Scattered Thoughts Summary of Reviews for October 2013

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October 2013 Summary of Book Reviews

It was a terrific month for books.  Sarah Black came out with her sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord titled The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari.  In my opinion it is the best book she has written to date, wide in scope with subtly nuanced characters that stay with you long after you have finished the story.  Also the Pulp Friction group of authors, (Lee Brazil, Havan Fellows, Laura Harner and T.A. Webb) start to bring their interconnected series to a close with 4 outstanding stories to equal the memorable characters to be found within. S.A. McAuley also brought us the second novel in The Borders War series, Dominant Predator.  I love those men, and need more of their history and complicated relationship.  Sue Brown gave us The Isle of Wishes, second in the Isle of Wight series, plus Ariel Tachna’s Lang Downs series (one of my favorite) expanded to five with Conquer The Flames, a “must read” book for all.

Well, I will let this list speak for itself.  So many great books here that there is sure to be something for everyone.  Grab up your notepad, IPad or paper, and write down the titles for those stories you might have missed.  I have linked my reviews to each book.  Happy readings!

Lady Reading Book in Chair 50 style    


5 Star Rating:

Conquer The Flames (Lang Downs #4) by Ariel Tachna, contemporary
Chance In Hell (Chances Are #5) by Lee Brazil, contemporary
Darkest Knight (City Knight #5) by T.A. Webb
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley
Duplicity (Triple Threat #5) by Laura Harner
Knights Out (City Knight #4) by T.A. Webb
The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black (contemporary, military)
Wicked Truths (Wicked’s Way #5) by Havan Fellows, contemporary
Wild Onions by Sarah Black (supernatural)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

Enigma by Lloyd A. Meeker (4.25)(contemporary, paranormal)
Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore (4.5 )(fantasy)
Home Team by Jameson Dash (4)(contemporary)
Isle of Wishes (Isle of Wight #2) by Sue Brown (contemporary)
Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)
Northern Star by Ethan Day (4.25)(contemporary)
Playing Ball Anthology (4.75)(contemporary, historical)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Burning Now by A.R. Moler (3)(fantasy, supernatural)
Fool For Love by Cassandra Gold (3)(contemporary)
Strange Angels by Andrea Speed (3.75)(supernatural)
The Night Visitor by Ewan Creed (3 stars)(contemporary, supernatural)
Wireless by L.A. Witt (3.5)(science fiction)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Justice (Leopard Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford (2)(shifters, supernatural)
The Unwanted, the Complete Collection by Westbrooke Jameson (2.5)(science fiction)

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:

None this month

Other Blogs:
Author Spotlight: Havan Fellows on Wicked’s Way Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Lee Brazil on Chances Are Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: T.A. Webb on City Knight Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Laura Harner on Triple Threat series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Wild Onions
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Writing Old Men and the second General release

Review: Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Goblins, Book 1In the 17th Century, the ancient sprawl of Epping forest is bursting with magic and those who go unseen by human eyes: the elves who rule the summer court, and the goblins who rule the winter court. It is said that if a human catches the eye of one of the fey, they are either doomed or blessed.

The Goblin King has seven sons, a number said to be unlucky.  For most of them, home and duties is not enough and when they go exploring chance encounters with humans change their lives forever.

Book 1 contains the stories of Wulfren and  Quiller, goblin princes and the humans that changed their lives.

Goblins is a magical book on so many levels.  From that cover that pulls you in with its haunting and haunted young beings to the lyrical and imaginative descriptions of Epping forest and its dwellers, this book kept me awake thinking about the scenes and settings I found within.

Honestly this is a book who needs more than one rating because of all its standout elements, including that miraculous cover.  But the characters and plots for each brother varied enough for me to rate each story individually.  So let’s start with my least favorite and the first in the book, Wulfren and the Warlock:

1. Wulfren and the Warlock.  Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Wulfren is the seventh son of the Goblin King and the youngest.  Wulfren also has the least amount of magic as the magic increases with age.  A very young spirit, Wulfren is half elf and half goblin. His mother is an elf banished for her passion and love for the Goblin King, she remains the favorite of his consorts and the mother of two of his sons.   His curiosity and youth get the better of him when Wulfren and his brother Garnet spy a warlock in their woods and play pranks on him.    When the warlock turns the tables on Wulfren and captures him, both of their lives change forever.

I loved so much of this story.  The plot is wonderful, the settings other worldly and the descriptions of everything within so unbelievably magical that I never wanted to leave.  So where is the problem?  With one character, that of Wulfrin.  Wulfrin is a very young spirit, so young in fact that his dialog and antics place him in the realm of a 12 to 14 year old.  He himself says at one point to the warlock after being captured:

“I… I have over seven hundred seasons, now. Seven hundred and twenty,” I added.

