Scattered Thoughts Best Books of 2013

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ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Presents:

best-books of 2013

Time for Scattered Thoughts to look back at all the wonderful books read and reviewed in 2013 and try to pick those stories that stood out the most among all the many stories I read.  As always it was a hard thing to do because there were so many this year that crowded at the top.  How to choose between Sarah Black’s The General and the Horse-Lord and her sequel, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazeri?  Or Ariel Tachna’s Outlast the Night and her Conquer the Flames?  It was only by the mm (seems reasonable) that the latter book for each won out.parabook

Some authors did end up with two books in my lists, whether it was because they were in two different categories or because they were in different series or just because they were that good.  I also ended up with more categories this year, including  Best Humor, Best Young Adult, Best New Vampire and Best New Werewolf.  The variety in genres just begged for subcategories so I created them.  Something really new this year was the interconnected series from the Pulp Friction group. Each series and main characters were intimately connected to each other and culminated in a four author four series finale story.  It was outstanding and earned all four a place on my list.

And then there were the marvelous novels like Harper Fox’ Brothers of the Wild North Seas whose review has slid into 2014 but is one of my top novels of any year.  Anyway, here are the books I chose in alphabetical order.  Which authors/stories were on your list this year?

Best Contemporary Novels of 2013:

  • Best Stand Alone Novels:

Illumination by Rowen Speedwell
The Sky is Dead by Sue Brown

Best Action/Suspense Fiction of 2013:

Collusion by Eden Winters (Diversion series)
Corruption by Eden Winters (Diversion series)
Pulp Friction Series of 2013 (4 interconnected series)

Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux
Touch & Geaux  by Abigail Roux (Cut & Run series)
Worlds Collide by R.J. Scott

Humorous Fiction of 2013:
Books with wings in the sky

Shy by John Inman
Hobbled by John Inman
Tell Me It’s Real by TJ Klune

Young Adult/YA Subject Oriented Fiction:

Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane
Necromancy and You by Missouri Dalton
Vampirism and You by Missouri Dalton

Best Historical Fiction:

Lessons for Suspicious Minds by Charlie Cochrane
On The Lee Shore by Elin Gregory
Trick of Time by JL Merrow

Best Horror/Fantasy:skeleton-clip-art-15-315x600

Dance Only For Me (Dance With The Devil #6) by Megan Derr
Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin

Best Science Fiction Novel/ Series of 2013:

Aria of the Eclipse by Vivien Dean
One Breath, One Bullet by S.A. McAuley
Dominant Predator by S.A. McAuley  (sequel to the one above)
Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler
Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1) by Aleksandr Voinov (fantasy)

Best Supernatural/Paranormal Fiction of 2013:

Close Quarter by Anna Zabo
Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune
Re-entry Burn (Superpowered Love #5) by Katey Hawthorne
Undertow by Andrea Speed (Infected series)

Best New Vampire (a tie):

The Beast Without by Christian Baines
The Family: Liam by K.V. Taylor

Best New Werewolf:

Strength of the Wolf (The Tameness of the Wolf #2) by Kendall McKenna

Happy New Year, everyone!  Happy Reading To All and May 2014 Be Great!

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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

Winner

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Good morning all.  Thank you, Sarah Black, for your wonderful posts on Wild Onions and The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2).  It was great having you here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words. The General and the Elephant Clock cover

The winner of the eBook of The General and  the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari is Andrea M.  Andrea M, I will be passing your name on to Sarah and she will contact you  about your book.

Thanks to all who participated and visit here next week where the Pulp Friction authors will be offering up free reads and copies of their books from their series all week long, each day a different book and contest.

 

Review: The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2) by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The General and the Elephant Clock coverGeneral John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez have finally begun to settle into their new lives as an couple and outwardly gay men when an old colleague calls with a request for help.  General David Painter, now CEO of a private security outfit, has two of his men, former Rangers, who have been captured and imprisoned in Tunisia. And they are being held in one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East.  Painter wants John and Gabriel to get them out and safely home.

With problems on the home front with Kim, Abdullah, and Billy all involved in their own personal challenges, John and Gabriel knows its a tough time to leave but the alternative, leaving those boys to rot in prison or worse, is unthinkable.  The Arab Uprising has left the government unstable and the political climate rife for rebellion in Tunisia.  But liberating the men in only part of the mission, the other is to leave the country with every one involved safe and alive. An old enemy thwarts their every move, puting John and Gabriel in a dangerous position.  As the obstacles mount against them, John finds that one of the men’s obsession with the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari might not only be their ticket home but a way to heal some deep wounds as they go.

The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari is just spectacular!  I think it is the best book Sarah Black has written to date, a great book among many wonderful ones.  This book, the second in The General series, marks a departure from the original in so many ways. While that book, The General and the Horse-Lord, looked inward and focused on John and Gabriel as former Army officers now adjusting to civilian life and their status as out gay men and partners, this book takes all those elements (their  extended family, career adjustments, love for the Army and country,etc) and expands that view while placing the men back in their comfort zone of military action,hostiles, and hostage negotiations.  Its a brilliant move on the author’s part because now we get to see General John Mitchel (and Gabriel) in their element,. It is  here that we see their personalities, thoughts and actions shine and the depth of their partnership and love emerge to support their actions and the group they assemble.

