Thursday, December 17, 2015

A plea for romance writers... or any writers, for that matter

I've been reading for a while now. A few decades or more, in fact. Lately, especially with the rise of self-publishing (although the Big Five produce books of the same quality), I've discovered that many books are being published before they're ready.

Take this one I'm currently going through, a novel I promised I'd review for Amazon. It's an FF&P romance. Like all too many FF&P romances I've read, it lacks, well, FF&P (fantasy, futuristic & paranormal) as well as romance.

By "lacking FF&P" I mean that the world-building stinks. In this, the author has come up with an alien civilization that is, for all intents and purposes, that of Earth with the addition of a few ray guns and cool ships. People on this other world even speak English, eat Earth food, tell their time by Terran standards, etc. etc. No imagination required!

By "lacking romance," I mean that the h/h may exchange long gazes and shivers may run up the heroine's spine when she thinks of the hero, but that's it. There's no reason for it. In this book they had sex—the blandest sex scene I've ever read. There's no emotion, no sensual clues... Just tab A into slot B, and really, not much of that. (Thank goodness.) I think this book handled it in one paragraph, but that paragraph is supposed to form the basis for the entire novel.

In this case also, being an FF&P book, there's psi involved. The h/h touch and—ZAPPO!—instant bonding. Now, I used this in my book as well. In the Three Worlds series, Londo and Lina both have psychic gifts, but I set up reasons why they should be attracted to each other, gave them a few times to tease and touch and test and share some intimate revelations before ZAPPO! took place. After that, I reinforced it.

But all too many FF&P books use this Instant Zappo as the basis for the entire relationship. They are soul mates, or fated to be mated, or their pheromones combine in just the right mix, or an ancient prophecy has declared that... FF&P is the worst offender, but other genres also manage this without using psi.

Let me digress. I love "classic" Wonder Woman, by which I mean the WW who stood for striving for peace, helping the disenfranchised, etc. etc. But she also had abilities due to Amazon Training. When I was a kid reading the adventures of Wonder Girl, she always talked about how she had to go off and practice her Amazon Training. She didn't just appear one day, fully powered, without doing anything to deserve those powers.

One of the big things I disliked about the post-Crisis Wonder Woman was that she received her powers on a silver platter. Never had to do a thing to have them. Bleah!

And take the new Star Trek. (Please!) Jim Kirk gets to be a big-shot captain because he's got machismo. Big balls. He bluffs his way to the top and gets things done in some way I can't really understand. Sparkly explosions and flares distract me from wondering why.

Contrast and compare to Classic Jim Kirk, who had to study hard all his life and make it to the top of his class through work and yes, big balls. He knew every last circuit in the Enterprise, and learned how to deal with alien races. New Kirk has not learned any of that. How does he do his job? He certainly hasn't done his job of making me want to see new ST movies.

So writers: I want you to add a few more layers to these books before you send them off. Figure out who your characters are. I'm tired of seeing gorgeous, rich, powerful guys as the hero and gorgeous women as the heroine, both of whom have no depth to them. Looks and money aren't enough for me. Give me some oomph! Make them work to be who and where they are!

If the h/h get together and it's love at first sight, have them both revel in it. Let me FEEL it. If their relationship starts small and builds, let me delight in that. Show me the steps it takes to create a Romance for the Ages.

Margie Lawson has a workshop that has writers using colored highlighters to make sure they utilize setting, emotions, physical responses, sharp dialogue, and plot. Use all your colors, authors. PLEASE. I'm begging you.

If you can't spare the time to do so, please include one word into the description you use to sell your book: "bland." That way I will steer far from it and save money. Thanks!

Have you read any books like this? What's your impression of them? Do you like your characters to be multi-layered? How "way out" do you like your fantasy/sci fi?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Strickly Two Book Reviews

Y'all know I'm a member of the Rhine Research Center's Book Club, right? We get to read some really dry material sometimes. And sometimes we get the juicy stuff. I'm here to tell you about the juicy stuff.

A few months ago, we read Carol Bowman's Children's Past Lives: How Past Life Memories Affect Your Child. Really good book! (I reviewed it here.) In it she discussed the mounds of evidence about kids having legitimate past-life memories, but her approach was different. She examined this from a "how does it affect the child?" point of view, with the hopes of easing any trauma the child might experience.

I had to get the follow-up, Return from Heaven: Beloved Relatives Reincarnated Within Your Family, which was written in 2001, about ten years after the first book. A good number of the cases she'd been studying had been starting to show a pattern in which someone would reincarnate into the same family. Grandfather would be the new grandchild, that kind of thing.

Why should someone want to come back with the same people around? Turns out that people can want to make things right between themselves and another person. Or there's the simple fact that they love that other person and want to continue to live with them.

There's one instance in the book concerning twins. They were being carried by Mother A. One of the twins decided that no, he wanted B (the brother of Father A) as the father, not A, though the other twin most definitely wanted Father A. But the twin was insistent; their cord wrapped around their necks in utero, and they were miscarried. Mother A, of course, was devastated.

Seven or so years pass, and now Father B is married. His kids turn out to be the twins (twins no longer, but born a couple years apart). The older yells often at the younger about how he wanted Father A to be his daddy. This upsets the B couple, of course.

Over time they realize that their boys are the twins reincarnated. The older boy admits that he truly loves Father B, and makes up with his younger brother. They love being around their cousins and aunt and uncle, though. Eventually Parents B gingerly tell Mother A that these are her twins, returned.

She's ecstatic! She hasn't lost her boys after all, but can still enjoy them in the close unit that these two families share.

Pretty cool stuff. There's also a couple of chapters where Carol talks about and meets Dr. Ian Stevenson, who worked for so many decades gathering evidence about past-life experiences seen through the eyes of children. (FYI, Dr. Stevenson died in 2007.) After meeting with one of her case families, he discussed with her possible reasons for coming back in such a situation, after she'd tried to puzzle it all out. His theory: "Isn't love reason enough?"

Lovely. I see that Dr. Stevenson's successor has also written at least one book on this subject. I'll be checking that out.

Last month our book was another quick read, but this one caused tears to stream down my face at some points. (How embarrassing when you're sitting in the doctor's waiting room!) It's pretty darned amazing: The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There's Life After Death, by Annie Kagan.

Billy Kagan was in his sixties, homeless in Miami. He'd often been a drug addict, sometimes involved with the underworld (hence him using the "Billy Fingers" alias so they wouldn't know his true name), and sometimes he walked the straight and narrow. One day he ran out in front of a car and was killed.

His sister, Annie, about twenty years younger than he, pretty much went into a fetal position when she got the news. They'd had a rough relationship, but she loved him and she knew he loved her. She lay in bed for days… until she clearly heard Billy's voice next to her.

Billy told her to get the notebook he'd given her the year before and write down what he told her. What he told her was what happened after he died.

I've read a lot of Near-Death Experience recollections, and Pre-Life Hypnotic Regressions. There are more and more fascinating books documentating these things appearing all the time. But Billy didn't come back. He went on farther than any NDE. Those people who reincarnated? Billy had reached the end of his reincarnation cycle. He went on from there. Gleefully. Having the time of his afterlife.

He grew and grew in knowledge, delighting in merging with the universe and then telling his sister about it. Then came a time when a being we might call a goddess performed a ceremony recognizing the end of his reincarnations. After that came the day when he loosed his soul, cast it off as he'd cast off his body when he'd died. He became all and nothing.

Pretty heavy stuff! And it's beautiful. My only gripe is that there wasn't an extra chapter with corroborating testimony from the people who were in on at least a part of this, like Annie's good friend, Tex.

