Saturday, April 14, 2018

Luck

This would be much more dramatic if the quarter slots still took actual quarters. It’s deeply unsatisfying to swipe my card and watch the tiny number appear on the screen instead of dropping in my last piece of shining silver. I miss the feel of the cool metal, the scrape of the coin against the slot, the chink as it drops into the depths of the machine. I miss pulling the big handle.

So I close my eyes. I let my fingers feel out the single oversized button on the smooth plastic console in front of me. I push.

Now the sounds are right. The chunk, chunk, chunk of reels locking into place. But almost drowned out by the increasing volume of the whooping electronic “music” that’s been added for dramatic effect. Even with my eyes closed, I can tell something is happening. My pulse responds to the insistent screaming of the box in front of me, reaching a stuttering step as the sounds crescendo in a wailing siren and the sound of fake cascading coins.

My eyes fly open. Five black cats are arched on the screen, hackles raised, mouths sneering as they hiss in anger that I have taken their prize. I won. I won a lot.

And I have drawn every eye in the room. Some are above smiling faces, people who are happy to see someone taking money from this building, a reminder that they too might win. Others look almost as nasty as the cats, pissed that my win has lowered the odds that they will.

The only pair of eyes that matters is flat, neutral. Cold. Brown eyes should be warm, inviting. But right now his are mud. Not harmful, exactly. But dangerous if you fall in, forget to keep your head clear.

I watch him as I smile as all of my new friends, the congratulators that have formed a circle around me, patting me on the back, offering to walk with me as I cash out the ticket that the machine has so kindly printed for me. I clutch the ticket tight, not daring to slide it into my bag or pocket. Fingers have their ways of getting into those places. I can’t let this go.

He can’t let me go. He won’t let me go.

I wonder what the odds are that I can cash this slip and make it to the bus station before he has his fingers wrapped around my arm.

Probably no better than the odds of me hitting this jackpot.

But this is Vegas.

I think I’ll take those odds.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Warning Light and other March reads

I finished 12 books in March:

Warning Light by David Ricciardi (ARC)
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (audiobook)
A Matter of Trust by Lis Wiehl (audiobook)
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Dead Watch by John Sandford (audiobook)
Joyland by Stephen King
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (audiobook)
Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (audiobook)
Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray

I received a copy of Warning Light by David Ricciardi from the publisher (Berkley/ Penguin Random House) in exchange for an honest review. Warning Light is scheduled for release on April 17, 2018.

Imagine this. You are on an international flight, perhaps for business, perhaps for vacation. Your plane begins to struggle, the pilot tells everyone that there is a minor engine issue and all is well. Then the pilot revises his statement. Your plane will be making an emergency landing due to complications with the minor engine issues.

Your plane lands safely. In the midst of Iran. Your plane is emptied into a deserted, earthquake damaged airport. You are pulled aside by airport staff and asked why you are in Iran, why you were taking pictures as you exited the plane. You insist that you are there by coincidence, just like everyone else on the plane, that you were taking pictures of the beautiful sunset.

But they don’t believe you. You are beaten. You are detained.

What do you do? More importantly, what should you do? What choices can you make that will keep you alive, that will get your back home?

This is how Warning Light starts. And I was all in.

I am hit or miss on spy/ political thrillers. Sometimes I struggle to get into the story. But that was not the case here. I was eager to continue reading, knowing that this type of book would be loaded with twists and turns that would keep the story moving.

And that was the problem. Far too soon in the story Warning Light had a plot twist that I feared was coming. One that I won’t reveal here, but it took the story directly into the land of the type of story I don’t usually enjoy. From there, Ricciardi continued to pile on the improbabilities and I found myself buying into the story less and less, caring about the main character less and less.

This is probably a novel that many people will enjoy, but it was not the novel for me. I would have enjoyed the story more if the novel had not turned so far from the path it started down in the first thirty pages.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Heels

Prompt from They Fight Crime!
He’s a scrappy devious gangster in drag. She’s a brilliant gold-digging mercenary on the trail of a serial killer.


“Now those are some killer shoes.”

I take a moment to appreciate my footwear before looking up. Rich purple bands twine across my feet, around my ankles and calves. Mirror-bright silver heels catch the pulsing light in the room, throwing it in a million directions. If I were to stand, they’d add three and a quarter inches to my meager sixty-four.

I force myself to look away, focus on the voice that spoke to me. I expected a man, a tough guy looking to pick me up. The voice was smooth, a deep rumble that cut through the whiny high-pitched squeal in the club.

