Today I Read…The Silenced Tale

theSilencedTale-frontFinal-REUTSToday I read The Silenced Tale by J.M. Frey, book 3 of The Accidental Turn trilogy.

They have survived two adventures, and finally Lucy and Forsyth Turn Piper can settle down in the Overrealm and raise their daughter Alis. Life is peaceful for them, as they get ready to celebrate Alis’ first birthday.

But for Forsyth’s Writer, Elgar Reed, things are slightly less peaceful. His typewriter has been stolen from the Smithsonian, he is trying to help prepare for the upcoming and top-secret TV show based on his The Tales of Kintyre Turn series, he can’t write a word for fear of what might happen to his characters, and he has some kind of a stalker. But he doesn’t want to worry Forsyth. After all, any enemy he has is human, right? The cops can handle it. It’s not like the Viceroy has come back for a third time. Except Lucy keeps muttering something about “Fucking trilogies”…

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I posted the cover reveal a couple of weeks ago as part of the blog tour for the book, and today is the actual launch day for the final part of the Accidental Turn trilogy (Though I am assured by J.M. Frey that there will be a third novella coming at some point to join Ghosts and Arrivals). The Silenced Tale follows The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale, and brings the adventure into the Overrealm along with Forsyth, Pip, and Elgar.

This book focuses on Elgar Reed even more than The Forgotten Tale did. We spend a lot of time with him and his problems. He has always been a very specific type of person, and he’s very set in his ways. Frankly, he’s a sexist, selfish jerk, who has been coasting on writing a very popular fantasy series a long time ago. He is someone who is probably pretty familiar to anyone in fandom. Now we see his own problems, and how he is slowly starting to change thanks in large part to meeting Forsyth and having him bring Pip into Elgar’s life. They are family, which he hasn’t had for a very long time, if ever, and he does care about what they say. Even if he needs to be told a few times until he remembers. And occasionally needs Pip to verbally smack his nose with a rolled up newspaper about assuming women are there only to fetch him coffee and be groped. Though even Pip needs to work on her intersectional feminism, as we see in one particular scene.

The most important thing to remember is that this is, as Pip puts it, a “fucking trilogy,” and things must always come in threes. Three trips between Hain and the Overrealm. Three attempts to defeat the villain. Three deaths…

I’ve read an early draft at the start of this year that J.M. sent me, and recently a more finalized draft that I received from her last month. What I take away the most from the end of this book, is my dissatisfaction. I want more! I think the main story is done, but there is so much more to be discovered about this world, about both Hain and the Overrealm. I want to see what happens with the Tales of Kintyre Turn  TV show. I want more information about what has been happening in Hain, and what will happen now that Elgar has stopped writing, and how will the characters’ lives develop even more away from what he had planned. I want to know about Kintyre and Forsyth’s early life together as brothers. It’s getting my fanfic instincts going, and I just don’t have the time to write all of the stories I want. And I know that while J.M. does have one more novella planned, she has other projects in the pipeline that I won’t spoil here. So if anyone finds any fanfic, let me know? There is one particular scene in The Silenced Tale when Forsyth is telling Elgar stories about growing up with Kintyre, and I really want those stories…

Also, J.M., was that first death really necessary? You’re still not forgiven for killing Kalp, you know. What do you have against cute characters?

Also, regarding character X from The Forgotten Tale? I was totally right, and I want that story too.

