Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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A week ago, I signed up to do an authors' event at the local museum. To make sure I had plenty of books, I ordered more from Amazon. They were due to be delivered today.
Between 11:00 and 1:00.
At 9:00 it started raining.
I was in bed by then, lying on the heating pad and trying not to breathe. But I had to keep tabs on that shipment.
Amazon always delivers either right to the door or by the inside gate. If there's any hint of rain, they cover in plastic.
I still worried.
The package was delivered about 12:10. I went outside to look for it and saw nothing. Nothing on the porch, nothing on the patio.
Nothing inside the gate. Nothing on the outside of the gate.
Then I saw a flash of red. It was a sticker on the box. The box was just on the beginning of the path inside the outer gate. About as far from the house as it could be.
My back was screaming, but I opened the walk gate and walked up the path. The red stickers that I saw were labels marked HEAVY.
Thirty pounds of books is heavy.
Though the box had arrows pointing up, the box was set on end. The strapping tape holding it closed on the bottom was almost broken.
I thought about leaving it. I knew it would mess up my back, but there was still the chance of rain. I was afraid Amazon wouldn't honor a replacement if their delivery person left my books out in the rain. I was afraid a fight with them would delay arrival of decent books until past the event.
I needed those damn books.
BF, who could have helped, was at the VA getting his injured foot evaluated yet again. Even if he were here, he might not have been able to help.
So I carried the 30 pounds of books into the house. As I set the box down, the bottom tape broke.
And then the rain started.
Apparently carrying three two-litre bottles of root beer the 25 feet from the car to the kitchen was enough to set them off.
Tizanidine medication helps for a few hours but wears off before I can take it again.
I can't even read.
Wednesday morning update
After almost 20 hours in bed -- with a few short breaks -- I'm beginning to feel better. The spasms are still there: the muscle contracts sharply and painfully, sometimes so bad that I cry out with it. Even lying perfectly still in bed doesn't stop it; a slightly deep breath can trigger a spasm.
The tizanidine medication seems to help if only in putting me to sleep for a few hours. It's supposed to last 5-6 hours, but usually within three hours the spasms are back full force. Ibuprofen is the recommended pain treatment, so I take that, and it an be taken with tizanidine. Tizanidine also has other annoying side effects, so I'm going to try to lay off it today.
The heating pad works the best in terms of alleviating the pain and stopping the spasms.
Now, as to the cause. The immediate cause, as far as I can determine, was my carrying three two-liter bottles of root beer into the house from the car. I can't recall any other "heavy" lifting or other activity that would have triggered it.
The underlying cause, on the other hand, is that I'm short. This means I have to stretch to reach things other people don't. I have to stretch to get things out of my car, and I have to stretch to get dishes off the shelf. At the grocery store, the cashier tells me to just ask for help for the things on the shelf that's a foot over my head, but often there's no one to ask, and I either stretch more than I should, or I just give up and start crying.
It's humiliating to have to ask a stranger to reach something. It's even worse when the stranger you ask then makes fun of you.
Being short also means there is no comfortable furniture in my house. Or in any house. My feet don't touch the floor when I'm sitting on most chairs. Kitchen table chair. Dining room chair. Living room chair. Sofa.
Sofas are the worst. It's not just that my feet don't touch the floor; it's that my spine doesn't reach the back of the sofa. I end up virtually lying down even when I'm sitting up. Some people have sufficient throw pillows to put behind my back, but most don't. I feel like an idiot, slumped like some kind of rag doll, my chin on my chest, unable to even hold a conversation. Of course, then I end up on a chair where my feet don't touch the floor, the edge of the seat cuts off circulation into my lower leg, and I can't stand up.
I have difficulty using my laptop because I have to sit sideways on the sofa, which isn't a whole lot better. I still slide into a semi-recumbent position, not good for my back.
Sitting at a regular desk is a little better, but only if the keyboard and monitor are at the proper heights so I don't have to strain my neck. Right now, my desk chair is adjusted as high as it will go, but I still have some neck strain reading the monitor. Another two inches of chair height would ease the problem, but it just won't go any higher. Fortunately, I have a home-made box under the desk for my feet. Otherwise, they dangle.
None of these issues is helped by the fact that I lead a pretty sedentary life. There simply isn't much to be done during the Arizona summer; even walking in the early morning when it's cooler runs certain risks such as . . . snakes. Um, no, thank you. So when the weather finally cools off and I can start doing things, I'm already in bad shape. I try to start out easy, not doing too much too soon, but it's not always possible. Once the muscle decides to cry out and tie itself in a knot, it's all over.
