Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Out of the Shadows by Gabriella Hewitt

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Title: Out of the Shadows

Author: Gabriella Hewitt

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pub Date: 2011

68 pages

My rating: 3 stars

Genre: paranormal romance

From the back cover:

When the last shadow warrior falls, so will all humanity.

With each demon he vanquishes in service to the Aztec sun god, Tomás fulfills his duty to defend humankind—and surrenders another piece of his humanity to his wolf spirit. All hope seems lost until a mission leads him to the door of the one thing he thought he’d never find…his spirit mate. The only woman who can save him from oblivion.

When Carolina hears the wolf’s howl, it pierces the very core of her lonely heart. Yet she dare not answer. As the last guardian of her land and the secret it contains, she is haunted by the mistake that cost the lives of her family. Never will she repeat that mistake, especially with a warrior who is more beast than man.

Chasing away the demon is easier than breaching the barriers around the heart of the young woman who possesses a strange power over water—and his very soul. But if they are to survive the night, he must convince her they are destined to stand together.

Or not at all.

I actually enjoyed this book more than I expected going into it, because I’m not really a fan of either urban fantasy or paranormal romance (I’m more into historical romance), but being a fanatic of all things Aztec–and really wishing I could find any Aztec romance that doesn’t involve modern white girl traveling to ancient past via a cursed object–I couldn’t not give this a try. And in the end I enjoyed the story, though I also found it frustrating on several levels.

I love love love that the author didn’t shy away from using the actual Nahuatl names of the gods (Chalchiuhtlicue gets shortened to Chicha, though given that it took me a couple tries to actually pronounce the Nahuatl one, I don’t consider this a bad decision). I loved that the Tzitzimime play an important role, and the author uses the proper name for the obsidian bladed sword.

But then at other times, the author leans back on Western-Christian ways of talking about concepts; there is no Hell in Aztec theology, not in the way it’s used here anyway; there are places of fire in Mictlan–the Aztec underworld–and there was no reason that specific allusion couldn’t have been used in place of Hell, especially given the POV character that allusion was coming from.

Tomás himself is my biggest disappointment in all of this. He appears to be a stock American Indian werewolf/shapeshifter character with some Aztec trappings glued on in places, but not glued very well. The fact that his spirit animal (which I kept wanting the author to call a nahual instead of spirit animal because the Aztecs had a name for the concept) was a wolf made little sense within the mythological context; the wolf is not a particularly revered animal in Aztec mythology. One assumes Tomás was a warrior in real life, before becoming a shadow warrior, presumably a jaguar warrior, so why isn’t his spirit animal a jaguar? The were-jaguar is a traditional shapeshifter in Aztec mythology. Also, hummingbirds, not wolves were associated with his chosen god. A were-hummingbird would have been cool…hmmmm. I was also highly puzzled about why Tomás had a Spanish name, given that he lived during the Aztec empire. An explanation of why he took a Spanish name would have sufficed, though given his devotion to Huitzilopochtli, I have trouble believing he’d accept a name thrust upon him by his people’s oppressors.

And finally, it irked me to no end that both Carolina and Tomás referred to their people as Aztec instead of Mexica; Aztec is a modern, Western name, not the name the people of Tenochtitlan gave themselves, so I have real trouble with the idea of either Tomás or Carolina embracing it. Tomás lived during the empire, and Carolina was raised in a family that cared about the old gods and traditions for centuries, since the Spanish Conquest. They would use Mexica, not Aztec, just on principle alone.

There were some minor alpha male things that bugged me about Tomás, but he wasn’t so jerky that I couldn’t sympathize with him and want him to succeed. Carolina is a nice, strong character, and I really liked that she’s the one who saves him–saves them all–in the end. The tenderness between Huitzilopochtli and Chalchiuhtlicue was touching, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a story with them as protagonists. I would have liked to have known more about the trap Billy set to kill Carolina’s parents, but he was a good, sinister character. The fire serpent was way cool, and the battle scene was engrossing. Once I let go of the disappointment over the authenticity, it was an enjoyable story and I plan to read the next book, to see where the author is taking this universe.

While I am kind of hard on the story when it comes to the mythological and historical elements, I do want to applaud the author for taking on the challenge of presenting a story outside the more popular motifs of paranormal romance and telling the stories of POC. Romance in particular tends very heavily to white protagonists, so having not only a Latina heroine but also an indigenous hero is very welcome.