Billy leaves us with some lessons. There is no right or wrong. Yes, he was an addict. He wanted to understand addicts, plus he wanted to be more in tune with the universe. This was his final life, and he made sure he had a terrific time during as much of it as he could.

Karma? Eh… Nope.

He says that Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were members of the Great White Brotherhood/White Light Brothers (the "white" is the color of the light, and "brotherhood" encompasses both genders), really, really big figures in the afterlife. Yet I know that neither of them were near perfect. "Most of the White Light Brothers never go to earth, but their absolute light intermingles with and protects your world. If you focus on the white light, as you do my voice, I know you'll feel it… You see, the Brothers aren't souls. They are pure Spirit. Just as our bodies are the carriers of our souls, our souls are the carriers of our Spirit."

"I was an incurable drug addict who wasn't even capable of making a living," Billy says. "Who would have thought that I would be ready for becoming the Universe? Well, that just shows that you can never judge anyone's life, yours included."

He loves a metaphor of an oyster. Life gives you grit, so you should make a pearl out of it. It's true that Life has an awful lot of grit in it, but you are more powerful than you think. You are an awesomely big and powerful oyster. You can choose which grit you let disturb you enough to make a pearl out of it.

"Make your life as interesting as you can," he counsels. "Take chances. Go after your dreams." And: "People spend lots of time on things that make them unhappy—too much focus on the sand in the oyster. To cultivate joy, pay attention to what you like." He means every day. Every moment that you can. Focus on what delights you.

"I took on form to enter time. I entered time to partake in creation."

This is a book I'll likely reread a number of times. It's that good; it's that much to think about.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Headin' South!

Vacation—and just in time! I was going Ca-RAZY!!! at work. Whenever that happens, I NEED to take a few days off or I'll explode. So I hopped the train from Durham. It was the Carolinian, so of course it was running late, and having to stop at the NC State Fair for so long didn't help the schedule any. Had a layover in Wilson, NC, which has a very nice historic downtown block, but around the RR station, it's crap. The Amtrak people recommended the only restaurant in the area, which was across the street and supposedly Jamaican. It was one of those "we're keeping troubled kids off the streets" deals, and I asked the owner what his favorite dish was. "Brown soup," he said. That didn't sound encouraging, but I ordered it. I mean, if it was his favorite...

Ugh. Awful. Bits of chicken bone. Bits of stone-hard rice. Wonky dark flavor. Still, it used up time and eventually the Palmetto arrived (just a few minutes late) to whisk us off to Charleston. Now, when you get on a train, the conductor asks where you're going. Thus I don't know why, five minutes into the ride, two high school (? very young) girls behind me start flipping out. They're on the wrong train. They should be headed to Raleigh. Panic! Shriek! They call their teacher to relay their dilemma. They'll have to get off in Fayetteville, and then what will they do? I tell them to calm down; it's not that bad. In six months it'll be an amusing story.

The conductor finally determines that for a short bit the Palmetto and Carolinian's routes are the same; the girls can get off in Selma and catch the south-bound Carolinian from there. "Like, I'm nevair telling Mom," one girl declares, to have her pal echo it. Do kids really talk like that still? Whatevs. My question is: why do they have the Palmetto and Carolinian assigned numbers that are 10 apart from each other? It's the 79 and the 89 train. Easy to mix up, especially when they arrive (theoretically) 30 minutes from each other.

Got to Charleston at 7:30 or so, shared a taxi to the airport and Enterprise with 2 others. Enterprise hooked me up with my first GPS, and the lady at the desk programmed it for me. Took it out to the car, and the guy there deleted her program, then programmed it. And did it again. And again. I took off into the night—I hate driving at night—and learned to follow the GPS' orders. At one point it seemed to me from previous Mapquesting that I should be near the hotel. The GPS told me to take a right, another right, and another right, all on top of each other. Okay. But where was the hotel? I drove and drove. The city dropped off behind me. Had the color of the roads on the screen changed? I couldn't recall; I was exhausted.

I was on my way to Savannah, not a hotel in Charleston on the Savannah Highway. Finally spotted a convenience store in the middle of nowhere and got directions. Whew! Got to the hotel. I think it was at the end of the triple right thing, but when you overshot your destination, the stupid GPS shut up instead of saying something like, "recalibrating." During the trip I overshot a few more times and it wasn't until I had made some guess-turns and gotten back ahead of the destination that the GPS lady deigned to speak.

But I hadn't figured this out until about a day later, during which I'd called up Enterprise and complained about the programming kid in the parking lot. Hope he didn't get into trouble.

Charleston! It stinks! No, literally. It smells like a sewer. It might be because it was still getting over some serious floods, or not. If you can't smell the sewer, you're smelling camellias (ugh!), which were everywhere, or else you're smelling some seriously good-smelling food. You're always smelling something.

Took a carriage ride and our guide told us that Charleston has the world's largest historic area outside of Rome. This makes for a HOA from Hell, he said. There was one church whose steeple had been blown off during the Civil War. By 2000 they'd managed to come up with money for a new one and applied for a building permit. It was approved in 2006.

Went on a walking tour (in addition to walking for hours and hours on my own) as well as a harbor cruise. Ft. Sumter becomes a lot more interesting story when you see that the fort was THERE. It's just one storey now, but was three back during the "Late Unpleasantness," as they call it. There was another fort just over THERE, and one over THERE, and it was all not that far from the edge of town. It's all so close to each other. Must have been a darned spectacular battle. A wonder that no one was killed until the celebration afterward, when one of the cannons set a pile of ammo ablaze and killed a soldier.

The cruise director and I discussed ocean rise and how Charleston is ignoring it. He said that there's been a foot rise over the past century, and of course the process is about to speed up. Charleston—and all too many other places—will be in Big Trouble.

As for the walking tour, I noticed that the guide only mentioned slaves 4 quick times. Once she mentioned that a certain house had "servants." Yeah, right. But she did go into the big earthquake and pointed out the special supports that houses that went through that now have. One of the tours took pains to state that even though Charleston was one of the four largest US cities back then (9 out of the 10 richest men lived there), SC was only second in slaves. Rhode Island was the primary place for slaves to land, due to the New England rum industry.

There are interesting Historic Houses that would be worth setting aside an entire day to tour, but I didn't. Charleston's downtown is filled with restaurants, shoe stores, clothing stores, and such. It's the second most popular place in the US (next to Vegas) to buy a wedding dress. If you're into shopping, I'd definitely recommend the place. Traffic downtown is fairly awful due to all the horse carriages, but it's nothing next to Savannah. I did notice that there were more skateboarders doing their thing in public streets there than Savannah. I wanted to run over a few just to teach 'em a lesson. For their own good, you know.

Touring was taking up a LOT more time than I'd planned. I'd bought four tickets at the Visitors' Center, and was thinking about ditching the final one, to Magnolia Plantation, in order to take the Gullah Tour, which people were raving about. Unfortunately, the guy who does that one didn't bother to tell me that it's best to get reservations for it, so when I decided to stay in Charleston for a few extra hours to take the tour, it was full already. Darn!

Instead I set the GPS for the Magnolia Plantation, which said it had a good slave tour available. The plantation was located a ways out of town. Back in the day, it took over a day to get there unless you went by river. The river was a tidal one, so not only did its depth differ by 6 feet depending on time of day, but every six hours it changed direction. And yes, alligators can survive in brackish water.

We got in a nice wilderness tour, since after the plantation switched from growing rice, the owners were concerned with making their acreage a showcase of flora and fauna, while alligators, turtles and ducks took over the swamps that evolved from what had been rice paddies. Every few feet along the lane there'd be a cheesy Halloween display with dummies set up with scary masks and such. It seemed to me that at night it might be quite the fright for kids. The tour director assured me that that's what they had set up: night rides through the woods.