This book is remarkable in that every aspect of this story is well constructed and beautifully implemented.  It has action scenes that will make you hold your breath in white knuckle anxiety yet scream in fear for those involved.  It has pathos and angst, especially in the form of Eli, the young, brilliant ex Ranger captured and abused.  It has the breadth of knowledge and admiration for a ancient rich culture and society now on the brink of meltdown while showing a sorrow for a people caught in the religious crossfires of zealotry and hatred. Black comments on the Arab uprising while bringing its reality to the reader in the scared visages and chaos that is every day life in Carthage and Tunisia.  There is scholarly references to Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, Al-Jazari’s book, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”as well as contemporary references to Star Wars, Spongebob Squarepants, and the lyrics of “Take It Easy” by the Eagles and Jackson Browne.   This book is bursting at the seams in an explosion of history, culture, pop society milestones and great characterizations that will cement themselves in your heart never to leave.

Existing on the same superior level as the action and plot are the characters created for this series.  Starting with John Mitchel, Gabriel Sanchez, Kim, Abdullah, Billy and even Juan, Gabriel’s confused and angry son, each and every one is a solid, believable, and often endearing personality that the reader will connect to easily.  John Mitchel, the warrior philosopher, is easily the strongest and probably most magnetic, along with Gabriel.  John is having the hardest time adjusting to civilian life, finding it boring and lacking the mental stimulation that he is used to.  He is also finding it hard to relinquish his role as the commander who sees to everyones safety and directing their safe passage through life.  Gabriel is also finding his new life harder than he thought it would be, with different demands as an ex husband and divorced family man whose kids are unhappy and angry over the destruction of their family unit to a law firm disintegrating under the load of needy cases and lack of revenue.  The pain and confusion of divorce and its effects upon a family are not glossed over but folded in as a matter of fact part of life that the men and Gabriel’s children and ex-wife must deal with.  It’s realistic, and recognizable in this day and age of multiple connected families.  I love these men and their relationship, a work still in progress throughout the story although their love is never to be doubted.

Swimming in the sea of John and Gabriel’s love and support is their wonderful extended family of Kim, John’s brilliant Korean nephew, Abdullah, his godson, and Billy, a young man recovering from a brutal attack on campus.  Now added to the fray are the men  and woman who make up the rescue unit in Carthage.  Eli and Daniel, Jen Painter, Sam Brightman, Wylie and Jackson, all memorable, each a living, breathing human being that will bring you to laughter and tears.  Eli and Jen have to be two of my favorites, Eli one of the young men captured and Jen, the resilient and courageous young woman fighting to empower the embattled women of Tunisia.  And then there is  the director of the Bardo Museum, Ibrahim ibn Saeed ibn Ahmad al-Aziz, old and wise, encapsulating the best combination of humanity, learning and wisdom.  There is a large cast here but each is necessary to the plot and to the group dynamic. You will fall in love with each and every one.  Here is an excerpt.  John is calling  home from Carthage and is met with the usual chaos of multiple voices before talking to Billy:

So how are you, son? I was craving some of your tea today, that one with the blood oranges and rose hips and hibiscus. I can’t believe I’m starting to like it.”

“That’s my favorite, too. I was thinking we could plant some blackberry and raspberry vines in the back yard, make some fresh teas. You think they would grow here?”

“Maybe. If we built them a deep planter that we sunk in the ground. I’ve heard there were some traditional ways to plant up in northern New Mexico where they dug shallow pits, lined them with rocks, and planted trees in them.”

“I read something about the Hopi, how they planted—I was thinking about waffles, or a grid? I can’t remember. I’ll have to look it up.”

“Billy, do you know anything about the museums in Carthage?”

“Not really. Want me to look them up?”

“I would. Just write me a brief and send it to me, okay? That would be a big help.”

“I looked up some pictures of Carthage. It looks so beautiful, with the Mediterranean right there, and the sky so blue. Sad, though. Like that poem, how does it go? Two vast and trunkless legs of stone….”

John concentrated hard, trying to remember. “Ozymandias, and it was Shelley, I think, or Keats. I used to know it. “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read…. I can’t remember the rest. But you’re right, Billy. That poem looks like Carthage. I miss you, kiddo.”

“I miss you, too.”

Just look at the number of references in that short excerpt, from Hopi planting methods to Shelley’s Ozymandias overlaid with a man longing for home and the respect with which he treats the people who live under his roof. Black also demonstrates her knowledge and love of the military here.  Whether it is the Flying Stallions and the primal sound of the “rhythmic thump, then, the sound of a big helicopter’s rotors” to the pain and sorrow of a young injured soldier unable to fathom his doctor’s distant attitude, you will feel as though you have walked a short ways in a soldier’s shoes.

