Book Review: Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older

Book Review: Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older

Dactyl Hill Squad

By Daniel José Older

Historical Fantasy, MG

It’s 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker.

Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community—a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker.

Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it’s too late?

oOo

Full disclosure: I will ready anything Older writes. His writing is so full of life and verisimilitude that even dinosaurs in 1863 being used as carriage horses is completely convincing. His characters are unapologetic in speech and behavior and appearance. Magdalys doesn’t have to go on a long journey of self-discovery, she’s ready to take the world by storm and fuck anyone who gets in the way. Magdalys is our main girl and right off the bat we have her asserting herself as the head matron tries to force the anglicized name “Margaret” on her.

There’s so much packed into these pages, we have that interaction with the head matron in the first few pages and then there’s the line about how it had just become legal for colored folks to ride dinos. So we’ve already set up that just because there are dinosaurs, not much else is different from how black/brown people were actually treated in the 1860s. I did look up whether or not it was illegal for colored people to ride horses in the 1860s and from what I can tell—I didn’t dive super deep into it—it wasn’t, but I did learn that early in horse racing a lot of jockeys were former slaves. In the 1880s as Jim Crow laws picked up steam they started losing their jobs and horse racing became the white-associated sport we know in the modern era.

But I digress.

You’ll do that a lot while you’re reading Dactyl Hill Squad, there’s so much stuff in here that you’ll want to look up and see Did That REALLY Happen? And Older has helpfully supplied an index of places and people and events he used as a jumping point for a lot of what happens in this book.

Back to the story though. Magdalys has a special connection with dinosaurs that, because she’s not allowed around them that often, she’s only just discovering when the whole world goes up in flames. Magdalys and her fledgling ability to communicate with dinosaurs gets her and her friends out of the heart of the riots overtaking Manhattan. This is probably my favorite part of the book. The kids are escaping on a brachiosaurs—brachy—with Magdalys in the driver seat and another orphan, Amaya, firing flintlock pistols at magistrate Riker and his Kidnapping Club. Meanwhile, literally, riding shotgun is a black Shakespearean actress, Cymbeline, who has a double barrel shotgun and is also blasting away at the Kidnapping Club and their ankylosaurses and raptors. It’s girl power to the Nth degree and I can’t get enough.

I will give fair warning that Older doesn’t pull any punches or gloss over what exactly it meant to be black in 1863 NYC, there is a lynching. There’s nothing graphic in the description, but it’s there. Personally, I think a white author would have had the character shot or simply disappeared or died in the fire, but the offscreen death softens the edges of things. These are black and brown characters existing in a time period when they weren’t considered human by a large portion of the US population. The lynching is a gut punch, but it’s truth.

I like the variety of dinos that Older brings to the table, too. It’s not just triceratops and t-rexes, we’ve got ankylosaurses, knuckleskulls, brachys, and some delightful tiny things called microtriceratops that people use as pets.

I said on twitter I was ready to pre-order the entire series and I meant it. Even if middle grade isn’t the usual thing you read, you can make an exception for Dactyl Hill Squad. I blew through this in an afternoon and I’ve been thinking about it for two days. I’m sure I’ll do another read through in the next couple of weeks because Older writes books that require more than one reading to really put things together. I’m sure there are things in this book that three books from now will become lynchpin information. It’s how he writes and it’s so amazing.

There is a character towards the end of this book that appears in his YA Shadowshaper trilogy, and I’d love to gush about him, but I haven’t decided if it counts as a spoiler. I know I about threw the book when he appeared, so I think I’d like to keep it as a delightful surprise for everyone else.

As always, you can pick up Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here: http://danieljoseolder.net/

 

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Travel Time: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Travel Time: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

So, I’ve been saying since I started traveling that I’d get photos up for you all to see and I’ve not been great at keeping up with that. But I’m going to get that sorted this year. So going allllllll the way back to 2016, we’re going to start with Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

 

When I arrived in Phnom Penh, I was flabbergasted by how big this city is. My current hometown has a population of 50,000-ish people. Phnom Penh has 1.5 million. As we were coming in for a landing, seeing this city stretch for miles was breathtaking and really set in what kind of adventure I was in for. This was the first time I’d undertaken an adventure of this caliber. Sometimes I feel like I’ve always been traveling. Then I look back at these pictures and I remember I really only started traveling three years ago this month. I’ve had so much fun and I’ve grown so much, but this picture reminds me of that first stomach fluttering descent into the unknown.