"We hire high school kids to jump out, too," she said.

"But I thought you said the alligators were active at night."

"You couldn't pay me to be here at night."

Glad I didn't have to drive along some of those roads. The swamps are covered with duck weed, something I once got for my own fish pond. ("Fish love it! They'll eat it all up!" Nope, it quickly covered the pond and the fish ignored it.) In the noon sunshine, the flat, green-topped swamps looked artificially made… like roads. I could see that someone could easily think they were on asphalt and turn into one. Shudder.

They filmed the swampy parts of Swamp Thing at the plantation. And it turns out that they have only four slave cabins still there, reflecting different eras, but the guide did a great job of giving the story of the slaves and what happened after the Civil War. I asked if any slaves had lived in the Big House, and she said that the owner's wife was from Baltimore. She'd grown up hearing horror stories of what slave nannies did to their white charges, so no Blacks were allowed inside the house around the kids. Instead they hired a 14-year-old Irish girl, who stayed with the family until the end of her long life.

Otoh, several large Black families who were freed because of the War stayed on. Today, many of the employees are descendants of them, and the guy in charge of the grounds is one as well.

One of the plantation owner's granddaughters had numerous nice paintings in the house, which reminded me that I should be painting more as well, especially since I had better access to good materials than she had.

Savannah is just under 2 hours south of Charleston, and is laid out around a bunch of ordered park squares. It's easy to get lost. I certainly did, wandering around with seventeen maps sticking out of my purse. An overcast didn't help my sense of direction. I kept walking south when I should have walked north. Thank heaven for friendly passers-by!

The mansions are more spectacular in Savannah, imho, and certainly worthy of a few days of exploration. I only went into the Juliette Gordon Low mansion because I could barely remember visiting there back in 1965 or so, when my North Dakota-stationed family travelled to Florida to check out some swamp land my parents had just bought. (Don't worry; they got their money back. Eventually. It took Washington Air Force big wigs to convince the company that it was in their best interests to do so.) I still had my daisy pin that Girl Scouts can buy when they visit the house. Juliette "Daisy" Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts, you know, right? The current pin is about half the size of the pin I have.

The tour was given by an EXTREMELY enthusiastic young woman who was about to graduate with her law degree. She had cerebral palsy, and said that the Scouts were the only place she'd found where she'd been completely accepted as herself. Her loyalties to the organization couldn't have been more clear or inspiring. She told us some risqué stories (to her; I didn't think they were racy at all) about how Daisy had grown up in the house, how her mother had been great friends with (spit) General Sherman (Savannah was the one major city he DIDN'T burn), how her parents' parents had been against their marriage because the father's side wanted him to marry British royalty, and the mother's side wanted her to marry someone who'd had to work for his gazillions. Oh, and how Daisy was just about to finalize a divorce from her philandering husband when he died and saved her the scandal.

The place also had a large, laminated version of a comic book I'd had back when I was a kid that told the story of Daisy. "See?" I told the tour director. "It says that a piece of rice got lodged in her ear from her wedding reception, and she was deaf. How does losing the hearing in one ear make you deaf in both?" The guide told me that Daisy had long had problems with her ears that resulted in hearing loss, and that when that rice thrown at her wedding had been extricated by a doctor, he'd punctured her eardrum, causing an infection that made things worse.

I was wowed by Daisy's art, both painting and sculpture!

Actor playing a free woman who was a successful dressmaker.
Took a trolley ride in which it seemed everything worth seeing was on the right, and I was seated on the left. The guy kept telling us to look up at steeples, and there were indeed windows toward the top of the bus, but they were just slits. Perhaps horse carriage is the best way to see the city. Then again, those carriages don't have costumed actors stepping on board at certain points, giving their take on Savannah's history and chewing the scenery something awful.

There was also a free bus, but sometimes it didn't announce what the next possible stop was, and they have a window covering that makes it quite difficult to see where you are, in case that might help the bewildered tourist. The best way is to find someone who's going to the same stop you are and get off when they do.

In addition to all these rides that keep Savannah traffic at a crawl, there's also a pedal bus. The guy on that told me that though one person can work it, it's quite difficult. They take a minimum of six pedaling passengers. I saw one group sedately maneuvering through the streets—the guy said they can go up to 11 mph, though they usually go about 2. Saw one bachelor party wobbling their way down the street, and watched as one bachelorette party took their seats after hitting a bar. They were all schnozzled, and the pedal bus is set up so that a guy can serve drinks from the central portion of it, while their drinks are secured in a trough. When everyone leaves, one guy remains to steer while the other guy hooks the bus up to a truck and it gets towed back home.

SCAD, the Savannah College of Art & Design, is everywhere. At times it seems as if it owns half the city. However, there were art students everywhere, and at one meal I overheard the people at the next table discussing fonts. Saw a plein air arteest at work next to one fancy house.

I tried the Gryphon, a fancy-fancy tea room that let me sit outside so I could watch the Saturday crowd. It was "Wag-a-Ween," and the vast number of pedestrians all seemed to have costumed dogs in tow. The dogs visit participating shops and get doggie treats. How cute! (Proceeds went to local animal shelters.) I got to drink some lovely tea and had crustless cucumber sandwiches and a little green salad and—don't tell—a bit of ice cream. Went down to the corner tea merchant and bought my very first loose-leaf tea and infuser so I can be every bit as classy back home. Even if you don't like tea, check out the place. Inside, they have a huge stained glass rotunda with a glorious chandelier hanging from its center! The instrumental Addams Family theme played softly in the background.

This dog would NOT stand still for his picture!

The tours all made note of the movies shot in downtown Savannah, including Midnight in the Garden of Whatever It Was, Forrest Gump (what was the purpose of that movie, anyway?) and others.

I went to the Jepson Center for "Monet and American Impressionism," a marvelous exhibition that included Monet's "Oat Field," which I think is credited as the very first impressionistic painting EVAIR. This was stuff so cool I even cracked open my wallet to buy the show book. And a cute little magnetic Monet doll for the fridge.

Savannah was shoulder-to-shoulder tourists, especially along the riverfront. There the traffic was bumper-to-bumper and stopped more than at a crawl. Even the pedestrians often had to stand still just because of everyone there. There seemed to be lots more restaurants than Charleston had (though Charleston had a LOT), and watch out for the cheesy tourist souvenir shops down by the river.

I tried out some of the art shops at City Market, and had a lovely, long talk with Sandra Edgar Davis, the owner of the Signature Gallery. She was so inspiring! Her shop displays local artists, and her own work is bright and humorous. She told me about Savannah's mysterious and wonderful Red Cat. At a nearby gallery, I watched an artist do some knife painting, then saw that he had more work displayed a few doors down. He seems to be doing a booming business, but the stuff he does seems to be all the same thing: tree branches with smooshies between the limbs. Occasionally he'll put a local statue landmark in front of the trees, but do that in flat brushwork while the trees are done with knife work, so it looks discombobulated.

All ships in the harbor, and all that, I guess. More power to him.

I also checked out the Blick megastore because I'd been told it was so very, very much more than Raleigh's own Jerry's Artarama. It was nice. Wider aisles, neater displays. Higher prices. I was impressed by their collection of 200ml paint tubes, and asked where they kept their alkyds. I've been thinking about getting those in larger tubes to make me loosen up more, but Jerry's doesn't carry them.

"Alkyds?" the clerk blankly asked. She'd never heard of it. She didn't really think the medium existed. So much for Blick.

