Arctic Fire Could Use Some Warmer Characters

Everyday Adventures

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In this book’s defense, I’m pretty sure I’m not the ideal market the author had in mind.

Also in it’s defense, the macho, daredevil, lady-killer, completely unapologenic character we meet in the very beginning of Arctic Fire (which elicited much side eye from yours truly) was probably meant to appeal to the stereotypical male media consumer of the fast cars and buxom babes ideal.

And it occurred to me, as I rolled my eyes yet again (dangerous, since I was driving at the time), that were it not for growing up with Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan (my two favorite Bonds, in that order) as the playboy secret agent and just picked up one of the 007 novels fresh, I’d probably be less than thrilled with that main character as well.

So all those caveats aside, I still had major issues with the characters in this book, which means I had issues with the book itself. I mean, you don’t want heroes that are too goody-goody and shiny, they’re boring and unrelatable. But if the warring factions of a story are only distinguished by the fraction of a smidgen of less bad one is compared to the other, it makes cheering for one side over the other a bit confusing and can make any ending unsatisfying.

So why did I spend the last 8-10 hours listening to Arctic Fire (Book 1 in the Red Cell Series, by Stephen W Fray)? Because I knew it would have enough action and tension to keep me interested during my drives without the excessive navel-gazing or moony romance.

From the “back cover”

Troy Jensen could do it all: he conquered the Seven Summits, sailed solo around the world twice, and even fought a bull in a Mexican slum on a dare. So when word comes that a rogue wave has swept Troy off a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea and into a watery grave, his brother, Jack, doesn’t buy it.

Against his better judgment, Jack decides to quit his job as a Wall Street trader and head to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to investigate. Minutes after revealing his plan in his father’s New York City office, Jack is nearly run down in the street. He doesn’t think much of it at the time, but as he digs deeper into Troy’s disappearance, Jack unearths information about RED-CELL-SEVEN (RCS), a super-secret American intelligence group that has operated for forty years in almost total secrecy and with complete impunity—and its leaders intend to keep it that way at any cost.

An adrenaline-pumping tale of one man’s descent into a hellish underworld populated by terrorists, assassins, and very bad “good guys,” Arctic Fire explores the disturbing difference between doing what is good and doing what is right when it comes to protecting America from her greatest enemies.

Jack was a semi-likable character, flawed but open-minded compared to his more extreme father and brother (and friends). Okay, sure, he had the emotional maturity of a teenage boy, but still, he was attempting to do something akin to the right thing.

There was a chuckle when he told his pal he was going down to Florida to pick up a bartending job in The Keys to get away from his troubles–a little too much like Cocktail for me (which made me want to watch said movie again, except that I was afraid the nostalgia wouldn’t live up to the reality of a rewatch). And the love interest (obvious from the beginning), despite being a former cop, was more than willing to let a not-so-successful stock trader take the lead in their madcap race across the country with a rogue intel assassin on their tail. Yeah…

But the story also brought up some valid points. Most thrillers of this sort have their horrors safely removed from the reader by several degrees of not being in those professions, etc. that would put you into said dangerous situations. But as Jack asks his best friend, what about when it’s you they pick up to interrogate, even if you had nothing to do with anything, just because you know someone who might know something, not that you’d know, you know?

Where’s that line of right and wrong then?

The brutality of the scenes was bracing, but not unbelievably so. But the author stops short of gratuitous violence and gore, which I appreciate.

So while I’d probably give this story a 2 out of 5 (with 0 being couldn’t even finish it and 5 being oh-my-gawd-I-need-more-where’s-the-sequel), I sure as anything downloaded the next book in the series because yes, I wanted to know what happens next. With that said, had the story not been available as an audiobook on Kindle Unlimited (click here for a 30-Day Free Trial) I wouldn’t have spent actual money on it to find out. So, yeah, casual read okay, but not more than that.

Heard any good books, lately?

Consuming Mass Quantities of Books!

Just for Fun

Because when so many are audiobooks these days, “reading” doesn’t seem like quite the right word, you know?

August book covers | snagged from Goodreads

August book covers | snagged from Goodreads

Even I’m a bit impressed: that’s an average of a book every 2 days. Of course, that’s not how I generally read, but some, like Storm Clouds Rolling In, were an all-day read, so that certainly helps. But mostly it was me being spoiled by the audiobook options and even taking to listening to them while I cook dinner some nights, that helped quite a bit.