 

Cambodia has some pretty currency, I took some pictures of it because I’d never seen money so colorful. And maybe you haven’t either, so here you go!

 

 

The view from my window was spectacular. The hotel we stayed in was right by the main artery of Phnom Penh so I got a front row seat to watching the chaotic traffic. Even sitting in a room watching the tuktuks and motorbikes and cars and pedestrians weave around each other was thrilling. US folks, you may think no one in your state can drive, but I promise you we are down right regimented drivers when it comes to the free-for-all that is Khmer roads. The chaos is amazing. There are no crosswalks, you just look both ways and step off the curb cars or not. It is…well, it’s something.

 

Monday morning we got a tour of the city! I woke up sick as a dog and completely jetlagged Sunday and spent the whole day guzzling water and sleeping hoping I’d recover enough to be up and ready on Monday. It…mostly worked. I bullied myself through that day because I didn’t want to miss a minute! The end result is that I don’t have a lot of clear memories of this day. I remember we rode in tuktuks and I know we went to a temple and through the area where the Night Market is set up before finishing at the Royal Palace. But I don’t remember most of what was said. I do remember walking around the Palace grounds in awe of the architecture and also hoping I didn’t puke on the immaculate lawn.

 

The temple we went to was Wat Phnom and it was beautiful. I was still feeling a little spry when we got there so I roamed the temple grounds looking at the lovely architecture and the murals. It was humid but cool under the trees and it kept me from wilting.

So that was the first couple of days in Phnom Penh. If you’ve been waiting for the pictures, they’re finally here! Check back on Mondays for more stories and pictures not only from Cambodia, but all the other places I’ve been over the years and places I’m heading to next.

Review: A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan

Review: A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan

Touch of Gold

By Annie Sullivan

YA, Fantasy

After King Midas’s gift—or curse—almost killed his daughter, he relinquished The Touch forever. Ten years later, Princess Kora still bears the consequences of her father’s wish; her skin shines golden, rumors follow her everywhere she goes, and she harbors secret powers that are getting harder to hide.

Kora spends her days concealed behind gloves and veils. It isn’t until a charming duke arrives that Kora believes she could indeed be loved. But their courtship is disrupted when a thief steals treasures her father needs to survive. Thanks to Kora’s unique ability to sense gold, only she can find the missing items. As she sails off on her quest, Kora learns that not everything is what it seems—not her companions, or the thieves, or Kora herself.

oOo

A continuation of the King Midas tale from the daughter’s POV? Yes please! As a huge fan of Disney’s Tangled and Frozen, Kora reminded me a lot of Elsa and Rapunzel. She’s terrified of the powers she has and thinks they make her unlovable, but she wishes to travel far and wide seeing the whole world. Being cloistered in the castle most of her life doesn’t make her as naïve as Rapunzel, though. She’s aware of the rumors that follow her and assumes if anyone looks twice at her it’s because they’re either afraid of the rumors or they’re looking for a good way to exploit them if they’re true.

Kora’s kingdom is in dire straights when we meet Kora and her cousin—but sister at heart—Hettie. Wars have plagued the kingdom and since Midas’ brush with gold he’s been an absent ruler. Kora is now playing the marriage game to bring the kingdom back from poverty and give it some stability. She’s not super thrilled about any of this, and who could blame her. No one’s paid her much mind until now, because now she’s a useful bargaining chip.