“Seasons? The seasons … But that would make you …” He sounded surprised, his eyes widening. “Age aside, you must be a young spirit.”

“I’m not young!” I said, indignant. “I do everything the adults do.”

Yes, Wulfren is young, adorably so.  He acts on impulse, doesn’t like doing his chores and feels shuffled aside at his father’s court because no one let’s him do anything.  Any one who has had a child or is familiar with children has heard this plaintive voice a hundred times or more.  It’s the voice of a child and Tushmore has captured it perfectly.  So why do I have issues with this?  Because immediately the Warlock binds him with silver chains and drags him off to bed, introducing elements of bdsm and non con sexual activities to basically what is a immature goblin.  No matter how I tried looking at this aspect of the story, the squick factor was just too big to overlook.  Time and again, I picture Wulfren as Max from Where the Wild Things Are roaring his terrible roar., claws included.  Not an image Tushmore would want to evoke. Even after both admit they have feelings for each other, it still feels like a barely pubescent boy who wants to please an older man, doing small chores around the house and pleading for his attention.  When they are parted, Wulfren writes a letter to his warlock and its contents are those that any tween writing to Tiger Beat would recognize.   Even if you accept that these two characters have a loving relationship, it never feels real or believable, just terribly one sided.

And that is the fault of Ash, the warlock.  We really never get a firm grip on his character.  Who is he?  Why is he by himself on the edge of the woods?  He remains an enigma for the entire story, and that makes it hard for us to believe and connect with his relationship to Wulfren.  Everyone else comes alive in this story with the exception of Ash.  Had his character been more fleshed out and Wulfren made an older soul, then this story would have a completely different tone.

Still, the vivid descriptions and magical air that Tushmore imparts to her tale make this story a lush visit to hidden kingdoms.  Here is a look as the goblins get ready for a celebration when Wulfren is brought home:

They led me downstairs. Random bursts of song filled the air as musicians tuned their instruments, and quarrelled over who played what. Outside in the dark, the court gathered amongst the inner ring, with the toadstools towering above us. Sprites had lit the dew drops that covered the toadstool heads, and they sparkled. Fires lit on twig ends were jabbed into the ground for torches. Brownies rushed about with acorn shells full of wine in their arms, sloshing liquid as they hurried.

“Father has even broken out the mead,” Garnet whispered to me. “Hurry, before it’s all gone.”

I dream of lit dew drops and fire flies tucked into cobwebs to light the great hall.  Just so magical.   Scenes like this elevated this story above the main relationship.

2. Quiller and the Runaway Prince:  Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King.  He is half goblin and half bird spirit like his mother, another one of the King’s consorts.  When winter is finished and spring comes to the woods once more, Quiller and the rest of the goblins are free of their duties for two seasons and its time to play.  Flying through the woods, Quiller sees a fallen man and his injured horse deep in the forest.  The horse snorts and tells Quiller he doesn’t think much of the young man but Quiller sees and feels something for the human right from the start.  When Quiller tells the young man that “all runaway princes are mine”, a journey begins that neither is quite prepared for.

This story has it all, great characters, believable relationship between beings of basically the same age (emotionally and intellectually), and the vivid, imaginative descriptions that make this book a must read on every level.  This is how the story begins:

The start of spring, 1648.

Winter was over, at long last. Tonight we were all in our larger forms— as tall as elves— and dressed in vein-thin leaves. It was the celebration to welcome Eostre, goddess of spring. Our home, the rotten ring, had been decorated in her honour. Dewdrops were lit, and fireflies were hung in cobwebs. The musicians piped up and played as the first glimmer of Eostre appeared through the trees. Pale light played on her shapely edges, like it shone from within. The form she took to visit us was more elf-like than anything; tall and graceful, with long, sleek hair of many colours.

Hair that moved. As Eostre stepped inside our ring of rotten tree trunks, I could see her hair crawled with insect larvae. She paid it no mind, as she cast an amused eye over the ring, then addressed Father. “Goblin king. Your line was missing one pair of claws this winter.”

Father’s face twitched ever so slightly before he replied. “Yes, Goddess, we … We managed without.”

We know from the previous story that the missing set of claws belongs to Wulfren, the youngest son of the Goblin King.  The King and his subjects are responsible for Fall and Winter.  And during those seasons, the King holds Court but the scepter passes to the elves in the spring and there the Goddess will hold court through the summer months.  I loved the image of the Goddess, Eostre, her hair full of larvae that writhe as she walks. Its mesmerizing, opulent and yet somewhat repulsive. Yet, Tushmore is not finished with Eostre.  Here is the scene as the Goddess leaves the company of goblins:

The ceremony was almost over; Eostre bid our ring farewell. In each footprint she left, fresh shoots and flowers grew, yet without her touch they soon wilted. All flowers died in the rotten ring.

