Three book reviews: Raven Kin, Aster Wood, Lindorm Kingdom

So far this January, I’ve gobbled up three newly-released books, one of which was an advance reader copy. I wanted to share them with everybody!

The books in question:

three-books

Disclaimer: I totally shop books based on their covers. Notice how all these have rocking covers? Oh yeah.

First:

Aster Wood and the Blackburn Son (Book 3)
This is the third book in the series. It’s about a teen from Earth, except this is a dying Earth with poison rain and stuff. Aster stumbles across a weird gold-etched page in his grandmother’s attic, which turns out to be a teleporting link to another planet. As it turns out, there’s a bunch of these planets, all related because they share a crumpled space-time area called The Fold. Except a bunch of mages unbalanced the Fold and now all the worlds are dying. Cue Aster’s attempts to fix things in book 1 and 2. And now book 3:

My review: After the end of the previous book, when one of the characters was turned evil, we knew that Aster was going to spiral for a bit. And he does–the first few chapters are hard to read. I kept thinking that Aster badly needed a friend. Fortunately, he finds the other characters fairly soon. Somebody has enchanted the city of Stonemore, making all the people there laughing, singing members of a Disney movie–completely unable to defend against the army coming to wipe them out.

So Aster runs around, trying different things to save his friends and his sister. In this book, we learn more about the glowing white animals that have helped him before, and they’re totally awesome. We also run into some more characters from book 1, as well as learning some surprising new twists about the Corentien.

All in all, a solid addition to the series, and leaves you wishing the next book was already out. 🙂


Second:

Lindorm Kingdom

Summary: What if your freedom came through the one who was meant to destroy you?

The lindorm has more power in his dragon body than his human mind can reliably control. The strength that has kept him alive until now is growing into a liability. He’s running out of time to break his enchantment, and he doesn’t even know how to start.

As a teenage single mother, Linnea endures cruelty and indignities to maintain her independence in a culture that only values the strong. When she tries to save a vulnerable child, her persistence irritates the wrong people and her jealous stepmother offers Linnea to them as lindorm bait.

No one cares if Linnea will be an effective means to get past the dragon’s defenses, a strategic distraction, or simply its last meal.

Linnea and the lindorm are expected to eliminate one another, but these two have never been good at doing what’s expected of them.

My review: This is a hard book for me to review. On one hand, I’ve looked forward to reading it for a really long time, and it’s a great take on the fairytale about the girl who must wed the dragon.

On the other hand, the writing is … strange. The first third of the book is extremely hard to read, because all the dialogue is non-sequitur. There’s very little description for a long time, and there are at least 5 first-person perspective characters who we swap between very quickly. The book does improve, however, and the flow gets better as the story enters the fairy tale part.

I would have been happy had the book ended after Linnea frees the lindorm from his curse. After that, however, I had a hard time following the other characters and their political machinations. I had seen what I paid for, in essence. It was like we went immediately into stuff that would have been better left for book 2.

Linnea is a strong-minded heroine who bears the stigma of being raped and having a kid, yet her rapist “proved his innocence” by murdering her father (due to the kingdom’s twisted laws). So a lot of this book deals with her preoccupation with being raped by everything male, and her rapist’s preoccupation with raping her again. The lindorm, of course, is exempt from this–until his spell is lifted. Her story and the lindorm’s are the most fascinating plotlines.

There’s a bunch of other stuff going on with the prince needing to marry a princess from a neighboring kingdom to prevent war, and djinn, and fairies (?). But I personally didn’t find that as engaging as Linnea and the lindorm’s storylines.

This is all my personal impressions, understand! Other readers may enjoy the book far more than I did. I think fans of Anne Elizabeth Stengl, especially, will eat this book up. But it fell a little flat for me because of comprehension issues.


Third:

Raven Kin (The Blackfeather Chronicles Book 1)

Summary: Silas is the last of a rare species of alchemical creature, and he’s quite content in his role as his mistress’s favoured companion. Anwyn is kind, and in his eyes a goddess. What more could a griffin ask for?

Only all is not perfect in the city of Anfi, where unfortunates are considered chattel, and the shift from noble to slave can happen overnight. Mistresses, however kind, do not possess divine powers. And fate has other plans for Anwyn. Silas must learn all that there is about what it means to be raven kin. Pampered pets don’t live long when they’re left out in the cold.