This past Monday, I had a six-hour lunch with an artist I met last year at a show. She knew about all the bullshit that had gone on with my artists' group, and she encouraged me to join a different group -- it's not local and there are some other issues -- and get back into the show routine even if it means going a little out of the immediate area. On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, I was as enthusiastic as I've ever been. Then yesterday afternoon the spasms started and I remembered the agony I've been in after hauling all my equipment and merchandise to shows, setting up the canopy and tables, tearing everything down and loading it back in the car.
I'm 71 years old. I can't do that alone any more. The two of us can help each other, and I'm all for that, but it's not going to make me any taller, make loading and unloading the car any easier. Even with help, a two-day show that's 200 miles from home presents difficulties if the back spasms decide to set in and there's nowhere to plug in the heating pad. And I can't even imagine driving 200 miles home in this condition.
Just sitting at the computer to type this has aggravated the muscle that's knotting. (It's not always the same one, by the way. Sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, so who knows what brings it on?) I have work I want to do and work I need to do. I can't do any of it.
I can work on more walking to try to strengthen the muscles, but I can't get any taller. And that's at the root of the problems.
I'm forcing myself to continue out of some demented sense of obligation, either to the book or the author or myself.
There's a new creature, the urgach, kind of like a gorilla only it has a sword. My first thought was the Uruk-hai of Tolkien -- large, evil orcs.
There's another animal, a cerne. that we don't get a real description of other than it's
proudly horned like the god for which it was named,
Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (p. 256). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
So we're into serious Celtic mythology here with Cernunnos, the Horned God, I guess.
Gereint rose in the night to address the tribe, his voice was the voice of power. He spoke for Ceinwen and Cernan, for the night wind and the dawn wind, all the unseen world.
Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (pp. 276-277). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
So, is Cernan the horned god, and is he only god of the dawn wind? You see now why all of this is so confusing? And every time this sort of thing happens, I'm pulled out of the story. I get frustrated and don't even want to continue.
The worst of the frustration is that in some, albeit rare, instances, the confusion is soon cleared up, sort of. But most of the time it's not. Later on the same page
Cernan, thought Ivor, god of the wild things, of wood and plain, Lord of the eltor, brother and twin to Ceinwen of the Bow.
Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (p. 277). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Cerridwen is another figure from Celtic (Welsh, precisely) mythology. She has a monstrously ugly son, Morfan. Her husband is Tegid Foel -- and Tegid is another, though minor, character in the book.
And then another unidentified, undescribed creature.
With an effort, then, a very great effort, he stretched himself out, mind and soul, to the impossible creature that had come for him. It did not exist, this exquisite thing that stood gazing calmly back at him in the strangely hued night. It did not exist, but it would,
Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry Book 1) (p. 286). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Is it a dragon? A nazgul? A pteranodon? A flying monkey? The reader isn't allowed to know. Nice description of the night, but the thing that appears? Nope, not allowed.
Well, the eltor are now described. Why weren't they earlier? Why leave the reader unable to envision a fantasy creature?
You lose points for shit like that.
It's amazing how comfortable these city kids are on horseback. And how they don't miss things like bathrooms.
And they don't seem at all surprised that everyone speaks English!!
More points lost.
I'll post all the previous update links later. I'm taking a break for lunch and it's a good time to catch up on the commentary.
I didn't read much last night, but I hit a major transition point that once again dragged me completely out of the story. It made me a Reader again, rather than an observer of the actions as they happen.
What I was reminded of, interestingly enough, was the movie version of Practical Magic.
Sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are witches. Their aunts are witches. Sally's daughters are witches. They do real magic. They know they are different from "normal" people, and they know there are risks if they let "normal" people see them doing magic. So when Detective Gary Hallett witnesses them doing magic, he knows something strange is going on. He's "normal," and what he sees is not normal. He's aware of the difference.
In The Summer Tree, there's lots of magic, beginning with the transport of the "normal" earth humans to the world of Fionavar. But they're never amazed. They never have a sense of wonder. They're never curious about anything.
They never have a sense of fear.
The transition that takes place at approximately the two-thirds point in The Summer Tree is three-fold.
At this point the scene shifts to another locale in Fionavar, but without any real explanation. Yes, that's becoming a theme. I guess as a reader I'm just supposed to accept all this on faith, but that's not how I have ever read fantasy. And I've been reading High Fantasy since Lord of the Rings was first published in paperback in the late 1960s. This is not my first merry-go-round.
This is also a point at which a whole bunch more places and people and . . . things? . . . are brought into the narrative, with new words that have no context for understanding. Are the animals being herded somewhat akin to cattle? to horses? to sheep? to deer? Or are they something unique (and magical) to Fionavar?
