5 Interesting Links for 05-22-2020

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Coins (Ancient History)

Coins can give insight into the time of their minting as demonstrated in the examination of coins minted to commemorate the Bar Kokhba rebellion when Jews rebelled against Rome some two thousand years ago.

Recycled (Art)

French artist Edouard Martinet creates startlingly realistic bug sculptures out of recycled metal parts.

Short Story (Fantasy)

Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy by JY Neon Yang has been on my TBR pile for over a year so I stopped by Tor.com to see if it was still available. I immediately fell into the story. It caught me so completely I could not turn away. This isn’t exactly a cheerful story, though it has moments, but it is compelling and powerful.

Habits (Finance)

Committing to any good habit is difficult, especially after the initial push wears off. This article gives suggestions for how to succeed with establishing good financial habits specifically, though the guidelines can work in other cases.

Guest Posts (Marketing)

Author Phoebe Darqueling reviews the reasons for doing guest posts as part of your fiction marketing plan in the first in a series of essays on guest posts.

How Beer Saved the World 2 edited by Phyllis Irene Radford

Posted in Art, Music, Crafts, etc., Economics, Fantasy, History, Interesting Links, Marketing, Reading, Reviews, Short Story Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Cowboy’s Reluctant Bride by Valerie Comer

The Cowboy's Reluctant Bride by Valerie Comer

This novel is the perfect full circle for the series in a lot of ways. The Christmas connection is the most obvious, but themes and history intertwine between the first novel and this one. The emphasis on faith is stronger than in many of the Saddle Springs titles, and more on par with the focus seen in the author’s other Christian romances. Not that the earlier Saddle Springs titles were lacking in faith, but they seemed more about people already confident in their beliefs, barring a stumble or two. That is not true of this novel, where without the return to faith and the struggles to maintain that choice, none of the story would have turned out this way.

Sawyer seems very changed from his carefree rodeo days, and with good reason. Memory of his friend’s tragic injury haunts him to the point of PTSD, stealing him out of the present and throwing him into the terror, horror, and helplessness of when his friend was trampled. This is a wake-up call not just for his choice of careers but also for how he separated himself from family and especially faith.

Still, it’s not as if he flipped a switch, and everything is perfect. He hides the trauma and focuses on fixing everything to the point of bullying others along. This last is never more clear than in how he treats Anna. He’s confident she’ll give in to his charms and persistence, and ready to force her hand if she holds strong with her plan to adopt out their child. Sawyer treats the situation as a competition, a contest of wills. It’s not until he stops pushing that they have hope of another way.

Side note: The book offers an interesting look at the options available to pregnant mothers along with the complexity of the situation between competing claims and the discomfort of a close relative adoption.

Between the loving support and shared wisdom of his parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law, Sawyer has a lot of help realizing how mono-focused he is. Community is one of the author’s strengths, and it is very evident in this book.

Speaking of family, Anna’s comes up in fragments here or there until we learn everything…and it’s a doozy, I’ll tell you that much. Even better, we get to see some of her situation firsthand. Anna’s upbringing is the mirror image of Sawyer’s, maybe even the funhouse mirror image. The specifics of her history and the personalities involved helps the reader understand what drove her to seek Sawyer in the first place and why she behaves as she does now. It’s a bit of a miracle she turned out so well, but she’s much more complicated than when we met her as a waitress some of the series’ lead characters had befriended.

This book is based on a plot device where Anna believes Sawyer will reject her if she comes clean. She only refers to her secret obliquely, keeping both the reader and Sawyer in the dark for much of the book. While Anna kept the answer from the readers longer than I would have preferred, context clues and hints kept me engaged with trying to figure out what she hid. As far as Sawyer is concerned, once I knew what she was hiding, I could understand the multiple levels to her reluctance, levels which tie back to the first book of the series.

Still, it was about halfway before she has an active reason to keep her past from Sawyer. Anna doesn’t admit it to herself for the longest while, but her decision not to reveal her history from the start is telling. Whatever brought them together originally, she is more than just in lust with him now. Anna’s trying to do what she sees as the right thing, but it’s hard to give up hope of this working out despite her efforts.

I liked how the backstory between Sawyer and Anna came up logically within the story context. Sawyer receives a text from Anna out of the blue, so his thoughts go to how they left things. The introduction of his change of heart regarding the rodeo, though, I cannot use the word “like” for. It was skillfully introduced within the story as part of a few terrifying moments. Sawyer believes his nephew has climbed down into a corral full of unhappy, milling cattle and panics. Nicely done, though far from likeable.

There are also beautiful segues between what is happening in the world and how the characters feel about their relationship to God. Simple things like a bright, welcoming day clouds over as the character realizes they are not living up to their renewed faith, for example. I’m keeping it vague because the passages are best experienced in context.

My only issue with the writing came in their faith journey. Both Sawyer and Anna have renewed their faith before the book begins. At the same time, old habits and patterns keep pulling them away from God, a realistic portrayal. However, the description of their difficulties rang too similar at times, and so felt a little repetitive. Ultimately, though, their faith struggles are tangible on the page. It’s easy to see the process and not just the end result.