From vivid descriptions of far away places to the characters and the ever present love of the Army and its mission, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, is a must read for 2013 or any year.   Make sure you find a place for it on your bookshelf, digital or otherwise, with space for additional stories to come.  This is a universe that begs for more stories with its wealth of characters and various challenges ahead that each face.  I know at least one more is in the works, lets hope for an abundance.

This is how the story begins:

JOHN studied the candy-colored sky, raspberry pink edging to smudgy purple, the color of a grape lollipop. The colors reminded him of Turkish delight, a candy he’d been offered once in a Bedouin’s tent. He’d been there to negotiate passage for troops and troop trucks over the old man’s lands. It was rumored that the Bedouin was somehow involved in the nasty little conflict that had disrupted the flow of food aid to the region. John had been sent in to stomp on the sparks before civilian casualties escalated.

The old man’s grandson had filled two cups with mint tea so sweet John could smell the sugar over the dust and sun-warmed canvas of the tent. Then he’d offered the plate of Turkish delight with a flourish and a bow. The boy had black liquid eyes, long, thick lashes, and John had felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Eyes that beautiful and dark should have been filled with warmth, but the boy was young and didn’t know how to hide what was in his heart. John had watched the boy slide his hand down his leg, clutch the bronze dagger in the top of his boot and pull it free.

Then Gabriel was there, quiet as smoke, his rifle cradled in his arms, and the boy froze. John set his teacup down, refusing the Bedouin’s hospitality. It was an insult, a hard line drawn in the sand, nearly as hard a line as the one drawn when your grandson cut someone’s throat over a plateful of Turkish delight. The old man had eyes like the boy, a raptor’s eyes, cold and wet and black. John stood up, backed out of the tent without a word, and Gabriel spread his arms, the rifle in one big hand. No one could mistake the gesture. It said, No one touches him. You come through me to get to him.

SThe Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari 

Book Details:

ebook, 244 pages
Expected publication: October 25th 2013
ISBN13 9781627982085
edition language English
series The General

Book Contest and Sarah Black Guest Blog for The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari

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Good morning! Today Scattered Thoughts is welcoming Sarah Black back to talk about her latest release The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2).  Although my review won’t come until tomorrow, I will say that this book is on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2013 list.  Trust me, it is one of those books that you will want to read over and over again.  So with that in mind, we are giving away one eBook copy of The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari to one person who leaves a comment on any of the posts from 10/23 to 10/26.  A Winner will be announced on Saturday.

This is Why I Love Those Old Men by Sarah Black

My stories are full of old men, and I think anyone reading can tell I love them. In Lawless I wrote Manuel, and in The Legend of the Apache Kid I wrote Johnny’s old man and Raine’s daddy; in Marathon Cowboys we had The Original Jesse Clayton. In the new book, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, I wrote another old man, the director of the Bardo Museum, who steps in and helps the young men realize their dreams.

That’s what old men do, right? Step in and stand watch while the young men strap on their wings and prepare to leap off the ledge. They listen when we talk. They’re quiet when we just need their company. They watch over us, and when we’re about to screw up, they put up a hand and say, “hold up now. Better think about that.”

My grandfather is the model for all those old men in all my stories. He was quiet and strong and steadfast. A hurricane couldn’t blow him over. No rain would ever touch my head if I was standing next to him. He was as big as a mountain and as strong as an oak. That’s what I remember. He died when I was three, and he was fifty, of a heart attack.

Just before he died, my grandmother sent him out to buy me a pair of shoes. She told him to get something sturdy that could be washed. He carried me back into the house two hours later and I was wearing pretty little black patent Mary Janes. The women had a fit. “Earl, what’s she going to play in?”

And he laughed and pulled a tiny pair of red sneakers out of his pocket.  I’ve adored red shoes from that day, and I adored my big, handsome grandfather. He never said three words when one would do, and he preferred action over words, anyway. He could fix anything, a broken toy or a car that wouldn’t run or a skinned knee. And I have been pretty sure all my life that he was up in heaven keeping an eye on me. Never a judgmental eye, either. Just keeping me safe, keeping me company. Pure love has no room for judgment.

I’ve wondered sometimes if I was writing the same story over and over. I guess writers have things to say, and we say them through fiction. I always try to be clear in my mind what I’m trying to say. This new book, I was really ambitious. I wanted to say something big, something with meaning. Plant my flag and say, this is how I see the world. But with this book, and every book, now and forever, my handsome strong grandfather will make an appearance, and he’ll be watching over me.
SB Grandfather

Here’s a link to the new book: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4277The General and the Elephant Clock cover

Dreamspinner Blurb:

Fresh out of the closet, General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez are settling into their new life together when an old army colleague taps them for a rescue mission to Tunisia. Eli and Daniel, two former Rangers working security, have been arrested in Carthage, charged with blasphemy and thrown into prison.