I like Hettie, she’s got a short fuse and definitely reminded me of Anna with her blunt personality and initial haughtiness when we meet the crew of the Swanflight. But she learns to wield a cutlass pretty quick and falls right in with the boys. I think Hettie has an interesting story inside her, I’d love to know what she does after the book ends. She doesn’t seem like she’d be one to stuff herself back into gowns and corsets after their adventure. Hettie does tiptoe the line of being more interesting than Kora, like Han and Luke. The story is told from Kora’s POV and she does a lot of growing during the adventure, but Hettie gets into swordfights and cuts pirates down like she was born for it. Is that rage? Is it inborn talent? Did she watch the palace guards practice? I have a lot of questions about what’s going on inside of Hettie.

Our villain is Captain Skulls, so named because he likes to keep the heads of his enemies as souvenirs. We all have weird hobbies, don’t judge. Captain Skulls fits nicely into the mold of Disney villain. He is bad through and through, there are no glimpses of humanity or deeper character story. He’s there to chew bubblegum and steal heads. And he’s all out of bubblegum. There are other antagonists in the story, and they start off with the promise of a complex character arc, but once the charade falls apart they also become bad through and through. I’m pretty sure all Disney villains are sociopaths, has anyone looked into that?

When Kora sets off on her journey there’s a sense of urgency, the stolen treasures are tied directly to her father’s life, so the longer they’re away, the weaker he becomes and he’s already a shadow of himself. But there’s no real ticking clock, there’s no definitive “Get the gold back in a week or he’ll be dead.” It’s just every now and then Kora checks in and we get an update of him slipping away more and more. Still the time spent on the ship doesn’t hold a lot of urgency. She frets over getting the gold back, but she also spends equal time fretting over boys and Hettie being seasick.

I would say it’s the last three or four chapters will have readers turning pages fast as they can. There are a lot of twists and turns and false leads in this book and the end is a breathless maze. The fight with Captain Skulls is dramatic, but it’s everything that happens afterwards that really seals Touch of Gold as an enjoyable afternoon read. This being a Hyperion print, there’s no gratuitous violence, lots of the fighting is dramatic sword fights and off screen deaths, so if you have a younger reader who’d like to read a swashbuckling tale of King Midas, this is a good one.

You can pick up A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here: https://anniesullivanauthor.com/

 

2019

2019

Of course the year I decide I’m going to keep this blog updated—goddammit—I head off and live in a cabin in Alaska for six months with 150+ dogs.

Okay, so I mean it this time.

Maybe.

I’m in limbo with a job in Russia and after two weeks and still no updates on my visa paperwork, I’ve put my hat back in the ring for greenhouse jobs in Indiana. So, we’ll see. I may be jetting off to a fun new place, or I might be hanging out in the States a bit longer playing with plants. It’s a fight to the finish at this point.

I will post pictures of the dogs I lived with because they’re too cute not to, but for now let’s get reacquainted.

Hello, I like to write. I haven’t written anything in…well, several months because every time I think about opening a word file and making coherent sentences I get really tired and it doesn’t make me happy like it used to. So this is me working through it. Writing does make me happy, I just have to remember why.

My favorite project, Rebel Love Song, I’ve set off the back burner and put on a warming pad because I just can’t keep up with how quickly we’re spiraling into a dystopia more frightening than anything I’ve written. I still like the story, but it falls flat compared to current events so I’ve put it in the backup hard drive and put the notebooks on a shelf. Maybe in a few years things will level out again and I can delve back into it.

I have other projects that could use some attention, like the urban fantasy Mage story that doesn’t even have a working title. There’s the cryptozoologist story and Fae Café and Charlatans, but I’ve opened every one of those files at least twice a week and I just stare at the words for an hour and then close it.

That’s been my writing life since October. I still have my fanfictions that I usually work on when I get into a rut with the original stuff, but even that is more of the same. I open the file, re-read what’s there, decide I don’t like it and I need to restart the chapter and then…nothing.

Writing is hard.

But it’s never been this hard and I don’t like it. Reading and writing are the two things I’ve always been able to do. And now it’s like fighting through quicksand just to get a character from the garage to the kitchen. I keep thinking if I read some more books that whatever it is will shake loose, or if I watch enough movies something will spark. But I don’t even want to do that. I want to sleep, but I don’t, because I should be writing, but I open the file and a whole lotta nothin’ happens. So I close the file and open another and tell myself to just start writing and…nothing. Still nothing. So I close everything down and turn off my computer and pick up a book and that lasts for about ten minutes before I can’t focus on that any more. I pace and try to read and turn the computer back on and open a blank page to start something completely new. And nothing. Then I turn the computer off and repeat the whole goddamn process.

