Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bow-wow and Me-oww in Stories

Since Lassie Come Home and Black Beauty, animals have been characters in fiction, but this topic is about using them in stories from the human viewpoint, not the animal's viewpoint. Can animals be characters or are they just part of the plot or setting?

I love animals of all ilk, even spiders...when they're outdoors with other nefarious insects, not in the house, please. That goes for mice, rats, snakes, and other pests considered vermin indoors. But I'm not talking about those types of animals, and yes, they have their place and purpose and may appear in stories for similar reasons. Nothing is worse than being hunted in the dark by an animal with night vision, enhanced hearing and scent detection that has lost its fear of humankind. And remember, it was a flood of rats covered with fleas that wiped out a third of the human population with bubonic plague in the Middle Ages. So an animal's presence in a story isn't always a warm, cuddly, or fun feature, but I love encountering them in stories.

Characters carry out the plotline in stories. That's stating the obvious, I know. Named characters are important ones, unnamed ones are usually part of the setting or placeholders referred to by their profession, sex, or species: policeman, nurse, doctor, saleswoman, doorman, woman, man, dog or Siamese cat. Even in English grammar, it explains if an animal is named, its pronoun becomes he or she (a character), if unnamed, it is called it (a placeholder).

BB is watching you, and she is as fast as her name.
A human character owning many pets shows something about that character, but not about the pets. A character's treatment of an animal or pet tells the reader many significant things about that person's good or evil tendencies. A trained police dog or service animal with their human partner, on the other hand, takes on the aspect of a character—they have personality and a definite function within the story.

Often pets in family situation stories become part of the family, so they become characters and often perform important functions in the story. Characters who have become isolated for one reason or another might have animals as companions that become more important to them than any human, which happens in my story Acceptance. The protagonists, Kissre, is estranged from her human family. As a mercenary in a Renaissance typesetting, her horse and her dog are her family. Both animals have important functions within the plot, too.

I use animals as characters because if you own pets, you know they already are characters. Each one’s personality is slightly different from the other. Pets can be great secondary characters, both for good and evil purposes. Dogs and cats, even horses, can make a person laugh, sigh in comfort, feel compassion, or fear for personal safety. They are entertaining, encouraging, loyal and non-judgmental. They usually are not inherently evil unless misused by humans, a situation that can cause intense tension in a story, so pets are good at showing the best and sometimes the worst in their human counterparts.

In reality, dogs and cats are often used for their mental healing capabilities, reaching people sunk into their own minds because of trauma or age, people tuned out on worldly matters. A pet animal can sometimes return these lost souls to themselves even if only temporarily. Maybe physically, too. Recent investigative studies show that the resonate waves of a cat’s purr can heal bones and muscles—as reported in Scientific American. Wouldn’t that make an interesting character in a science fiction or fantasy story?

This article is an animal lover's opinion on animals in fiction, but science is proving animals are not the purely unthinking instinct-driven disposable-if-humans-so-desire creatures. Studies are showing they are more intelligent than many people want to believe. Besides, instinct still drives humans as no condescending name-calling about stupid animals, hear?

The following authors are also covering this topic on their blogs. Please check out what each author has to say.
Skye Taylor
Beverley Bateman
Victoria Chatham
Connie Vines
Margaret Fieland
Rachael Kosinski
Kay Sisk
Judith Copek
Marci Baun
Diane Bator
Anne Stenhouse

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Queen Of Dragons -- Shanna Abe

This is from 2008, but I really enjoyed it so thought to post it here. This is the third book in this series, but the whole series is wonderful.

Perfect 10
ISBN: 978-0-443-80528-4
January 2008
Fantasy Romance
England – 1782

Princess Maricara of Transylvania and her younger brother inherited the leadership of the drákon at the castle of Zaharen Yce in the Carpathian Alps after the thief, Zane, and Amalia Langford of the Darkfirth drákon killed Maricara’s horrible, power-grasping husband. Maricara was eleven at the time. Now, ten years later, she knows she must go to the drákon of Darkfirth in York and warn them that the Sanf inimicus, also known as Others, the mostly human hunters of drákon, know about them. The Others both hate and fear the fabled drákon, creatures who appear human, but can change to smoke and dragon. Worse, they know how to trap Drákon s and make them helpless.