Got a takeout salad for dinner, convinced a McDonalds that no, they really did make breakfasts all day now, and so got a breakfast biscuit, returned the rental car, caught the shuttle back to the hotel, and packed for the return trip. The next morning I heated up the biscuit, and by golly the hotel let me take the shuttle to Amtrak. (The night before, they said I'd likely have to get a cab. $$!!)

At Amtrak they gave us 15 minute warning to get our tickets before the window closed for a while, so I dashed to the ladies' room before the train would come. I heard the speakers say, "Wah wah wah," and I ambled out again… to an empty lobby. There was the train! Run, run, run! Turns out it waited until the proper departure time, so I could have walked, but still—!

At Wilson the Carolinian was "only" running an hour late. Got home safe & sound, but I haven't checked yet how much damage I did to the Mastercard.

I think I'd like to take some Homes tours in Savannah/Charleston, but other than that I think I saw everything that needed to be seen. Definitely worth a trip to those who haven't been. Have you?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to being Sensational!

We resume our reviews of Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman (which, it has recently been announced, has been cancelled), this time focusing on digital issues 16-18.

"Dig for Fire," an exciting 3-part story written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman. Art: Gabriel Hardman. Editor: Kristy Quinn.

Queen Hippolyta tells Diana that Diana must journey to Apokolips with haste. "We always keep watch upon one another," the queen tells her of Darkseid and his planet of war. Because of increased "incursions," two Amazons have already been sent there, and the queen wants to know their status.

Somehow Diana finds a Boom Tube that is being used by two Apokoliptians (?) and flies to that world. She takes the one's clothing so she can skulk anonymously and meet Luftan, who has worked with the Amazons. He says the two Amazons have been arrested, Diana's lasso reveals that he's alerted Darkseid's forces to Diana's presence already. He is fearful of what the Amazons might do to his world.

Before Diana can do anything, the Female Furies: Lashina, Bernadeth, Stompa, and Mad Harriet (?) (none are named! Where's the editor?) team up to kill Luftan (his death doesn't bother Di) and then throw the now-unconscious Diana into the fiery depths of the planet.

A colony of scavengers saves Diana, who emerges without any burns because, you know, she's part Kryptonian (augh! Augh!) or something. Even so, the people in this place declare that they are loyal subjects, and that Darkseid knows and sees everything.

What Diana sees is a piece of equipment labelled "Lexcorp."

The Female Furies report to Darkseid. They refer to Diana only as "Hippolyta's daughter." Meanwhile and in quite a timely manner, Diana discovers that the two Amazons are to be executed that day. She asks for directions, but only one man will give them to her. "I never saw no one stand up to a Fury before. Didn't think it was possible. They gave you a good thrashing. But somehow you ain't beat," he tells her wonderingly.

The Amazons are to be executed to set an example to the populace. They see Diana in the crowd and escape being blasted to atoms. (While they were too weak to get out of their bonds, Diana snaps them easily.) Diana flies them into the sewers of Apokolips. Together, they destroy part of the structure to deter pursuit.

As they pause in the scavengers' section, the Amazons spot the Lexcorp thing. It's a bomb. It's theirs. If they drop it into the planet's core, it will solidify it and make the planet implode, destroying the entire civilization. Apparently this was the idea of some Lexcorp spies the Amazons had met, and Hippolyta knows nothing of it. "Imagine what [blowing Apokolips to smithereens] would mean for our people! For everyone!"

I HATE the idea of evil Amazons. No. Amazons are the epitome of peace. They only fight when there is no other recourse, and they are never dishonest or dishonorable in their actions. Of course, in my Proper Wondie Universe, Diana had to work hard to become Champion and does not even remotely resemble any Kryptonian in power levels. Hmf.

Diana tells the Amazons not that this is un-Amazonly in reasoning, but that it's "treason." They say so what; they'd have died anyway if they succeeded. "A GOOD death. So many would have been spared the coming war."

"A war that may never come," Diana tells them before she disavows them as her sisters.

When Darkseid's forces come upon them, the two Amazons manage to get away and shove the bomb into some kind of chute. "They'll sing songs to our memory…" (Kind of hard to do when YOU DON'T HAVE NAMES.) "...I just regret that our princess must fall with us."

Captured by the so-called god, Diana says that destruction is imminent and convinces him to let her go after the bomb. Okay, she wears a heat suit in the inferno, points given for that, and retrieves the bomb, which remarkably has remained stable through all this.

Darkseid destroys the bomb with his omega beams or whatever they're called, and then kills the two Amazons. ("I will honor the agreement... in the way I see fit," he tells Diana. Uh... how is that done, again?)

Diana is Not Pleased and makes a moue.

As she's allowed to return home, two scavengers hiding in the shadows note, "An Amazon -- an outsider -- saved us. Even Darkseid knew it." "He did at that. And you know what? He's not as tall as I thought he'd be."

I liked the story. Didn't like the slips of continuity (bad Amazons; Kryptonian Diana) and sighed over the other kind of continuity (must be an alternate universe because it doesn't fit in anywhere) that Sensation loves. (Anything's better than nu52!) Within the bounds of its own story, things were in continuity, so I guess that's enough.

We still don't know why/how the Amazons and Darkseid are long-time enemies in this continuity. How much motive is present for the action of the story? Why doesn't Darkseid acknowledge Diana as herself, but only as the daughter of Hippolyta? Why does Diana not show any emotion when innocents die? When her sisters die? Why do these Amazons think that killing innocents is a good thing? For all the story's sturm und drang, its soul is missing. And if anything, a Wonder Woman story needs SOUL. That's what she's all about!

The artwork was better than much of what we've seen in Sensation. Excellent proportions, good delineation of the human form and action, and backgrounds/objects. The colors were also vivid. There was one panel where I thought we were looking at a bearded man, but it was just a heavily-shaded Diana. Diana's tiara tended to morph from section to section, but that's just being picky. The art even used Ben-Day dots—how fun is that? Interesting brushwork abounded.

There were a lot of powerful compositions. The dialogue was a bit choppier than I'd usually like, but it was terse and to the point. The story was action-packed and focused on Diana.

I'm left wondering how the heck Lexcorp spies got to Apokolips in this continuity if it's all Amazons can do to keep to their own mission.

But an exciting story nonetheless. Diana came off as completely capable and a true champion.

What did you think about this story? Do you like the idea of evil Amazons? What should be the fate of Apokolips?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

That's right: You could WIN!

The Leaves are Turning!

Hi, folks.

In just a short time, the leaves will turn and fall, and they'll be gone. And so will Kindle Romance Reviews' 2nd $400 Fall Giveaway.  

I signed up to be part of this, so you'll see Applesauce and Moonbeams listed in the book section.
Enter The Fabulous Fall Giveaway now through Oct. 18th. It has $400 in prizes ($200, $100, $50 (x2) in Amazon gift cards, so enter today. Just click here. Good luck & be sure to share the giveaway and support all the sponsors (like me!) for more points!
BONUS: Every purchase will support The Breast Cancer Research Foundation via the Amazon Smile program.
And remember: The best gift you can give an author is the gift of an HONEST review somewhere like Amazon, B&N, or Goodreads.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Strickly some book reviews

Two pretty different books this time, one non-fiction and the other, fiction. Let's start with the one the Rhine Research Center Book Club had us read last month: Children's Past Lives: How Past Life Memories Affect Your Child, by Carol Bowman.

When Carol's 5-year-old son suddenly freaked out at a Fourth of July fireworks event—when previously he'd enjoyed fireworks—only a hypnotherapist could help by taking him back to a previous life. There they all discovered that the boy had worked with and died next to cannon during the Civil War.