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“THIS IS ABBY,” Elgar says, about twenty minutes later. He is smiling too widely, and his eyes are too bright – he is in what he calls ‘Convention Mode’: gregarious, energetic, his jokes flat and desperate, his smile false. As a fellow natural introvert, I can see how exhausting the performance is. He is trying too hard and he is too ‘over the top’ as a
result.
He slings his arm around a young woman with large dark eyes, and long dark hair. She is dressed in a great deal of bubblegum pink and misty mint, from her sneakers to her leggings, to her knee-length skirt, which is patterned with ice-cream cones, and the matching scarf over a long-sleeved shirt. She is terrifically pretty, too, very carefully
made up with false lashes and the careful sort of artistically intense makeup that Pip has called ‘contouring’ and ‘a massive pain in the ass’ and ‘a waste of a perfectly good hour of my life.’ Bless my wife, but she does reject the traditionally feminine with a vigor that nearly borders on insulting to those that embrace it.
However, the young lady before me seems to be the exact opposite of a simpering femme, wearing her pastels and makeup with a sort of warrior-like pride which I admire. She is clearly of Indian descent, not African, but I am reminded so intensely of Captain Isobin for a moment that the déjà vu fills my breast with a brief, intense stab of
homesickness. Though, of course, this young woman is neither pirate, nor captain; and unlike Isobin, not filled with the raucous self-confidence required to push my Creator back on his arse for his presumption. She is clearly not comfortable with the way he has not only taken liberties with her personal space without asking, and he has just as
clearly gotten her name wrong. Her badge, which marks her as a guest liaison,
says “Ahbni”.
“Hi,” Pip says, holding her hand out for a shake, and Ahbni uses the excuse to duck out from under Elgar’s arm.
“I’ll be able to tell her apart from the rest of the brown girls because she’s the hot one,” Elgar goes on, sticking his foot further down his throat.
Pip pinches the bridge of her nose and groans. “I honestly can’t tell if it’s the meds talking, or the stress.”
“Actually I–” Ahbni begins, but Elgar talks over her.
“You can get my friend a coffee or something, right, Abby?”
“I’m the assistant guest liaison, Mr. Reed, and I need to talk to you about–“
Elgar laughs. “Cute. No, no, grab your boss and send him my way, okay, sweetie?” And then he gives her a little shove. She steps away, off-balanced, and Elgar’s eyes drop to… oh. They drop with the full intention to watch her walk away.
Beside me, my wife makes a noise like a strangling cat.
“Lucy?” Elgar asks, having heard the sound as well, bushy eyebrows knitted with confusion. “Are you okay? Abby can you –“
“It’s Ahbni,” the liaison corrects.
“Ahbni,” Elgar repeats, not entirely sure where he missteped. “That’s a cute fantasy handle.”
“Nope. It’s my name,” she corrects.
“Oh!” Elgar laughs. “Were your parents fantasy fans, then?”
“They’re Telugu,” Ahbni says and I get the distinct impression that she is considering using her badge lanyard to garrote my creator. I am doing my best to control the urge
to laugh.
“I might use it though, you know. It’s a good name. The beautiful Princess Ahbni, with skin like fresh roasted cafe latte–“
“No,” Pip snaps, smacking Elgar’s good arm like an errant puppy. “Bad Writer. Women of color are not dessert products.”
Elgar jams his hands into his pockets and scowls. “It’s supposed to be a compliment–”
“I swear to fuck, one of these days I’m going to throttle you myself,” Pip says, deadpan and staring straight at Elgar. She’s got her index finger stretched out and tapping him right in the chest, finger-nail clicking against his plastic button. “You know that being terrified out of your mind is no excuse to fall back into bad habits, right?”
Elgar immediately looks ashamed. “I… you’re right. I didn’t think–“
“Try to,” Pip says. Then she blows out an annoyed breath, then forces herself to flex her fist out, runs her fingers through her hair, and pointedly turns away from him. “Ahbni, if you’d like to tell us where the coffee is, I can make sure that my husband fetches it for his
own damn self. And then you and I can review where Mr. Neanderthal over there needs to be, and by when.”
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Today I read…Arrivals

Image result for arrivals j.m. freyToday I read Arrivals, An Accidental Turn novella by J.M Frey. 

The quest is over. The Reader has been returned to her home, the villain is defeated, and the hero has found his One True Love. And now the hero rides off in to the sunset with his sidekick, who is also his true love…wait…is that right? Is this the way it’s supposed to go?

This is not the way things are Supposed To Go.

So…what happens next?

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This is the novella that was published in the spring of 2017 (I’m still behind on my reviews, if you can’t tell), and it takes place immediately following The Untold Tale. Like Ghosts, this story is told from Bevel Dom’s point of view, and about how his life is turned completely upside down. For years, he and Kintyre have saved the day, and then ridden off together towards their next adventure, possibly after sharing whatever damsel they have rescued. They sleep together, but only with a woman in between them. They return to Turn Hall, but only for a visit. They are partners for life, but the aren’t life partners. And maybe neither of them is really happy, but it’s The Way Things Are. And as a storyteller, Bevel always knows the way the story is supposed to go.