Eostre inclined her head to Father. “Raedren, goblin king of the southern realm, thank you for the winter.”

“Goddess. Peace be.” Father bowed deeply to her in return, his cloak of cobwebs fluttering around him.

“Peace be.” Eostre smiled, then turned with a swish of hair and flowers. Her hair’s colour was ever changing, like the leaves in the trees. Butterflies and mayflies now crawled from her hair, spread their wings, and took flight. She left in a trail of flying insects and wilting flowers, on her way to the summer court, and the elves.

How wondrous, how enchanting!  And the spell is set for the rest of the story.  I loved the characters here, each a small treasure to be held and marveled at again and again.  Quiller is just the start of a cast we will connect with and remember.  Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King and therefore a prince himself.  But his mother is a bird spirit, a crow and his personality bears the hallmarks of a bird.  He is flighty, scattered in his thoughts and attentions and he recognizes that.  Just his actions as he flies through the forest gives ample example of this character and light hearted nature. Cashel is also a prince, a human one.  But magic aside, these two are each other’s equal in courage, in outlook, and finally in love.  They are everything that is missing from the first story.

Tushmore also uses Quiller’s journey to bring a dark realistic look at the times and ways of humanity.  Along the way, Quiller talks to a group of crows to see if they know where his mother resides.  They reply to look near the gibbet:

“Gibbet?” I asked, puzzled.

“Wood the humans hang other humans on,” he explained. “We peck their bones clean. Nice when it’s dried in the sun.”

“How strange,” I said. “Where is this gibbet?”

“Find the human path,” the crow said. “East of here. Before you get to the human place.”

“Oh, fear not, I shan’t be visiting any humans!” I cawed.

But of course, he does, flying past human remains, evidence of the cruel nature of the times.  Tushmore blends together the magical and the human worlds with a smooth, gifted touch.  When Quiller meets Cashel, a human of royal blood, Cromwell and the Parliament are laying waste to the people and lands all around.  None of that really matters to Quiller but Cashel is mired deep in the midst of political intrigue and fears for his life.  So into the castle goes Quiller (in bird form of course) where Cashel is living with his cousins.  Black deeds abound inside, threatening Cashel’s life and those of his relatives.  With a magical being in the middle, all sorts of things start to happen, and the reader will love every single minute.   I mean, Melanie Tushmore gives us everything we could want and more.  There’s poison, nefarious goings on, villains, a witch and of course, love.  And it’s all believable, and layered and complete.  Well mostly.

These are just the first two books and there are seven sons, five more to go.  So I expect to see Quiller and Cashel appear in the books to come.  Quiller still has his duties to attend to in the fall and winter.  Plus I don’t expect the Goblin King to willingly lose another son to the humans and that is not addressed here.   Still this story is quite marvelous, worthy of the price of this book alone.

After reading Goblins, I can’t wait to see what the author does for the rest of the sons.  I want more of her extraordinary descriptions and spellbinding imagination.  I highly recommend this to you all even with my reservations concerning the first story.

Cover design by Ria Chantler.  This cover is exquisite, one of the best of 2013.  The more closely I look at it, the better it gets.  just remarkable.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published September 25th 2012)
original title Goblins, Book One
ISBN13 9781620042373
edition language English

And I Saw A Sea of Squirrels….and the Week Ahead in Reviews!

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And Then I Saw A Sea of Squirrels……grey squirrel drawing

Its fall and my patio and lawns are full of nature’s bounty, aka nuts.  Lots and lots of nuts and therefore lots and lots of squirrels (and deer but that’s for another story from this park naturalist).   This year is a high cycle year so all the oaks, hickories, and beech trees in my backyard were groaning under the weight of the nuts they bore.  And have now loosed them upon every surface available, turning every spare inch into a prickly hulled,DSCN4046 brown blanket or a mosaic of shiny hard bits and pieces of acorns to go along with the prickly hulls of the beech nut.  Of course the green golf balls of the black walnut are dropping too, sounding like hail during the worst of storms.

And my dogs hate this.

I don’t blame them.  Those prickly little bits and pieces hurt the pads of their paws, jagged hulls of shells courtesy of sharp squirrel teeth are just the right size to work themselves between the pads and wedging themselves firmly to great pain and discomfort.  No amount of sweeping is stopping the tide.  It’s relentless, a constant cacophony of sound followed by a carpet of discarded husks.DSCN4053

I think most people don’t realize that nuts are cyclical.  That each year the harvest is that much greater than the year before with the various animal populations that depend upon them for food expanding along with them.   And then the year that follows the one with the biggest yield is all but barren.  No nuts, or at least very little.  People start reporting seeing skinny or starving animals.  And they reason that such a thing helps to keep populations down.  And certainly that is true for the present day.  But not always.