By the way, at 244 pages into this book, I still have no idea what svarts are, other than some icky, deadly animal. Are they like wolves? No, probably not, since there are also wolves and they are apparently bigger and more ferocious than svarts. Are they cat-like? Badgers? Wolverines? Lizards? I don't know and it's making me not like this book.
Another brief update from the Kindle.
Th pseudo- Christian symbolism is making me uncomfortable.
More and more characters introduced like paper dolls.
The Prince's name is part of an airplane wing and I can't get that out of my head.
I can't tell if the writing is lyrical and profound or pretentious and empty.
We didn't have the heavy dew this morning, but I still managed to get a few pictures of the fairy duster flowers.
These are buds and the lighter green new spring leaves still with some dew on them this morning.
This is one opened and still in the shade, where the sun hasn't quite dried it.
Buds and a blossom.
Cactus aren't doing much yet, but they're getting ready!
Even the aloes are sending up their first spikes.
We've had more than enough rain this winter to pretty much guarantee a glorious spring. I'll keep you posted!
This is a quick update, posted from my Kindle Fire so without links to previous updates.
Another weakness identified: everyone speaks English with no explanation.
I'm realising more and more that Tolkien's genius was his world building. Not the physical world of Middle Earth, but the cultural world of its peoples. Everything from names and languages was designed to give the various races/species a distinctive and recognizable imprint. Gimli, Gloin, Balin - Dwarves had blunt names. Elrond, Arwen, Galadriel, Legolas - elves had musical names. Frodo, Bilbo, Merry, Pippin, Sam Gamgee - Hobbits had homey, country names.
Kay's Fionavareans don't have distinctive names. Loren Silvercloak is a mage. So is Metran? Does he have a descriptive surname?
What exactly are the lios alfar? What does alfar mean, since there are evil things called svart alfar? Are svarts some kind of beast, and are there alfar ones and other kinds of svarts?
I often can't tell the difference between place names and personal names.
It's getting a little better, a little more interesting, but not a whole lot. I'm still not dragged into the story and unable to get out. None of my earlier problems with the book have been resolved. If anything, they've gotten worse.
There are more and more and more characters being introduced, but I still don't know enough about the ones already on stage. Even though I'm more than a third of the way through this volume, I don't know enough about any of the characters to care much about them.
And that's the heart of the problem: I just don't care. There's a hint that one of the earth humans has had a tragedy, maybe a recent one, but only a hint. Not enough to make me really care about that character.
I don't even really know what these people look like. Nothing in particular distinguishes Paul from Kevin or Diarmuid from Dave. I'm not sure who Gorlaes is or what his relationship is to anyone else. What are Kimberley and Jennifer doing there? Why are they there? Are they friends on the normal earth plane?
There's no sense of wonder or fear or excitement in the people who have gone to this other world from earth. There's no curiosity in them. They don't ask questions; they rarely resist orders.
I can't say I'm forcing myself to read further, but let's just say I don't have any problem turning off the Kindle when it's time to do something else.
Full disclosure here, which may also be on the original 10-page update:
I purchased the Kindle edition of this book at full retail price. I follow the author on Twitter, but he does not follow me. We have had a few brief exchanges, but not many. I was introduced to this writer via the now-defunct Rave Reviews magazine back in 1987 or so, when I was given the third volume of this trilogy, The Darkest Road, to review. I fudged it, because I never did read the book. I felt it was unfair to read the third and final volume without having read the first two. And our schedule with Rave Reviews didn't provide enough time for me to find them. So I fudged. I have not revealed that information to the author on Twitter, nor do I have any intention of doing so.
And of course, I am an author of historical romances, contemporary gothic romances, and assorted non-fiction.
Now, to The Summer Tree.
I'm almost one quarter into it and I'm . . . disappointed. I'm just not captivated the way I had hoped to be. At least this time I know why.
The premise is familiar: Five young present day earth humans are transported to Another World for purposes as yet unknown. No doubt they are about to face Challenges and Dangers and have Adventures. So far nothing much has happened, but there's a lot of text remaining.
The problem is that there's no sense of wonder, no sense of magic and excitement and awe. I mean, this guy comes up to them, proposes to transport them to his world and then bring them back, and they're all like, "Okay, fine, whatever." One of them gets lost in the process of being transported and the other four are, like, "Okay, fine, whatever." There's no concern expressed or anything, no wondering about what happened to that person or worry that they might be lost forever in some magical ether. They don't even seem curious as to what process got them from the real world to the magic one. Everything is "Okay, fine, whatever."
