A Reaper of Stone by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

A Reaper of Stone by Mark Gelineau and Joe KingI wasn’t ready to reach the end of this book, and not because there’s a scene or two I wanted to see live instead of in flashback or discussion. I didn’t want to pack these characters away. That’s the sign of good storytelling, something clear from the starting prologue which turns expectations on their head and gives us a taste of the adventure to come along with both tension and humor.

A Reaper of Stone is a traditional fantasy adventure, but not as in the cliche. It’s the type with villains who should have been better people and the main characters determined to live up to their vows no matter the pressure to be like everyone else and allow corruption into their roles. Elinor models herself on tales of old, and there’s both truth and strength to be found in them. Her determination, though, requires the help of friends, newly made and older, to keep her resolve and have her back.

Elinor might be the main driving force, but Conbert is as much a main character. They offer a well-done switch of traditional roles without depending on stereotypical traits. Elinor is the fighter not because she’s unique but rather Elinor has been training hard her whole life and comes from a rougher world than most city-bred candidates. She’s neither emotionally stunted, brash, or a bully. Her strengths do not change her into something other than the honorable young woman she is.

Conbert is the scholar, though as an engineer he is not all paper and books. He’s a negotiator in part because he’s empathic and aware of the people issues, but this ability doesn’t make him weak or emotional. He just has a talent for seeing to the heart of people and uses it to smooth the way and offer critical advice.

The story plays on the dangers of neglecting the past and forgetting the purpose behind old traditions in favor of greed and ignorance. It’s not so much anti-progression as a warning against letting the more selfish impulses run rampant. Still, a strength of this story is how it doesn’t give a straight classist argument as many fantasy novels do. It’s not the corrupt nobles against the innocent and good peasantry. The book gives a more nuanced portrayal allowing every person, regardless of role or birth, to make a choice. That’s critical because it leaves open a path of change rather than seeing future as a pre-ordained disaster.

Despite its length, this is a complete tale with character change and deeper meanings to make it memorable. The world building has many common European markers, but also unique elements to draw the reader in. The actual writing seemed rough at times, but the storytelling and adventuring feel pulled me past any hiccups. I was eager to learn what would happen next and to see how the earlier events would influence the future.

While in many ways a young adult title skewing to the younger edge, the book has a bit of situation-appropriate swearing and conviction has its, sometimes brutal, costs. I mention this not to scare anyone off but so you can judge tolerance. Story wise, I don’t think a younger teen would fail to find enjoyment and a reminder of the rules of honor passed down in myth as they were not in reality. The older set are likely to enjoy as much as I did.

P.S. For those keeping track, this book was written by at least one BayCon author. I’m sorry it took me so long to read it.

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Things That Make Me Smile No.187: DIY Mechanical Kit

I share mechanical puppets and the like often, but this one is available as a kit that allows you to both build and animate your own automation. It’s pricey, but everyone can enjoy the video and imagine going through the steps. For those doing NaNo, this guided creative process might help encourage your own.

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Memories of Mist by Valerie Comer

Memories of Mist by Valerie ComerValerie Comer’s romances tackle realistic situations that can fall under the “truth is stranger than fiction” banner because some character types are rare in romance. Memories of Mist is a better example of this last than most through Myles, the main male character.

Many people see changes of opinion as weak regardless of the reason, and master conflict avoiders like Myles are why change gets a bad name. He’s not unlikeable, and I understood how his background set him up to be this way, but he acts on impulse, counter to his decisions, and then seems surprised by the repercussions. This made him hard to relate to at first. At the same time, it made him very human even as it raised stumbling blocks into mountains. It also gave him real room to grow.

The novel premise is simple, though far from easy. What if a teacher falls in love with one of his students’ parents? It certainly raises concerns about special treatment, power balance, and propriety.

This is why I enjoy these books so much. They drive you to look at a situation closely, to see where you would stand if you were involved, and to explore the possible solutions available. One of the triggers is a jealous parent who reports them to the principal in the early part of the novel, before they have even acted on their feelings. This is a rarely recognized type of bullying in a society that handles such behavior poorly.

In a very real way, the basis for all the conflicts is created by a principal, teacher, and parent allowing another parent to manipulate them by using gossip and supposition to undermine a budding connection. It’s also a reminder that an active community is not always a good thing, nor can the community be trusted to balance of gossip and truth every time.

