veronica…she’s not always a nice person. Turning the other cheek to her just means that you’re a sucker who’s going to get hit twice. What she is, is fascinating. She screws up, and she tries again. She doesn’t give up. She’s deeply flawed as a person, but you still root for her even when she’s turned her life into a disaster. I think you need to get that to really feel for her as the protagonist. To understand why Dan Lamb is an ass, and why she worries about her father, and her issues with a certain person who shows up but isn’t in the movie and I’m definitely not saying more about that because spoilers.

So, to sum up, I loved it and I can’t wait for the next one! And Veronica Mars? You’re still a marshmallow.

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By Wednesday morning, the coastal town that sparkled at night looked … mundane. Not just mundane. Dirty. Pools of spilled beer collected in the seams of the sidewalk, and the rank tang of overfilled Dumpsters wafted out from the alleys. The ghostly forms of used condoms littered doorways and bushes, and shattered glass covered the street.

The Sea Nymph Motel was eerily silent when eighteen-year-old Bri Lafond stumbled in. Almost all of the guests were spring breakers, and the party didn’t get started until early afternoon. She had been at a rave on the inland edge of town, and by the time the party had wound down at 4:00 a.m. she hadn’t been able to get a cab. She’d still been high enough that the idea of walking back to the motel had seemed feasible. Now, bone tired, she trudged through the sandy courtyard to the room she and her three best friends from UC Berkeley had rented. It was one of the cheapest available, facing the Dumpster in the parking lot. Now she didn’t care, fumbling with the lock and wanting only to fall into one of the two doubles they’d been sharing all week.

The room’s blinds gaped open, letting in a ray of pallid light. Leah was sprawled across the bed with her head shoved under a pillow, still wearing a sequined dress from the night before. Her legs were bruised and smudged with dirt. Melanie sat with her back to the headboard, sipping from a paper Starbucks cup. She wore board shorts and a bikini top, her long blond hair tousled and smears of makeup caking her eyes. She looked up when she heard the door open.

“I have a surf lesson in, like, half an hour, and I’m still drunk,” she said. She looked at Bri, her eyes focusing with difficulty. “Where’ve you been? You look like shit.”

“Thanks a lot.” Bri leaned down to unzip her boots, her feet throbbing. “Where’s Hayley? Is she surfing too?”

“Haven’t seen her.” Melanie closed her eyes and rested her head back against the wall. Bri froze, one boot off, the other still pinching her toes. She looked up.

“Since when?”

“Since … since the party on Monday, I guess.” Melanie opened her eyes. “Shit.”

Bri blinked, then tugged the other boot off her foot. She sank to the bed and gently pushed Leah’s shoulder. “Hey, Leah. Wake up. Did you see Hayley yesterday?”

Leah gave a low moan from under the pillow. For a moment she curled into a tight ball, her arm circled protectively over her head. It took them a few more minutes of prodding and cooing her name before she finally pulled away the pillow and looked blearily up at them. “Hayley? Not since the … the party on Monday.”

A bleak, empty feeling expanded into every corner of Bri’s body. She scrolled back through her messages. There was nothing from Hayley since Monday afternoon.

Now Bri remembered seeing Leah doing lines of coke off an antique coffee table, holding her long honey-colored hair off her neck as she bent over. She remembered hands running up her hips, a slurring male voice telling her she’d be really hot if she grew her hair out. She remembered seeing flashes of Hayley, leaning up to whisper in the ear of a boy in a perfectly cut white suit, his eyes long lashed and sultry, his lips pouting playfully.

Beyond that everything was a blur. She’d woken up the next morning in a lawn chair by the motel pool, shivering in the early morning chill, her purse tucked under her head. She had no idea how she’d gotten home.

“Did you see her leave the party with someone?” Bri looked at her friends. Both shook their heads slowly.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Melanie said hesitantly. “She’s probably with some guy she met at the party. She’ll come up for air sooner or later.”