So maybe I’m going to Siberia and maybe a dramatic change in scenery will…I dunno, do something. Maybe I’ll finish some of the books in my TBR pile, at least.

 

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her bould-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the soverign’s brother, saying goodby to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most poerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

oOo

This is a really good follow up to Flame in the Mist, but it focuses more on the love story between Mariko and Ōkami so I wasn’t quite as riveted as I was with the first book. Still lots of ninjas, though. There’s more political drama in this one as well. Mariko is in the imperial city and everyone; the emperor, empress, concubines, heirs, and ladies-in-waiting all have an agenda and are all maneuvering to get more power. That definitely keeps the pages turning. There’s a sorceress in the palace as well, so we keep that thread of fantasy going throughout the book.

Mariko is still the fierce and adaptable character we had in the last book, but Smoke in the Sun is more love story than adventure story. To me, it sometimes feels like Mariko’s interactions with Ōkami are a little too HOW DO I LIIIIVE WITHOUT YOUUUUUU. Sure, Ōkami is set to be executed literally any day, but, they’ve known each other all of three months or so.

Calm down.

Or maybe that’s a solid reaction. I don’t know. I’m aro/ace, my gauge on appropriate romantic reactions didn’t even get installed.

Anyway, we’re given better introductions to Roku and Raiden who we meet in Flame in the Mist. Roku is the heir apparent and his brother, Raiden, is Mariko’s betrothed. They’re brothers and thick as thieves even though their mothers hate each other. As Roku gains more and more power though we begin to see that he’s not just a cunning and spoiled little prince, he’s also a genuine sociopath.

Raiden is little better, constantly following his brother’s orders and whims, but as the story continues we see the two begin to diverge. As Roku becomes more and more depraved, Raiden becomes more and more uncomfortable and begins to question his blind loyalty.

Meanwhile, Mariko and Ōkami are in the background with “I Will Always Love You” playing on repeat and the rest of the Black Clan waving their lighters in the air.

But, even with this being more a love story than anything else, I will happily read this again because it is a wonderful conclusion to Flame in the Mist. And I still love Takeda.

 

You can find Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here.

 

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

oOo

Oh boy, you know I love me some ninjas. I had this book at the checkout counter before conscious thought caught up to me. It’s hard to find good fantasy with ninjas. I don’t know why; their mythology is ripe for excellent stories. But Ahdieh has made an incredible story with a smattering of supernatural elements that elevate this Finding Yourself/Love story from good to great.

Mariko is a wonderful protagonist. She comes from wealth and has lived a life of luxury, but she doesn’t fall into that floundering fish out of water trope we often see with wealthy characters suddenly thrust among People. She’s smart, adaptable, resourceful, and fierce. But she still has her blind spots. She’s the daughter of a well known samurai and as such she’s never known cold or hunger and this book takes the time to show her that the lovely bubble she grew up in doesn’t apply to the peasants working the fields. This is as much a political drama as it is an adventure and love story.

The Black Clan speaks true to the workings of ninja clans in feudal Japan. They’re ronin and peasants who have banded together for revenge against the ruling class. But we get a little bit of the mythos with our Black Clan leaders, Takeda and Ōkami, who have made a deal with a demon to get supernatural powers.

My favorite of the boys is Takeda, he’s a cheeky little jackass and I just adore him. Ōkami swings between apathy and agitation, depending on how much Takeda is teasing him. The two are best friends and have been through hell together and it shows. There’s a lot of friendship on the page, but so much subtext in all of their interactions you know the author has taken the time to think through the entirety of their lives, not just what’s written down.

I say this with pretty much every book I read, but I don’t care about romance or love because so often those stories follow the same formula over and over again. It’s tedious. But Ahdieh throws a nice little twist into things. When Mariko meets Takeda and Ōkami, she’s dressed as a boy. No one knows she’s a girl in disguise and they treat her like they would any other boy.

