A fast-paced buddy fantasy quest adventure; multidimensional female characters; and an intriguing species called the Maer that throws the traditional high-fantasy villain on its head. These were a few of the highlights that brought me to give “Hollow Road” by Dan Fitzgerald, published by Shadow Spark Publishing, high marks.
In Book One of the Maer Cycle, we meet Carl, a soldier who lands a well-paid job to bring a body back to Brocland, Carl’s hometown, for burial. It turns out that nobody’s heard from Brocland in ages, and they fear it is under siege by the Maer, a race of man-beasts that loom so large in legend and folklore that people think they are monsters, or at times, bedtime stories to scare children. Carl will need to make a perilous journey across Hollow Road to reach Brocland, and for that he enlists the help of two of his friends, also from Brocland – Finn, a student mage training at a monastery-like compound to become an adept, and Sinnie, a circus archer.
This ragtag crew embarks on their journey to Brocland, where they discover that the Maer are less monstrous than anyone could have imagined.
The story alternates points of view between Carl, Finn and Sinnie, and this was a strength of the writing style for me, helping us gain better insight into the relationships between these three as we switched between their perspectives of each other. It also meant there wasn’t as much chance for showing for the emotional states of each characters, but I was okay with that with this story because it’s meant to put the adventure arc front and center instead of the literary. The pace of the writing style moved along briskly and I enjoyed the author’s deft hand with rich descriptions of natural settings.
Moving onto characters, I really liked Sinnie; she resonated with me as my favorite character. Usually I cringe whenever I read a male indie author’s depictions of woman characters; I’ve read some cringey descriptions before, that tend to rely on emphasizing a woman’s sex appeal and physical appearance instead of her emotional complexity. Sinnie was a well-rounded character and I appreciated that. I also enjoyed how her strength was shown not just in her military prowess, but in how she interacted with the Maer when she changed her mind about them.
I wanted to know more about the magic system practiced by Finn; it was intriguing and I felt Book One only brushed the surface of it – I still have a few questions about its parameters, which I hope are answered in future books. I liked that it was based around meditation and a yoga-like practice.
As far as the Maer go, that was the most interesting part of this story to me. You would expect a buddy adventure quest story to end with the buddies victoriously slaying the enemy and celebrating their spoils. I won’t spoil anything, but this book ends up with more internal than external conflict in that regard. Can people change, after they’ve grown up taught to hate someone? This book explores that central premise. In the Maer, we discover a species very much like humans, with their own customs and even legal systems.
I’m intrigued enough to want to read more in the series. It was a fun book, just the thing for escapist adventure fantasy with deeper moral questions driving the story.
I updated my photography page of my website with new photos to reflect my new direction.
I enjoyed all my experiences working with people but since I’m not shooting portraits anymore, I decided I needed a more accurate reflection of my current scope. I am focusing on nature and still life, and I love it.
Also simplified my Hire Me page so now you need to talk to me if you want to make a business inquiry or find out my rates. Business inquiries only, no creepy shenanigans, y’all hear… I prefer to do an initial consultation anyway, to discuss your goals and needs.
And don’t forget, you can also support my photography by buying items in my Redbubble shop.
I received the novella DEPART, DEPART! by Sim Kern as an e-ARC (Advance Review Copy) several months ago in exchange for an honest review, and I am finally getting around to actually reviewing it. And I have one reaction to sum up my feelings upon finishing this book at last: I am stunned by this book’s force and magic, blown away by its relevance for our times.
I also feel a twinge of regret about this book, because there are those who will miss out on its power because they will immediately dismiss it as too “preachy,” too gay, too political, too wrapped up in the politics of identity, too steeped in generational tension, trapped in this uniquely tribal moment in time of Snapchat filters and viral tweets. But those are the very people who need to read this book. We can only heal the divisiveness in our country if we understand each other.
And this book will give you an unflinching, intimate look at what it means to be queer, what it means to be alone in a country that seems against you, in a body and a religion that seems against you, and more than any of that, what it means to be human and to make unbelievable choices for yourself and for your community in the face of a climate crisis that heartbreakingly may still be prevented, or we can at least still try to prevent it.