It took one session to uncover that (later sessions brought up data that could be verified through historical records) and clear the boy of his phobia, as well as eczema which marked the site of a Civil War wound. His older sister's phobia was about fire. Unknown to her family, she kept a packed suitcase under her bed so that in case of fire, she could escape with her things. It turned out that she'd died trapped in a house fire in a previous life. After an easy hypnosis session, she completely recovered from her fear.

This book not only shows that many children spontaneously recall past lives (probably because they haven't shut out/overlaid those memories like adults have), but that quite a few illnesses and chronic conditions can be quickly cured by re-experiencing past lives and working through them. Carol herself had been the first in her family to undergo past-life regression in order to cure her from terrible recurring episodes of respiratory diseases such as pleurisy, pneumonia, etc. that her doctors had unsuccessfully treated.

Imagine: We can cure some diseases and addictions without drugs and do so quickly, just by past-life regression! The book says that this is quite common treatment in Europe.

What do you do if your children or grandchildren start talking about what can only be a past life? Carol gives advice which boils down to: Don't close them off. Don't belittle what they're saying. Don't ask leading questions. Assure them that this is perfectly normal (it is!) and ask them to tell you about what their life was like, who the people around them were, how they felt remembering it, etc. She gives guidelines for determining if this is a true past life or merely a fantasy. (There are clear differences.)

Carol also gives a thorough run-down of the extensive research that has been done through the years on chronicling children's past-life memories. It's interesting that noted skeptic Carl Sagan said the only bit of psi he considered possible was just this, because so much research had been done on children who could not have been influenced that much by outside forces.

Carol's book is an easy, engrossing read. It certainly sent our book club off on scads of speculation in related areas. Recommended! It's spurred me to order books about the Kaballah and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, since they go into reincarnation from a different point of view. I'll add them to my collection of reincarnation books. (My favorites are Reliving Past Lives and Life Before Life, by Dr. Helen Wambach.)

Note: During the book club discussion I happened to mention that I have a recording of the first Bridey Murphy hypnotic session. I was discouraged because no one had ever proven the historicity of Bridey. The group assured me that that was complete bull; that indeed a number of elements of Bridey's story have been confirmed, including the discovery of an ancient bridge she'd mentioned, that hadn't been found until recently, long after the hypnotic sessions. How wonderful!

The Legend of Lyon Redmond (Pennyroyal Green series, #11), by Julie Anne Long. Julie has such a poetic style. She goes deep into sensory detail, and her language is so rich it pulls through your fingers like deep velvet as you read. She's also constructed Pennyroyal Green, a small Sussex town during the Regency, presided over by two rival families. All along, the series has whispered of the forbidden love between eldest Redmond son Lyon, and Olivia Eversea, and how one night Lyon disappeared, never to be seen again, while the beautiful Olivia languished.

Here we finally get their story, and it was worth the wait. Their heartache has lasted five years (my gosh, has all the action in the other books only taken 5 years?) as they've gone their separate ways. There are several spots that will tear at you, though there's no sex until near the end. (But oh! Olivia's first time was far too brutally done! I wonder if Julie realized it? Olivia didn't seem to mind, though. I notice several Amazon reviewers mentioning this, too.) (Whoops. I didn't mean "tear" in that fashion!)

The conundrum Oliva faces in her present-day (for her) life is not a huge one. In fact, it's rather drab and constructed in obvious fashion. For a finale, I think it should have been whipped to a frenzy to made her final decision and its ramifications difficult. As it was, I wondered what took her so long. (She was terribly cruel to draw things out, which didn't sound like Olivia at all.)

We see an awful lot of familiar characters throughout the story. The epilogue, which takes place in (our) present day, tells us what happened to what seems like EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER that was ever mentioned in the series. The teller of this tale seems to have memorized the life stories of these people who lived two hundred years before. Unlikely—and the sequence goes on FAR too long. It would have been better doled out in bits with each book as it pertained to the characters within. Still, it was good to know what happened to you-know-who and uh-huh-that-guy, and that YKW got what he deserved. Probably. But I can't recall which side UHTG's wife was on. Did karma catch up with her? Did YKW actually deserve what happened? I'll have to go back and reread some of the series.

Some of the more sensuous scenes go on too long as well. Yes yes, the language and imagery are heavenly. But after a while your fingers begin to drum and you wonder if the plot will ever kick in again. This happens several times. I kept thinking that a good editor could have clipped a paragraph here or there and greatly improved an already fine book.

So it is recommended. I gave it five stars on Amazon because the language and emotion really do tower over any weaknesses the story has. Book #11 is a fulfilling ending for the series—or at least I assume it is such. The epilogue certainly hints at at least one more interesting story to be told, located a generation or two beyond this one. (Or has it already been written and I missed it?) I encourage people to read other Pennyroyal Green books as well. They've handled characters from both families, as well as outsiders who rent a house in the village, or people employed in the school or at the church, who are neither Redmond nor Eversea.

Someone really needs to record "The Ballad of Colin Eversea," the song that is warbled in every book, sometimes to great extent.

Happy reading! What have you read lately that you've enjoyed?

Let me experiment a bit with this Amazon Associates thing, okay? I have the first in the Pennyroyal Green books here as well, The Perils of Pleasure. Sorry about the prices on Life Before Life, but maybe you can find it used somewhere.

I THINK that next week I'll have news of a great contest for y'all! Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

La Petite PTSD

I know writing is an art, tra la, but publishing a book is hard work. Exhausting, even. Emotionally draining.

There have been times in the past when I've been emotionally drained, like the time I was burglarized. Though we knew who'd done the job, we had no hard proof, so the police told me I'd never win in court. Instead I sat for over two weeks with my mouth hanging open, accomplishing nothing. Post-traumantic Stress Disorder, of the petite variety.

There've been vacations that have gone disastrously awry, unexpected expenses I had to bend over backwards to cover, etc., all of which were followed by me sitting in whatever La-Z-Boy I owned at the time with my mouth hanging open—for about a week at a time.

Well, ye mouth is hanging open now since the release of Ye Newe Booke, but I'm trying to get things done in the meantime. I'm reading through what's been done on the next one. It's eye-opening to see that there's no explanation of how the heroine got from Point A to Point C without going through Point B. But that can be fixed. That's what edits are for.

It helps that I've managed (how?) to get much yard work done. Sure, it should have been done by last Jan. 1, but it's getting there, which means I don't feel QUITE like I'm running just to keep in place. The house is a wreck, but it's Going. To get. Organized. It'll be a slow process, but I can now see it actually done at some future point. There are other goals that are being attained—one millimeter at a time.

According to The Artist's Way, one needs to replenish one's "creative well." I haven't been doing that, but I'm making an attempt to do so now. We'll see how it goes.

But publishing. Argh. This is why people get married, so they can get their husbands to do the dirty work. There's still a LOT of publicity needed, maybe a publicity agency that should be hired (anyone know of a good one?). I'll get to it. Eventually.

My mouth isn't hanging open quite so wide today.

I've made a FB ad that garnered a good amount of click-throughs. (Don't think it garnered any sales, though.) Lesson learned. And I've thrown the first, half-hearted contest celebrating the release of WORLDS APART, the latest volume in my superhero romance series. (Okay, from vol. 5 on I don't think anyone will classify it as a romance [especially RWA with their stringent definitions], so I'll be calling it a superhero adventure series.)