Did you know people once saw seas of squirrels as they migrated through?

Yes, Eastern gray squirrels used to migrate, following the cycles of the oaks, and hickories and other nut bearing trees.  Back when the midwestern and eastern forests were one contiguous mass of forest.  Back before we started to carve out our settlements, and farms and cities. Back when there were only small farmsteads and villages that dotted the forests, tiny punctuation marks of humanity.

Then the animals lived much different lives than they do today.

One of my college professors,  Dr. Vagn Flyger wrote a report for the University of Maryland on a squirrel migration as recent as 1968.  Oh, how he loved squirrels and imparted that love to his students!  And this recent migration, from Vermont to Georgia, fascinated him.  You can read it here.  But even more fascinating are the earlier account of waves of squirrels so massive that it took days before the end of the hoard could be seen.  Or as Robert Kennicott in his article “The Quadrupeds of Illinois” in The Annual Report of the Commissioner of gray squirrelPatents for 1846 stated  “it took a month for the mess of squirrels to pass through the area.”*

Just imagine what that must have looked like! Tens of thousands, perhaps millions of squirrels following the wild harvest through the vast forest of the midwest and east, flowing like a grey furred river, leaping and bounding over every surface as they passed their way through the immediate area.   Here is another quote (from that  *same article ):

*In 1811, Charles Joseph Labrobe wrote in The Rambler in North America of a vast squirrel migration that autumn in Ohio: “A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some great and universal impulse, which none can know but the Spirit that gave them being, left their reckless and gambolling life, and their ancient places of retreat in the north, and were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands in a deep and sober phalanx to the South …”

No longer.

We still have them migrate occasionally.  The last reported one was likely 1998 in Arkansas but nothing like the vast migrations of the past.  And how can they with no massive forest or massive stands of trees, following the bounty of nuts and seeds as the cycles demanded?  Like the beaver before them, we have changed their natural history and lost something special in return.

Now the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is regarded as a cute backyard dweller or bird seed eating pest.  They get into attics or gnaw on wires.  We are amused by them, infuriated by them, and in some cases regarding bird feeders outsmarted by them.  They throw nuts at my dogs and tease them unmercifully and I laugh, of course.  They are a constant in my yard and a source of food for my owls and hawks.  They are as familiar to me as my wrens and woodpeckers…and my life would be poorer without them.

But once they moved across the land in rivers of energy and gray fur, millions of them covering the landscape and making people stop in their tracks, marveling to see such a sight.  Just once I wish I could have been there, standing beside those folks so I too could have said “and then I saw a sea of squirrels…”.

The Migration of the Grey Squirrels

by William Howitt

When in my youth I traveled
Throughout each north country,
Many a strange thing did I hear,
And many a strange thing to see.

But nothing was there pleased me more
Than when, in autumn brown,
I came, in the depths of the pathless woods,
To the grey squirrels’ town.

There were hundreds that in the hollow boles
Of the old, old trees did dwell,
And laid up store, hard by their door,
Of the sweet mast as it fell.

But soon the hungry wild swine came,
And with thievish snouts dug up
Their buried treasure, and left them not
So much as an acorn cup.

Then did they chatter in angry mood,
And one and all decree,
Into the forests of rich stone-pine
Over hill and dale to flee.

Over hill and dale, over hill and dale,
For many a league they went,
Like a troop of undaunted travelers
Governed by one consent.

But the hawk and the eagle, and peering owl,
Did dreadfully pursue;
When lo! to cut off their pilgrimage,
A broad stream lay in view.

But then did each wondrous creature show
His cunning and bravery;
With a piece of the pine-bark in his mouth,
Unto the stream came he;

And boldly his little bark he launched,
Without the least delay;
His busy tail was his upright sail,
And he merrily steered away.

Never was there a lovelier sight
Than that grey squirrels’ fleet;
And with anxious eyes I watched to see
What fortune it would meet.

Soon had they reached the rough mild-stream,
And ever and anon
I grieved to behold some bark wrecked,
And its little steersman gone.

But the main fleet stoutly held across;
I saw them leap to shore;
They entered the woods with a cry of joy,
For their perilous march was o’er.

Now for the Week Ahead in Reviews (and  Autumn Sedum in my garden):DSCN4051

Monday, Sept. 30:         Sonata by A.F. Henley

Tuesday, Oct. 1:              September Summary of Reviews

Wed., October 2:            Goblins by Melanie Tushmore

Thurs., October 3:         Dominant Predator by S.A. McAuley

Friday, October 4:         The Isle of Wishes by Sue Brown

Sat., October 5:               Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb