The Tale of the Society of the Benign Nuts (or how I became a fangirl)

Once Upon a Time… 

There lived a little girl in the Bronx, NY who loved to read. She loved to read so much that she was jealous when other people had books and she didn’t. She was competitive by nature and thus took it upon herself to read more books than anyone she knew (a practice she continues to this day). In grammar school this was great because her reading was rewarded with prizes like the mystical Scratch ‘n Sniff bookmarks.  Eventually, she read so many books that she had to make due with the chocolate ones. And everyone knows that chocolate Scratch n Sniff stickers were plain yucky.

Fast forward to high school. By this time, our plucky young reader has been to Walt Disney World a few times, has fallen in love with castles, princes, and singing in forests (or anywhere else she could do so without being stoned) and the idea of traveling abroad. She’s reading educational tomes by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Johanna Lindsey, waiting to use her wiles on a pirate or highway man should she ever be captured out on the high seas or driving by herself.

When her aunt gave her Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, she thought it would be another “bodice ripper”. However, the sheer size of the novel gave her some hint of joy that it might actually be good. She hadn’t been exposed to Dostoysevsky at this point and thought that all works of fiction over 500 pages just had to be good. Otherwise what was the point of writing that much?

Our devout little reader plunged right in and was sucked up by the tale of Jamie and Claire. Her aunt had read the book, and then her mom. She felt like she had a bond through that shared reading.  Even though she sure as heck didn’t want to talk about the sex scenes with her mom, of all people, she could discuss the rest of the book like an adult.

Similarly to the author she so admired, our brave reader was a pioneer on the internet circuit. She was one of the first people in her school to have a) a personal computer at home; b) the internet and c) long distance friends she met over the internet.  She wrote pages and pages of stories on bulletin boards on Prodigy, taking on the role of a Dragon Rider of Pern (Anne McCaffrey’s fabulous series) before starting to write her own material.

Through all this exploration and schooling (she attended college and graduated with a degree in Medieval Studies before heading on to graduate school for a Masters in Teaching) she never lost sight of the Outlander series. While much of her time was occupied reading books she hated, but had to read, she eagerly awaited the books she wanted to read. It was a matter of moments after opening the cover that she would find herself, once again, immersed in the lives of Jamie and Claire and their family.

The books revived a longing for travel and genealogical study in our young explorer. She wanted to see the land of her ancestral roots. Our new teacher became a world traveler, exploring France, Ireland, England, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Switzerland, and Portugal. As she traveled, she always thought back to the books she had read and remembered scenes- finally able to visualize what the words had painted for her for so long.

As Jamie and Claire traveled across the Atlantic and settled in the South, so too was the love of American history re-ignited within our young reader’s breast.  She’d always loved American history; been fascinated with the way current trends and traditions traced back over time to the first steps of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.  While in college, she’d majored in Medieval Studies because she wanted to take that sense of tradition and society forming even further- examining how Western civilization was created during the Medieval period. The fact that much of her research brought her back to her Celtic roots was an added bonus.

Fast forward to the present day.  Our gal is no longer “young” but is still an avid reader. As she says to friends, she “eats books”.  Her favorite modern invention is the Kindle upon which she has over a thousand books.  With the advent of social media, she can now share her love of books with others. She can get recommendations more quickly, find books more easily, and start reading within minutes.  And she has made friends doing so. She has encouraged her friends to read more.  She follows her favorite authors on Goodreads and on Facebook. She “tweets” at them on Twitter and is overcome with glee when they respond.  Never could she have imagined, when she began reading Outlander, that she’d actually be able to “talk” to the author of such a magnificent story. When Diana Gabaldon called her fans “benign nuts” so that Sam Heughan wouldn’t worry about us becoming crazed Twihards, I fell in love with the nickname.

When it was announced that Starz was going to be producing a series based on the Outlander books, she almost screamed out loud. In fact she did “squee” all over Facebook.  And then she found the Outlander groups on Facebook and started chatting with fans from all over the world.  Then Sam Heughan was cast as Jamie Fraser and she started following him on Twitter and joined Heughan’s Heughligans, a group of fans bound together to support Sam in his charity efforts, as well as promote him and the series.  Finally, she could actually interact with the books. They had been real to her in heart and head for so many years, now she was no longer alone in her love of reading, her love of all things Celtic, her love of men in kilts, her love of historical fiction, and her love of Outlander.  I was a benign nut and happy to be so. 

A fangirl was born.