That contest had as its prize a $25 gift certificate to the place of the winner's choice. Let me set up a random-number generator now, get the list of eligible people together and numbered…

Annnndd…  BadWolf219 is our winner! I'll be firing an email off to you. May you enjoy whatever it is you buy from it! Hm, this is a commenter and not a newsletter person (the two ways one could enter the contest). Which reminds me: I haven't put out a newsletter about the new release yet. I've been using Barnes and Noble as an excuse. They haven't posted the print version on their site yet, growl growl. Maybe I'll contact CreateSpace and ask them what's going on.

Hope your lives are proceeding smoothly, your creative wells are brimming with fun, and that your mouths aren't attracting flies!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


But of course the details on entering will be down at the bottom of this blog.

Worlds Apart, the fourth book in the Three Worlds superhero romance saga (the picture on the right is a link to buying choices), is starting to show up on various sales sites across the internet. I just found a listing of it in Japan, and there's another one in Great Britain on Amazon UK. If you don't find your favorite book site on my page, just Google for it or give a yell and I'll see what I can do.

Tomorrow the world!

The saga follows three characters: Jae Rallene, the last of his people, able to talk to devas and thus change the very structure of matter; Londo Rand, adoptive son of the legendary Maximus—together the two are the most powerful beings this side of Galactic Center, with your basic comic book uber-powers; and primarily Lina O'Kelly, a born telepath and teleporter, and trained psychic.

When he was editing this latest volume, my editor Anselm noted, "The beginning is too domestic." Too domestic???

I've put poor Lina (and the others) through H-E-double-hockeysticks in volumes 1-3. Now I wanted to give her (and the reader) a chance to breathe and enjoy the fact that she and Londo's last names have changed to "Starhart." I wanted to show Cinderella kicking back after the marriage, soaking up that beautiful Happily Ever After.

Unfortunately, Lina has a lot to learn about being the bride of a mega superhero. Not only is there a household to maintain (it doesn't help that the gigantic palace of a house isn't close to being finished yet, or that hubby Lon is adverse to cleaning crews for security reasons), but there are lots and lots of people who want to take her picture—and she's deathly afraid of cameras.

Then there are the nasty folks who aren't particularly fond of Londo in his heroic guise of Valiant. He's never had a weak spot before. Now they see Lina and think: Aha! Will they make her life miserable, or will they want more? Like maybe assault, torture, and/or murder?

Some of these people are backed by an awful lot of power.

It doesn't help that the two men who would defend Lina with their lives are on other-world missions. Or that Lina's powers have been negated by... Well, you'd have to read the story. (Ye Ed said, "What, again?" But I gave the person a good reason besides the fact that he's just a jerk with a stick up his... well. This will be his last hurrah, I promise.)

So the domestic bliss doesn't really stick around that long, though that portion is packed with glitz and glam—everything a Cinderella could wish for. And Montreal! Did I mention the glitz happens in one of the most romantic cities on the globe? Naturellement!

But sooner or later, everyone's got to get back to work. Lina's got a bigger job to accomplish than the vast majority of galactic citizens. Can she survive to get to it?


Yep, YOU could win a $25 gift card! I'll make it to Amazon, iBooks (do they have gift cards?), Barnes & Noble... If wherever you want has gift cards and you win, you'll get it to there.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO is make a comment to the question: Which superhero is your favorite? They can be from comics, movies, TV, books, urban legends... Make the comment either here or (since some folks have probs commenting on Blogger) on my Facebook pages: here or here.

OR be on my newsletter emailing list (sign up above the book pics on the right). I send out newsletters VERY rarely. Ah hates spam!

We'll make the deadline for comments, oh, Sept. 2, 2015, 2 PM Eastern Time. I'll get someone at the office to draw a name. (Someday I'll learn Rafflecopter or whatever it is.) Good luck!

(That cute Blue Beetle pic by Frobman on DeviantArt. Hope I'm okay in using it. If not, Mr. Frobman, please give me a yell.) (I paid for the credit card illo. Hope to be using it often!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Finally: A New Book!

After slaving away for much longer than I'd estimated, I'm very proud to announce that Worlds Apart, Volume 4 of the Three Worlds superhero romance series, is now out! Yay! Let's see what it's about, shall we?

Returning to Earth was no honeymoon

The exciting THREE WORLDS superhero romance saga continues!

After the interstellar chaos of the past few weeks, Lina Starhart thinks she now has time to catch her breath and get used to the idea of not only being a bride but of being married to the galaxy’s most powerful man. But she has yet to learn what the job fully entails.

˃˃˃ Enemies all around

Not only does her famous husband Valiant have to bear the constant scrutiny of celebrity-watching networks, but he has enemies whose attention now turns toward Lina, whom they see as the hero’s primary weakness.

Can Lina step up to her new responsibilities and show herself to be a mega-level champion?
(That is, if she can survive that long.)

Cover illustration by Colleen Doran.
Rated R for violence and sexual situations.

Once again this is a super-sized book, but an awful lot goes on in it. I hope you'll like it. Click on the book cover to the right to see where you can find it. (I'll be adding links as they appear. Some websites take weeks to list books.)

What I need for this book right now are REVIEWS. I'm willing to give away free copies of the book to people who will post an honest review (even bad reviews are good!) on a major site like Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Interested? Give me a yell, either here or on Facebook.

Next week I hope to have a contest lined up. What would you like to see as a prize? A gift card? (To where?) Free books? (Mine or someone else's?) A little teddy bear? Interesting doodads? Believe it or not, I have a few jars of "breast enhancement creme" that I got in a grab bag from work. It won't increase bust size, but to judge from its ingredients list, it'll soften your skin like crazy.

Give me some suggestions! I'm ready to deal out some prizes, if you'll tell me what you want.

—Carol Strick

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Say U.N.C.L.E.!

I'm still waiting for the book to come back from the formatter, so let's talk about one of my all-time FAVORITE TV shows, okay? I mean, there's a movie coming out this weekend that purports to be an update of it, though the trailer seems more a period Bond flick with a double hero.

United Network Command for Law and Enforcement: U.N.C.L.E. This show ran on NBC from 1964 to 1968, and one of its characters, Illya Kuryakin, was my second True Love. (After that mop top Paul McCartney.) Ahhh!

UNCLE (let's spell it that way for simplicity) was a semi-well-known international law agency to the public. They knew about it, but they didn't THINK about it much. It was much like Star Trek (same network; slightly later time frame) in that UNCLE was staffed by a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic crew that hailed from all around the world. In that time of Cold War, the Russian Kuryakin could work side-by-side with suave New Yorker, Napoleon Solo.

(James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, contributed Napoleon's name and also that of April Dancer, who'd spin off to her own show, The Girl from UNCLE. That was ALL the input he had.)

Though the New York UNCLE office had a public entrance, on the other side of the building agents often entered through a curtained cubicle inside Del Floria's Tailor Shop. They'd turn the coat hook sideways and a secret door would pop open, drawing them into a snazzy modern office (staffed with miniskirted ladies, natch) and computer lights blinking on every surface. The two agents were given triangular badges with their agent numbers on them. If someone came in who didn't wear the badges, a "Whee-oh, whee-oh" alarm would go off, agents everywhere would grab their guns and come running, and the bad guys would be done for!

Leo G. Carroll played Mr. Waverly, head of UNCLE's US offices. Rumor had it Waverly never left the office, yet somewhere I believe there was a Mrs. Waverly waiting at home for him.

The show was supposed to have been about Solo, but it was 1964. The Beatles had just stormed America. Here was the exotic-accented Illya (David McCallum's still sexy as Ducky on NCIS) (Robert Vaughn is very authoritative on all those "We mean business" lawyer commercials) with his longish hair (for the time). He was into jazz, he was quiet, and he could do ANYTHING, be it athletic or technical or seductive.