But now things really have changed. Forsyth is gone, with his Reader lover Pip, and someone needs to go back to Turn Hall and run things. To take care of the tenants, and the free schools Forsyth established, and be the local Lordling. And of course, to tell everyone back home that Forsyth will not be returning (maybe they’ll leave out the bits about how he’s left for another realm with a legendary creature though, that just gets complicated). There is no longer a Shadow Hand of the king, to run the kingdom’s intelligence service. And thanks to Lucy Piper, Kintyre and Bevel have finally declared themselves to each other–it’s not just sex, it’s love. It’s commitment. It’s hard and scary and confusing and what on earth does it all mean? I mean, they’re together, but they’re not married, and Kintyre needs an heir, and how will their relationship be different, and how should it be different, and should it be different, it’s been working for years, was it really working, but they’re not happy, are they happy, Kintyre just takes Bevel for granted, but now he’s doing things for Bevel and he’s doing them WRONG!

This is a story about how Happily Ever After is actually pretty complicated, and requires a whole lot of work to make sure that you both really are happy.

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As soon as I get close enough, Andvari grabs my hand and pumps it energetically, her grin sharkish behind her fire-red beard. Her hair is down for the night, the braids of rulership now loose, waist-length waves which swing around when she turns to punch Kintyre in the kidneys.

“About time, you clueless granite-skull!” she bawls joyfully.

Kintyre doubles over, not expecting the blow, and Sviur rises from where he and their son Virfur – by the Writer, how he’s grown! – was practice-strumming his father’s lute. Sviur’s lost none of the grace his dancing days instilled in him, and he offers both of us a polite greeting. We shake hands, clasping at the elbows to check for concealed daggers in the Dwarvish way. Sviur’s golden fall of hair is loose too, as it must be because of his common birth, but now it’s threaded with white. The braid at his chin is almost entirely colorless. Much moreso than I was expecting.  Virfur comes to stand beside Sviur, shy in the way young children are. He’s probably just on the brink of ten years old, but that is still young for a Dwarf – closer to our two or three. When we saw him last, though, he was still a babe in arms.

Some small secret part of me pangs with hurt. I was hoping to hold the baby again. How silly of me to have forgotten that the world below the Cinch wouldn’t just freeze like winter ice and wait for us to come back. Ridiculous.

“Sit, sit,” Nyrath admonishes. She bustles us onto cushions on the floor, which is what we prefer in order to be eye-level with the Dwarves when we’re in casual company. Sviur passes us both cut-crystal glasses of the clear root-vegetable liquor that dwarves specialize in. Kintyre downs his immediately, in one gulp. I shoot Sviur a look of apology, but the Dwarf shakes his head. He’s used to Kintyre’s manners by now, and just refills the glass without comment. Kintyre sips this second one, at least.

Virfur, curiosity overcoming his shyness, crawls immediately into Kintyre’s legs and stretches up to stroke his naked chin with wonder. Kintyre clamps down on his grimace and picks the toddler up from under the armpits and deposits him on my lap. I set aside my glass hastily, putting it up on a side table, out of the child’s reach. His parents laugh.

“Not one for children, Kintyre?” Andvari asks in that rumbling contralto of hers.

Nyrath narrows her eyes at Kintyre, but says nothing. Neither does my lover.

“It’s not that Kin dislikes children,” I say, and I’m reminded, sharply, that Pip had once called me Kintyre’s Walking Apology. At the time it hadn’t annoyed me, or registered as an insult, because that was part of my relationship with the man who had been my master, then my friend, and then my brother-in-arms. But now, sitting beside him on the floor of a Queen’s salon, holding the heir presumptive, and as Kin’s Paried elevated in rank and supposedly now equal to Kin, I’m still making excuses for his poor behavior. I am frustrated by the lazy, entitled assumption that I would smooth things over, that I will hold what Kintyre doesn’t want to, that I will fetch and carry and cook and bow my whims to his.

Bloody aggravating.

“Then why?” Nyrath asks, forcing me to continue the lame half-explanation, half-veiled request for forgiveness for the insult of passing off a prince like he was a sack of rotten meat.