Which makes things delightful when Ōkami starts catching feelings. So much fun. I’ve read other books where a character poses as a boy but the love story doesn’t start its arc until they’re revealed as a girl, because gods help us if a someone finds themselves attracted to what they think is the same sex. So a round of applause to Ahdieh for breaking the trend and making this fledgling romance funny and true to life.

The story ends on a cliffhanger. While Mariko is out searching for the people who want her dead, her twin brother, Kenshin, is searching for her. He, like everyone else in Mariko’s previous life, think she’s meek and fragile and likely being horribly traumatized and brutalized by being captured by bandits. So when he finally finds the Black Clan stronghold there’s an intense battle and we get to see Mariko, once again show off her intellect not only in the weapons she designs but also in how she figures out how to end the confrontation when the Black Clan begins losing ground.

This is definitely a book I will read again, not only because I love all things ninja, but because Ahdieh has written a great character with Mariko and a compelling story. Even if you take out the ninjas (but why would you?) you’d still have a page turner on your hands.

There is of course a sequel, Smoke in the Sun, where we see Mariko heading to the imperial city and the nest of vipers that awaits her there.

 

If you’d like to pick up Flame in the Mist, you can find it at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author, Renée Ahdieh

 

Review: Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

Review: Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

By F.C. Yee

YA, Fantasy

Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from Hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged. Enter Quintin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quintin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukon, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tail and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the last of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

oOo

I feel that anyone out there flogging themselves about less than perfect scores on tests and worried about future career paths will relate to Genie. Genie is a hyper-rational sixteen year old girl and it takes quite a bit for Quentin to get her to finally believe the fantastic and otherworldly things that are happening. It’s nice to have a character who translates their fear of the unknown into concrete mathematical equations and proven scientific theories. Even if all that rationale doesn’t work on magic and gods.

Quentin is…well, he’s a god in mortal form. So if you’ve seen Thor, I’d say Quentin follows that character arc really well. He’s kind of a jackass when Genie first meets him and she does everything she can to tell him to piss off. It’s great to have a protagonist that doesn’t immediately swoon over the cute new weird kid in class. It’s not until halfway through the book or more that attraction is even brought up. Again, it’s really nice to have that. So often in YA books we’re introduced to our protagonist and then two possible love interests within the first two chapters and it’s. so. Boring.

Not here! And the relationship between Genie and Quentin is so wonderfully organic. It’s not like all at once they’re BFFs and then dating. Genie still routinely butts heads with Quentin and resists all the weird things happening in her ordered life. Their personality clashes are consistent but not extreme enough to make their attraction to each other feel forced. It’s so much fun to read their interactions even while they’re not battling demon hordes.

I hope to see more adventures from Genie and Quentin. The way the book ends it could either work as a standalone or as a series. I really like all the characters introduced in this book, not just Quentin and Genie, but our secondary characters as well. So get out there a buy this book, so we can see more from F.C. Yee!

 

You can find The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And learn more about the author here.

Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Ice Dogs

By Terry Lynn Johnson

MG, Adventure

Lost.

That’s how the fourteen-year-old dogsledder Victoria Secord has felt ever since her father died. A champion musher, Victoria is independent, self-reliant, and, thanks to her father, an expert in surviving the unforgiving Alaskan bush. When an injured “city boy” and a freak snowstorm both catch Victoria and her dog team by surprise, however, a routine trip becomes a life-or-death trek through the frozen wilderness. As temperatures drop and food stores run out, Victoria must find a way to save them all.

oOo

Of course spending a few months in Alaska working with dogs I had to pick up a book about sled dogs. If you have someone in your life who’s interested in mushing then I would highly recommend this book. The author did the leg work to make this book authentic. The commands and equipment used and even Victoria’s attitude toward her dogs are very true to life. There are a couple of moments of artistic licensing, like when Victoria falls off the sled but manages to catch up to them and gracefully hop on the runners. When I told the mushers about that scene they all laughed. Dogs are great, but they will 100% leave your ass if you fall off.