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What I’m reading: Catching Up on 5 Months Worth of Books

Yes, it’s been a few months since I’ve written and I apologize.  Been busy at work and getting wrapped up in the craze that is the lead-up to Starz’ production of the series based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books. I never thought of myself as a “rabid” fangirl; I always saw myself as more of a quietly-follow-the-news fangirl.

However, with the advent of the Starz series, one of my favorite book series is now going to come to life on the small screen. I joined a few groups on Facebook and quickly became caught up in the frenzy. It’s amazing to be able to Tweet at Diana Gabaldon and Sam Heughan (starring as Jamie Fraser) and receive replies. Twenty years ago I never would’ve heard from a favorite author or actor, not to mention within minutes. Ain’t technology a wondrous thing?

So I re-read the whole series from Outlander  to A Breath of Snow and Ashes, not to mention all of the novellas and short stories.  I’m Gabaldon’ed out for the time being. Turning my attention to some of my other favorite authors, Nicole Peeler and Kevin Hearne both had novels releasing earlier in the summer.

Nicole Peeler’s Tempest Reborn was a great end to her Jane True series. Yes, I cried. Yes I laughed. Yes I cheered and cussed. I won’t spoiler-it for you… but you should read it. A lot. And then move on to Kevin Hearne.

I love Kevin Hearne. If I were a male fanboy, I’d be Kevin Hearne. His writing style jives so well with my sense of humor, I can’t stand it. He makes pop culture references that only a fanboy/fangirl could love. His characters are developing beautifully into loveable people with whom I want to drink many adult beverages. Hunted, book 6 in the Iron Druid Chronicles, Atticus is on the run from another god (he has bad luck with gods of all stripes) and Granuaile (girlfriend and fellow Druid) and Oberon (faithful Irish wolfhound companion). Mayhem ensues as the trio makes their way across Europe. I also won’t spoiler anything here because you also need to read this one.

Last big read for this summer was Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane.  Another fairy tale-esque offering from Gaiman introduces us to an adult reminiscing of his youth and small town when he lived down the road from a rather odd family of women. Suffice it to say that all is not as it seems at the Farm at the end of the lane. Most especially when the young girl is able to reach across worlds and turn a small pond into an ocean… But as we all know, reaching across worlds can often have the drawback of bringing something unwanted with you. And that’s where things get squicky.  To find out what happens, you’ll have to read it. I’m not one to give away a good story.

After the three must-reads, I moved on to “Oh wait, I still haven’t read you yet?” reads from Jeanne C. Stein. Her Anna Strong novels (the last one is coming out shortly) are another addition to the enormous library of urban otherworldly fiction.  Anna Strong is a typical bail bondswoman who happens to be raped and bitten by a bail jumper turned vampire.  Throughout the novels, Anna struggles to hold on to whatever humanity she can, while embracing a fate that she didn’t know existed before she was turned.  I really enjoyed these because of the location- they take place in San Diego and Anna frequently hops across the border to visit supernatural friends.  While some of the stronger characters start to fade out in the later books, Anna starts making new friends that can embrace her new nature more fully.  These will definitely tide you over for a bit.

Almost forgot- I also read Earth Afire by the one and only Orson Scott Card. Yes, he of the “Ender” books.  EA is a prequel to Ender- introducing us to the Earth that discovered the buggers.  I think this book felt a lot more real than the Ender books because it takes place in the not too distant future.  There were very many similarities between the book’s time period and our current society.  Yes, there was more space exploration and deep space mining, but China still had villages that were dependent on getting their news from the local library.  The sense of urgency builds throughout the novel as first “noticers” try to make others believe an invasion is imminent… and then when the first “responders” encounter the aliens- it’s quiet a picture.  I found it really helped explain a lot about Ender’s world and why it was so important for him and his classmates to do what they did.

And now on to the current read- The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker.  I’m not that far into it yet, but I’m already hooked.  Heck, I was hooked at the title.  What could two creatures from mythology have in common with each other? What set of circumstances could put these two creatures in the same space so that they would interact with each other?  Those circumstances have yet to be seen, but the stories leading up to this meeting (if there will be one) are quiet fascinating.  Wecker truly weaves a magical tale by making two extraordinary creatures anything but extraordinary.  The Golem is commissioned by a very slimy man who wanted female companionship. The kabbalist who created the golem was less than thrilled to do it, but did so for a hefty fee.  And what a golem she is! You’ll have to read more to learn more about her.   The Jinni is also an intriguing character, released not from an oil lamp, but from a brass container, he is bound to his current form and in need of assistance from the tinsmith who releases him.  The characters are drawn very well- I can picture them in their individual settings- and the plot moves at a steady pace.  I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

I think this is enough for  catching up post. I promise I’ll be on more regularly.  Until then, “Dinna fash, and use a spurtle.”