With rampant unrest in the ancient city and an old enemy targeting them, John gathers a team to liberate the two captive men. When he discovers Eli’s boyhood obsession with Al-Jazari’s Elephant Clock, the rescue becomes complicated and strangely beautiful, and John and Gabriel have to risk what they love the most to bring their team home.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, with my new old man:

The Director was a very old man, with a cane and a long white beard, sharp dark eyes under heavy, greying eyebrows. He was formally dressed in a dark suit and tie, and he greeted Gabriel with a handshake. He had a young woman with him, holding a portfolio. Wylie opened the portfolio, looked inside, then patted it down.

John moved forward, greeted him in Arabic, then he introduced Eli and Daniel. He didn’t remember the old man, but they’d all changed so much in thirty years. Kim was holding his camera, one of the big professional models, and the Director seemed charmed by his Arabic greeting and pretty smile. “Eli, Daniel, why don’t you sit down with the Director? Sir, have you met Abdullah al-Salim? I know you will recognize him. The first time I saw him, I thought his father was standing before me.”

The old man greeted Abdullah with cries of delight and three kisses, the traditional Arabic way. Abdullah held a hand out to Kim. “Kim is General Mitchel’s nephew. He’s my best friend.”

Kim was kissed now, then they all sat down on the couch. John counted. Five men, with plenty of room, just like Kim had said, and the U shape meant people on either end could see each other to talk. Even better, he could, if he wanted to, perch on the leather polka dot ottoman like a frog sitting on a lily pad. God, he hated that couch. Kim looked at him, gave him a weak smile. Kim was reading his mind again.

Gabriel took Sam and Wylie, and they moved over to the table and pulled up chairs. Kim held up his camera. “Director, I thought I would take a picture of you with these men. It will be a good memory for them when they are back home, to remember your kindness.”
Abdullah translated, and the Director gave Kim a hesitant nod. Then the old man turned to Eli and Daniel, offered them each a hand. Abdullah translated his words. “I have come to tell you of the admiration of the Tunisian people for your courage. It gives great heart to the people when we see your love for Carthage. I also brought something for you to see. I found this in the archives.” The young women with him handed over the portfolio, then retreated to stand with Jen. Jen reached out to her, and John could hear the quiet murmur of their voices in the background.

The Director pulled out a plastic sleeve. Inside was a brown manuscript page, painted in colors still vibrant and beautiful more than eight hundred years after they had first been painted. The old man put the page down on the ottoman, and the boys leaned forward to look at it. It was an original page from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices and showed Al-Jazari’s wondrous elephant clock. Eli caught his breath, reached out and touched the edge of the parchment through the plastic. “This is really… it’s the real….” He sounded like he was having trouble catching his breath.

Kim stood up and moved around the other side of the couch and lifted the camera. Eli looked up at the Director, and something in his battered face must have touched the old man. His eyes were tender, and he reached out, put his hand on Eli’s cheek. Then he reached out with his other hand, held Daniel’s. “My sons, will you come and see the Bardo? The museum will be open tomorrow for the children. It’s the day we have a festival for them. I would like you to come, to see something of our history and our culture.”
Eli looked down at the page again. “The kids, they’ll go crazy over this! Can you believe it? Is this wild, or what? Do you see it?”
He looked up at John, his green eyes like jewels, his black hair sticking up in the front in little tufts. John nodded at him, smiling. “I do see it. Is it as good as you thought it would be?”

“Better,” Eli said. “Can we go, General? To the Bardo?”

John looked at Gabriel, then back to Eli. “Yes, I think we can. We’ll be safe in a group.” Daniel stood up, let John take his place next to the old man. “Thank you for your kindness. Are you sure it will not be too much trouble? I understood you were closed for renovations.”

The Director shook his head. “Once a year we have a children’s day. We had planned to have the parts of the museum not under construction open tomorrow. It is like a festival, very important to me. I believe there will be camels and balloons and too many sweets, and my staff will have video projectors set up because the children like to watch movies. In your honor I will add a stage for the elephant clock, a video so the children can see. Like this young man,” he put his hand on Eli’s shoulder, “love of scholarship starts when a child is very young. I believe you will be safe. Let us open our heart to you, show you the true face of Tunisia. The true face of Islam.”
Eli leaned forward. “What is the true face of Islam?”

The old man put his hand on Eli’s cheek again. “Just like with your people, my son, the true face of Islam is love.”

Wild Onions Guest Blog with Author Sarah Black

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is welcoming Sarah Black this week to talk about her latest two releases Wild Onions and The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari.  In today’s post, the author talks about her love for Idaho, the setting for Wild Onions.

During this four day Sarah Black event, we will be giving away one copy of The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari to one lucky person who comments on any Sarah Black blog from10/22 to 10/26 with the winner to be announced on Saturday.   Visit

Leave a comment below.

Falling in Love with Idaho: An Illustrated Adventure by Sarah Black

A few years ago, on one of my periodic urges to explore the world, I took a locum job as the Nurse Practitioner at a small clinic in an Athabascan village in Alaska. The village was on the Yukon, about 130 air miles from Fairbanks. We moved in February, and all I will say about that is if you are going to move to Alaska, consider waiting until the summer. On the positive side, my son got to experience the joy of having his boogers freeze at forty below zero, which is the sort of thing boys love and moms will never understand.

