Life rarely goes as planned. It also reminds us that regardless of our problems, others have it far worse. A friend in the book swaps took a fall and broke her back. Her vertebra was glued together again using the surgical equivalent of Super Glue and she’s now in a rehab center in California. Bored and in pain, she asked me to write a story for her using my groundhog character that exists on the swap forums of PBS (Paperback Swap). It was supposed to be a simple two maybe 3 part story. I’m on part 8 and I have one more to go to get the loose ends tied up.
Stories have a life of their own and often surprise even me. I read that authors say their characters just won’t allow them to do certain things. Well, over the years, this groundhog I created has developed some very definite ideas about what she will and will NOT do. Over time, she didn’t exactly evolve the way I was expecting, and a large part of that was due to a group writing effort in a swap where each player contributed a character and story element to the game. Unlike a Murder Mystery Weekend, it was not a play where the victims and perpetrators were determined in advance. It was more like trying to knit together stories of Thieves World, where writers saw the same character from different perspectives and created characters for themselves. In the swap, called Murder They Wrote, I laid the basic framework of the story and worked each contribution and character created into the plot as best I could. I had to get pretty creative at times! The whole thing came out surprisingly good. Our patient and long suffering hostess, who played the part of the owner of The Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, put the final version together as book, I did some last minutes edits and an epilogue, and she emailed it to all the players. It was a perfect setting. One player decided she was a ghost. Another a voodoo priestess. There were ‘extras’ that fleshed out the story. But we had a great and creative group.
As a result of that swap, I created a character as a partner for my groundhog in an art theft recovery company. He became a recurring player and I started doing multi-part stories in the swaps. Each time my books were stolen, I’d tell another part of the story. It takes time and often bits were in different swaps. So another player began collecting my posts in a dedicated thread. This lead to my friends’ request to do a story just for her. But putting stories together takes time. More time than I realized when I started writing the one for my friend. Each day I’d do 4-7 pages, let it sit a day, then go back next day, do a quick edit and make minor changes, then move on to the next part.
Because I did the story like episodes in a 30 minute TV show, I actually had to put all the parts together today and start reading through from the beginning to see what I had to clean up – or questions left unanswered. I found a few errors, but over all, for something thrown together by an amateur in a week, it really was pretty well done.
Was the story what I planned? No. Did it play out as I expected? No. Only two elements came through that I planned in advanced. One happened because I gave my friend in CA a call to see how she’s doing. She mentioned she really liked this one character I created, the opposite to my own temperamental, short-tempered, feisty, and sometimes vindictive character. He’s a phlegmatic Southerner, unflappable, and and very much a loaner with a real fondness for moonshine. In his own way, he’s fond of his cousin. So the story changed and Cousin Cleatus came into the story. But there had to be a reason why Cleatus was there, and that took me awhile to figure out. Plus, the whole thing added about 14 pages to the length. So far I have close to 20,000 words. I’m amazed. I’m also amazed at how much time it took and how much I enjoyed doing it.
Then I got a cold. Just in time so I couldn’t go to the annual block party without giving it to all my neighbors. Plus colds make my brain go dead. Give me a simple cold and I can barely write simple sentences, so the story sat while I pouted over being the victim of a common virus. Nearly a week later I FINALLY finished it! There’s another thing I learned. If you write every day, you aren’t going to have a lot of time to read. Get sick and trying to focus on books? A double whammy. I have books to be read backing up very quickly. How authors – real authors – find time to do all that reading of other author’s works is beyond me. My brain was so involved with my own characters and plot, I found it hard to change gears and get drawn into a different story, or I was just too sick to care.
Luckily, I’m over my cold and the associated fit of sulking.
I finally did manage to get a few of books read.
Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire. The October Daye series was not a hit for me from book one. I really struggled to get into this world and accept the character. But with each new book, I’ve liked it better and better – sort of. This installment was an exception, not because it wasn’t good, but because it had a serious flaw.
One of the ongoing elements in the October Daye books has been her relationship with Tybalt, King of the Cait Sidhe. That finally gets center stage here. Toby is asked to find the changling daughter of knight in her lord’s service. Finding things, especially lost and missing children has become something of a specialty of hers, it’s true, but of all people to have a half human child, the uptight, by the rules, knight Etienne would have been last on the list.