“But we promised we’d check in with each other at least once a day. We promised.” Bri’s voice was shriller than she’d meant for it to sound. They’d made a pact on the way down that no matter what they were up to, no matter how much fun they were having, they’d look out for one another. The dark, empty feeling in her gut yawned even wider.

Today I Read…Star Trek Into Darkness

Into DarknessToday I read Star Trek Into Darkness, the novelization of the movie, written by Alan Dean Foster.

Captain James T. Kirk and his crew are just getting used to their new starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, when a survey mission to a planet protected by the Prime Directive goes awry. After First Officer Spock writes his report to the admiralty, Kirk is demoted and Spock is transferred.

However, a terrorist attack by a renegade Starfleet officer cuts their punishment short, as Admiral Marcus sends the Enterprise to the dangerous Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS to retrieve John Harrison, with 72 new torpedos in their weapons bay–torpedos unlike any that Chief Engineer Scott has seen before, and that no one is willing to explain to him. The secrets keep piling up–who is John Harrison, and what is he after? Why is Admiral Marcus so intent on his death? What exactly do the new torpedoes do? And can Kirk and Spock learn to work together, without any fistfights?

This thrilling adventure continues the story of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and her five-year mission–to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before.

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I’ve mentioned before how much I love Star Trek. I saw the movie hoping I’d love it, and I did (although I’m still a little disappointed that the rumour that Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing Gary Mitchell wasn’t true, since I think that would have been a fascinating and compelling story). I’ve also talked before about some of the problems involved in novelizations. However, while Reawakened novelized 22 hours of a first season, Star Trek Into Darkness tells the story of a two-hour movie, which is much easier to do. In addition, as far as I know Reawakened is Odette Beane’s first book, while Alan Dean Foster’s name is familiar to any science fiction fan as the author of more than one hundred books, including ten novelizations of Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture Photostory, and the 2009 Star Trek movie novelization. He has also written in other properties including Star Wars, Transformers, the Alien movies, and many different movie novelizations.

While Into Darkness is (spoilers!) itself a revised version of The Wrath of Khan, it was criticized for staying too close to the source material. A good novelization is a delicate balancing act, since it has to be the same story as the movie, with the same events and the same lines, while still being a book, and going deeper into the characters’ thoughts and motivations than the movie has time to do. Foster does his usual excellent job of fleshing out the characters, showing the reader what they think as well as what they say and why they do what they do. He successfully retells someone else’s story, enhancing it without changing it. He puts his stamp on the story without making it his story. This is an excellent addition to the Star Trek fan’s collection, and a good book for people who’d rather read their story than watch it.

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“Uneventful.”

Though Kirk had to strain to hear it, the single word was perfectly intelligible. As to what it signified, he had not a clue. “Admiral? Sir?”

Reluctantly abandoning the view, Pike pivoted and seated himself at his desk. The silver-headed walking cane he set aside was smooth and functional, engraved. A new one, Kirk noted with interest. The admiral had amassed an impressive collection. Waving a hand, Pike activated the readout before him and spent a moment studying it. Eventually his gaze rose to meet Kirk’s.

“That’s how you described, in your captain’s log, your survey of the world its inhabitants call Nibiru. Uneventful.”

His attention on the admiral, Kirk missed the look cast in his direction by his science officer. It was as close to an expression of pure astonishment as a Vulcan could muster. With barely a shrug, Kirk indicated the readout.

“You know me, sir. I like my reports to be concise. Senior officers are confronted with so much information these days that I’d be the last to overload a captain’s log with excessive detail. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time going over—”

Pike interrupted the younger officer’s amiable disquisition. “That’s all right, Captain. I’m not put off by detail. I tend to find much of it more enlightening than excessive. Some of it proves to be quite interesting, in fact.” He waved a forefinger at the readout. “Take the report’s subsection on planetary geology, for example. Tell me more about this supervolcano. Supervolcanoes are very interesting structures. According to the data, this one was situated directly above a conjoining of three continental plates, a unique geologic nexus that was further destabilized by a number of proximate major earthquake faults. A very unstable tectonic situation; one might even say volatile. Sufficiently volatile, one could conclude, that if the volcano were to advance to a highly eruptive state, it might set off a series of quakes that in turn could severely jostle the relevant trio of continental plates. The resulting catastrophe could wipe out all life on that part of the planet. Certainly all higher life.” His gaze narrowed. “If it were to erupt.”