Since the Drákon Council in Darkfirth learned about Maricara ten years ago, they have attempted to arrange a visit and, without her consent, engaged her to their own Alpha Lord, Kimber Langford, Earl of Chasen. Maricara is the only known woman capable of changing to dragon other than Kimber’s mother and three sisters. As an alpha in her own right, Maricara realizes the council’s aim. Having been married before, she is not inclined to repeat a past mistake, either by choice or by force. And she is able to out fly and outwit the best of the drákon.

Kimber will try his hardest to seduce the woman he knows to be his true mate and hopes his dragon side doesn’t force the issue. In the meantime, he has to protect the drákon of Darkfirth without the humans of England learning there are dragons. He must also convince the Council they cannot imprison Maricara to keep her captive.

QUEEN OF DRAGONS is a gorgeous story. The words flow in near lyrical prose. The drákon are beautiful physically but each one’s personality seems to match their exterior, and the dangerous edge of their dragon side only adds to the appeal. When drákon turn to smoke they are not easily seen, but when they become dragons, they turn into daunting, iridescent and colorful creatures that inhabit the night sky. The eighteenth century is such an unusually period for a fantasy, but the wigs, powder, silk embroidered waistcoats and panniers add to the mysterious and delightful setting of this series. The Darkfirth Council and the Sanf inimicus create enough conflict and danger for Maricara and Kimber to create a page turning thriller. All of these create a book that is a Perfect 10. Be sure to read the previous two books, THE SMOKE THIEF and THE DREAM THIEF.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

All Things Thirteen

Do you think thirteen a  lucky or unlucky number? It goes both ways. Many people get hung up on thirteen—fear it, avoid it—we still have buildings without a floor labeled thirteen as if jumping from twelve to fourteen changes the reality. The Roman calendar had one day each month called the Ides (Beware the Ides!) which in most months fell on the thirteenth — so maybe this wariness about the number goes way back in time. Yet, the U.S. was founded on thirteen colonies and our national seal is full of 13 representations, so shouldn't this be a lucky number?

Words for Thirteen 
Cardinal: Thirteen
Hindu-Arabic: 13
Roman: XIII
13 has no divisors

Roman: tredecim (thirteen), tertius decimus (thirteenth)
Greek:  dekatria and as a prefix triskaideca-

Time and Holiday Associations:
Friday 13 – a day of bad luck sometimes tied to the Last Supper where thirteen individuals were present which lead to the Crucifixion on the following Sunday, and sometimes said to have started when King Philip IV of France in an apparent wealth grab had the Templar Grand Master and many of his high ranking Templars arrested on October 13, 1307. This led to the torture and burning of those arrested and the ultimate end of the Templars. Friday the 13th is an unlucky day to most in the Western world. Some even have a fear of the number thirteen, triskaidekaphobia (tris-kay-dek-ah-fobia). Who thinks these words up? That's just as scary. It's made up of Greek numbers 3 and 10. And to mix thirteen with Friday? Read this article.

However, not everyone considers Friday the 13th unlucky. Triskaidekaphils also exist. This might include everyone at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, whose 13 founders started the institution in 1819.