Etienne didn’t know he even had a daughter until the woman who was once his lover called. She’d simply disappeared on her way home from school But there are bigger problems. Etienne has violated his knight’s oath and the rules of Fairie. It also meant two more things, there was human out there who knew about Fairie and he never said a word, AND his daughter had come to her powers without anyone to teach her.
A large part of the story is also about a rebellion in the Court of Cats. Toby spends a lot of time bleeding and being healed thanks to a disgruntled Samson, a cat who hates the fact that Tybalt, their king, involves himself with her. The two elements overlap when Sampson is implicated in the abduction of Eitenne’s daughter.
Overall, this was a good story with two main, and different storylines. The downside was, parts became repetitious with Toby and Tybalt no more than healed when they were once again attacked by the same group. That brought my grade down to B- (3.7*) For fans of October Daye, it’s a must for the Tybalt story alone. A word of warning, you really do need to read most, if not all, books in the series in order to follow the story. The world is incredibly complex and layered and many plot elements are carried over from previous books. While not the best in the series, I liked it for finally bringing the Tybalt/Toby relationship into focus.
Now we have the opposite – a series in decline. A Wanted Man by Lee Child ended up a huge disappointment. If there is one word no author ever wants to see attached to a thriller, it’s BORING. And that is exactly what this book is – boring. And tedious, especially the opening 130 pages or so. If you think driving from Nebraska to Chicago in the winter is boring, try reading about – for a hundred pages!!!!!!!. GAH!
The story moves from the boring to the absurd as an FBI agent starts chasing them then joins forces with Reacher and the waitress, who is really an undercover agent, and the whole thing ends in the most absurd terrorist kill ‘em all shoot out I ever read – because the whole thing was one big terrorist Ponzi scheme. Honestly, what nonsense.
Tedious, dull, a wild ending that seemed so blasted absurd. I have NO idea what Lee Child was thinking, if he was actually thinking at all. Opinion on Amazon is fractured and fairly evenly distributed 1 to 5 stars. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Obviously, hardcore fans don’t care. People who want a good thriller were soundly disgusted. I can give this drivel a D+ (2.2*) and strongly urge you to get it from your library, but don’t spend ANY money on this thing, certainly not the discount price of $16.38 print or $12.99 Kindle. Move on folks, nothing worth you time here.
I also read Physical Education by Maggie Barbieri, the most recent in her Murder 101 series featuring Alison Bergeron, a professor looking for tenure at a small Catholic college located on the Hudson River in the northern most part of NYC’s limits. Now married to her detective boyfriend (second marriage for both) she finds herself the reluctant step-mother of college age twin girls and an even more reluctant replacement coach for the college’s D-III girl’s basketball team.
Alison is adjusting to married life, or so she wants to believe, but one thing you never quite adjust to is having bodies put in your car trunk. Leaving the school, the retired cop, now school security guard helpfully goes to close her trunk only to have the thing pop open – and new college mail delivery hire has been shot, execution style, and thrown in her trunk. Flashback to when mobster Pete Miceli was after her. Now Allison was dealing with another murder, her detective husband lying about – too much and smelling of Channel #5, and her best friend, Father Kevin halfway to be defrocked for something her didn’t do, while his ambitious replacement Father Dwyer was single-handedly trying to undo Vatican II.
Now Allison has way more questions than she’s getting answers – from Kevin or Bobby or Bobby’s erstwhile detective partner and her volunteer assistant coach Fred. Then there’s the gun with the silencer in the fridg in the garage and supposed rats in her basement. Barbieri takes all these elements and spins them into a fast and entertaining story with several mysteries large and small for Allison to deal with. Satisfying as few cozies are these days, with a sensible and intelligent lead character.
Physical Education gets a solid B (4*) rating and a recommendation to buy used or as a remainder. I paid around $9 while a new copy on Amazon is selling for $16.49 – too high for light mystery.
Molly Harper is one one of my favorite paranormal romance authors. Her Half-moon Hollow vampire series is mostly very well done and seriously amusing. It was her name that prompted me to buy Undead in My Bed, a three author anthology that included stories by Katie MacAlister and Jessica Sims, two other authors I usually, but not always, enjoy.