There are some weird creatures introduced, but not much reaction to them. One of the four humans is so unconcerned about the whole business that on their first night in the magic world, he gets stinking drunk. Hello? No one is scared or curious or excited or . . . anything.
Another issue I have is that there are so many characters introduced at the beginning that none of them are sufficiently fleshed out enough to become real. The easy thing to do is compare this to Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, in which the reader is introduced to Frodo and Bilbo and the other Hobbits through not only a lengthy "historical" Prologue, but also through the device of Bilbo's birthday party in which the first few characters are introduced and developed. More are then added as the tale moves along.
Kay brings in all kinds of characters within these first few pages, and none seem three dimensional . . . yet.
Oddly, looking back through those ancient Rave Reviews files, I gave myself a little unexpected spoiler from Book Three. Maybe it will be enough to keep me reading.
A few of the small stones I cut Sunday. They are from a bucket market "Red Jasper," but in fact are plume agates.
The red "plumes" are another mineral that forms these structures within the chalcedony (quartz) that makes the agate.
In this one, the plumes aren't as distinct, but the typical fortification agate pattern is clear, if tiny.
This is a third one, even smaller, but still with red plumes and miniature fortifications.
Most of these will end up having their edges ground smooth to some freeform shape, then tossed in the tumblers for seven to eight weeks to polish before they're ready to wrap in wire.
And to repeat the usual
Disclosure: I have both the paperback (purchased at full cover price years ago) and the Kindle (obtained when offered free) versions of this book. I have met the author a couple of times (hot fudge sundaes at McDonald's in NYC) but cannot claim to know her personally very well. I am an author of historical romances, contemporary gothic romances, and assorted non-fiction.
Lots of spoilers in this review, so read at your own peril.
I wanted to like this book. I deliberately chose it from amongst the literally hundreds of historical romances in my Kindle library because I had truly enjoyed Putney's Dearly Beloved for its complex characters and intriguing plot. The Wild Child didn't even come close.
Maybe I need to reread Dearly Beloved. Maybe it won't measure up to my memory of it.
One of my old writing buddies from the 1990s described the light-weight romances of that era as "middle school boyfriend and girlfriend stories." Everything about these romances is idealized, with little of life's harsher realities allowed to penetrate. Characters tend to be one-dimensional, especially the villains. Conflicts tend to be of the Big Misunderstanding sort, easily resolved by a civilized conversation. All threads are neatly tied up at the end, often with the help of a deus ex machina savior.
That's The Wild Child in a nutshell.
As I read it, I kept seeing possibilities to make the plot more complex and intriguing, the characters deeper and more interesting. None of it happened.
Lady Meriel Grahame is the only child of the late earl. His brother, her uncle, has inherited the title and the estates that go with it, but she inherited the vast Warfield estate through her mother (I think). Her other uncle, Lord Amworth, shares guardianship of Meriel with Grahame.
Meriel was orphaned when her parents were killed in India. Some of her history is a mystery, but it's known that she was rescued by someone, protected in an Indian zenana for some time, and eventually returned to England at about the age of five. By then her mind was destroyed; she could not speak and appeared not to understand when spoken to. She lives on the Warfield estate, tended by two widowed ladies and her Indian protector Kamal.
Apparently, Meriel was more or less promised in marriage to Kyle Renbourne, heir to the Earl of Wrexhm, when both of them were young children and prior to Meriel's parents departure for India. This part isn't made too clear. But eventually Wrexham puts the pressure on Kyle to fulfill the engagement and marry her, even though now at the age of 23, Meriel still doesn't talk, still lives in seclusion at Warfield, still doesn't behave normally.
I'm not sure why anyone would agree to this arrangement. Not Kyle, not his father Wrexham, not Meriel's guardians Grahame and Amworth, and certainly not Meriel who isn't even capable of agreeing. I got icky feelings about this right away.
Those feelings got ickier very quickly, and I almost set the book aside as a DNF.
Kyle meets with Meriel -- who doesn't acknowledge anything about him -- and accepts that she might be all right as a wife. He'll marry her, have a few children with her, then abandon her if need be. There's no real discussion as to what effect any of this might have on her, whether she's sane or not.
But Kyle has another relationship to deal with -- his long-time lover is dying and wishes to go back to Spain to die. Kyle's lover is 56, twice his own age of 28, and he has been with her for ten years. So he enlists his younger twin brother Dominic to take his place for a while. Dominic will go to Warfield, pretend to be Kyle, and determine if the mad Meriel can be made into a reasonable facsimile of a wife for the future Earl of Wrexham.