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What I’m Reading: Kate Daniels

What I’m Reading: Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series

My latest series is the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews (husband and wife team Gordon and Ilona Andrews). I finished Magic Bites and started on the second book, Magic Burns last weekend.  I was sucked (suckered?) in very quickly and ended up finishing the whole series (minus the novellas/short stories) last night. What I like about this series is that Kate Daniels is a hard-ass à la Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, but she too has a tender heart.

Kate Daniels has a mysterious background which has given her some very strong magical powers, a very cool sword named Slayer, and a host of characters who alternately want to kill her and recruit her for a variety of special jobs.  We first meet Kate at a vulnerable time in her life: her last parent-figure, guardian Greg, has been murdered by some unknown beastie.

Greg was a member of the Order- think Knights Templar whose sole mission is to protect humanity from evil paranormal activities.  Upon his death, the Order wants Kate to join up because as an apprentice, her scores were off the charts. However, Kate “has problems with authority.”

Set in a crumbling Atlanta which is beset by waves of magic and technology (electricity doesn’t work during magic waves and magic doesn’t work during tech waves), Andrews has crafted a post-apocalyptic city reminiscent of the locales in the Dante Valentine series.  Bits and pieces of Atlanta are familiar to those who have been there, but skyscrapers have crumbled and mobile home villages have coalesced into the Honeycomb. Forests have taken back what was theirs and the airport is a now a fortified base of operations for a para-military group.

In the course of the first five books (I’ll try not to be too spoilery), Kate realizes that the life of a mercenary sword-for-hire isn’t going to cut it for her.  She’s a trained killer, but she needs more in her life. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond her control, the “more”   has to be kept at arms’ length or others can be hurt.

Similarly to Anita Blake’s world, Kate’s world is populated with a host of supernatural creatures including a menagerie of weres (lions, wolves and bears, oh my!); vampires, druids, golems, shamans, et cetera, et cetera. Unlike Anita, Kate doesn’t have to sleep with them to gain their power. She has her own powers which grow stronger the more she uses them and learns about them.

I like Kate’s snarky attitude- she’s got awesome one-liners and comebacks.  Plus, her sword melts undead flesh.  Just like Anita, Kate starts to build a “family” around her, trying to gain the “more” while keeping them safe.

I found these books to be page-turners because I wanted to see what was happening next. I like the folkloric elements that are incorporated throughout the novels, as well as the depictions of what life is like when magic and technology fight for prominence in the world. The conflicts aren’t repetitive, although some of the themes are; the new characters are introduced seemlessly rather than just being thrown into the mix. Once a character is introduced, that character is developed throughout the rest of the novels. Having a universe of dynamic characters keeps everything from becoming too flat.

And then, there’s the dog. Kate picks up strays like some people pick up litter on the sidewalk. If someone (or thing) is being abused, Kate’s sense of honor won’t allow her to stand by and watch. Sometimes this gets her in trouble, but sometimes it garners her a friend for life. I won’t ruin it for you, suffice it to say that the “mutant attack poodle” takes on a life of his own.

So now I’m in series withdrawal. Sometimes I hate that I read so fast because I run out material that’s worth the reading.  Thankfully, there will be a new book this summer, so I’ll get to check back in with Kate and the gang to see how post-apocalyptic Atlanta is holding up. Now it’s on to the next thing!

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Goals and Orson Scott Card’s Pathfinder

So my goal for this year’s reading challenge was 100 books. Judging by last year’s results, I’ll probably make it, but it depends on the size and quality of the books I’m reading, not just the quantity.  Some weekends I can get through 2 or 3 books, sometimes I fight to get one done.  Lately, I haven’t been writing as much about the books I’m reading, mostly because some of them are so cheesy that I’m embarrassed to say that I read them.

Yes, I read the first four Vampire Diaries books. I don’t know how I got sucked into it, but I did.  It was interesting to read the books after watching the television series. Definitely glad they changed things up. Those books were pretty awful, even by a ‘90s “Hey this Vampire thing is coming back and I want to get in on it” standard.  Thankfully they were short enough that I finished four of them in one weekend and could wipe the sour taste from my brain.