Review: Five Dances with Death by Austin Briggs

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I’m on a quest to read as much Aztec-related fiction as I can find, to get a feel for what other authors have done and learn a bit–to help me in my own writing–and since much of it doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, I’d like to start reviewing these works I read on the blog. I’d like to do one a month if possible, and if you know of any books you’d like to see reviewed, drop me a line–even if its your own book (though I’ll make no promises to review it). To get started, I’m going to reprint some reviews I’ve already posted on Goodreads.

Mostly I will focused on how well authors use the source materials of the mythology and history versus stereotype, but writing style and skill will be addressed as well when necessary; after all, poor writing can kill even the most intriguing of ideas. I’m not making distinctions between traditionally-published books and self-published ones; I’ll read either kind.

So, without further ado, onto the review!

Five Dances with Death

Title: Five Dances With Death

Author: Austin Briggs

Publisher: Helvetica House (sp)

Pub Date: 2011

258 pages

My rating:  5 stars

Genre: historical fantasy

From the back cover:

In the days before the Conquistadors, Xicotencatl (Angry Wasp) is fighting to keep his family and his small Aztec nation alive.

Slavers have kidnapped his daughter. His wife has turned to powerful sorcery. His people have challenged Montezuma’s dominance and now face extinction. And the Spaniards have begun their march inland.

Now Wasp must rely on his military prowess, wit and even dark magic to regain his family and protect the independence of his nation, as he begins a desperate journey that will forever change the fate of the Aztec people.

I wasn’t expecting much going into this, with it being self-published and all, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I don’t have much trust in the quality of self-published stuff, but I’m willing to give anything about Aztec history and mythology a chance, so I downloaded a sample to see if it was something I could like. The writing style and pacing convinced me to buy. And I ended up quite enthralled with it.

Really, there’s isn’t much to not like about this book. The research shines through elegantly and is rarely delivered in clunky ways; it pretty much blends seamlessly in with the story. I wasn’t overly fond of Angry Wasp in the beginning and there are some inconsistencies with his character (like him having no concept of rape as a tool of power…yeah, not buying that. He’s a man of power who’s fought in many wars and seen horrible things. Him not agreeing with its use, yes, but not realizing it could be used that way, no.), but he grew on me after a while. At no point did I feel bored with the story and was disappointed that there was no more for me to read once I got to the end.

I would have preferred the author use the actual Nahuatl names for the cities and the historical characters, such as Moctezuma the Younger and Cuauhtemoc, but being familiar with the names, it’s just a personal preference. I would have also have preferred to get the full 5 parts in one book rather than broken up, since this really isn’t a very long novel, and if each part is a similar length, it’s still nowhere near as long as Aztec. It does break at a good point though, and I will be looking for the rest of the installments.

Finally, the author calls this a “paranormal”, but I think it’s closer to fantasy than paranormal. The magic is concrete with rules governing it, and it’s taken as matter-of-fact and accepted in the culture as portrayed. And Angry Wasp uses it a lot and gets himself in trouble with it. And the god Tezcatlipoca is an actual character in the book. It might be nitpicking, but it’s the difference between say X-Files (paranormal) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (fantasy). I don’t mind that it’s more fantasy than paranormal, since I love fantasy and am more inclined towards it than paranormal, so the fantasy elements didn’t in any way impeded my enjoyment of the book. If anything they enhanced it.

Note: the author was planning four more installments when I first read this, but in the three years since then, there’s been no movement on that front. Readers should be aware that this is not a complete story, so it might not appeal to those who are wary of incomplete series. I’m still hopeful that Briggs will continue the series at some point in time.

Ten Books…For Your Holiday Shopping List

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Everyone’s been doing this meme about 10 books that have stuck with you, but I don’t like to play by memes. However, with the holiday season upon us, perhaps you’re looking for books to buy for your book-loving friends or loved ones, or even for yourself (because you’re going to need that escape from the realities of holiday stress), so I give you ten books I’d like to promote. I may or may not have read them, but this is the season for giving, and authors need as much exposure as they can get. So, onto the books!

Channel Zilch by Doug Sharp

From the publisher’s website: Stealing a space shuttle was the easy part.

“Hel claims that her hacker friends are a bunch of freaking geniuses. A Sidewinder up the tailpipe would be a brutal way to learn that Hel overestimates her geek pals’ expertise.”

Channel ZilchFired by NASA for stunt-flying a space shuttle during re-entry, ex-astronaut Mick Oolfson now spends his unhappy days spraying manure over soybeans from his ailing DC3, dreaming of returning to space. So when testosterone-surfing geek goddess Heloise Chin offers him an astronaut gig on Channel Zilch, a pirate orbiting reality show, Mick jumps at the chance. What Heloise doesn’t mention is that the dream gig involves stealing the space shuttle Enterprise.