Standing in front of me is a woman. Wearing a dress identical to my own. The dress I bought because it was a perfect match for my shoes. Swirls of purple, black, and silver. Barely there straps holding up a shifty, flirty tube of fabric.

I look again. She’s not a she. The voice didn’t lie. This is a man. In drag. In my dress. Admiring my shoes.

His hand reaches out to touch the shoe on the end of my angrily bouncing leg. He missed a detail. There is hair on the back of his hand, hair on his fingers. All the way up his arm, actually. A match for the dark locks he has smoothed behind one ear.

“Don’t touch.” I carefully shift my legs, tucking the shoes under my chair where they are safely out of his reach.

He retracts his hand as if I were a dog that had just nipped at his fingers.

I guess I kind of did.

“Sorry. They’re expensive. And fragile.” I flash him a smile and look over his shoulder. I can’t tell if we are attracting attention because we are two women in a bar or because we are a spectacle in a double-dress. I’m okay with the first. Not with the second. A double-dress spectacle could make it hard for me to get what I want tonight.

I find the eyes I am looking for. They are pointed in our direction, but don’t touch my dress-double. They are locked on me, skimming over my skin. I can almost feel them.

I look away before the body holding those eyes realizes I’m watching him. I focus on the man next to him, but ignore the center of my vision, widen my eyes to catch everything I can in the periphery.

The man I am after is under-dressed by the standards of his club. But he looks good, without a doubt. Jeans worn soft cling to his thighs. A tight blue T-shirt drapes the muscles of his abs under an unbuttoned flannel. Golden-blond hair waves over his forehead, skims over brows that slash above his steel blue-grey eyes. The T-shirt is deliberate, I decide. He’s playing up the storm in those eyes.

“Where’d you get them?”

I startle a bit. I’d forgotten about my not-even-close-to-a-twin standing in front of me. He’s also not a twin to the man I am after. My not-twin is skinny. The dress that kisses my curves hangs like a bag over his lack of muscle. His eyes and hair are dark, banishing the light that the golden man throws around the room.

Without me asking, dress-boy drops into the seat next to me. Apparently he doesn’t care if we make a spectacle. Maybe because he is a spectacle all by himself.

“I made them actually,” I respond as I shift to make sure golden-man can see me around dress-boy.

“Really! They are spectacular.” This guy is freakishly obsessed with my footwear.

But they are spectacular. I guess I shouldn’t hold it against him.

Before I can stop him, he has slid one fur-trimmed hand down my calf to lift my foot into the air. He tips his hand, shifting my leg like he is holding a glass of wine up to the light. No glass of wine is this pretty, this sparkly. We are both entranced for a moment, watching the light bounce and scatter.

We aren’t the only ones who see. I feel his eyes a moment before I look up and catch the golden man staring.

I extract my leg, careful to mind the heels. It wouldn’t do to cut my not-twin and give away the surprise. “It’s time for my shoes and I to get to work,” I say as I stand and move toward my prey.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February Reads

I finished 10 books in February:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (audiobook)
The Wanted by Robert Crais (audiobook)
Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
Foundations of Problem-based Learning by Maggi Savin-Baden and Claire Howell Major
Past Perfect by Danielle Steel (audiobook)
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray
Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben (audiobook)
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (reread)
Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith

Usually I talk about my favorite reads. Or something that struck me as a common theme in the books I read through the month. Or something that I learned as a writer from the books I read.

Maybe this falls into the last category. This month I am going to talk about my least favorite read. I’m not going to name it, because I have written books myself. I know how difficult it is to write a book, how much of you gets invested into the words you put on paper. For me, saying a book is bad feels like I am slapping the author. Typically I try to focus on what I did enjoy about a book. I might mention things that did not work for me as a reader, or things that I thought could have been better.

But this time, I am struggling to find the good things.

Because I struggled so much to find any enjoyment in this book, I decided to really try to figure out why. That’s when I realized the primary trouble for me was that this book contained no conflict. Zero. I spent hours in the car listening to this story, trying desperately to figure out what the quest was, what the characters wanted, what was standing in the way of achieving their goals. But I just couldn’t find any hint of conflict.

Even worse, I realized I couldn’t identify a protagonist. Maybe because there wasn’t a conflict. This book had a group of characters who stayed through the story, but none of them felt like they were at the center of the story.

Yes, books can work when they have several main characters, several people working toward their goals. The trouble for me was that none of the characters seemed to have a clear goal, need, or want in this novel. We were given a group of people who live together, getting along, being happy and successful throughout their blessed lives.