The twins have been estranged for years, and Kyle as the heir to the vast Wrexham fortune offers to pay his brother in the form of one of the Wrexham estates, allowing Dominic to be financially secure.
Of course, as happens in all middle school romances, Kyle falls in love with Meriel and doesn't want to give her up to his brother. Complications ensue when it turns out Meriel isn't mad at all; she's just suffering from what we would now call severe post traumatic stress disorder. Dominic miraculously brings her out of it. Then there are some more complications, Meriel is kidnapped and taken to the brutal insane asylum Dominic had rescued another woman from, so now he has to rescue Meriel as well.
Of course, he does, and then there is no option for them but to run away and get married because Dominic now has to have the legal right to protect her.
Of course, then Kyle returns. His lover has finally died in Spain and he's distraught, and made more distraught by what he sees as Dominic's betrayal. Wait, what? Kyle didn't love Meriel, was really only interested in doing what his father wanted by marrying her. Dominic knew he was giving up the estate Kyle had promised him. But of course it's not a good story unless at least one of the brothers is too stubborn to listen to reason.
And of course there's the younger sister, Lucia, who reconciles them.
And of course the ultimate villain is revealed in the final scene, when brother saves brother and they both save Meriel.
Finis, as Putney writes, just before the little epilogue, which really serves to introduce the next book in the series.
I think what bothered me the most about the book and dropped my rating so far down was that there were so many issues involved that were never addressed through the course of the story and then were just kind of cleared up neatly at the end. And others that were never addressed at all.
Meriel's time in India, for example, isn't explained until the very, very end, and then only briefly. Even that explanation left a lot of questions unanswered.
But the fact that she was in India, that her parents were killed there, leaves even more questions when it comes to Jena Morton, daughter of neighbor General Ames.
Big spoiler here:
Jena Morton has been committed to the local insane asylum by her husband. When Dominic goes there to check out the place and discovers it to be a hell-hole, Jena approaches him and begs him to let her father know she is there. It turns out General Ames had been told Jena was dead (I think), but I'm not sure if he didn't investigate or what. Anyway, Jena is rescued from the asylum, returned to her father's protection, and all is well.
It's not until much later that we learn Jena's mother was Indian. I found it very odd that this wasn't more a part of the story. Did her father have to leave the army because he married a native woman? How did the marriage affect his career, his choice to return to England, and so on? How did the marriage affect his life in England? How did it affect Jena's life?
As Meriel and Jena establish the beginning of a friendship, why is there no discussion of their shared experience in India? How does Meriel feel about Jena's mixed heritage, given that Meriel's parents were murdered in India by Indians? The whole thing becomes more complicated later, but even before the complications come into play, I felt all this wonderful complexity was being given short shrift.
Meriel recovers from her PTSD because she has wonderful sex with Dominic. (The magic penis instead of the magic vagina for a change?) She's been so isolated at Warfield that she has no understanding of traditional rules of behavior, and when the action is told from her point of view, the sex is referred to as mating, a somewhat icky attitude as far as I was concerned. Yet once she's "cured," she seems to have full awareness of table manners and everything else. How convenient!
Dominic has his own PTSD, and if you should decide to read the book, be aware that his description of the action at Waterloo is pretty graphic and includes animal deaths. But Dominic just kind of gets over it. And Meriel kind of just gets over it, too.
By the last 40 pages or so, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to finish the book without going into a diabetic coma. The sweetness was overwhelming. The revelation of the villain was no surprise, but neither had there been any build up to it. Everything was . . . perfect. And everyone lived happily ever after.
I don't mind the HEA aspect; I demand it as much as anyone else when I'm reading romance. But I didn't feel that the characters had really done anything to earn their HEA. Meriel had suffered, yes, but she didn't really do anything to effect her own recovery. Dominic came along, she seduced him, and wow, she's not insane any more! Dominic was offered a handsome payment for doing his brother a favor, and wow, he got even more than expected!
No one really had anything at risk, and I guess that's where the great disappointment lay for me. Everyone was handsome and wealthy at the start, and there was never really any doubt that they wouldn't be handsome and wealthy at the end.
Within shouting distance of the end, the book became a bigger struggle with each passing page. I finished it, however, and will have a full review in the final update.
I'm now at the 2/3 point, 66%, and I'm struggling. There are elements of the plot I really like, but the characterization seems very weak. Meriel and Dominic are too perfect.
Some action has finally come into the story after 240 pages of unalloyed sweetness. I'm just not sure the groundwork was properly laid for this action, and I'm wondering if it might not be too late to save this book, at least for this reader.
At least I'm reading.