Getting back into space is worth a little risk, but Mick never signed on for Russian gangsters and nightmare journeys on reeking Turkish freighters. He also didn’t expect Tobias Ishwald, the relentless head of NASA Security—and the man who got him canned—to try to ruin his dreams a second time. Trusting Hel will probably get him killed, but with a little fancy flying Mick just might see the stars again.

A near-future, hard-science thriller with heart and purpose, CHANNEL ZILCH is a smart, fast-moving adventure you won’t soon forget.

I had the privilege of reading this book in my critique group and I can tell you it is a quirky riot. Doug and I went to Clarion West together back in 2002, and what makes this book so special is that it’s proof of Doug’s indomitable spirit. You see, Doug suffers from a rare neurological disorder called Central Pain Syndrome, which can make life a living hell for those afflicted with it, but he hasn’t let this stop him from achieving his dreams of publication. He wrote at length about his struggles to write this book over at John Scalzi’s Big Idea, and you should know that a portion of every book sale goes to the Central Pain Syndrome Foundation, for research for a cure.

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The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney

From the publisher’s website: For two years, Oriana Paredes has been a spy among the social elite of the Golden City, reporting back to her people, the sereia, sea folk banned from the city’s shores….

Golden CityWhen her employer and only confidante decides to elope, Oriana agrees to accompany her to Paris. But before they can depart, the two women are abducted and left to drown. Trapped beneath the waves, Oriana survives because of her heritage, but she is forced to watch her only friend die.

Vowing vengeance, Oriana crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira—a police consultant who has been investigating the disappearance of a string of servants from the city’s wealthiest homes. Duilio also has a secret: He is a seer and his gifts have led him to Oriana.

Bound by their secrets, not trusting each other completely yet having no choice but to work together, Oriana and Duilio must expose a twisted plot of magic so dark that it could cause the very fabric of history to come undone….

I’ve started reading this one but like so often happens, it’s been temporarily set aside because I have writing to do (I don’t read books while I’m working on a novel). What I have read so far is fantastic, and historical fans will really appreciate the vivid attention to detail in this alternate Portugal.

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Divinity and the Python by Bonnie Randall

From the publisher’s website: “The driver’s window—perfectly intact when she and Andrew had arrived this morning—was now a shattered chrysanthemum of broken glass, and a weapon, a hammer, hung like a calling card from the frame. She grabbed her cell. Their quarry was clearly on the loose. Finger on speed dial, she reached with her free hand for the hammer.”

Divinity and the PythonThe Python is the hottest nightclub in freezing Edmonton: all skin, no substance, and definitely no spirituality. Bartender Shaynie Gavin knows better—all things have a soul, and on an evening she’s come to call Hellnight, The Python left a dark stain on hers. Now Shaynie’s moving into another place that’s more than what it seems—Divinity, the old morgue she’s refurbished into a Tarot lounge. With all her passion focused on launching the venture, Shaynie is rattled when Divinity appears to orchestrate a connection between her and superstitious hockey star Cameron Weste.

Shaynie’s reaction is nothing compared to The Python’s. Vandalism, violence, an omniscient stalker— the parallels to her lost, bloody Hellnight in the club are unmistakable. But equally undeniable is the protection emanating from her old morgue.

All things have a soul, and Divinity’s seems aligned with Shaynie’s own—but whose is twinned with the Python? As Shaynie starts hunting her stalker, it’s clear only one soul will survive.

A fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, supernatural mystery, “Divinity and The Python” grips the reader from the first page to the shattering climax.

I haven’t had a chance to start this one yet, but man, that’s an awesome title! And the cover is beautiful, a kind of Stephen King/Harry Potter mash-up. As I understand it, it’s a kind of urban fantasy/paranormal romance story, with hockey and buildings possessed of spirits both good and evil. So if you’re a fan of either urban fantasy or paranormal romance, but are growing tired of the same old tropes, this could be the right book for you; in fact, I’m so not a fan of UF or PR because of those tropes of vampires and werewolves, and I picked this up because it didn’t have any of that.

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The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin

From the publisher’s website: Former Emperor’s consort Ling Suyin is renowned for her beauty; the ultimate seductress. Now she lives quietly alone–until the most ruthless warlord in the region comes and steals her away….