The might of the Janian Empire is great, yet when Silas finds himself embarking on a desperate mission, he discovers that there are things greater even than an empire.

And empires crumble.

My review: I picked up this book’s sample primarily for the cover art. A raven-griffin? Haven’t seen one of those before.

A look at the sample proved that the writing is solid, the world building good–kind of a Roman Empire on the verge of collapse–told through the eyes of Silas, griffin of mysterious origins.

I bought the book and read the whole thing in one afternoon. The book reads like the Queen’s Thief books–like historical fiction that, oh wait, has magic in it. Silas is besotted with the human girl who raised him, and knows that no good can come of her illicit romance with a slave.

Younger and more sensitive readers can be assured that while sex and rape are discussed, it’s all through the distant, practical viewpoint of a griffin–discussing how men twist the mating act. It’s never on screen.

While this book wraps up its story nicely, I’m eager to read more books in the series! Alas for new books–one must wait so long for sequels.

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Gorgeous wooden puzzle boxes

I’m cobbling together a cover for a book I’m working on called Malevolent. But the original title was Puzzle Box, because a puzzle box features heavily in the storyline. I wanted one on the cover, so I started looking at pictures of them.

Look at the Google search! These are so gorgeous, I’d love to have some on display just for the artwork!

puzzleboxes-1

puzzleboxes2

Aren’t they pretty? Of course, I’ve always had a weakness for really pretty things made of wood–like hand-carved mobius strips.

mobius-strips

But yeah, puzzle boxes. There’s tons of Youtube videos of opening them, and the way they pop open and unscrew and stuff. I can’t imagine what it must take to design and build one!

Knitting on a spaceship–free short story

A Stitch of Honor is free today! It’s just a short story, about 20 pages. It may make you cry at the end. 🙂

Available on Amazon

Captain Jefferies, of the research starship Pulsar, is on his way home after a long mission in deep space. He’s looking forward to real coffee and time with his wife–and he’s certainly not interested in that knitting kit that she sent with him.

When his ship is attacked by a hostile alien ship, Jefferies finds his ship infected with an alien virus that kills randomly–and he’s hauling it back to Earth.

Now quarantined in high orbit, Jefferies begins knitting a scarf for each of his sick men, partly to pass the time while waiting for the virus to claim him, and partly as a gesture of honor. But will any of them survive the quarantine?

A peek into daily life around here

I haven’t done this meme in aaaaages–Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real, from Like Mother, Like Daughter.

{pretty}

bougainvillea

Because it’s January, and we all need a little more color in our lives. This is some bougainvillea in front of our apartment–it’s just about the only thing blooming right now.

{happy}

kids-playing

Most of the kids (except the baby) playing in the sandbox with the other kids. It’s a cool, windy day, and the cold will run them inside eventually. In the meantime, I’m just glad the boys are outside!

{funny}

happy-baby

Nothing funnier than a happy fat baby! She was desperately trying to see the camera’s screen, so it was tricky getting a picture.

{real}
kids-room

The kids’ room after a morning of intense play. Yep, this is how their room looks on a daily basis. If I don’t intervene, this mess will spread to the living room, the hall, the bathroom, the kitchen … it’s like this unstoppable blob of mess. Fortunately, I have a bunch of small people with unlimited energy who can be, ahem, encouraged to clean up after themselves.

Birdwatching is fun

I’ve been thinking about doing a study on birds with the kids–the different kinds, their nests, calls, and so on. So I figured that I need to get back into the swing of paying attention to birds again. This entails mostly sitting quietly with a pair of binoculars. I used to be quite a birdwatcher in my youth–I had a life list and everything.

So I went outside with my binocs to see what I could see. Immediately I noticed a small bird fluttering around inside our big pines, keeping up a steady “Chip! Chip! Chip!” After a while, I spotted him. A little gray dude with a yellow head.

I’ve never seen that one before! Desperately missing my field guides, I typed his description into Google. After a while, I hit a match:

Verdin. Photo from Google
Verdin. Photo from Google

It’s called a Verdin, and it’s a little desert bird. If you’d like to hear his call and song, they have it here. I’ve heard them singing, I just hadn’t been able to spot them before.

Then I ran around with my camera. The verdin never came low enough for a picture, but I did snap some Mexican ring-necked doves that came to eat some feed I put out.

mexican-ring-necked-doves

My next photo target will be the great-tailed grackles that hang out around here. They’ll be mating in the next month or so, and the males will be showing off their tails to the ladies.