Kirk smiled understandingly. “Let’s hope it doesn’t, sir.”

The admiral did not smile back. “Something tells me it won’t.”

“Well, sir,” Kirk demurred, “‘volatile’ is a relative term. Far from scientifically specific. Anything is possible in such a situation. Maybe our data was off. We weren’t at Nibiru long. Under such circumstances, a lot of data has to be gathered as quickly as possible and refined later. Information needs to be adjusted in light of additional study. Even data relating to a supervolcano that might at first glance appear to be on the verge of a violent eruption.”

Pike nodded slowly, pausing a long moment before responding. “Or—maybe it won’t erupt because Mr. Spock detonated a meticulously crafted and custom-designed counter thermal Rankine wave device inside it right before a civilization that’s barely discovered the concept of the wheel happened to see a starship rising out of their ocean.” His gaze shifted to the science officer. “My apologies for the somewhat condensed summary of your report, but that is the way you describe it, is it not?”

Sudden understanding hit Kirk like a chunk of falling meteorite as he whirled on his first officer. “You . . . filed a report?”

“Following exploration of a new or lightly contacted world, all individual starship sections are required to file a full report.” He favored the familiar figure seated beside him with an unblinking stare. “Why would you assume Science would not do the same?”

“I thought you would, of course, but I assumed you’d run it by me first. Why didn’t you tell me?”

His voice flatter and more machine-like than usual, the science officer responded in a tone that only slightly mimicked the voice pattern of his friend.

“I incorrectly assumed you would tell the truth in your report.”

Kirk’s expression tightened. “I would have if not for the inconvenient exception I had to make in order to save your life. Or did you decide to omit that from your report because you considered it an ‘excessive detail’?”

“On the contrary,” the science officer responded, “I took care to include it along with all related information. It is something for which, on subsequent reflection, I am immeasurably grateful, and the very reason why I felt it necessary to take responsibility—”

Kirk would have none of it. “And that would be so noble,” he broke in, “if I wasn’t the one getting thrown under the bus, Pointy!”

Both eyebrows rose. “‘Pointy’? Is that an attempt at a derogatory reference to my—?”

“Gentlemen.” The admiral’s legs might not work as well as they once had, but there was nothing wrong with his voice. Both younger officers went silent as the senior officer rose from the seat behind his desk, utilizing his cane for support. “As you’ve clearly forgotten, please allow me to remind you: Starfleet’s mandate is to explore and observe, and if necessary, to defend. Not to interfere. The Prime Directive is the first thing new cadets memorize—not the last. No matter how stressful the circumstances, I find it difficult to believe it could be forgotten. Or worse, overlooked.” He eyed them meaningfully. “The Prime Directive supersedes everything, gentlemen. Even initiative.”

Spock responded. “Had the mission that we set ourselves gone as planned, Admiral, the indigenous sentient species of Nibiru would never have become aware of our interference. Or our presence. The operation was designed from the outset to preserve every aspect of the Prime Directive.”

“That’s a technicality.” Pike was plainly displeased by the science officer’s response.

“I am Vulcan, sir. We embrace technicality.”

“Sir, if I can be allowed to explain—” Kirk hurriedly injected.

Not hurriedly enough, as Pike glared hard at the Vulcan. “Kirk, shut up. Are you giving me attitude, Spock?”

Unfazed, the science officer continued. “I am expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously, sir, each one of which can be differently parsed. To which are you referring?”

Sitting back in his chair, the admiral began tapping the fingers of one hand on the desktop. “Logic should serve to illuminate, not complicate. Your attempt to substitute ambiguity for clarity is misguided. Out. You’re dismissed, Commander.”

Spock hesitated, cast an indecipherable look at his friend and superior officer who had not been summarily dismissed, and wordlessly departed. Behind him, he left a quietly furious Kirk and a thoroughly exasperated admiral of the fleet.

