Wishes on Wildflowers by Valerie Comer

Wishes on Wildflowers by Valerie Comer

I love a good second chances novel as much because it gives people the opportunity to change as the conflict inherent in knowing someone so well before but knowing them not at all now. This book adds in another factor where God plays a strong role in making it possible through finding maturity and inner calm when accepting God into your life.

Jasmine and Nathan’s story definitely falls into the second chances category. We know from the beginning that Nathan went off to live the wild life when Jasmine pushed for more than moving in together. She stays almost in stasis in the eight years between, emotionally not physically, never challenging how she laid all the blame at his doorstep or the very vision of the future that drove him off. Her faith is a matter of habit, and she does not turn to God to understand what happened back then or what is happening now.

Nathan, on the other hand, proved to himself he was over her almost the minute he left her sight, by having many relationships, and was sure there’d be nothing but faint history between them on his return. He comes back to Bridgeview after having his wake-up call when following his dad’s path into alcoholism had real costs. We don’t learn the specifics until later, but the heavy cost is clear from how he avoids drinking now and how he turns down the offers to go carousing with his best friend and Jasmine’s brother, Basil.

Basil is the third main character in this story in many ways. He doesn’t get a point of view, but he’s the topic of thought or conversation throughout. He’s also a strong source of conflict between expecting Nathan to be a fellow bar-hopper and being the only full-time member of the business Jasmine is starting with her brother and cousin. Basil is the current embodiment of the California Nathan.

Nor is he the only prominent secondary character in a story that has family as a main thread. Marietta, the Santoro matriarch, makes her opinions known while the close-knit community extends beyond the Santoro family to their friends and neighbors. This group is constantly swelling as weddings abound.

The prominence of family is a more complex part of the story and a theme all of its own. Which family you belong to carries with it history and expectation that can work against you as much as for. Nathan may have been following in his father’s footsteps, but his idealistic view of the Santoro family from the outside doesn’t hold true for Basil. Basil feels pressured by the family reputation. He’s not the only one, either.

Characters are Valerie Comer’s strength, and Wishes on Wildflowers does not slack in this regard. The three primary characters, along with many others in the huge cast, became so real that I was as much frustrated at them when they made a poor choice as frustrated for them when things didn’t go their way. You’d think with his recent awakening Nathan’s struggle would not be in his behavior but in others’ perception of him. You’d be right in part, but there were times I wanted to shake him as he hid the truth of his past until the worst possible moment. Or when he pushed Jasmine after she’d made her feelings clear rather than giving her a reason to change her mind.

It’s Jasmine where you find the hardest struggle though, mainly because she doesn’t see it. Everyone believes she’s perfect, and while she sees her flaws, she has huge blind spots she must face before she’s ready to move forward. Her grandmother tries to point the way, offering Bible quotes to get Jasmine thinking, but ultimately, Jasmine has to do the work.

The gap between Jasmine’s vision of the future and reality offers several amusing points. For example, when she and Nathan end up helping with someone’s kids, her reaction to a stinky diaper surprised me in someone who was pushing for marriage and kids when she and Nathan were originally dating. Nathan can look back and recognize if he hadn’t run, it would have been a disaster, but Jasmine hasn’t gotten there at this point. Hint: there are more than a few stinky diapers in the mix with kids.

Which brings me to the humorous moments peppered throughout. Sure, there are dark times, tense situations, and ones which demand a re-evaluation of faith and trusting God to work in their favor. But there are also points I was startled into laughter, often right at the end of the scene. Marietta prompts a few, Pansy the goat reappears, and more to keep you from giving up hope that these two can work through the barriers keeping them apart.

I liked how we get to see different sides of, and growth in, secondary characters as well as the main cast. There’s foreshadowing for the books to come, some of it outright, but others were intriguing teases to keep me reading on. As to this story, it might seem simple on the surface, but the elements they’re dealing with are huge. Change doesn’t come in a blink. Still, they’ve set themselves on a strong path, not just with each other but with both their families. It was a joy to see their journey and revisit familiar places and people.

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Things That Make Me Smile No. 200: Steam Mechanics

Learn how a double-acting steam engine works through this animated illustration.