In July, I bought a truck in Fairbanks and we left, (I might say ‘fled’ if I was being very honest) driving back to America on the ALCAN Highway. Since I had no intention of ever returning to Alaska, we took the opportunity to visit the National Parks. It is my avowed intention of visiting all of America’s National Parks in my lifetime. Except the Everglades, because I missed my chance and I’m not going back to Florida. That story for another time.

Here’s my baby on our first trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, my favorite of the National Parks, wearing my college sweatshirt!SB -James at North Run Grand Canyon

Anyway, we had a very good time visiting gorgeous Denali and Kenai and Katmai and staring a glacier in the face; I couldn’t help but wonder if they would still be around in another fifty years. The scenery was gorgeous, but we didn’t see any wildlife. My only near miss with a bear was actually a hiker, sleeping in the grass, who popped up so suddenly I thought he was a bear and I nearly keeled over in shock. Also a flasher at the Grizzly Café outside Denali who looked like Santa, but I’m not sure if he was an intentional flasher, or if he just forgot both his underwear and zipper. Either way I classified him as wildlife.

One of the glaciers in Kenai Fjords:
SB Alaska Glacier 2
After Flasher-Santa, I said, screw it, let’s head to Canada. Almost as soon as we crossed the border, we found all the wildlife. I don’t know why the eagles and bears and wolves were in Canada- perhaps the IRS turned their eye on them and they sought asylum? Either way, we drove slowly, and the bears ambled across the road, babies bouncing behind, and my kid stared at them out the window and said, ‘they look just like they do in the pictures!’ And that was my exact thought as well.SB JamesGlacierNatnPark002_zps00698238

We crossed the border with the US at Glacier National Park in Montana, and immediately had a lecture about bear safety. I tried to tell the Ranger the bears were all up in Canada, but he doubted my theory about the wildlife moving north. My son adores Park Rangers and always has many questions for them.

He takes their rules, usually posted near the bathrooms, for gospel and we always follow the safety rules to the letter. Which is why we had our toothbrushes in plastic bags, and locked in the truck. Because bears can smell Crest. We ate our hotdogs and marshmallows and then lay in a very small tent, and SB Glacier Park with boatsI stayed awake all night, listening for the grunt and rasp of ursine breathing through very thin nylon. The bighorn sheep were crawling all over the mountains, the lakes and rivers were icy cold, and we experienced the terror and delight of Going to the Sun Road.

After all this fun, I told the kid we needed to head on to Boise, where I had received a job offer. Frankly I was exhausted by all the adventure.

So we started driving through Montana, heading to Idaho.

The Northern Rockies are like nothing I’d even seen before. Huge, stark, forbidding, but sort of protective, too. The valleys were encircled, and the mountains were big andSB Northern Rockies strong, and I was safe there, safe surrounded by these old grandfathers. It was a

strange feeling. I was used to being the tough one, strong myself, taking care of everyone, and in these mountains, I felt like they were watching out for me. I was astounded. Astounded and so relieved I felt like weeping.

The rivers are not like the rivers I’d grown up with back east. These rivers are noisy, muscular, tumbling and roaring. Idaho has a masculine spirit, the landscape strong and tough and silent as a cowboy. No wonder I fell in love! And the people are like the landscape—tough and still, very strong, but with hearts as big as the mountains.

SB Salmon River #6

These are the Grand Tetons. The French fur trappers in the mountains called them Les Tois Tetons, which means, of course, The Three Breasts. What did I say about the masculine spirit? Some historians suggest the mountains were named for the Teton Sioux. There were many Native tribes in this area, Bannock, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Sioux, Blackfoot. I used the past tense just then, but small groups of Bannock and Arapahoe still live in these mountains. I’ve always been fond of the Blackfoot, since they were the only tribe to try and ambush Louis and Clark.

SB Grand Tetons
When I first moved out to Navajo country to work, I took my usual view of the world, and since I like to listen to people talk, found myself hearing really different perspectives on things. I worked at a tribal boarding school, and I heard a couple of the teachers talking about what they were going to do to teach Lewis and Clark’s trip west. One of the teachers just shook his head, said, “Those bastards.”SB Idaho Lewis and Clark Trail
I’ve always been a bit of a Corps of Discovery nerd. This was the first time I’d heard an opinion from the other side! This is just off of the Lewis and Clark Trail through the Northern Rockies.

Buy Link to Wild Onions:HERE IT IS!

Review of Wild Onions

Review: Wild Onions by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Wild Onions coverStill healing from his many injuries,  both physical and emotional, photographer Robert Mitchell has returned to the cabin he shared with his partner Val to grieve over Val’s death and determine whether he should sell it or hold onto the place full of memories and ghosts.  Just over a year ago, Robert’s life was happy and full.  He had his work, and his long time lover.  And then it was gone. With a mountain of debt looming over him from their hospital bills, Robert is unsure of his future but he still  can’t let go of his past, seeing and hearing Val’s ghost everywhere. Then Robert meets a young Blackfoot indian fly fishing in the Salmon River just outside the cabin and everything changes.