DEPART, DEPART! is set in Houston, Texas, after a climate-change-fueled hurricane destroys the city. The whole country is simultaneously ravaged by unprecedented climate events. The novella follows the journey of Noah Mishner, a trans Jewish man haunted by the ghost of his great-grandfather, Abe, a Holocaust survivor. Noah follows the whispers of the ghost to safety, first abandoning his friends as he seeks shelter on the roof of his apartment complex as the floodwaters devastate the city below.
Crushed by grief, and layers of grief at that, the story then shifts to Dallas, Texas, where Noah takes shelter in the Dallas Mavericks’ basketball arena. The rest of the story is centered in this setting, where refugees from the storm take shelter, and form a sort of community as they can, with all the trials and tribulations of refugees huddling together and not-so-together. Noah seeks refuge with the queer community there, all three or four of them at first, them against a world torn by hate, division and fear, even in the microcosm of this gym.
This is a story about identity, yes. It is a story about what you would do when crisis threatens everything you love and think you know. It is about the ties that bind. It’s a queer Jewish ghost story told from the view of the generation that has the brightest ideas to tun the tide on climate change. Even though this reads like a dark, dystopian novel, I found hope in it, in the end. Hope that humanity will always find a way, even now. To me, that’s the best cli-fi. The best of cli-fi (I really don’t like that term, I’ll just call it climate fiction) shows you how things could dramatically change for the worse so that we can change for the better.
And we must change, or this is our future.
Find the book on Goodreads and on IndieBound (I no longer link to Amazon. You know how to find Amazon…) It’s published by Stelliform Press and will be released on September 1. Preorders are available now.
I know this will sound like sacrilege to some, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was never my favorite Star Trek series. I liked the characters, but I thought the writing was hit or miss, and I didn’t understand a Star Trek that was not centered around exploration. But I decided to give this show a second chance by rewatching it from the beginning. I will be recapping my favorite episodes. This was the first episode in which I finally started to feel like I was getting into this show. Some Star Trek series can be kind of slow burns.
“Captive Pursuit” is the sixth episode of Season 1 and it is a Miles O’Brien character study through and through. The episode starts off with Sisko responding to a complaint from a Dabo girl who is concerned that sexual assault is a clause in her employment contract. The Dabo girl then disappears for the rest of the episode. I suppose the purpose of this scene was to show a brief flavor of life on board a space station.
Next, a mysterious vessel arrives from the wormhole and is not one of the ships scheduled to arrive. It becomes evident that the ship is in trouble and needs help. The crew hails the occupant on board, but he does not want to leave his ship. It soon becomes apparent that this is a First Contact situation. This reptilian humanoid is DS9’s first visitor from the Gamma Quadrant. However, since O’Brien and the alien seem to make a connection, Sisko decides to dispense with First Contact protocols and set up a more personalized first meeting with O’Brien only. O’Brien will then help repair the alien’s ship.
The being and O’Brien soon form an awkward but charming friendship. The alien calls himself Tosk, but it is not clear whether Tosk is his name or his species. He seems to be on the run from something, always cagey and talking about his need to rush off, but appears too naive to O’Brien to have criminal intent.
It is discovered that Tosk is investigating the station’s security systems, so he is taken into custody. Odo shapeshifted into a picture frame and appeared in Tosk’s quarters to catch him in the act. I can think of all sorts of legal ramifications for a security officer who can break and enter at will without a search warrant or reasonable cause to do anything other than follow a suspect discreetly, but I digress.
We soon discover Tosk’s secret when other aliens emerge from the Gamma Quadrant in hot pursuit. They are also reptilian humanoids, but a different species. Tosk was sworn to an oath of secrecy about the intricacies of his species’ culture, and that’s why he wouldn’t talk. Tosks are bred by their captors to be prey in an elaborate hunt throughout the universe. They are bred with sentience to make the hunt more exciting. Both the prey and the hunters live for the adventure and romance of the hunt and yearn for deaths of honor.