Then I changed things up with Orson Scott Card’s Pathfinder.  To be totally honest, I’m a huge fan of Card’s. I’ve read a ton of his novels. We all know I’m not a huge short story fan, so I’ve neglected some of his stuff. But the Ender series and the Homecoming Saga just blew me away.  I love the world he creates and the people he populates those worlds with. I love the conflicts they face, the dialogue, the plot twists… Orson Scott Card is a master and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

Spoiler Alert

In Pathfinder, Card again takes the reader on a journey into unchartered territory where he blends the medieval quest epic with a space-faring jaunt. There are two story arcs: one following an intrepid space-faring captain and one following a young boy with a special power.   The first arc appealed to my inner geek immediately. Here was a colony ship trying to determine whether or not faster than light speed was possible. The captain is left awake, the only human, surrounded by “Expendables”.  His big decision: should he press the button to set the ship into faster than light travel, not knowing whether or not the technology will be effective?

The second arc takes us to a medieval-esque nation where a young boy can see the paths of anyone or thing that has come before him like threads of light.  Things get very interesting when Razzi realizes that he can actually reach into the threads of light and interact with people in the past.  In typical questing form, Razzi makes acquaintances on his way. Some of these acquaintances have their own special powers, and some have “powers” that come from their force of character.  As Razzi and Co. set out on a journey bestowed by his dying Father, they come to examine the issues of the space -time continuum more closely and thoroughly than I would ever expect characters in a medieval setting to do.

The real twists come when the two story arcs intersect. I love how Card does it, but I won’t give it away because it’s pretty brilliant.  In fact, the whole novel (although in some parts rather predictable in the medieval-quest way) is rather brilliant.  Other than Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I don’t think I’ve ever seen time travel/space-time discussions and medieval settings blend so well together.  And before you start thinking of The Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey’s genius body of work, the dragon-riders weren’t having modern physics discussions about space and time. The dragons were doing all of the hard work.

Card’s main characters are teen-agers, so coming to grips with the facts that they can alter reality in addition to everything a teen-ager has to go through is rather daunting. At times it is easy to forget that they are teens because of their elevated language. But Card explains that rather cunningly- Razzi’s “Father” taught him several languages, as well as several different ways to speak; in fact, giving him a university education as well as lessons in etiquette and manners.

Pathfinder is full of witty and smart dialogue, intriguing characters and plot twists. I’m looking forward to seeing where Card takes this set of characters next.

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14 Years

14 years ago, my baby sister died. She was a month shy of her 18th birthday and had the world ahead of her.  She was looking forward to some dates on that Friday, was planning on performing at a local high school’s dramatic revue, and was getting her retainer fixed. She was thinking about majoring in psychology in college. She loved the X-Files and ER. She adored pandas and art and music.  She liked driving my car and doing the things teenage girls like to do.

She used to come out to karaoke night with my friends and me and sing with us. Most people didn’t realize she was under age. We didn’t let her drink… much. All of my friends knew she was my “baby” sister and looked out for her like she was their own.  She was special to everyone who knew her: a sister, a daughter, a cousin, a friend, a niece, a granddaughter, a student, an actress… She had nicknames to match each role: Patti, Pookie, Nicknork, Hurley, Patricia, Me, Panda Patti…

I remember, when I saw her in Our Town how I sobbed at the end of it because it was so real. That was nothing compared to the tears I cried when I found out she was dead.  You often hear about people beating their heads against the wall in grief and wonder if that actually happens. Yes, it does. I did it.

It’s ironic that I remember that day like it was yesterday, but have such a hard time remembering all the good times we had together. I just remember loving her smile. I remember loving her hair. I remember how, even though she could be exasperating at times- and could get lost going in a straight line- she always made us laugh. She was so passionate about acting- I just wish her biggest audience hadn’t been the procession through the funeral home the night of her wake.

She was my Pookie, my companion, my movie buddy, my shopping pal.  One day we went shopping at Lord & Taylor’s for dress coats. I don’t know if it was for our birthdays or for Christmas- but we were both getting coats.  I chose Savile Row, she chose The Matrix.  Her coat was of glorious black leather, a duster worthy of Harry Dresden. Mine was some   velvety thing that kept popping its buttons. Doesn’t take much guesswork to pick who’s coat I took with me when we moved from our “ancestral home.”

After she died, I tried to wear the coat when I could, but it didn’t fit me as well as it did her. That was the sneaky thing about her- she could always wear my clothes, because they were bigger, but I could never wear hers.

I miss my sister every day, although the pain isn’t quite as bad as when I slammed my head against the wall. I know that her spirit is still near me because I can feel her love. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of her favorite bands:

“It’s been 14 years of silence, it’s been 14 years of pain… It’s been 14 years that are gone forever and I’ll never have again” (Guns ‘n’ Roses, 14 Years).

See the poems that I’ve written about Pookie’s coat- the first one and the most recent.



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