So, if I’m interested in something, the kids will be, too. And birds are interesting!

New kid bed get!

Over the weekend, we finally picked up and assembled my son’s new bed, gifted from his grandparents. This had precipitated a major rearranging of the kids’ room.

DSCN0545

The girls now have the bunk bed, and the crib is available for the youngest, once she’s weaned.

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My son’s selfie. This is what happens when I send him to his room with the camera and say, “Take some pictures for my blog!”

DSCN0567

And there’s still room to play! All in all, a satisfactory arrangement.

Dry days

This is the third day this week that our water has been turned off. It’s gone up and down intermittently since Sunday night, when there was no hot water–then it was off Monday, and a long stretch Tuesday.

The kids working on art stuff.
The kids working on art stuff.

Today we at least we were notified that it was going to be switched off. It’s amazing how much you take running water for granted. Simple things like washing hands or flushing a toilet become much more difficult and epic. I begin pondering things like hauling buckets of water from the swimming pool.

Things like cooking become epic, too. I never thought about how much water I use doing daily things. For instance, I was going to go make cookies–until I realized that I wouldn’t be able to wash any dishes. The horror! I’ll wait until the water comes back on.

But it does make me think about how easily civilized life is disrupted. If the power or water goes off, what do we do? Do we have an emergency plan in place? I think after this, I’m going to stash a few gallons of drinking water around. And canned foods–things that we could eat in the event of a catastrophic power failure.

I’m also so thankful that our infrastructure holds up as well as it does. Water failure is the exception, not the rule. I’m so thankful we have a mild climate, and this is happening in January, not August.

In other news, I’m so thankful that it’s Friday! It’s been a long, busy week.

Dinosaur drawings–protoceratops and velociraptor Mega Sceptile

I’ve been drawing dinosaurs a lot lately. I guess I’ve always drawn dinosaurs as kind of a comfort thing, so I kind of revert to them whenever I need something to draw.

Here’s a protoceratops, which grew out of griffin-related ponderings.

griffin-protoceratops

I’ve also been down with a flu bug. And what better thing to do when you’re sick than play Pokemon? I’ve been burning through Alpha Sapphire like there’s no tomorrow.

So here is a raptory version of Mega Sceptile, in all his leafy goodness.

megaraptorsceptile

Also been playing the Forestry mod for Minecraft. You raise bees and trees. It’s slow and just my speed. 🙂

Stuff about the chupacabra, or Texas Blue Dogs

Mention the word “chupacabra” anywhere online, and you get two reactions:

The wide-eyed nod of the believer, and

The frothing, spluttering, teeth-gnashing of researchers and scientists.

I’ve heard about the strange, bald dog people have seen running around killing livestock, and how it seems to prefer drinking the blood of its victims. I personally don’t see anything too weird about this–there’s stories of sheep-killing dogs that only kill to drink the blood (see the novel Bob, son of Battle, for example). Heck, foxes will butcher an entire coop full of chickens just for the fun and flavor.

So here’s the results of my research.

The first place I ended up was the family in Texas who trapped a weird hairless animal that was eating corn. But if you look at its little hands, and the remnants of silvery hairs all over it, it’s totally a sick little raccoon. And it doesn’t have the jughead that the bigger dog chupacabras do. This theory is talked about here:

Another clue about the animal’s origins can be found in where it was discovered: in a tree. This is a typical place to find a raccoon, but unlikely for a dog or coyote. Furthermore, in a video of the animal, the Ratcliffe chupacabra picks up food with its paws to eat. This behavior is also typical of raccoons. The mysterious critter is currently being fed a diet of corn and cat food, but if the creature truly is a chupacabra, that theory can be easily tested: Put it in a pen with a goat or chicken, and see if it attacks them and sucks out its blood.

The reason that the Ratcliffe chupacabra has been called a chupacabra is not that the mysterious animal’s characteristics match those of the legendary vampire — because they don’t — but instead because those who found it didn’t know what else to call it.

But that still leaves the big nasty dog-thing.

Bluedog-chupacabra

This is the taxidermized dog that Phylis Canion dealt with–it killed a bunch of her chickens, then she found it dead and had it mounted.

Here’s another one that taxidermist in Blanco mounted, and it caused quite a stir:

Bluedog-chupacabra2

Phylis Canion sent her specimen around to have its DNA tested.