“He just… doesn’t really know what to do with them until they’re old enough for him to roughhouse with,” I say lamely. “He likes my gaggle of nieces and nephews to be sure enough, but more so now that they’re all walking and talking on their own.”

The dwarves seem to take this at face value, and attention turns back to conversation. In my lap, Virfur wobbles his way upright. The boy doesn’t seem to mind whose lap he’s in, as long as he can explore this oddity of a smooth face. Kin and I indulged in a shave with hot water and proper lotions before we answered the Queen’s bidding, and it feels fantastic to finally be scruff-less, after so long on the road.  Must be odd to the boy, though.

Oh, that will be one of the advantages of our return to Turn Hall, to be sure. A daily shave, with proper tools. Sublime.

But Pip’s words are circling in my mind, distracting me from what’s being said, taking on a sharper and sharper tone with each repetition. Kintyre’s Walking Apology. Aren’t you sick of it, Bevel? Something querulous and cranky lodges in my guts, something shapeless but quickly solidifying, something unspoken but pushing against the hollow of my throat.

Something… something…

I’m the only one in my immediate family who is unmarried and childless. While Kin and I are officially Paired, we haven’t made is known that we are a Romantic Pair by pledging our Troth. It hadn’t seemed important before, when all I wanted was a visual acknowledgment that Kin was mine. Let others see our shared Colors and assume we were only pledged as Brothers In Arms, if they prefer. What does it matter to me if their assumption is wrong?

But now, with watching Andvari pull her pregnant wife in beside her on the wing-backed chaise, the pleased curl of their mouths and the striking picture of their very different skin tones mixing together as they clasp hands, seeing the way Sviur joins us on the cushions so he can lean back against his wives’ legs, the way they are all so content and unashamed and casually public in their displays of affection… I’m struck, suddenly and hard, with a kind of envy I never thought I would ever experience.

Married.

I want… I want to… I want. But I don’t know what it’s that I want.

It’s not skin, or warmth, or sex. I have those. It’s not even affection, because Kin gives that freely, too. Gifts it like a Lord bestowing bags of grain to the pathetic, needy, starving peasants he has made pathetic, and needy, and starving by his own blind and selfish nobility.

No, it’s something else that I want.

Kintyre is too busy chatting, already sharing news of our latest quest – how we had fled Turn Hall in our individual rages, how we had separated and come back together, how we had confessed and hashed out our relationship, how we had scented Bootknife’s trail when we had stopped in Nevand to commission our Colors, how we had followed him down to the Valley of the Kings – to see the upset on my face.

I feel it growing out of my guts, infecting my expression, my posture, and I’m … I’m angry and I can’t… I can’t…

Virfur catches it, and babbles something sweetly soothing at me in the secret language of the Dwarves, one that I haven’t had the privilege to learn.

If you put on the Shadow’s Mask, you would know it, I think, and the thought jars against my wallowing self-pity so quickly that the room spins. You would understand the boy if you put on the Mask. You would understand everything.

“And what about you, Sir Dom?” Sviur asks me, and I blink hard, trying to wrench my brain around to the question he asked.

“What?”

“I asked you how you felt the morning of your Pairing. I had a stomach filled with bubbling sulfur the whole week before Andvari and I got married.” He flashes a brilliant smile at his first wife and she threads her free hand through his hair, affectionate. “What were you like before your wedding?”

Resentment boils up faster than I can contain it. “Yeah, well, we’re not really married, are we though?” I say, and then click my teeth shut hard enough that the whole room can hear it.

By the Writers’ left nutsack, is that what’s been brewing in the cauldron of my frustration?

“We’re Paired, though, Bev,” Kintyre says affably, like all the hurt in what I just spoke has passed him by completely. “And it’s not like two blokes can get married among the humanfolk anyway. Not married married.”

“And since when have we ever cared about what humanfolk normally do?” I say, and in my arms Virfur plops down on my knees, making me wince. He reaches for the lute and strums the strings, a discordant twang, and looks up at me with the expectation of praise and a grin that matches his father’s. Instead I hand the boy off to his mother. I cannot bare to have a child in my arms right now. A child that’s not… that’s not… but there never will be, never could be a child that’s…

Andvari gathers Virfur up, and he hides under her beard, both of them startled by the abrupt arrival of my foul mood.