Cody Calling Eagle, a Physical Anthropologist halfway through his dissertation  and temporary wildlife official, wanders into Robert’s life during a day of  fly fishing.  The attraction between them is immediate and magnetic.  Cody’s good natured demeanor and open heart draws the lonely, grieving Robert in, providing the emotional nourishment he is so in need of.   Cody has crushed on Robert for years, and now follows his heart into a relationship he has longed for.

But the cabin and the land it sits on contains old buried secrets just waiting to emerge.  And when an accident lets them out to spread their evil once more, it threatens not only Robert and Cody’s new relationship but even their lives.  It will take everything Robert and Cody have to give and more to save themselves and the community around them from a dark history that has come alive once more.

Wild Onions is remarkable in so many ways.  It combines a variety of tropes so smoothly and effortlessly that the story flows from present day to the tumultuous era of the last of the Indian Wars, from the contemporary to the supernatural and back to the past without so much as a disruptive ripple.  Unless of course the author puts it there.  There are contemporary relationships and love affairs, a supernatural romance, several mysteries, an element of the terrifying and of course an historical background.  All of which are folded into the narrative to give the reader a compelling story set amongst one of the most beautiful landscapes the United States has to offer, western Idaho and the banks of the Salmon River.

I have long been a fan of Sarah Black and Wild Onions is a perfect example why I find her writing so captivating and addictive.  First there is her characters.  Robert Mitchell is a portrait of a man grounded in grief and memories, unable and perhaps unwilling to move beyond his past.  His grief is soft but tangible and its met by the quiet of the cabin and its surroundings.  Sarah Black matches the man to his environment, a monotone of emptiness and solitude that anyone who has lost someone will recognize.  Then she disturbs his static existence by the arrival of Cody Calling Eagle, a Blackfoot doctoral candidate fighting his own ambivalence over his future and passions for history and his people.  Cody is a wonderful character, his warm, open nature and bright shining intelligence warms the page and provides the story with such a charismatic presence that the reader  cannot help but be drawn to him, as is Robert.  It’s a meeting unexpected and yet so natural.  It feels as right to the reader as it does to the men.  And before we know it, we feel intimately connected to Robert and Cody and their relationship.

Here is a small excerpt (another is at the very end).  Robert has just stepped into the river for the first time in over a year, his stance and emotions unsteady:

Robert grinned at him. “Wonder how many times you hear that in the course of a week? We must be in Idaho! I’m Robert Mitchell.”

The man reached for his hand and they shook. “I’m Cody Calling Eagle. So,” he nodded toward the fishing pole in Robert’s hand, “what’s with this? You have a no-hook fishing technique? You’re not a vegetarian, are you? One of those guys who think it’s cruel to eat the poor fish?”

Robert shook his head. “I just don’t know how to do it. Good fishermen have tried to teach me, but it didn’t stick.”

Cody was looking at him with interest now, his warm, dark eyes moving over Robert’s face in a way that was almost unfamiliar, it had been so long. And Robert found himself wondering if this guy might be a friend. The possibility of a new friend, that was a good feeling.

“I knew Val. My grandfather, he was the silversmith.” Cody’s eyes were on the heavy silver and turquoise cuff on Robert’s wrist. “He made your cuff. I remember watching him when he set the turquoise. I sure was sorry to hear about the accident.” He cleared his throat. “You don’t know how to fish, but do you know what to do with a nice piece of speckled trout in a frying pan?”

That small excerpt of the first time Robert and Cody meet eases the reader into the story with the same fluidity of splash and movement of the Salmon River, so much a part of the setting and relationships.  The river is a deep part of  Cody’s nature and its importance is as powerful as the land itself. Sarah Black has lived in Idaho and now resides there again. She is familiar with the geographical landscape of Wild Onions and her love of the area and its native peoples are the bedrock upon which this story rests.

Intertwined with scenes of the growing relationship between Robert and Cody are historical facts and flashbacks to 1882, a time when the native tribes, including the Blackfoot, lost their land, their living and often most of their people to the wars against the U.S. that just concluded.  These scenes form both the basis and the springboard for the supernatural elements that start to appear and are such a hugely emotional and terrifying component in this story.

If history sounds a bit dry, trust me it’s not.  Its inclusion here is so well done, so enthralling and yes, shameful, that you might forget its an actual part of our history as Americans.   The time the author has spent among the various tribes in the United States shows in the in depth knowledge and respect that threads through the story of Wild Onions like the yarn in a tapestry, a part of the whole, subtle and necessary.

Black does justice to the supernatural aspect of her tale as well.  I won’t give anything away but there are some hair-raising, downright scary things going on here, enough to terrorize the reader into leaving the nightlight on at bedtime.  And it has its own grounding in Native American lore too.

All these ingredients combine to present the reader with a tale of romance, love  and terror that won’t allow you to put it down until its concluded and will leave  you thinking long past the last page.  I adored this story.  I loved the men, their relationship, as well as  the community which rallied to save them.  I think you will adore Wild Onions as much as I did.  Grab it up and prepare to fall in love.