The end result was that I found the story boring.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wings

If you search “strange photos” in Google Images you find some straaaange photos. This story was inspired by this photo:

https://designyoutrust.com/2016/05/bodies-of-strange-creatures-were-found-in-the-basement-of-an-old-house-in-london/ 

“Are those? Wings?”

“Yes?”

“On a person?”

“Yes?”

“On a tiny person?”

Yes.” This time my voice is certain.

“Like a fairy.”

And now my voice is gone. That’s what this thing looks like. A delicate little fairy. Dried and preserved and tucked away. Pinned to a piece of pine like a butterfly. A specimen.

“It can’t really be a fairy. Those aren’t a real thing.” I say. My eyes poke Jessie, prod him to confirm my words. His eyes stare back, unable to tell me I’m not seeing what we both think we’re seeing.

Someone caught a fairy. I’d feel better if I knew who that someone was.

I ask the question. “Who do you think put this here?”

Jessie’s eyes slide from mine back to the fragile figure sprawled in front of us. He reaches out and trails one finger across the miniature brow. I expect it to break under the weight of his comparatively substantial finger, but it doesn’t. He moves down an arm, across a papery wing. Like the head, the wing is sturdier than it seems, refusing to crumble under his touch.

“She’s perfect.” His voice is soft, as gentle as the finger that lingers. Reverent.

“How do you know it’s a she?” I want to ask if fairies even come in hes and shes, but this doesn’t seem like the time for a discussion of fae anatomy and physiology.

“Dress.”

“Oh.” She, or whatever, is covered by a scrap of white fabric that might have passed for a dress when this thing was still alive.

Jessie is still staring, but at least he isn’t touching her anymore. My breath moves easier. His loving touch on her corpse was starting to creep me out.

“Jess.”

He doesn’t look away. Doesn’t blink.

“Jess.” Louder this time, my voice sharp.

His eyes fly to mine.

“What should we do with it?”

“Her.”

“Okay. Her. What should we do with her? I mean, should we bury her? Burn her?”

Jessie’s brow turns stormy, his eyes darken. “Why would we do that?”

“I don’t know. I’m just not sure we should leave her here.” Wherever here is. Jessie never answered my question. We don’t really know where we are. We have no idea who lives here. Who visits here. Who saved this fairy.

Jessie lifts the lid I had pushed to the side of the table and settles it in place, blocking my view of the body.

“We should take her with us.” Jessie lifts the box, shifting it toward his backpack.

This isn’t right. Taking her. It feels like sacrilege. It feels dangerous.

I should stop him, stop this. But I don’t know what to say. I am searching for words when the edge of the box snags on the zipper of Jessie’s bag.

He tries to hold onto her, to catch her. But he can’t shift his grip fast enough. The box tumbles. One corner hits the ground, the unforgiving concrete knocking the lid free. Knocking her free. She flies. For one moment, her wings flutter as she moves through the air. The ground finally catches her, shatters her. She is nothing more than a cloud of dust that drifts back to coat the grey concrete in a light layer of brown.

We are frozen, staring at the remains.

I break the silence. “Well. That just happened.” I feel like I should feel bad. We just destroyed a fairy. But she was dead long before we got here. Right?

Jessie is still silent, still staring at the dusty floor.

I try again. “Should we clean her up? We could still bury her…” This has passed awkward. I’m now contemplating some sort of funeral for fairy dust.

“It’s okay,” Jessie finally speaks. He turns back toward the tall brown cabinet where we found the former fairy on the top shelf. “I have another one.”

Friday, February 2, 2018

Doctor Sleep and Other January Reads

I finished 13 books in January:

Isaac Newton: Discovering Laws that Govern the Universe by Michael White
A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (ARC)
The Call by Peader O’Guilin
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (reread)
Isaac Newton by James Gleick
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Albert Einstein by Frieda Wishinsky
Renegades by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas
Albert Einstein: The Miracle Mind by Tabatha Yeatts
Drive by Daniel H Pink
Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner (audiobook)
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My favorite read of the month was Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. Sequels can be a tricksy thing. Sometimes they feel like a warmed-up, left-over version of the original story. Sometimes they feel like a bridge that only exists to move a reader into a third book.

Doctor Sleep was neither of these. 

While part of the story returns to the site of the Overlook Hotel, the story itself barely skims along the surface of The Shining, following Danny (the child in The Shining) as an adult. It has been a long time since I last read The Shining, but I never felt like I was missing anything by not remembering the details.