Dragon and the PearlLi Tao lives life by the sword, and is trapped in the treacherous, lethal world of politics. The alluring Ling Suyin is at the center of the web. He must uncover her mystery without falling under her spell–yet her innocence calls out to him. How cruel if she, of all women, can entrance the man behind the legend….

Jeannie Lin writes historical romance set in Tang Dynasty China for Harlequin, and everything she writes is absolutely top-notch; there is not a single book/story she’s written that I didn’t like, but of all of them, this one is my most favorite. It defied my expectations on many levels; the hero was a character I’d absolutely loathed from a previous novel, and yet here Lin turned him into my favorite hero of all her books–so weird, huh? While reading Butterfly Swords, I found myself muttering, “OMG, someone kill him please!” but once I was through with this book, I couldn’t even fathom why I had ever thought that. Plus the heroine is not what you think she is…. The cultural immersion is really fantastic here as well. If you’re a historical romance fan and you haven’t read Jeannie Lin yet, why are you wasting your time reading this blog? Go and buy her entire backlist and binge on it like I did when I first found her last year.

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Aegean Dream by Dario Ciriello

From the publisher’s website: A true story set on Greece’s real ‘Mamma Mia’ island of Skopelos.

Aegean DreamComic and tragic by turns, Aegean Dream is a story of love, resilience, and the power of friendship. A compelling window on the daily life of a small Greek island and the spirit of its people, this book also provides striking insights into the broken institutions that would soon shake the entire global economy.

– What’s it really like to live on a tiny Greek island?
– Why is the Greek economy so messed up?
– What IS ‘The Secret’?
…and what do mysterious skulls, Russian prostitutes, President Bush the elder, and Pierce Brosnan have to do with it all?

Dario Ciriello’s ‘Aegean Dream’. All story. All true.

Dario and I went to Clarion West together too, and we’ve kept in touch since then, first with our critique group Written in Blood (which he started) and most recently with his publishing venture Panverse Publishing. A few years back, he decided to pursue his dream of living on a Greek island, so he and his wife moved to Skopelos; Aegean Dream is the story of that journey, and it’s compelling as all-hell; you will laugh, you will cry, you’ll wish you were there, you’ll feel glad you aren’t. I read it for critique while on a camping trip in mosquito hell in the mountains, on a stack of paper printed out in trade paperback format, and I pretty much forgot I was in Colorado instead of the Mediterranean for the duration of that trip. A good one for non-fiction fans who like good human drama.

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Obsidian and Blood by Aliette de Bodard

From the publisher’s website: A massive fantasy omnibus containing all three novels in the Obsidian and Blood series:

SERVANT OF THE UNDERWORLD
Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan – the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Obsidian and BloodHARBINGER OF THE STORM
The year is Two House and the Mexica Empire teeters on the brink of destruction, lying vulnerable to the flesh-eating star-demons – and to the return of their creator, a malevolent goddess only held in check by the Protector God’s power. The council is convening to choose a new emperor, but when a councilman is found dead, only Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, can solve the mystery.

MASTER OF THE HOUSE OF DARTS
The year is Three Rabbit, and the storm is coming…

The coronation war for the new Emperor has just ended in a failure, the armies retreating with a mere forty prisoners of war – not near enough sacrifices to ensure the favor of the gods. When one of those prisoners of war dies of a magical illness, ACATL, High Priest for the Dead, is summoned to investigate.

Yes, this is actually three novels in one, and they are near and dear to my heart, for obvious reasons. Aliette is a dear friend and a member of my critique group Written In Blood, so I got to see all three of these books at the pre-publication stage. We often complain that fantasy is very white and western in flavor, but Aliette’s Obsidian and Blood series takes you outside that pseudo-European zone and plunks you down in the middle of something you’ve probably not read before. For those who’ve read The Bone Flower Throne but not any of Aliette’s novels, our books might share a similar cultural setting, but they are very different types of stories. If you like mysteries in unfamiliar settings, you would probably like these books; if you like fantasy following the lives of non-European characters, you’d probably like these books; if you like to mix the two, jackpot.

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Strangers in the Land by Stant Litore

From the publisher’s website: Stant Litore’s The Zombie Bible retells biblical tales and ancient history as episodes in humanity’s long struggle with hunger … and with the hungry dead.

Strangers in the LandFour must stand against the dead. The aging prophetess Devora. Hurriya, the slave girl. Zadok, a legend among warriors. And the widower Barak, who has sworn to defend his homeland from a migration of walking corpses greater than has ever been seen.