Book Details:

ebook, 96 pages approximately
Buy Link: :HERE IT IS!
Published September 23rd 2013

ASIN B00FE5G7IK,

edition language English

Book Blurb and Excerpt:

THE YEAR was 1882, and the last of the native tribes had dropped to their knees and slipped on their yokes under the boots and guns of the US Cavalry. The Blackfoot were the last, and then the buffalo hunt failed. The vast plains were barren and empty, and the people began to starve. Desperation spread like poison across the land. Evil men, seeing their chance, fed on the hunger, ate the clean hearts of the people. The blood that was spilled in 1882 has not been avenged today. The ghosts are waiting for someone to set them free.

Excerpt:

Robert looked over to the corner of the porch. Their old fishing poles were leaning against the screen. He carried them back to his chair, started untangling the nylon fishing line. Val’s pole was for serious fishermen, a supple thin Orvis fly rod with a reel full of braided yellow nylon. His pole was cheap, from Wal-Mart, with a soft cork handle and a reel with a sticky thumb button. Val laughed when he saw it, said it was for little boys fishing at reservoirs.

He put Val’s pole back in the corner, carried his down the slope to the river bank. It took him a little while to find his balance again. He didn’t try to get into the water. That would probably be too much for his shaky leg. But after a few casts he got his rhythm again, let the weight fly out low over the water.

There was a splash a bit upriver, and a moment later a young man appeared, walking down the middle of the shallow river from rock to rock in green hip waders, dressed in the dark green uniform of Fish and Wildlife. He had a fishing pole over his shoulder and a woven oak creel. From the weight of it on his shoulder, Robert could see he’d had some luck. He was Indian, Blackfoot, maybe, and his long hair was tied back at his collar. He raised a hand in greeting.

Robert nodded back. “Evening.” He reeled in his line, and the man watched the red and white bobber bouncing across the water in front of him.
The man’s face was impassive, but he blinked a couple of times when he watched the line come out of the water, bobber, lead weight, no hook. No fish. “I guess I don’t need to ask you if you have a fishing license,” the man said. “Since you aren’t really fishing.”

Robert nodded to the creel over the man’s shoulder. “Looks like you’ve had some luck.”

The man eased the basket off his shoulder, dipped it down into the icy river water. “Yes, I sure did.” He slapped the Fish and Wildlife patch on his uniform shirt. “Course, I don’t need no stinkin’ license! Just another example of the generalized corruption of the Federal Government.”

Robert grinned at him. “Wonder how many times you hear that in the course of a week? We must be in Idaho! I’m Robert Mitchell.”

The man reached for his hand and they shook. “I’m Cody Calling Eagle.

Last Day at GRL and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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I am writing this in advance as today is my last day at GRL in Atlanta and my travel day home.  I hope I will have had time to post several pics and blogs of the event as it happened.  If, as I predict, not, then a followup blog will be coming shortly.

At any rate, it is going to be a great week here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.  Sarah Black is stopping by to discuss her latest release,, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, the sequel to The General and The Horse-Lord, a favorite of mine.  If you enjoy great military characters written realistically and grounded deeply in the Marine ethos, then these stories are for you.

Also reviewed this week is her outstanding supernatural story, Wild Onion.  Sarah Black donated the proceeds of this story to her local food bank, a wonderful endeavor and a much needed one.  Anne Tenino is back with more of her boys from Alpha Theta Gamma in Good Boy and I have new stories hee by A.R. Moler and Jameson Dash.  Really there is something for everyone.

Here is the schedule for the week ahead:

Monday, Oct. 21:       Burning Now by A.R. Moler

Tuesday, Oct. 22:       Home Team by Jameson Dash

Wed., Oct. 23:             Wild Onions by Sarah Black

Thurs., Oct. 24:          Good Boy by Anne Tenino

Friday, Oct. 25:          Sarah Black Guest Blog and Book Giveaway

Sat., Oct., 26:             The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black

New Excerpt from The General and the Elephant Clock by Sarah Black

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Sarah Black has finished writing her sequel, The General and the Elephant Clock.  And while we are waiting for its release date, here is another excerpt for those of us who need more of John, Gabriel, Kim and all the rest from The General and the Horse-Lord (posted with permission from Sarah Black):

Living Large in the Beautiful World: Kim and The General Discuss Decorating

At the end of The General and the Horse-Lord, Kim and Billy have gone wild with the General’s credit card, ready to redecorate the house. The new book, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, picks up with John and Kim having a friendly little chat about the new couch.