Vaughn's Solo was the ladies' man, the most Bondian of the cast. (Except when he was frugging with someone in a gorilla suit. The series developed an unfortunate case of Batmania in its third season, which very likely contributed to its only having four seasons. Check out more info here.)

UNCLE utilized cool spy gadgets, ahead of its time. Before Capt. Kirk ever flipped open a cell phone, UNCLE agents had pen communicators. Take the top off, insert it upside-down, and say, "Open Channel D!" This was all done to the beat of a cool blue bongo/flute/brass theme.

The series is on DVD and doesn't cost that much. A network I don't get often shows episodes. Just want to sample? It's difficult for me to choose one, but if I had to, I'd go with Season 1's "The Never-Never Affair," (episodes were always "The Whatever Affair") with Barbara Feldon (the future Agent 99 from Get Smart) as an UNCLE agent who doesn't think the mission she's on is the one she's actually on.

Have a blast watching these episodes. You'll be surprised at how many well-known guest-stars the series had (hey, it was immensely popular in its day!) and how many Star Trek actors showed up.

But if you can't watch, I can recommend two fabulous UNCLE books to you. They seem readily available on eBay. Both were penned by David McDaniel, who imbued his work with humor as well as action. Volume #4 is The Dagger Affair. When I visited San Francisco years ago, I HAD to see Lombard Street, because that's where a major scene in the book took place.

Then there's Volume #6, The Vampire Affair, which sees our Stalwart Heroes off to Transylvania.

Both Mad Magazine and DC's Inferior Five had great take-offs of the show!

Trust me, one way or another, you'll enjoy UNCLE!

Fingers crossed for the movie this weekend. Are you going? Do you have fond memories of the original? Do you know what "Thrush" was an acronym for? (It's revealed in Vol. 4!) (And also Wiki, if you like to cheat.)

Later note: Saw the movie. Enjoyed! I'll definitely be getting the DVD so I can watch it again. Illya isn't the zen-like Illya, but he's still cool. (He needs to have more Illya-type hair, though.) It was a CRIME, though, that McCallum and Vaughn didn't get cameos. The movie is actually a prequel, with U.N.C.L.E. not mentioned until the end credits. I look forward to more installments!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Arggh! Yeesh! @#!!

I'm in the middle of full-on edit angst attack.

The book was supposed to have been sent to the formatter a week and a half ago, right before my vacation started. I planned to use that week to paint, putter, and relax. Instead I spent said vacay in front of the computer, progressing word by word through the long manuscript.

And then I got hit by a hacker scam.

Folks, if your Internet suddenly freezes and you get a message from the browser company telling you that an Error 333 has happened, and that WHATEVER YOU DO, don't turn off the browser or your computer, or you may lose EVERYTHING... And that their support team operates 24/7 and will help you; here's their number...

Just force quit out of the browser. Proceed as usual. Maybe get some new anti-virus software.

"First Choice Tech Support" is a scam operation, according to all I could Google about it. There were a few places that said they were a ransomware site. They seemed legit enough to me, and it scares me that I was taken in so easily, when I've easily seen through so many scams before.

Anyway, I contacted the CC company (they've sent me a new card), deleted everything on my HD, and rebooted from my backup (which amazingly I had made just a few days before). Unfortunately, I lost 3 days' of vacation work on the book.

But wait—Dropbox (where I store my wips) has its own backups. Sure enough, there it was. Hadn't lost a keystroke, yay!

But I'm still editing. No time to do a real blog. Current schedule is to get the book to the formatter Friday or Saturday. He could take up to a week to get things done, but fingers crossed: next week's blog will reveal my latest novel!

Hope to see you then. In the meantime, protect your computer with a good anti-virus program. Make a backup now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Strickly some Regency books reviewed

I was in the middle of reading Helen Keller's first autobiography when I stalled out. It's a really good book, but I'd just hit a depressing section. Y'see, at the age of 11 (or perhaps 12), Helen was hauled before a court of inquiry at her school on the charge of plagiarism  For a story she'd written (not for school) when she was 8. Eight years old. At that point she'd only recently been beginning to learn words and how the English language was structured.

And yes, she ultimately discovered that a friend had read her a story about a year before, but she'd been so concentrated on learning the words and phrases of it that she didn't consciously recall the actual story. (She was a KID!) That is, until she was inspired to write a story as a personal gift to an adult friend about the changing seasons. He had it published (it never says if it was with or without her permission) and sure enough, people wrote in to say it was a close copy of another story.

The trial traumatized Helen. She swore it hadn't been done with any intention of plagiarism, and then confessed from her adult point of view that she often had problems sorting out original ideas from ones she had read, because (justifiably) she was in her own head so deeply and so much.

So I decided to take a break and searched for lighter fare. Jackpot! I came up with two fabulous summer reads that I hope you'll enjoy as well. They're not only Regencies by the same author, but make up a 2-volume series though both are stand-alones. There's one character they have in common, and he's dead when both begin. He's the guy bequeathing the castles.

When I was a kid I made the mistake of reading three of my favorite books, those in the "Witch World" series by Andre Norton (the only ones that had come out to that point), in one weekend. After that I have had a difficult if not impossible time of making it through any other Norton book. Ecch!

Once I read a slew of Leigh Greenwood books and discovered that he wrote all his sex scenes the same way, down to the same dialogue. (A lot of romance writers do this, I've found. Guess it saves time?) They were good books, and if you didn't read them in a row you'd never notice. Still, I stopped buying his stuff.

But now and then I still read several books by the same author in a row.

book cover for Romancing the Duke
Here we have Romancing the Duke, vol. 1 of "Castles Ever After," (2014) by Tessa Dare.

Izzy Goodnight is an almost penniless orphan who has had a castle bequeathed to her by someone who only recently became her godfather. She arrives fainting from hunger to the crumbling estate, to be dragged out of the rain by the castle's owner, the recently-blinded and overly proud Ransom Vane, Duke of Rothbury. Both obviously have different ideas about to whom the castle legally belongs. We soon discover that someone in the duke's employ has been embezzling—but who?

The story is complicated by a very funny use of cosplayers. You see, Izzy's dad had written an extremely popular series of medieval melodrama. Izzy gets tons of letters from fans wondering how things had turned out after the cliffhanger that was never finished because of Izzy's father's sudden demise. (And of course, dear ol' dad had never changed his will to provide her with support after he died.) Some of the fans dress up as the characters and travel to fan fairs to join others in reenacting the stories.

A lot of snarky fun ensues. And yet there's plenty of heart-tugging emotions to be explored as well.

After finishing that I decided to put caution to the wind and ordered the next book: Say Yes to the Marquess (2014), whose cover shows our heroine in dishabille for some ungodly reason.

This time our heroine, Clio Whitmore, has some money of her own, but a lot more is tied up with her dowry. She's been engaged to Piers Brandon, the Marquess of Granville, but as soon as he popped the ring on her finger he told her they had to wait to get married until he finished some foreign business.

That was eight years ago. Since then Clio has become the laughingstock of society, as "Miss Wait-More." It doesn't help that when she finally decides to legally end the betrothal, she has to do so through Piers' power-of-attorney brother, the once-champion fighter Rafe Brandon, who has been in love with her forever.

There's a host of crazy characters, including a sister and brother-in-law you'll want to throttle, and a cute but old doggie. The plot takes twists and turns as we dig deeper into our h/h's psyches and both discover that they're stronger than they thought they were.