Devora is all too familiar with the unclean dead. She was there when her mother was pulled screaming from her tent by zombies. And when her mother rose, famished for flesh, it was Devora’s hand that ended her hunger. Now Devora has struck an uneasy alliance with those she fears most among the living. Yet the strangers in the land must stand together if they are to rid the land of its curse.

I’m no usually a fan of zombies–never even had any desire at all to watch The Walking Dead or the plethora of other zombie movies or shows out there–but this one drew my curiosity because it’s not post-apocalyptic, but rather historical. And anyone who knows me knows that history is my thing. Stant and I were on a panel together at MileHiCon this last October, on Non-Western Fantasy, and when I heard he was writing Bible stories with zombies, I knew I had to give it a try and see what the angle is (and it turns out it’s really quite interesting). I’m not finished with this book yet, but so far it rocks. He has a newer one out, that 47 North is releasing as a weekly e-serial through Amazon, and for US readers it’s only $1.99.

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The Soul Mirror by Carol Berg

From the author’s website: Anne de Vernase rejoices that she has no talent for magic. Her father’s pursuit of depraved sorcery has left her family in ruins, and he remains at large, convicted of treason and murder by Anne’s own testimony. Now, the tutors at Collegia Seravain inform her that her gifted younger sister has died in a magical accident. It seems but life’s final mockery that cool, distant Portier de Savin-Duplais, the librarian turned royal prosecutor, arrives with the news that the king intends to barter her hand in marriage.

Soul MirrorAnne recognizes that the summoning carries implications far beyond a bleak personal future – and they are all about magic. Merona, the royal city, is beset by plagues of rats and birds, and mysterious sinkholes that swallow light and collapse buildings. Whispers of hauntings and illicit necromancy swirl about the queen’s volatile sorcerer. And a murder in the queen’s inner circle convinces Anne that her sister’s death was no accident. With no one to trust but a friend she cannot see, Anne takes up her sister’s magical puzzle, plunging into the midst of a centuries-old rivalry and coming face-to-face with the most dangerous sorcerer in Sabria. His name is Dante.

This is actually the second book in the Collegia Magica series, but it’s my favorite of the three. I do think it stands well enough on its own that it’s not entirely necessary to start with the first book The Spirit Lens, but a reader will get so much more out of this book if they do. Carol has been writing a wide variety of fantasy for Roc for a number of years now and everything of hers that I’ve read is very good, so you couldn’t go wrong picking anything from her backlist. She also has a new series coming out in August of next year.

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Oz Reimagined, edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen

From the publisher’s website: FOREWORD BY GREGORY MAGUIRE, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF WICKED.

When L. Frank Baum introduced Dorothy and friends to the American public in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became an instant, bestselling hit. Today the whimsical tale remains a cultural phenomenon that continues to spawn wildly popular books, movies, and musicals. Now, editors John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen have brought together leading fantasy writers such as Orson Scott Card and Seanan McGuire to create the ultimate anthology for Oz fans – and, really, any reader with an appetite for richly imagined worlds. Stories include:

  • Oz ReimaginedFrank Baum’s son has the real experiences that his father later fictionalized in Orson Scott Card’s “Off to See the Emperor.”
  • Seanan McGuire’s “Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust” finds Dorothy grown up, bitter, and still living in Oz. And she has a murder to solve – assuming Ozma will stop interfering with her life long enough to let her do her job.
  • In “Blown Away,” Jane Yolen asks: What if Toto was dead and stuffed, Ozma was a circus freak, and everything you thought you knew as Oz was really right here in Kansas?
  • “The Cobbler of Oz” by Jonathan Maberry explores a Winged Monkey with wings too small to let her fly. Her only chance to change that rests with the Silver Slippers.
  • In Tad Williams’s futuristic “The Boy Detective of Oz,” Orlando investigates the corrupt Oz simulation of the Otherland network.

And more…

Some stories are dystopian…Some are dreamlike…All are undeniably Oz.

Includes stories by these authors: Dale Bailey, Orson Scott Card, Rae Carson, David Farland, C.C. Finlay, Jeffrey Ford, Theodora Goss, Simon R. Green, Kat Howard, Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, Rachel Swirsky, Robin Wasserman, Tad Williams, Jane Yolen

I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading short fiction in the last couple of years, so I haven’t read this, but many of these stories sound pretty interesting, and there’s some quality names attached to them. I just might have to give it a try myself. Doug Cohen is a good friend who used to be an editor with Realms of Fantasy and he’s since turned his attention to his own writing, but I’m glad to see him still keeping a foot in the editing hot-tub, and especially pleased to see him pairing up with the already fantastic anthologist John Joseph Adams. This one is sure to be a winner.