Pike started to say something, paused, chose to reload with different ammunition. “Do you have any idea what a pain in the ass you are?”

Kirk kept his reply as even as possible. “I think so, sir.”

The admiral nodded slowly. “Good. That’s progress, I suppose. Now, tell me what you did wrong. What’s the lesson to be learned here?”

Without glancing back at the doorway or cracking a smile, Kirk replied stone-faced. “Never trust a Vulcan?”

Pike’s frustration as well as his irritation came through plainly in his reply. “You can’t even answer the question without injecting impertinence. Despite what it says on your record, I have to keep reminding myself that you’re actually a starship captain. If not for your last-minute heroics in saving Earth from . . .” His voice trailed away, momentarily lost in memory of a recent near-catastrophe. Then he straightened in the chair. “What it boils down to is that you lied. You lied, Kirk, on an official report.”

The younger man’s reply was impassioned. “The intent was to observe the relevant rules to the letter, sir. Which we did. Had we not proceeded with the designed mission, it is highly likely a developing intelligent species would have been wiped out. Or at least had their maturation set back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Even worse, there was a distinct possibility that if we had held back, there would have been no interference with the Prime Directive, because you can’t interfere with a species that’s been rendered extinct. The decision to chance revealing our presence was wholly mine. Mr. Spock disagreed, and was ready to disagree to the death.” His expression twisted. “My saving his life caused him no end of anguish, or the Vulcan equivalent thereof. Though I believe he has since come to terms with still being alive. With a Vulcan, one can never be sure of such things.”

Pike was not appeased. “You think the rules don’t apply to you because you disagree with them.”

“With all due respect, sir.” Kirk spoke deferentially, all trace of snarkiness gone. “I thought that’s why you talked me into signing up in the first place. Why you took a personal interest in my progress. Why you gave me your ship.”

The admiral sighed. Only when he spoke again did his fingers cease drumming on the desk. “No, I gave you my ship because I saw greatness in you.” He hesitated. “And now I see you haven’t got an ounce of humility.”

Unwavering, Kirk met his mentor’s gaze. “What was I supposed to do? Let Spock die?”

“You’re missing the point.”

The younger man’s voice rose. “I don’t think I am, sir. What would you have done?”

“I wouldn’t have risked my first officer’s life in the first place. You were supposed to survey a planet—not alter its destiny. You violated a dozen Starfleet regulations and almost got everyone under your command killed!”

Kirk refused to back down. “Except I didn’t. You know how many crewmembers I’ve lost since—”

“That’s your problem,” Pike harshly interrupted. “You think you’re infallible. You think you can’t make a mistake. There’s a pattern with you, that rules are for other people.”

“Some should be,” Kirk muttered.

Pike ignored the comment as he continued. “And what’s worse is using blind luck to justify your playing God.”

Both men went silent for a moment before the admiral continued, more quietly. “Given the circumstances, this has been brought to Admiral Marcus’s attention. He convened a special tribunal, to which I was not invited. You understand what Starfleet regulations mandate be done at this point.”

Kirk did not, but as he pondered the alternatives open to such a tribunal, a terrible realization slowly began to dawn.

Pike confirmed it. “They’ve taken the Enterprise away from you. And they’re sending you back to the Academy.”

When he could finally speak again, Kirk tried to defend himself, even though deep inside he was beginning to realize that the decision, along now with everything else, was beyond his control. “Admiral, listen . . .”

“No.” Pike was having none of it—frustrated, hurt, and angry, he seemed no longer inclined to listen to anything his disgraced protégé might have to say. “No, I’m not going to listen. Why should I listen? You don’t listen to anyone but yourself. No, I can’t listen!” Realizing his efforts were futile, Kirk went silent.

“You don’t comply with the rules,” Pike continued more calmly. “You don’t take responsibility for anything. And you. Don’t. Respect. The chair. You know why?”

His next words fell on the already stunned Kirk like a hammer.

“Because you’re not ready for it.”