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5 Interesting Links for 02-21-2020

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

World Building (Languages)

While revealing an interesting bit of history in itself, this is an important aspect for authors to consider when writing fantasy and science fiction genres among others. The further the distance, the greater likelihood of linguistic drift or change to account for whether you create a new language or posit a trader’s tongue/Galactic Standard. How are these languages maintained, and how easy is it for someone hitting the road to be understood at the other end of it?

Prosthetics (Psychology)

When a Nigerian special effects sculptor realized few of the prosthetics available in Africa offered a realistic skin tone, he turned his talents to filling that gap. The pictured examples go far beyond the usual flat tone of any skin color for prosthetics.

Astrophysics (Research)

A team of astrophysicists has published their study of frame dragging, or the distortion of time and space caused by spinning celestial objects, as seen in the changing orbit of a pulsar around a white dwarf. This research offers further evidence of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

Digital Art (Tools)

A friend turned me on to Daz3D many years ago, but it wasn’t until I became frustrated in the search for a cover character that I truly adopted the world of 3D digital art. This article offers tips for starting out well so your early creations can spring you forward to greater ones.

History (Women)

The article recounts how American history as taught in schools skips activists who were Black women and explains how the author addressed this weakness in his knowledge. (Via David Bridger)

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Death Be Raven by Katie Epstein

Death Be Raven by Katie Epstein

When you’re a dedicated reader like me, you develop a list of authors you can count on to match a specific book mood. Katie Epstein quickly earned a spot on that list, and with the third book in The Terra Vane Series, she did not disappoint. Technically portal fantasy, the books have an urban fantasy feel and offer a mix of people, many dismissed as mythical in our world, with distinct cultures and powers.

Terra is the Portiside equivalent of the police or FBI. These are police procedurals in part where all the normal rules are different to a small or large degree to accommodate the world. However, along with the dead bodies and investigations, there are strong personal threads, concerns about Terra’s unknown powers, tender moments, and bright spots of humor. The dialogue is sharp and multi-layered as are the relationships, which carry history and unresolved feelings as much as true bonds of family and friendship.

These are not standalone titles and Death Be Raven continues the romantic developments between Terra and Cole, her boss and her partner’s brother. That’s only one of the complicated relationships, though, as Terra’s connection to her partner Kaleb seems to be developing its own twists. She’s torn between all these feelings that she has trouble expressing, and the political and job consequences don’t make it any easier than the personal ones. The love triangle plays a stronger part in the third book for all Terra wants to pretend it doesn’t. Terra’s denials plus Cole’s attempts to balance a secret relationship with their work puts both of them in an awkward position. Neither is good at managing their feelings while Terra thinks Kaleb isn’t serious. Maybe she’s right, but I suspect not.

I enjoyed how Terra and Kaleb’s relationship deepens even without considering a romantic connection, though I fear the consequences of the last. She is starting to see more to him than she has before, looking below the surface. Terra has a habit of accepting her assumptions as fact where feelings, and other things, are concerned, something that has bitten her before. Perhaps it comes from not wanting others to delve too deeply into her past.

But don’t believe the relationships overwhelm the other events. There’s a lot going on as Terra, Bernard (a vampire friend we met in book two), and Kaleb attempt to find the prisoners who escaped in the first book. There is a thin trail of breadcrumbs to follow, and extrapolations don’t always lead them in the right direction. I was inspired to concoct several theories, which says good things about the book, and while some were right, others were not. Then there are the cases where I had a reasonable idea of the answer, but a twist made it even better. A villain monologue at one point expands on seeds we already know and helps the main characters organize a jumble of pieces. It doesn’t come across as an info dump, though, especially not with Terra teasing it out of the character.

I’m struggling with what to reveal as it’s all interwoven, but I certainly enjoyed the read. This book has a self-contained story that resolves if not necessarily happily then well. It also sets up the rest of the series in another, related direction, shifting things before this framework can become stale. The Terra Vale Series is best read in order as everything builds on the previous books, but for those who have enjoyed the first two books, the third is worth staying on course. And if you’re intrigued, I’d suggest checking out Death Be Blue, the starting point in what is an inventive and fun series.

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Things That Make Me Smile No.199: Music and Orkestra Obsolete

Enjoy this time travel moment of New Order’s Blue Monday performed as if the electronic groove had been released 50 years earlier in the 1930s. This music video uses only instruments available in the 30s rather than in 1983 when the song originally appeared.

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