Science, Technology, Measurement:
  • Baker’s dozen, long dozen, devil’s dozen
  • Aluminum (Al) thirteen element in the periodic table 
  • Thirteen-hundred hours (1 PM)
  • Title 13 of U.S. Code outlines purposes of US Census Bureau
Social, Family and Religious References:
  • Teenage years begin at thirteen
  • In Japan, Friday the 13 is considered an exceptionally lucky day
  • Egyptians held 13 as a lucky number. It represents the final steps of the stages of earthly existence.
  • British sailors refuse to put to sea on the 13th of any month.
  • There are thirteen Buddhas in the Indian Pantheon
  • Twelve Disciples plus Jesus at Last Supper equals 13 participants
  • 13 mystical discs surmount Chinese and Indian pagodas
  • The hilt of the sacred sword in the Temple of Atsusa in Japan is formed of thirteen objects of mystery
  • Thirteen is the sacred number of the Mexican snake gods.
  • Friday, October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress voted in Philadelphia to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise of three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America. The Continental Navy grew out of this legislation and as such, it constitutes the birth certificate of the navy. 
Tarot Divination: Card thirteen is the Death card representing transformation, change, or destruction followed by renewal. So, okay, death is to be avoided as much as is the number thirteen, but in this instance death isn't always dying, but change.

More Thirteen Associations:
  • 13 original American colonies
  • 13 stripes on U.S. flag (original flag also held 13 stars)
  • US National Seal: 13 levels on the pyramid on seal's backside; 13 stars on emblem over the eagle which holds olive branches with 13 leaves, and 13 olives and in the other claw, 13 arrows; eagle covered by shield with 13 strips and the mottos "e Pluribus Unum" and "annuit cœptis" each have 13 letters. Well, there were 13 colonies!
  • Thirteen is widely used in the occult and is a fatalistic number of great power.
  • With the spread of the early Christian Church, it became widely known that thirteen people dined at the last supper. By implication, it would be unlucky for thirteen to eat together as one of their numbers might die before the year was out.
  • Thirteen represents transcendence from body existence to spiritual existence.
  • It is the number associated with necromancy.
  • Thirteen is the number of immortality (Christ plus 12 disciples) 
  • Apollo 13, on the journey to the moon, is famous for "Huston, we have a problem." 
Games, sports:
  • In card decks, the King is the thirteen card  
  • Friday the Thirteenth—movies
  • Ocean's Thirteen—movie
  • Thirteen, 13—the title of many books and movies
  • Apollo 13—movie

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Heat Of The Moment -- Lori Handeland

Sisters of the Craft Series, Book 2
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-1-250-02013-0
July 2015
Paranormal Mystery

Three Harbors, Wisconsin – The Present

Four hundred years ago, Roland McHugh at the behest of King James went on a secret mission to purge witches from Scotland. He burned Henry and Prudence Taggart at the stake. Indeed the two were witches, but to save their triplet daughters, they made a spell from the fire and their blood that threw their three daughters into a future time when witches would not be hunted.

Veterinarian Becca Carstairs comes from a loving family with three brothers and a sister. Her bright red hair defines her, but what no one knows is that she can hear her animal patients’ thoughts. The local police chief arrives at Becca’s clinic to tell her three cats, a dog, and a rabbit, all black-furred pets, have gone missing. It is close to Halloween, so could local children be involved? Maybe. On her evening run that evening, Becca recognizes the large black wolf that she has seen many times since childhood, and then sees a light at a place where none should be. She stops to investigate and finds Owen at his mother’s abandoned house. Owen McAllister was Becca’s one and only love, but he left her ten years ago. He brings back strong memories. Inside the house are five butchered and burned animals. The next night, someone tries to smother Becca in her apartment above the vet clinic. The witch hunters are in Three Harbors.

Owen had to have his mother institutionalized. Her hearing voices craziness, her alcoholism and drug abuse have affected his entire childhood, not only the home lifestyle, but also everyone in town belittling him as the crazy witch’s son. Becca was his closest friends, and the woman he still loves. They slept together once, and then, warned away, he left to join the Marines. Now, Owen has come home to sell his mother’s house. On the day of his arrival back in Three Harbors, he discovers the house in worse shape than he expected. Nor did he expect to find burned animal carcasses inside, or have the expectation that Becca would be the first person from Three Harbors that he would see. An even bigger surprise arrives when a black wolf shows up. His dog, Reggi, a bomb-sniffing military working dog, barks as the wolf that growls at Owen. Becca demands he call of his dog, the wolf won’t hurt him. Strange. Both Owen and Reggi suffer from severe wounds from an explosion. Owen limps. He hopes for a complete recovery for both he and Reggi, so they can return to the military as a team. Even with that thought in the back of his mind, when someone attacks Becca, everything changes. He will protect her.