O’Brien and Sisko are soon caught in a difficult ethical quandary. Do they interfere in another species’ culture, even if it does not respect the value of life? Or do they let Tosk be captured? Or is there some other way out, that bends the rules? That involves looking the other way?
For me, this episode finally captured the Star Trek ethos. Not only the spirit of exploration and discovery, but it also explored the moral gray areas that I love about Star Trek. Star Trek is fascinating to me in ways that Star Wars is not because not about black and white, good versus evil. It is about the choices we make when the rules are unfair, how we stay true to our integrity in impossible situations, and who we are as sentient beings relating to others who are different than us.
It was also a good O’Brien character study. I feel as if O’Brien often gets the short end of the stick in TNG and sometimes DS9. He’s the flat character, the character that is meant to be likable, but only if you like dad jokes and can relate to his family dynamics. The long suffering wife, the career ambitions cut short by a sense of duty, the “just a decent, hard-working guy” schtick. This episode gave O’Brien depth.
All in all, it was a good character-driven story and definitely worth a watch.
Not in the same way that you used to think about death, as if it were an existential threat. Those times that you do not tell anyone about when you would sit in traffic waiting for the red light to change to green and you think about what it would be like to be involved in a car accident and you want, for a brief moment of absolute and startling clarity, to die. You blink. You have never thought this before. (Maybe you should see a counselor, you consider in a moment of panic.) You wonder if you would feel pain. You wonder which of your friends and family would come to your funeral. You wonder which songs your family would choose to play at your funeral and who would provide the eulogy; if they would organize a religious service, or a secular one.
You’ve never been particularly religious, but you like to think of yourself as a spiritual person. Sometimes, however, you think God is dead and magic is just for fairy stories. You wonder if you would go to heaven. You wonder if there is an afterlife. You think that you would still keep going day after day even if there is no afterlife, because the alternative is ashes and rot and dust motes swirling in the sun. Then the light changes to green, and someone honks at you from the car behind, and you step on the gas and the car lurches forward and you forget about the moment when you wanted to die. What a silly thought. You like your life.
Those were the Times Before. The times when you could brush against someone in a public space and not feel your heart climb into your throat and squeeze like someone had their fingers wrapped around your larynx.
Now you think about death in a different way.
You think about your mother. If your mother is not alive you think about her when she was alive. If you are estranged from your mother you think about someone else who plays that role in your life. You think about your mother on a ventilator and nurses in their scrubs and their sheer plastic visors and their hodgepodge makeshift masks like something out of a sci-fi movie. You think about your mother dying alone. You wonder if your mother picked up COVID-19 when she was out on a walk in her neighborhood and she says she stayed six feet away from everyone but maybe she touched the button to go across a crosswalk because she didn’t want to jaywalk but that button has been pushed by hundreds of people and the virus can live on surfaces for 72 hours.
The virus is like a living, breathing thing, an alien, an invasion, a menace, a parasite. Are they bacteria? You don’t think so. You don’t think the yeast in the sourdough culture you are starting because you are bored is bacteria, either, but you can’t be sure. You didn’t pay that close attention to that part of biology class in high school. All you know is that viruses spread. You think about death and sourdough bread in the same thought because that is what your brain does when you are alone for a period of time.
You don’t want to think about your mother dying. You don’t want to think about anyone dying. So you tell yourself it is just like the flu. Only a 3 percent death rate. Nothing, really. Only high-risk groups need to worry about it. Why do you need to stay inside, cooped up like a prisoner, afraid of your own shadow? You want a haircut. You want a hot meal at a restaurant and you want an iced tea on a summers’ day and you want to make small talk with a server even if you can’t stand small talk. You want to talk about the weather with someone you don’t know. “Hey, man, what are you up to today?” they would say, back in the Times Before.
Before, you would mumble something nonsensical to get out of the conversation and mold your face into the impassive look of someone who does not want to talk. Or you would be chatty and tell them a lie. Just like when people would ask you “How are you?” And you would say you were fine but not really mean it. No one wants to hear that you are anything but happy every day of your life. Now you want to be fine. You want to be fine so badly it feels like when you were 12 and wanted a puppy, a real live one, with all your heart, and your parents got you a stuffed dog instead and you were so disappointed you put it in your closet and didn’t look at it for a year.