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One Night with the Laird by Nicola Cornick

From the publisher’s website: Can true love be born from scandal?

One Night with the LairdShe is young and beautiful and fashionable, Edinburgh’s most flirtatious hostess. But within the merry widow beats a grieving heart. Lady Mairi mourns the husband she lost two years before—and no matter how accomplished a lover Jack Rutherford may be, their wanton night together was an encounter of the body only, and Lady Mairi would prefer to forget it.

But when Mairi is threatened by a blackmailer, Jack is the only man who can protect her. As they work together to uncover where the danger lies, their passion reignites. Little by little, the masks they wear burn away, and their most private secrets come to light….

This post is actually the first time I’ve heard of this book, so you’re probably asking why it’s here. Well, I decided to reserve one slot on this list for a book by one of my twitter followers, picked at random; I closed my eyes and scrolled through the follower list, and after several times of landing on folks who either weren’t writers, or were writers but had no books published, I landed on Nicola, who–to my joy–writes historical romance for Harlequin. Historical romance is the only genre of romance I read, and I haven’t heard of Nicola before, so I’m going to give her a try; and, in my experience, 9 times out of 10, Harlequin puts out good, entertaining reads.

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The Books I Love: Where the Red Fern Grows

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Where_the_red_fern_grows_1996SPOILER ALERT!!!

 

Where the Red Fern Grows is the first book I remember ever falling in love with; my second grade teacher read it to us in class, and being someone who really liked dogs, I was immediately enthralled. I remember one kid kept telling the rest of us, “the dogs are going to die, you know?” but none of us believed him–no one would ever kill off dogs in books (this was long before I read Old Yeller). And even though he was right, I still loved the book dearly; I loved Old Dan and Little Ann, and I desperately wanted to be Billy Coleman–I stole my brother’s raccoon-skin cap he’d gotten at Frontierland at Disneyland and from 2nd grade until middle school I wore it almost everyday: I would have worn it to school if my mother would have let me. I also wore overalls all the time and I named my Pound Puppies after Dan and Ann, and I swore that someday I would get some coonhounds of my own. I definitely had what Rawls had called “puppy love” in the book.

I don’t know the exact number of times I read this book, but it has to be up near fifty; my teachers had to force me to read other books, and when I was flunking math in fourth grade, my mother didn’t ground me from my friends or from the television–no, she grounded me from reading Where the Red Fern Grows. And it worked, for I busted my hump to get my math grade up and get my book back. Wilson Rawls was also the first author I ever wrote a fan letter to; unfortunately he’d succumb to cancer about five years earlier, but his wife Sophie sent me a nice letter that I kept for years and years, until it got lost as some point. I read the cover off of at least two copies, and before I had my own copy, I kept my school library’s copy almost constantly checked (I adored the cover of their copy, which isn’t the one shown here–I was unable to find a picture of the actual cover they had–and often thought of reporting it missing just so I’d have it forever, but my mother didn’t raise thieves for children….). It didn’t matter that I bawled my eyes out over and over when I read that book; nothing has quite held my heart the way this book had, and continues to do so today.

I tried reading it to my daughter, but to my sadness, she had very little interest, and when we were halfway through and she heard from someone about what happens at the ending, she didn’t want me to finish. It was just too emotionally brutal for her and she wanted nothing to do with it. Years later I tried again with my son and this time we made it all the way through, and when I closed the book for the last time, he just kind of hid his head in his pillow and cried, and nothing I said comforted him. I figured he’d hated it too, but to my surprise, when we came across a $5 copy of the 1974 movie version, he begged me to buy it and we both sat down and watched it, and he cried again (it takes a lot to make me cry anymore). We haven’t watched it since then, but I was glad to have least been able to share my love of this story with at least one of my kids.

LilyAnd back in day, I’d always talked about how someday I was going to get myself two coonhounds, just like Billy had, and wouldn’t you know, that is one childhood dream that came true. I wasn’t looking for a hound, but when I saw Lily’s adorable face on the Humane Society of Boulder Valley’s website, I fell in love immediately and made sure I was at the shelter first thing the next morning. I really considered naming her Little Ann, but in the end we settled on Lily, which suits her just fine. She’s not a Red Bone, like the dogs in the book–she’s a Treeing Walker–but she’s every bit as sweet and smart, and I really can’t believe I waited until my 30’s to finally get a coonhound of my own.