However, quickly it became clear that the animal was not a dog when a genetic marker identified it as a coyote. Forstner notes, “We got the sequences back, uniquely within coyote there’s an area of the D-loop, which is the area of mitochondrial DNA… it gives us data on things that are closely related… Uniquely in coyotes there’s a deletion of several bases in one section, and another deletion in another area of an additional seven-base block. Turns out that the sequences that came back had those two unique deletions, and did not match any dogs or wolf. It came back with 97 percent confidence that it was Canis latrans, which is the coyote.”

Canion was not happy with the results, so she commissioned a second DNA test at a genetics lab st the University of California at Davis. Essentially, the new test confirmed the findings from the University of Texas.

However, with a slight twist: Canion’s animal turned out to be a hybrid.

A comment on the article pointed me to the Mexican breed Xolo. Otherwise known as the Mexican Hairless dog. And what do you know:

xolodogs

XoloJune1Gather29

They look suspiciously like the dead animals above, don’t they?

So, probably, what we’re seeing is a strain of hybrid coyote/Mexican hairless dogs, running around killing things the way coyotes do–except they look so weird, nobody knows what they are. And boy, do the experts get MAD when you call them chupacabras. But if they fit the description … why not?

A day in the life of the Carrolls

So I sat down to write one of these day in the life kinds of things–and then we had a NOT-typical day. Argh! But it does go to show the way life works around here.

This was our Monday, yesterday:

5 AM. I wake up and nurse the baby back to sleep. My stomach is acting up. While I wait for it to calm down, I do my devotions, then get in some revisions on the book I’m working on.

6 AM. Hubby doesn’t feel good. I wrap up writing, and we jump in the shower so we’re dressed when the boy I babysit arrives.

7 AM. Kids got up when they heard the shower. Neighbor boy arrives. I explain that we’re getting back into a school routine, and there will be no computer games until that afternoon. Groans. Whining. They all go off to play. They make paper money and build little shops in the bedroom, and sell toys to each other.

8 AM. The kids eat all the apples, and proclaim their boredom. We sit down and do money math. It’s a big hit. They return to their shops.

9 AM. Hubby is sicker, and beginning to be anxious about going to work. I grab the girls and make them do their reading. They can read, especially the 5 year old–they just need more practice.

10 AM. I hide away with my ipod and check internets. The kids gallop outside to enjoy the sunshine. My son claims he is not bored, loudly, in the vicinity of the computer. I give him an oral spelling test. He escapes afterward and runs off to play.

11 AM. I feed them macaroni and cheese, and make them clean up their abandoned shops. My babysat ward is picked up by his mother and taken to preschool.

12 PM. I set up a new game for the kids–it’s called Trove, and it’s a free to play adventure Minecraft kind of game. Hubby now has the full-blown flu, and calls in sick to work.

1-2 PM. Naptime. The two youngest take naps, hubby takes a nap, I lie down but don’t sleep much. The older two play Trove. After a while, I get up to supervise, and embroil myself in Pokemon.

3 PM. Babysitting ward returns. I let the kids play games to keep them quiet because hubby is still asleep. There are a lot of hungry bees on the porch trying to get into the open window. We set out a small dish of honey for them. The kids sit outside and watch them, once I explain that bees don’t want to sting you. They keep count of the visiting bees. Son proclaims that he wants to be a beekeeper.

Honeybees

My beekeeper

4-5 PM. Hubby finally wakes up. I obviously can’t feed him the beef fajitas I have marinating in the fridge, so I make French toast instead. Babysitting ward is picked up for the night.

6-7 PM. The kids watch some of their current favorite Youtube show, which is a playthrough of Starfox Adventures. When they’re done, we go in their room and start a new book–A Wrinkle in Time. It’s sufficiently weird for their tastes.

8 PM. I go to bed, write, and chat with friends on my ipod.

9 PM. My son runs to the bathroom and barfs about a gallon of stuff all over the toilet, the floor, and the cabinets. I mop up for a solid fifteen minutes.

10 PM. My oldest daughter barfs all over her bed. Sheets are stripped and dumped in the washing machine, and she is supplied with fresh blankets. Buckets are handed out to everyone.

11 PM. I think I might have finally fallen asleep by this point. But YEAH it was a FUN day. Not exactly typical, but … YEAH FUN.

Christmas cookies
The best thing about this picture is the little photographer in the reflection.