Ms. Dare writes in a similar style to one of my favorite writers, Julia Quinn. Who doesn't love Julia? I don't want to give anything away plot-wise, so I'll leave this review at that. Both books are quite reasonably priced in their e-forms. I just wish the Avon formatters would provide more of an indent at the beginning of their paragraphs! If you have a vacation you have yet to take this year (or even if you don't), be sure to take one or both books along.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Still a Sensational review

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #11-13 (digital). March 2015
Cover: Paul Davey, Editor: Kristy Quinn

“Not Included”
Writer: Adam P. Knave, Art: Matthew Dow Smith

Big Barda co-stars as she and Diana return from ?? after helping some Apokolips "Lowies," (should be "Lowlies") who sound like refugees. Barda thinks Diana was too soft on them, and that the Lowies/Lowlies don't understand compassion.

It's confusing as to which version of WW this is. She wears a mis-colored nuDC costume. She also queues up to eat a hot dog, which the WML era firmly established as a food Diana despises.

The two hear an explosion or something ("THRA-BOOM," though it's not in that large of letters) and race to investigate far across the city at the Museum of Alternative Energy. There they encounter a group of robot gorillas, which Barda takes great pleasure in battling. She keeps calling them "monkeys" instead of "gorillas," and this is used as a running gag.

"I always think your world will bore me!" Barda says as she uses her energy rod to blast the robots. "But this! Monkeys to punch!"

What exactly is she trying to do in the upper panel?
Diana determines this to be a distraction and eventually finds the Brain (a brain inside a robot casing) and M. Mallah, an intelligent, well, gorilla. (These two are from the Doom Patrol series. Are that many readers familiar with them? Didn't they deserve a better intro?) While Barda and Mallah punch and trade quips, Diana punches Brain's casing and a few chips fly off. (Yawn.) "Eat vortex grenade!" Brain yells.

Pretty much ignoring the resulting blast, Diana begins to reason with the Brain. Turns out he needs a new energy source or his brain will die. Diana proposes to give him such, but he will go to jail. She has to lasso Barda to get her to stop fighting.

As the two villains are carted off to jail, Barda returns to the museum to procure one of the gorilla robots to use for sparring practice.

A modest story, hampered by artwork that... well, it just wasn't there. The style shows promise, but action was not portrayed in any lively sense at all, and the inks were blobby. Combined with the wishy-washy story that had only the one joke and Barda's exuberance to support it... (A real shame that Diana came across as such a wet blanket. Is her being a peacenik so difficult for all these writers to script well?) I'd like to have seen an editor step in and guide the creators more. I think they're capable of a much better job than this.

Writer: Michael Jelenic, Pencils: Drew Johnson, Inks: Ray Snyder

A beautifully drawn (and inked) story shows us an Amazon origin story performed by Amazons under Phillipus' direction on the occasion of Hippolyta's birthday. Apparently they know little about their origins, because this story has Hippy existing well before the other Amazons. She sculpted clay bodies for the rest of her people, into which goddesses placed spirits from the Well of Souls.

Indiana Jones was the one who was involved with the Well of Souls. Post-Crisis Amazons came from the Cavern of Souls, aka the Womb of Gaea. Oh well, as long as they're making up so many other things...

Anyway, the story really plays up Phillipus' slavish worship of her "beautiful queen." The queen doesn't seem to return the feelings much, but rather is cooly polite about it all. It's quite an uncomfortable relationship between the two, imho.

Meanwhile, Diana has been tracking a phoenix for a long time. Finally it dies spectacularly, and the new phoenix that arises takes the ashes of the old one and forms a beautiful decorative egg out of it. Suddenly the Cheetah arrives. She throws a spear through Diana's shoulder. Even so, Diana fights her off.

Cheetah says that phoenix eggs can imbue immortality. She says Diana's looking a bit old (!), so she can understand her wanting one, too.

Then of course (for Sensation) we get a "what Hippolyta taught Diana as a child" scene, in which Diana gets some funny dialogue as she tries unsuccessfully to get her mother to say that violence is a good way to respond to a threat. (Hippy says, "As warriors, we must first be dedicated to peace," which makes zero sense.) (See "peacenik" comment, above. And below.)

Back in the present, Diana pulls the spear out of her own shoulder and of course (nuDC) blood is everywhere. As the battle progresses, Diana doesn't do much to protect herself (why?) and gets severely bashed as she tries to grab the egg. Then Cheetah demonstrates Rucka-era super-speed, running around so quickly she pulls the oxygen out of the air (wouldn't she merely be lowering air pressure? But I digress) even though fires (which require air/oxygen) continue to blaze all around.

Diana falls. She recalls her mother telling her that great battles fought "for something bigger than themselves" are done by the warriors who endure and who don't die too early. (Really?) Diana hauls herself up and then proceeds to beat the Cheetah to a pulp. (So we learn violence is ALWAYS the solution. We aren't supposed to notice that if Diana had just used her lasso to wrap up Cheetah when she first arrived, no violence would have been needed to subdue her. But then, that might have made for a shorter story.)

Let me digress for a moment. There is a classic "Hero's Journey" that many stories follow. A few years ago, I learned that there's also a "Heroine's Journey," which is a bit different along most major points, but especially the end. [And frankly, I've seen heroines follow the Hero's Journey and heroes, the Heroine's.] The classic Hero all too often gives his all—his very life—to achieve his goal. The classic Heroine lives so that she can continue to protect the group involved in her goal. In a comic like that of WW's, since she is an icon of women and feminism (and humanism, don't forget that), it might be nice for Hippy to have pointed this out. But she's too busy singing, "Onward Christian soldiers" to mention that, I guess. Back to the story...

Hippolyta arrives, wearing a version of her own (gag) WW outfit and flying a propeller-driven Invisible Plane.* She has seen Diana's plight in her magic mirror, and has come to rescue her. Hippy asks her what the heck's going on. Diana presents her with the egg and says, "Happy birthday."

Turns out phoenix eggs are special to Hippy because a phoenix died on Paradise years ago, and the queen took the experience as a sign that her prayers for a child would be answered.

From within her Magic Lasso binding, the Cheetah asks, "Is this 'egg' nothing more than the emotional equivalent of a 'World's Best Mom' mug?" Yes, it is. It has no power to grant immortality.

The Amazon mother and daughter embrace as the new phoenix flies off.

We've seen some slippery continuity problems, and the Phillie-Hippy relationship became much too syrupy/cringe-inducing on Phil's part, plus the art tries to get too fancy in places ("Just look what I can draw!") and loses the story—but it's only a few places. On the whole, this is a satisfying and beautiful (and often funny) tale.

Why do writers have so many problems showing Wondie as an INTERESTING non-warrior? All this means is that instead of tearing/beating up things and people, she fixes. She BUILDS. She LEADS (by example). That's pretty active. Exciting, even.

We had a hint of this in the first story, when Barda and Diana were returning from ?? after Diana taught the Lowlies a better way of living. Why couldn't we have seen that? Diana's primary theme is that of positive empowerment. Why not build stories around that?

I know all too many Wonder fans who think WW writers follow her around, recording her adventures and so they can't be altered. Sorry, folks. Stories are crafted. If you have a character whose primary theme is that of positive empowerment, you STRUCTURE your story to show off precisely that. You don't keep handing WW stories that make her seem like any other superhero out there (pow! bam! React to that danger after it's already started! Work as a solo act only! Don't involve civilians!). You don't keep doing flashbacks to her childhood (even though these are usually sweet; once in a LONG while is good, but once an issue is not). You don't have her stop action so she (or her mother) can preach for a few panels.

Insert Marge Simpson mutter here.

What did you think of this issue?
* Wonder Woman is NOT a legacy hero! No! Never! Not!