Victoria is a headstrong and stubborn character. Sometimes she reads like she has something to prove, but nothing concrete ever comes up. She’s well received and respected in the mushing community as a great young musher, so it’s not the usual “woman must prove her place” trope that this could have fallen in to.

Victoria is pretty messed up from her dad’s death just shy of a year prior. Her dad is the one that taught Victoria to run dogs and how to survive out on the trail and that was their thing. Her mom is categorically uninterested in dogs and that puts the two at odds. That’s a problem, because Victoria wants to go look at some more dogs from another musher who’s getting out of them, but her mom doesn’t want to drive her there. So Victoria, in all of her teenage righteousness, decides to take herself there using her own dog team while her mom is at work.

Now, first off, if she found a dog, how was she going to get it back? Second, she was born and raised in Alaska, it’s late winter/early spring, but she doesn’t even bother to look at the weather before undertaking this journey. Third, she’s never taken a team over to this musher’s house and plots a vague course on how she thinks she can get there and packs according to that.

This is where the book started to lose me.

You can’t set this character up as someone who knows how to run dogs and survive in the bush and then have her make these huge oversights. I can understand the hubris that lead her to packing for her trip based on what she assumed her team could do. But not checking the weather? Again, it’s late winter/early spring in Alaska and she’s going on a thirty-five mile run with her dogs through unfamiliar territory.

Our “city boy,” Chris, is pretty much a stock character of “fish out of water” trope He’s from Toronto who just moved to the area four days ago. He is the physical manifestation of “If things continue to get worse, I’ll have to ask you to stop helping.” Literally everything he touches just bursts into flames. I wasn’t really sold on his character and their friendship arc felt a little stiff.

Overall, this is a good story. It’s full of action and it’s tearful towards the end when Victoria finally accepts that her dad’s death was an accident and no power on Earth could have saved him.

I would recommend Ice Dogs for anyone who enjoys adventure and action.

 

You can find Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author at her website

 

Alaska Adventures: It’s Cold

Alaska Adventures: It’s Cold

Whooooo! It’s been, what, a month since the last update? I don’t keep track of the days anymore. Alaska is still fun, it’s been pretty cold the last week so I’ve been huddled under blankets or in front of my fire when I’m not at work. The dogs are still a joy, a muddy joy, but a joy nonetheless. I won’t lie, I miss city supplied electricity. I’m off tomorrow and don’t have any tours planned so if it’s warm enough in the kitchen I should be able to knock out a couple of book reviews and some more chapters on my fanfictions.

Writing has been at a snail’s pace. I don’t mind writing long hand, but usually I only do it if I get stuck on something or if I’m temporarily away from my computer.

Regular showers are another thing I miss. Like, at this point I can’t definitively say when my last shower was. Maybe this week? Well, I know I’ll get a shower today since I’m at the main house, but after that? WHO KNOWS

We had some new puppies born yesterday morning. There are only three and their all black. I helped the musher this morning count them and make sure they were all right because the mama dog is pretty young and we want to make sure she doesn’t accidentally lay on one. They’re soooo cute, they’re about the size of hamsters right now. Mama is doing very well with them. So we have our set of ten week old puppies and a set of four week old puppies and now our two day old puppies.

This is such a great job.

While missing the feeling in my fingers, I’m still enjoying myself. This week has been r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s with the cold and wet. Even the mushers who live up here said it has been too cold this week. I think it’s been in the low forties and raining every day. I’m really hoping for that mid-sixties summer I read about online.

I went whale watching last week and got a cool video of a humpback female named Flame doing a dive. We also saw sea lions and bald eagles and it was a gorgeous day for being on a boat, too. There was no wind and the water was glassy smooth. It was a wonderful three hours. The captain turned off the engine for about half an hour since we were the only ship on the water and it was so peaceful I could understand why some people love boating and sailing so much.

We also went past Kodiak Island, the island with the largest concentration of brown bears in Alaska.