Whether primary or secondary characters, they didn’t have all the answers, made missteps they had to resolve, and weren’t always the perfect examples of good Christians. If romances offer possibilities for conflict resolution, inspirational romances add possibilities for resolving faith struggles into the mix. This story depends heavily on the belief that everything should be released to God. This can seem to be abdicating responsibility for free will choices. In this novel, however, the characters accept responsibility for their actions and choices. They’re not separating their decisions from the consequences. Rather, they are allowing for God having a plan and trying not to interfere with the plan by being bull-headed and thinking they know all the answers.

This review is longer than I expected or planned on, and I cut it down, but it speaks to how much is going on in the book. Beyond complex characters who earned my sympathies even when I didn’t agree with everything they did, the story explores a difficult situation where both main characters have changed since the irrevocable decision to sleep together in a previous book. This is a novel about consequences, but it’s more than that. It’s about trusting in God, accepting forgiveness, and not standing in judgment over others.

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Things That Make Me Smile No. 211: Cooking with Steampunk

Another bit of fun creativity by author Laurel Anne Hill as she reveals the recipe for how she writes her steampunk stories. It seemed a good smile to choose seeing as she is a BayCon author. BayCon would normally be held this upcoming weekend.

BayCon is running a mini-con event in Zoom on Saturday, though. Go to the convention website for more information.

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5 Interesting Links for 05-15-2020

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

Miniatures (Art)

It’s been some time since this artist has posted a new picture, but feast your eyes on an amazing collection of realistic miniatures going about their tiny lives.

Technique (Crafts)

When I was a kid, I used matches to age papers before I wrote poetry so they looked like they’d come from ages past. Whether for a steampunk costume or a Halloween decoration, this technique does much the same for glass bottles.

Portrayal (Disability)

An interview with author Verity Holloway, who has Marfan Syndrome, about the portrayal of disability in fiction including what has been done well and poorly.

Psychology (Food)

Comfort foods don’t necessarily have to be bad for you. Here’s a list of foods that enhance your mood and your body. While all the suggestions didn’t appeal to me, there should be something for almost anyone on this list, including those with dietary constraints.

Standards (History)

While the battle over how many spaces come before a punctuation mark can be heated, here’s a brief history on the subject to provide grounding.

Seeds Among the Stars: A Science Fiction Adventure
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A Royal Kiss & Tell by Julia London

A Royal Kiss & Tell by Julia London

This is the second in A Royal Wedding, a series where royalty steps beyond the bounds of expectation to find true love. The series is more than only romance so far with this book also containing intrigue, though not a mystery. Instead, Prince Leopold is tasked with using his access to discover what treachery is afoot between those with the power to modernize Alucia and its sister country. As a story, A Royal Kiss & Tell offers everything that drew me in with A Princess Plan, something I found a little surprising to be honest.

Lady Caroline Hawke, or Caro to her friends, is not my kind of female lead. Eliza, from the first book, was much more someone I appreciated, and I shared Prince Leopold’s opinion of Caro as self-obsessed and shallow. Leopold didn’t start out all that strong either, being more often in his cups than doing anything of interest.

It didn’t take long for these two to revise my opinions, though. Both undergo a period of self-reflection in which we learn why they have become the frivolous people they are at the beginning. Even better, they are each working to amend that image of themselves, if in very different ways.

Caro has recently discovered her love of fashion carries with it a love of, and talent for, design. Over her brother’s objections, she has even gone beyond designing for herself, Eliza, and Hollis to taking requests from others. Her brother and guardian Beck worries for her future and the cost of all her expenditures, but he cannot see her vision. This is the heart of Caro’s fears. She worries there’s nothing inside her at all as none of the potential suitors, or even her brother, see something other than her shell. The very fact of her concerns tells me there’s more.

Leopold has always been the spare prince. He received little attention and no training for a role his brother Sebastian is destined to fill. Rather than let frustration swallow him whole, he drowns his lack of purpose, going from party to party until he doesn’t even remember the first time he met Caro. She does, however, and presumes a close friendship because of it he doesn’t share.

The book begins mostly with the aftermath of book one (including a recap of the murderous plot). While Eliza and Sebastian finish the last of their social obligations in a grand, formal, Alucian wedding, Leopold drips contempt on the pushy, yet beautiful, sister of his friend Beck. As with the first book, the descriptions, as seen through Caro’s eyes, run a little long for me, but it also does a good job of setting the reader up.

Not only are we put back into their world, but the grounds are laid for Leopold’s change and Caro’s unfortunate habit of catching sight of, and misunderstanding, odd circumstances with the prince. It’s no coincidence. Caro refuses to admit to her infatuation, especially after Leopold gives her a firm dressing down, but she cannot keep her eyes off him. She has a sixth sense of his location at any given moment.

Intrigue, open-door intimacy, and a firm dose of sharp dialogue mix with the costs and complexities of London society. This is a fitting continuation of the series, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Caro and Leopold. I’m looking forward to what the fates will bring Hollis’ way, as I’d guess she’s next to find love, a second love in her case.

The book will be available for purchase on May 19th, and I recommend it for fans of Victorian romance and Georgette Heyer.

P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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