Now it is a 6 percent death rate, or is it? You can’t keep track anymore. But you thought about your mom dying alone and you feel bad so you want to see her for Mother’s Day because you haven’t seen her in two months and you stand six feet apart from her and you think this is okay, you’re doing okay, you’re keeping each other safe. You wash your hands and you wear your mask even though you can’t breathe but you just really wanted to see her.
You watch the President on TV. Maybe you voted for him and you will vote for him again no matter what anyone says about him. Maybe you think he looks like a Cheeto-head and the image of him on your TV screen makes you want to vomit in your mouth. Maybe you wonder if our country will always be so divided. Maybe you blame other people, like the President. Maybe you remember marching in the Women’s March in a small town and everybody was crying and angry and there were Pussy Hats and you wanted so badly to believe then that things would get better, that things would be okay, that things couldn’t possibly get any worse. You watch him struggle with empathy, incapable of it even, and never mention death or the dying or dead people because it will make him look bad and you think maybe, maybe I can give him a little empathy, he is so in love with his own image and his ego that he cannot bring himself to grieve for the dead, and maybe there is a part of you filled with rage and grief that wants him to get it too, that wants him to know what it is like to suffer. Part of you is not ashamed for feeling that way because he is not ashamed. He never admits responsibility, never confesses his mistakes, he is never wrong. You do not want a president who is never wrong. People die when a leader is never wrong.
Then you wonder will the people who voted for him and the people who hate him ever see eye to eye on anything? They are breathing the same air to which the virus clings and the virus does not care about one’s politics or about how one feels about masks or who anyone voted for. The virus is a parasite. It just wants a host.
You wonder how many people have to die for people to take this seriously.
You wonder if perhaps people are overreacting and it’s not really so bad and you just really want to see a movie again and you miss concerts and the gym and popping over to the store when you wanted M&M’s. You miss touching things without wiping them down.
You wonder, maybe death just comes to us all and death is a part of life and we have to sacrifice a few for the many so the economy can reopen. It can’t be like this forever. People losing their jobs and their homes and the long lines snaking around streets leading to the food bank and the cloying desperation and the sad piano music in the TV commercials. You saw a TV commercial the other day in which people hugged and nobody was wearing masks and the music was peppy and they were talking about supporting small businesses. It was so bizarre to you that you felt sick. To see people hugging. You want to support small businesses but you don’t want to die. It is the uncertainty that clings to your skin like water droplets after you emerge from the pool from a long swim. You remember swimming pools. You miss swimming.
You want to go out but every time you go to the store, much less often now, there is always someone who doesn’t care, someone not wearing a mask, someone oblivious to spatial awareness who brushes against you as if with sheer belligerence in their denial of reality. It is just like H1N1, they say, were you affected by the swine flu personally? Freedom is an uncertain thing, the shape of feathers and dust, full of responsibility and thrift and also carefree joy, a small Japanese car racing in the street with its engine sounding like a rocket. You imagine most people would waste it, take it for granted. It is those people who make your heart thump in your chest hotly and angry sweat run down your armpits. It is those people you think about when you lie awake in bed at night when it is hot and muggy outside and the fan is clacking away and the neighbors next door are playing a video game and their children are yelling and you think about those people who don’t care about your mother dying alone. “Excuse me, I just needed the milk.” You try to have empathy for them because all you can control is your thoughts but you think your reserves for empathy are running so low these days. So low. Kindness shouldn’t be so difficult. You remember when kindness was easy, like relieving a stranger of the burden of how you’re really feeling when they want to know how you’re doing.
But you go on because you have to. You go on because you care about someone’s mother whom you don’t even know. You go on and on even though it feels like you can’t any more and your heart is crushing you and is that shortness of breath anxiety or COVID-19? You bake cakes and sourdough bread and drink too much alcohol at noon and you try out sobriety and you do yoga and you Zoom with your friends and you feel an overwhelming sense of despair but you keep going moment by moment because you have to.