I hiked up to Mt. Gastineau, the lower portion of Mt. Roberts and got some great views of the channel and Juneau. Once you get up high enough the eagles glide maybe twenty feet above your head as they coast down to the channel looking for lunch. There was still some snow up top and there were a perilous few minutes where I had to cross a snow/ice patch along the trail with a steep drop on one side. But it was a good day and our company has tram passes so we can go up for free whenever we want. I want to take a notebook up there and hangout for an afternoon and see what my mind spins out. That rocky trail had my high fantasy mind in overdrive the whole time.

So, until next time I get to shower, have fun out there!

Alaskan Adventures/Writing Updates

Alaskan Adventures/Writing Updates

Well, here we are, Day 6 of Alaska Adventures. I’m down in the main house sitting in the delightful heated kitchen with wifi and electricity and indoor plumbing only a room away. It’s been…a character building experience so far. The cabin I’m in is waaaaay more rustic than I originally thought. I’m actually in a dry cabin the generator powered electricity and water are in the common kitchen and bathroom. That’s fine and all, but the water pump is currently frozen so the camp does not have any running water. Good news, a quarter mile from the cabins are the outhouses guests use when tours start up.

Lemme tell you, walking a quarter mile through cold drizzle and old growth forest at 2am to pee is an experience. I have never in my life believed more in Bigfoot than I did during that long cold walk through the pitch black darkness with nothing but a headlamp.

The cabin is unfinished. There’s no insulation whatsoever and that tiny woodstove doesn’t do much. So lots of character building has happened the last 6 days.

But the dogs are cute. All 180 of them. I know about 30 of their names right now and routinely forget my 6 coworkers’ names. So I’m still on brand. We did some test runs yesterday with the teams and those dogs can haul. It was so much fun. Tours start Monday and Sunday is dedicated to more test runs and I’m really looking forward to that.

But, right now in the kitchen one of the dock managers and drivers are regaling us with some incredible tales of ship shenanigans. I’m loving being here. Also, these two are amazing cooks. They made scratch three cheese macaroni with ham a couple nights ago and tonight they’re doing a company dinner that is either going to be prime rib or roast.

So I’m having fun. Nights are a little rough still. I’ve bought three more blankets since I got here and the stove doesn’t hold enough wood to get through the night so unless you wake at 1am and toss three more logs on you’re going to wake up cold.

There’s also a pack of wolves somewhere on this island and there’s a bear that creeps around the main house down here. I’m looking forward to the tours starting because we get comp’d or do a straight switch with some companies. Most of my writing is going to be longhand because I’m not sure the generator will be able to efficiently charge my computer, but we’re going to see how it goes. I know at least once a week I’ll be able to get down here to the main house and do laundry and shower and get online.

Updates will be sporadic, but I’ll start getting pictures up on the next post.

oOo

As for writing! I haven’t done any of that in six days. But I have a plan sketched out for Constellations and plenty of jelly beans. If I get this chapter knocked out today then I should be able to get it posted next week after I get it proofed. By firelight no less. I’m really getting into method writing for this story. Here’s hoping I can avoid supernatural night monsters and life threatening dehydration.

Also!! Yes, this does call for double exclamation points, I have an idea for a Soundwave/Shockwave story. I’ll be writing that by firelight as well. But I’m sticking to my two WIP limit so until either Spark or Constellations is finished you won’t be seeing that one. But now you know it’s there.

I still want to post my Shiro angst but that can wait. I’m still trying to find my footing here so writing has been nonexistent. But hopefully once tours start and I have a better idea of routine and schedule it’ll be easier to get the words out. I need to make a writing nook in my cabin, preferably near the fire.

Things I’ve made headway on since the last update: Decepticon Ratchet story hesitantly titled One Sun in the Sky, a Prowl/Red Alert story with the working title of Midnight, a William Lennox story—gasp!—with the working title of Will because I’m practical like that, and a Blaster/Ratchet—fight me—story with the working title Blaster, because again, practical.

As far as writing goes, things are moving slow, but they’re still happening. So if I don’t get eaten by a bear or run over by a dog team, updates will be forthcoming in the next two weeks!