The problems of a small school certainly inflated the issues, but this was a case of the appearance of impropriety driving actions rather than the reality. It’s not a great lesson for the students, nor did it make the curiosity of an earning relationship manageable when they’re told to wait until the end of the school year. Basically, the principal told her friend and a new teacher it would be better to sneak around, lie to Adriana’s children, and deceive the whole, close-knit community than model a healthy relationship in complicated circumstances. All this to appease a jealous mother who was pushing herself at the teacher.

Is there any wonder why things blew up? How they collapsed under the weight of deception, though, pulled in Adriana’s fear of losing someone again and Myles’ history with broken families along with other aspects of each of their characters. I trust the author to provide interesting lessons and thinking points. This novel is no different as Myles and Adriana have to fight instincts of self-preservation and pride, and learn to follow their hearts before they can accept this gift of love. Theirs is not an easy road, and I shed a few tears here and there as well as some chuckles, but it’s certainly a compelling one.

I’m also a big fan of found-family novels. In romance, this usually means one or both main characters have kids. Adriana, a firefighter’s widow, not only has two kids, but one of them is a crisis waiting to happen. Violet is slow to adapt and quick to turn every conflict into a meltdown. She left the terrible twos behind years ago, but still acts that way, and everyone tiptoes around her to a degree. This might be because her last five years have been spent in the shadow of her mother’s grief for a father she barely remembers, but it’s still not healthy.

This situation creates a strong theme about how to handle a problem child without letting the child gain unreasonable control. The difficulties, and solutions, came across as both realistic and hard, something I consider a strength. Violet also adds another complication to the secret relationship because her reactions cannot be predicted easily.

I’ve mentioned community already in a negative light, but this author shows how community members support each other as much or more than the downsides. In Memories of Mist you have pushy–but wise–friends, help from odd quarters, and things I can’t mention because they come too late. The questions of faith were subtle because both Myles and Adriana believed themselves strong in faith, but they had to figure out they’d been leaning more on their own will than God’s in reflection. Therefore, the faith questions could not be overt and yet faith is an ever-present, underlying theme throughout the story.

Local food culture raises its hand, too, their first encounter not a pleasant one. Myles, fully ignorant of the local food movement, discovers he’s expected to introduce second graders to where food comes from as part of a community-supported project to build the school a greenhouse. Since Adriana is a leading force in the local food movement, she’s quick to make it clear he has no option. She’s also willing to educate him when he needs help first against his will and through his stomach then through advice. I’d be happy to sit at those tables.

Memories of Mist is a romance novel that offers a lot to chew on. It maintains the themes of the series–community, faith, and food–while bringing in new conflicts and characters to build on the ones I have come to know and love. It speaks well that I recognized most of the repeat characters even with some time lapsing since I read the previous novel in this series. Myles might not be your typical hero, but Adriana is certainly not a damsel in distress either. I enjoyed coming to know complex characters who may not have always shown themselves in the best light, but they learned from their mistakes and grew in faith, love, and happiness.

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Things That Make Me Smile No.186: Steampunk Music Video

I’m trying to choose smiles with some form of inspiration for those undergoing the NaNo (a 30-day challenge to write 50,000 words) during the month of November.

This is a powerful song with an evocative feel. Don’t watch the video if you have issues with hand-held camera movement, though I do and enjoyed anyway. It’s a beautiful, close-up view of old gearworks. With no further ado: Alice’s Night Circus – The Machine.

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5 Interesting Links for 11-01-2019

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

Research (Evolution)

There are several evolutionary jumps where we can see the beginning and the end but not how it happened. A discovery regarding simple and complex cells might fill in one of those gaps, but some scientists question the relevance of this apparent missing link.

Military (Language)

While some terms persist across military generations, others are tweaked or reinvented. This list reveals a good number of the modern terms whether you write military fiction or just want to know whether authors and TV shows get them right. Always check with a current service member when voracity is key as change doesn’t stand still. (Via Andy Zach)

Research (Psychology)

As a writer whose characters come to life in my head, this article immediately caught my attention. It’s an interesting bit of research that might be relevant for sorting out the different types of writers as well as providing insight into something often hidden from society. The incorrect belief that hearing voices is automatically tied to psychosis means few with any consistent experience will admit to it.

Philosophy (Reviewing)

A thorough look at what negative reviews are and why a blogger might write one. While I have decided only to write reviews for books I can give three or more stars to, the reasoning here resonates with me. (Via Rennie St. James)

Recycling (Sculpture)

Amazing animal sculptures by Andrew Chase that can change position. The articulation is mostly manual poses, but still a wonder.

Seeds Among the Stars: A Science Fiction Adventure

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