Doctor Sleep is a story about ghosts, both literal and figurative. We all have them. Some of us ignore them. Some of us face them and chase them away. Some of us, like Danny, cram them into a box, shove them into a dark corner, and try to forget that they are waiting for us to deal with them. Like Danny, we don’t expect them to come back to help us. We know that they are only waiting in the dark to pop out and hurt us.

Woven throughout this mist of ghosts are a slew of other themes. The idea of family, both genetic and chosen, both for the good guy and the baddies, is prominent. The importance of the past, especially a person’s worst moment, echoes throughout. Hidden potential, the kind that we keep secret to protect others or keep them from judging us, runs through as well.

I went into this book thinking that it was a book 2 of 3. (I was wrong, it is book 2 of 2. At least for now….) Based on that, my expectations were relatively low (see my sequel thoughts above). I was pleasantly surprised by the complete feel of the story. By the end of the book, I felt like Danny’s story was whole. I would not be surprised, though, if King decides to go back to this world.

After all, there is a young girl in Doctor Sleep. A young girl with the shining. Just like Danny.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Whispered

Chuck Wendig issued a challenge to write a short story inspired by a song lyric. This is what happens when that challenge mixes in my mind with a Tweet from MagicalRealismBot.

Last night I dreamt about a koala whispering inside a mountain. It beckoned me close with its dainty dagger-tipped paws. I stepped into the fire-lit cave, careful to dodge the scatter of toothpick-thin bones strewn around the fire pit.

I stopped two feet away, hoping that was close enough. Hoping even more that it was far enough.

Staring at the mouth of the koala didn’t help me separate the shushing hiss of its whisper into actual words. I leaned forward, strained my ears to filer the popping crackle of the fire from the furry voice.

I flinched when a paw lifted toward me. Even dream-me wouldn’t get any closer to this unknown.

“Could you speak up?” Dream-me’s voice was surprisingly steady and clear. The koala coughed and took in a big breath, then let the air out in a long, weary sigh.

“You’ll see him tomorrow, dear.” The scary furry, it was a she. An old she. A granny with a creased, worn voice.

“Him?” I asked after a pause long enough to reveal my surprise.

“Your one true love.”

“Oh.”

Then I woke up.

My hand snaked out to the far edge of the bed, finding clean cold cotton. Not warmth. Not him.

Apparently I believed the words the mysterious granny koala uttered about a man who didn’t exist. Not in that moment, anyway.

I hate dreams that linger after I wake, that make me question where the line is between dream and reality, between night and day. I hate dreams that are just freaking weird.

A koala whispering in a mountain.

Right.

I closed my eyes again and pushed the koala away, trying to wrap myself up in the promise of him, the him that I would see tomorrow. I imagined him there, with me in the dark, his body cushioning me, the warmth of his flesh draped over me.

But he wasn’t there. The sleep, the deep dark calm that I so desperately needed to return to wasn’t there either.

I threw off the covers and moved on. Returned to the real reality. A very him-less reality.

I didn’t spend my day looking for him. I didn’t spend my day searching the periphery of my vision for a glimpse of a sliver of him. I spent my day deliberately not thinking about the koala in the mountain.

Her voice kept echoing in my head, forcing me to look up, look around. Look for him.

Sometimes you don’t find what you’re looking for. You search and wish and hunt in vain.

Sometimes you don’t look at all. You refuse to search and wish and hunt in vain. And you end up finding what you weren’t looking for.

Sometimes you pretend that you’re not looking so well, so fiercely, that you finally really do forget to look. In that moment, when you accept that you won’t find the thing you can’t allow yourself to want, it drops into your lap.

Or walks through the door.

Sometimes the second you find it, the second it finds you, you wish you had never wished at all. Because it’s not right.

It’s perfect. It’s exactly what you imagined, exactly what you remembered, down to the curvy curl of the deep brown hair around the delicate arch of his ear. The smell of his body wash. The flash of green peeking through the brown of his eye. The flirt of the dimple high on his right cheek. It’s him.

He’s impossible.

And completely wrong. Wisps of hair don’t hide the patches of scaly red scalp. The musk of the body wash doesn’t cover the rich, ripe aroma of rot. The flash of green battles the milky white of cataract. The dimple has poked through, revealing raw flesh and bone beneath.

The koala told me I would see him again, my one true love. She didn’t lie to me. She just left out the rest of the story. She didn’t tell me that seeing him again meant I would have to kill him.

Again.