Not because you are thinking about that moment at the stop light when you once thought about what it would be like to die.
My new Kindle Paperwhite arrived in the mail yesterday and since I have had a chance to play around with it for a few hours last night, I thought I would share my first impressions.
I decided on this e-reader ultimately, even though I knew it would lock me into Amazon, because as I looked at the other e-readers out there, there was slim selection and not many had the features I wanted.
That said, I’m not an Amazon fan; I will make that clear from the start. I know this makes me sound like a hypocrite, because I have subscribed to Amazon Prime, I buy products from Amazon and I now just bought a Kindle. But in truth, I hate the Amazon monopoly, and especially how authors feel that it is their only option, because it’s got the largest market. Sometimes, it feels like the only option, even though there are alternatives, which I patronize also. I hate how I could spend a fortune on Amazon if I let myself and that is how Jeff Bezos has made his money. If I were self publishing, and that’s not an option that interests me right now, I would not only make my book available on Amazon, but other platforms as well.
I mean, look at this: $10 a month for Amazon Prime. $10 for Kindle Unlimited. $14 for Audible. And the list goes on. But this wasn’t supposed to be a scathing diatribe about Amazon; I would boycott it completely, as I do Wal-Mart, if I found it completely disgusting. I think as with many things in American capitalism, I have simply made my peace with it. I also shop at independent bookstores, I don’t do much online shopping (until now) and (until now) I have resisted buying a Kindle.
I digress. I shall now move on to the review, but that in truth is part of the review. Physically, the Paperwhite is so thin, it shipped in an envelope. It’s extremely lightweight and sleek. It’s a modern, beautiful-looking product, with a pleasing feel to the touch. It’s got a decent sized screen, bigger than my iPhone, which I was looking for. However, the size of this device is a bit awkward to fit into the palm of your hand, so it is a little challenging to hold it comfortably if you read lying in bed a lot like I do. But I’ll trade that discomfort for a bigger screen.
Another perk is the low brightness of the screen. It has a matte finish, so it conveys less eye strain than reading on a phone. When it sleeps it looks almost like darkened plastic. This is not to say the product feels plastic; far from it. It just looks strange when it sleeps, as if it is not really real. It has almost no buttons or keys like a tablet. It has one button next to the charging port that you use to wake it up.
I found out you could use Overdrive to check out library books on the Kindle but the process of checking out a book is not intuitive and somewhat obtuse. However, the option to do so is why I wanted an e-reader, so I am glad it is possible. Otherwise, I would be spending a fortune on a $5-10 book every week, which is what I was trying to avoid. You first go to the Overdrive website, sign in using your library card information, and then you check out the book through a redirect link to the Amazon website, which then downloads the book to your Kindle as if you have bought it. You cannot, however, do this on the Kindle; you must do it on a device that can download apps. The Kindle is not a tablet, so it does not have apps, other than Goodreads.
Speaking of Goodreads, I now understand why Amazon was so interested in Goodreads. Searching for books on Kindle is quite clunky. Kindle gives you top-rated and bestselling books. Usually these are books that do not interest me, if they appeal to the masses. Goodreads is a site where people rate books. I can see now why authors like these reviews. Reviews only seem worth it to attract Kindle readers since its algorithm is built on a ratings system. Quite ingenious, really, but challenging for people like me with more discerning tastes.
I searched through the Kindle store for at least two hours before I gave up and just looked on Overdrive. Which brings me to Kindle Unlimited. So you know how you can tell immediately if a book will have trashy writing quality just from its cover? You didn’t? Well, I can. My formula never seems to fail. If the cover is trashy, the book blurb is usually poorly written, and then the book itself is mass-market tripe. I searched through Kindle Unlimited and I was unimpressed with the selection. Lots of vampires, steamy romances and other sorts of mass-market topics that seem favored by Twitter authors as their one-stop ticket to quit the misery of their day job and lead a glamorous, creative life as a bestselling author. Almost always, I hate those kinds of books.