John pushed open the kitchen door. The jury was still out on the new decorating. He had thought he was sending Kim and Billy out for an extra desk and bed, but that had somehow turned into a re-do of the entire house. He had to admit the kitchen was cheerful. Kim and Billy had painted the kitchen walls bright cream enamel, then painted trim in tangerine and aqua. The curtains were tangerine with cream polka-dots, and there were little cars zooming all over the walls, hand-painted by a bunch of Kim and Billy’s artist friends. The new dining room table was Formica, with stainless silver legs, and the chairs were padded in aqua vinyl. Kim and Billy were very pleased with the kitchen. Gabriel liked it, as well, though he might have been just trying to get along. John was okay with the changes. The kitchen, he thought, was fine. It just didn’t look like his kitchen. It looked like the kitchen of a person who was considerably cooler than he was. The same could be said about the living room.

Kim was waiting for him to come in from his run, and he swooped down on John and wrapped his arms around his waist for a quick hug. “How’s my favorite uncle?”

John studied his face. “I’m fine. What’s happening with you?”

“Not too much.” Kim was head down into the fridge, looking for something to snack on that had not had a face or a mother. He’d explained to John this was his new criteria for healthy eating. “Can we talk about the couch?”

John crossed his arms over his chest. “So talk.”

Kim stood up and leaned back against the counter. “Okay, you have every right to be pissed off. You told me not to get a new couch and I did anyway. I know I spent more money on the redecorating than you had planned. What I want to know is if you hate the couch for itself, or if you’re just mad at me for disregarding what you told me to do?”

John sighed. “The new couch is fine. I admit it’s not really what I would have picked out.” He walked over and stared gloomily into the room. The new couch which Kim had been forbidden to purchase was cream colored Italian leather, a semi-circle with a round ottoman that looked like a giant leather polka dot. It was very sleek and modern. He’d purchased some round maple tables in a pale golden finish to go with it, and the rugs on the floor were also round, in various sizes and shades of cream and pale gold. The whole thing looked very…Danish.

“The thing is, four men can easily sit on the couch at the same time, say to watch a movie together. Two men can lay down on this couch at the same time, like if you and the Horse-Lord wanted to lay down together and read books. It’s extremely comfortable, Uncle John. I just wish you would give it a chance.”

“Okay, I’m willing to give it a chance. And I admit it is very comfortable. With the new rug and the new tables it looks like winter, 1968, has come to Albuquerque. Peter Max in psychedelic white, not really my style, but I’m okay with it.”

“Peter Max? Winter?” Now Kim had his arms folded. “Holy shit! It’s not white. It’s cream! Big difference in tone and temperature. Okay, so tell me what you think would be the perfect couch. Maybe we can figure out how to meet in the middle.”

John thought a moment. “I suppose I’d like a couch that’s a little…browner. Maybe plaid would be good.”

“Okay, no plaid. I’m sorry, but no. A person would have to be deranged to buy a plaid couch. I will see what I can do about brown.” Kim looked around. “We could add some caramel accents, maybe a throw. I want you to like it.” He sounded young all of the sudden. “It’s really important to me that you like it. If you want, I can split the cost of the new couch with you.” He tried to hand John some cash. “I’ve got $275.00 as a down payment on my half.”

“I don’t want your money.” John stared at him. Kim was Korean, with eyes that always gave away what he was thinking. He was totally unable to keep a secret. John couldn’t help but notice the light in his face, like he was about to start laughing. “Wait a minute. Is this the money you made writing term papers for the students in my Political History seminar?” Kim was grinning now, and he shoved the cash back in his pocket. “Are you under the impression you’re too old to spank? Twenty-three isn’t too old.”

Kim was laughing now. “You don’t believe in spanking. Okay, let me and Billy see what we can come up with. Something browner.” He turned back to the garage. “What’s brown, anyway? Dirt? Gravy? Shit?”

“Wood, you knucklehead. Wood and chocolate bars and Gabriel’s hair, all brown.”

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

Sneak  Peak to the Sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

April 2013 Book Reviews

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Unbelievably, today is the last day  in April and the start of something new for Scattered Thoughts.  I am going to post a summary of each months books reviews on the last day of the month.  Hopefully, this will make it easy to find a new book to read, a book review you might have missed or a book you just might want to reconsider.  It also helps me gather my  Scattered Thoughts when it comes to the year’s Best of in  December.

It was a very good month, with some remarkable stories from new authors and beloved writers and everyone in between.  Trust me, there really is something for everyone here this month:

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           April 2013 Review Summary

5 Star Rating:

Collusion by Eden Winters

On The Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

Touch & Geaux  by Abigail Roux

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Beautiful Disaster by Willa Okati (4.25)

Brute by Kim Fielding (4.5)

Fire For Effect by Kendall McKenna (4.5)

Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick (4.75)

Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune (4.5)

Josh of the Damned, Triple Feature #2, The Final Checkout

by Andrea Speed (4.25)

Loving Hector by John Inman (4.25)

Masked Riders by Lucius Parhelion (4.5)

The Fight Within by Andrew Grey (4.5)

The Good Fight by Andrew Grey (4.75)

Unearthing Cole by A.M. Arthur (4.25)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Highland Vampire Vengeance by J.P. Bowie (3.75)

Love You Like A Romance Novel by Megan Derr (3.5)

Sensei by Karenna Colcroft (3)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

The Astral Mage by Hurri Cosmo (2.75)