I read Harper’s Undead Sublet first. It was the longest of the 3 novellas at 165 pages, and I think the second best of the three. Tess Maitland is a sleep deprived, overworked head chef at a well know Chicago gourmet restaurant Coda when she hears the arugula telling her ‘Knock, knock’ jokes. She was promptly given a ‘sabbatical’ – code for ‘she has flipped out and taking time for recover’. Her old mentor now lives in Half-moon Hollow, KY. As the closest thing to family she has, she heads down there and rents a small house for a month of mental health time and rest.
Only problem is, the house has someone living there, the vampire owner. Sam Clemson became a vampire by accident. He came yo Half-moon Hollow with his soon to be ex-wife Lindy to try and save their marriage. After building a daytime hiding spot for a vampire, the vamp decided having a human know about his ‘safe room’ was dangerous so he drained him and left him in the woods. Luckily, a member of the vampire council found him and turned him time, though the transition wasn’t easy. Lindy freaked out and had him declared dead, then started divorcing him. The new laws were a bit hazy in some areas after the Coming Out n 1999. Sam was not exactly adjusting well and now he had a mouthy female in his house.
That’s when the war of pranks started, and some were hysterically funny. Tess makes friends with Jolene, Jane and some others from Harper’s earlier books, and soon finds herself enjoying life in a small town again, the kind of town she grew up in. The romance wasn’t the core of the story, rather two folks finding their own way and maybe each other while doing so.
Undead Sublet is good, but the ending is a bit flat. Sam’s character is pushed to a minor roll for much of the story, but as a whole, it works. I give this part a B (4.0*).
Katie MacAlister does her turn with a Dark Ones novella, Shades of Gray. Now Ms MacAlister blows hot and cold for me, but she hit this just right. Grayson Soucek finds a nun climbing over the wall of his ancestral home, knocks her out, ties her up, and tries to question her. What the devil is a human doing on his property, especially a curvy nun who is anything but nun like and claims to be a Guardian and a Beloved. But getting answers is impossible, as are her claims of being a Guardian and Beloved. Only problem is, she smells amazing and seems to think he does too.
Noelle is thrilled to have found her Dark One, the one for whom she the Beloved. Grayson is less than thrilled – uncomfortably excited, but he’s been cursed by a demon and can’t afford to get involved with this attractive, though possibly insane, female. Then he learns his abby has been leased for 2 weeks to some halfwit film crew trying to capture ‘spectral phenomenon. The thing is, dealing with them means getting near the delectable Noelle – and that leads to one thing he was trying to avoid, a joining.
Well done, with two good lead characters and a decent supporting cast (especially the ghost of the horny monk), the plot moves quickly, is kept lean and clear, and has a great ending. My grade is B+ (4.3*).
The final entry is also the shortest, by design to to limit the length of the book is hard to say. Out with a Fang by Jessica Sims adds to her Otherworld Dating series with Ruby, the were-jaguar looking for love after spending 4 years missing the human she really did love and had to dump – dramatically – or risk his being killed. She was on her first date tonight – with a vampire who oddly insists she wear a blindfold in the restaurant. But it’s a supervised date, so she has an out of it gets too weird. Something about him troubles Ruby ………… then she realizes, the vampire is actually Michael, her old human lover, no longer human.
She walks out, Michael trailing trying to explain, but she’s having none of it. They part – but Ruby hears something in the alley and finds Michael caught by a bounty hunter trying to kill him with garlic juice injections. Now the human Ruby is petite and curvy, buy the jaguar Ruby is an Apex predator – and a force to be reckoned with. A force the bounty hunter is not ready to deal with. She drives him off and goes back to rescue Michael and keep in safe.
Now it becomes a game of trying to elude the hunters. They want Michael dead, not because he’s done anything, but because a female vampire has decided with wants him for a blood mate, kind of husband. But another male vamp wants the females and is happy to kill the competition. Thing is Michael doesn’t even know the woman.
Actually, all the running and hiding does is give Ruby and Michael a chance to talk about what happened since they parted. It’s all rather dull, really, but not angsty, just not fun or exciting. Some action, an HEA, but not in sync with the other two. It lacked the humor and light hand with the plot.
I always maintain, every anthology has one weak entry, and for me, this was it. It felt misplaced after two such amusing stories. Thankfully, it was also the shortest of the three too. My grade is a C (3*) for Out with a Fang.
Overall, Undead in My Bed gets a B (4*) as a book and a recommended read for fans of the lighter paranormal romances. I got the book under the 4-for-3 promotion on Amazon.