I got three months free of Kindle Unlimited along with my purchase of the Kindle, but because of those reasons, I’m going to let that subscription lapse after that time. I think I’ll find more interesting and better-written books via Overdrive.
The cumbersome search feature brings me to my other disappointment with Amazon and Amazon products. When you have literally thousands of options, I would say 80 percent are options that don’t interest me and are of poor quality. The more quantity, the lower the quality.
Ultimately, I prefer going into an indie bookstore that is well-curated, and getting to hold and touch books and flip through a few pages. Even introvert me prefers talking to a human who has read X, Y, and Z authors and can tell you if you might like A, B and C. It’s much better than “customers who bought this item also bought” or “based on your purchase history you might like the next book in a series you hated.” But that world is fading fast and was always a labor of love, a vanity of the privileged, even in good times. The world is changing.
In conclusion, despite my reservations about Amazon, I am still glad I made this purchase. As long as I restrain myself from spending money as if it is iTunes, which is easy to do since it is a click away, the e-reader experience is the most comfortable I’ve had yet. I also appreciate how you can increase the font size, making books easier to read for those of us with poor vision. I’m looking forward to using this e-reader more. I just wish there was a better way to find people who share my tastes, among the sea of reviews. Reviews and ratings do no good if it’s yet more “steamy vampire romance on a moving train with car chases” which everybody else likes except me. That’s why I continue to post my reviews, even if only five people read them.
This next book is rather difficult to review without providing spoilers, but I will try to exercise restraint. The full meaning of title of the book is not immediately apparent until one steps back and takes a full accounting of the story in its entirety.
This is a lovely, sensitive book, a must for Brontë fans. I would describe it as a biopic first and foremost and a romance secondary, although it is most certainly a work of fiction, albeit one that is vested in research. This is the story of Charlotte Brontë and her humble country life in Yorkshire, altered forever by an intellect restrained by the demands of the time and a decision to write — to publish.
The book begins with the less-than-glamorous arrival of a new curate, Arthur Nicholls, and his unceremonious introduction to his new, spartan life helping the stern, hard-to-please father of three young women. As the story unfolds we see that we not only have one protagonist in the form of Charlotte Brontë, but another main character in the form of the steady, yet headstrong figure of Arthur in the remote country parish.
Almost at once the two strong personalities clash. Arthur, described simultaneously as a bigot and charitably as rigid in his views of the traditions of Catholicism and modern society, is dismissed by Charlotte, who does not find in him her intellectual equal, and rather a churlish bore. This is not the love story of her wildest imagination; Arthur is no Mr. Rochester. But regret is not to be the focus of their relationship, either. Spoilers lie in that territory, so I will demur.
This is instead largely a heartfelt, tender tale of Charlotte’s relationship with her sisters and their father, her alcoholic brother and all his wasted potential. Through vivid descriptions of the countryside moors in which the sisters loved to wander, and the apt details of sisterly affection and complexity, these characters are brought to life. Characters that could be seen as one-sided and flat (the ogre of the father, for example) gain complexity and layers as humans with wants, needs and flaws in challenging circumstances trying their best.
I don’t normally seek out romances. (Although I do love myself a good period drama and admit to a deep abiding love of Jane Austen and all Victorian-era glory.) I used to love Harlequin-style romances in my teens, but as I have grown older, I find I have less and less patience for these kinds of books, in which women are not complex characters beyond their role as a love interest for a man; while they may start out as strong personalities, in the end they remain subservient to a domesticated role, and become flat, shallow characters, idealized versions of the wife and the mother. These kinds of romances lose my interest, in the end. I’m just being brutally honest here; I know not all romances are like this, so don’t throw rocks at me.
What I appreciated about this book, on the other hand, was that the romances in it, some often one-sided and full of regret and longing, were subplots to developing the characters of Charlotte and who she was in relationship to her family and the tragedies they endured together. I appreciated that the author did a wonderful job of humanizing this famous, revered, legendary author. Charlotte Brontë was not merely a woman who loved and regretted and loved again. Charlotte Brontë was more than her Mr. Rochester.