Becca’s situation is similar but also very different from her sister Raye’s in the first volume IN THE AIR TONIGHT. Like Raye, she has a voyage of discovery to make about herself under a very difficult, actually murderous, situation. Readers will empathize with Owen’s plight and love his partner dog, Reggie. Characters from the first volume play important parts in HEAT OF THE MOMENT, including Raye and Bobbie, ghost Henry, four-hundred-year-old wolf Prudence, FBI agent Franklin, and Cassandra, the voodoo priestess. Love, family, betrayal, and secrets in a small town all play important parts in this superb and thrilling story.

Reviewed for Romance Reviews Today, reposted with permission.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

In The Air tonight -- Lori Handeland

The Craft Series, Book 1in the air tonight
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-1-250-02012-0
June 2015
Paranormal Mystery

New Bergin, Wisconsin – The Present

Four hundred years ago, Roland McHugh, at the behest of King James, went on a secret mission to purge witches from Scotland. McHugh burned Henry and Prudence Taggart at the stake. Indeed, the two were witches, and to save their triplet infant daughters, they made a spell from the fire and their blood that threw their three daughters into a future time when witches would not be hunted.

Raye Larson knows that as a baby she was dumped, naked, on the side of an interstate on a July day. No one could trace where she came from. Her adopted mother loved her despite her strange habit of talking to empty spaces, but her father, dismayed by this persistent strange behavior, demanded she stop. He left her feeling inadequate. What nobody knows is that she sees and talks to ghosts, all the time, everywhere. As a black-haired girl in a community with a blond-haired Nordic population, she has never fit in, but she has one good life-long friend, Jenn. Raye is the kindergarten teacher at the local elementary school, Jenn the attendance secretary who doesn’t like dealing with young children. Walking to school, they pass a crowd gathering as the police handle a murder, the first in New Bergin in generations. Raye sees the ghost first. Jenn points out the body with an arm missing, partially burned, and with a brand of a snarling wolf on her neck. The ghost tells Raye, “He will burn us all.”

New Orleans Detective Bobby Doucet investigates murders. He and his partner have been looking into strange cases that might involve a serial killer. All the victims share only one similarity: a snarling wolf branded on their bodies. When a photo arrives from Wisconsin with a victim marked with such a brand, Bobby goes to the small town of New Bergin. As he is driving down the street upon his arrival, a woman rushes from a building saying someone was in her apartment brandishing a cleaver. What he discovers is a beautiful woman — raven-haired Raye, who seems to be in danger. Bobby wants to protect Raye, but the deaths of his daughter and her mother still haunt him because he believes he was responsible.

IN THE AIR TONIGHT is an extremely entertaining story, well written for fast, mesmerizing reading. It melds the reality of genetically inherited gifts with witches’ magic. A vicious witch-hating group has revived McHugh’s desire to burn all witches, and they desire to resurrect McHugh himself, even if they must use dark magic to do it. Go figure. The interactions between Raye and Bobby are steamy and obstacle filled, especially after she learns her witch background and that she has sisters. Bobby is not a believer. Raye’s view of the relationship between herself and her adopted father is hard to fathom, as he often seems so very protective of her. She has a ghost, Henry, and a black wolf protecting her, too. Jenn’s self-confidence adds a welcomed dose of humor. The ghosts pique interest as the vile crimes add suspense. Readers who love witch stories will enjoy this story, especially since author Lori Handeland has interspersed quips referring to other TV and movie shows that dealt with seeing ghosts. A great start to a new series, earning it a Perfect 10.

Reviewed for Romance Reviews Today and reposted with permission.