I swallow hard, trying to pull this strange, roiling ball of emotion and confession back down into my chest. But I’ve repressed my discontent for so long it seems like now that the cork has been popped from that bottle, I can’t jam it back in.

“I… thank you for the invitation, and the drink,” I say, waving at my untouched glass. “But I’m tired.”

“Bevel—” Andvari and Kintyre say at the same time, but I’m already on my feet.

“Goodnight, your majesty, your highnesses,” I say with a curt bow, and then I retreat with my tail between my legs.

Today I Read…I Like Myself!

Image result for i like myself karen beaumontToday I read I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont, and illustrated by David Catrow.

I like myself. I like my insides and my outsides and what I think and what I do. I like who I am, when I’m silly or creative or messy or quiet or wild or calm. I like me!

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I know I’ve been reviewing a lot of picture books lately, but a) I seem to have a lot of small children in my life who need new books lately (all small children need new books), and b) you all seem to like these reviews a lot more, based on new likes and followers whenever I post reviews of picture books compared to posts about anything else.

I found this book at the book store while I was searching for a first birthday gift for Second Niece, cousin to Tiny Niece and Giant Nephew. (Still working on a better name for Second Niece.) I like Karen Beaumont and David Catrow–I’ve previously reviewed their collaboration I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More. It’s a very positive message about self-esteem and being who you are, and liking it. And kids will laugh at things like polka-dot lips, pig snouts, and giant warthog tusks. The little girl in the book is creative and active, roller-blading, pretending to be a rocket ship, and riding a bicycle worthy of Dr. Suess. It’s a good book for very casual diversity as well–the little girl is black, though it isn’t directly relevant to the story, but one particular picture has her waking up in bed with truly wild natural hair, about four times bigger than she is. It is powerful to have that image paired with the lines “Even when I look a mess, I still don’t like me any less,” since I know there are still controversies about attitudes towards natural black hair. This isn’t a new book by any means, as it was published in 2004, but this is still a great lesson I would like to have Second Niece (and Tiny Niece and Giant Nephew too) grow up knowing. After all, I like her an awful lot, she should like herself too.

Today I Read…Chicken Butt!

Image result for chicken butt erica perlToday I read Chicken Butt! by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Henry Cole.

Hey Dad, guess what?

What?

CHICKEN BUTT!

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I borrowed this book from the library and read it to Tiny Niece. Big mistake…she LOVED it! Pretty sure it’s because it says the word “butt” and right now toilet jokes are the height of humour to her, but to be fair she’s four. (And maybe I was hoping she’d like it and drive her parents nuts with saying “chicken butt! chicken butt!” over and over again. Being an auntie is the best revenge you can get on your siblings.) The next time I saw her, she asked me to read it again, but I had to tell her that I had returned it to the library. So Tiny Niece looks up at me with those big blue eyes and says “Auntie, will you buy the book for me?”

You know what really works? Asking a librarian for a book. She’s a clever one, my Tiny Niece. And she’s starting Senior Kindergarten, so that totally counts as a present-giving occasion, right? And books are educational, so it’s not like spoiling her and buying her something she asked for for no reason….Yes, I’m justifying, and yes she’s getting the book.

It is an entertaining read, using a callback formula, where the child asks the father questions and the dad responds. Any caregiver will be familiar with the endless joke “Guess what?” “What?” “Guess what?” “What?” “Guess-” “OK, does this joke ever end? Not if a toddler is telling it. The illustrations of Dad’s face will amuse the adult reader, as he starts off indulgent and gradually gets visibly tired of the joke, but the son still thinks it’s hilarious. The vocabulary is simple enough that the adult can read the dad’s part, and the child can read the son’s part, to read together, or this would be a great read aloud, either with a partner or with audience participation. The illustrations are great, full-page and bright, and the facial expressions are especially well-done.

The only question is, how much will my sister and her husband want to kill me when Tiny Niece starts chanting “CHICKEN BUTT! CHICKEN BUTT! CHICKEN BUTT!” at the top of her lungs? Oh well, they lived through Giant Nephew loving Toot, so they’ll just have to endure Chicken Butt too.

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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 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.