The Series-es (or however you pluralize that)

  • The Source*
  • The Void*

The first book in the Witching Savannah series, The Line, I read a while back, probably free via Kindle First or Kindle Select, and either the next book wasn’t available yet or I wasn’t compelled enough to buy it, but when I saw the rest of the trilogy when I was looking for new car “reads”, I remembered the first one fondly enough to give them a whirl.

It’s tough to talk about a series like this because it’s almost impossible to talk about events in books 2 or 3 that would ultimately be spoilers for the previous works. I will say that it deals with a family of supernatural witches in Savannah (my second favorite story locale) and the theory that said magic has it’s source or tether in something called the Line. Ley lines and key lines are common enough concepts, and this one starts off along the same vein (hah!) before turning it on its ear a bit. Book 1, from a year ago or more, was good–typical southern dysfunctional family with the added kapow of magic–and Book 2 (Source) was my favorite of the trilogy. Book 3? Well, again, without giving too much away, the author does something I disagree with quite a bit in tying up the main characters’ loose ends. Then he undoes it, sorta, in a semi-clever but nonetheless clunky manner.

  • Timebound*
  • Time’s Echo
  • Time’s Edge*
  • Time’s Mirror

I really hate when I start a series that hooks me in and then isn’t finished yet. Noooooooo! Seriously, I was horrified to find that the 3rd (Edge and Mirror are supplemetnal novellas, but still worth reading) book in the series won’t be out until mid-October. But that aside…

This is, as you might have guessed, a time-travel series with the protagonist as a 16 year old girl. Again, being that it’s a series it’s tough to talk about specifics, but I found the story captivating and the main character just snarky enough to be believable as a teenager, just obtuse enough to be human, and just stubborn enough to be relatable. If books that deal with multimple timelines or realities make your head hurt (like Crichton’s Timeline or the Matrix movies), this might not be the series for you, but otherwise I recommend it heartily.

And while very much dependent on future technology, a lot of it takes place in the recognizable past. Had I read something like this in middle school, for instance, it would have spurred so many independent study sessions I can’t even tell you. And history is totally not my thing.

Oh, and if you’re a fan of AHS and looking forward to the upcoming Hotel season, Timebound has some verrrry interesting plot points (based in fact) that I was reminded of as the Hotel trailers have started to air.

  • Storm Clouds Rolling In

A series with just one book read, what mischief is this?! Well, next to the rest of the series not being available, I dislike the bait and switch of the first book being available on Kindle Unlimited but the rest of the series (of which there are 7, so far, I think) I’d have to buy. And I’m still debating but, yeah, I’ll be picking them up, too. Once some of my backlog is read through.

At any rate! If you liked Gone With the Wind but, like me, really wanted more of the pre-war part, the Bregdan Chronicles might be worth looking into. Instead of the Deep South where many an antebellum story is set, this book revolves around Virginia, both on a remote tobacco plantation as well as in Richmond. The daughter of the family is certainly no Scarlett, though she does have a certain willful streak and is not interested in becoming the sort of lady her mother has in mind. No, our heroine actually turns out to be a budding abolitionist (not giving away much, the story leads you there from pretty early on), but it’s not as simple as freeing the plantations slaves and moving north, not when her father becomes important to the governor and is trying to reason peace over war.

Apparently this book is based on actual events and people in the area, though is still firmly planted (hah!) in fiction.

Speaking of History 

  • Yellow Crocus*
  • Daughters of the Witching Hill*
  • Melissa Explains it All
  • Paris Time Capsule*

Upon a reader’s recommendation I picked up Yellow Crocus, which starts off in the first person by stating it is a true story before switching to third person not-exactly-omniscient for the main narration. This was a bit disconcerting at first, but we rolled with it, only to have it handle the epilogue back in first person and, of course, it’s not true at all but a complete work of fiction. That’s a sort of mechanical review of the book, I realize, but I didn’t like the misdirection.

The story itself, though, was quite good, despite the early confusion, and also deals with a daughter of a plantation, her relationship and dependence on her nurse, and how the two women’s lives paralleled each other as time went on. I pretty much saw where the story was going to end up, and the main character took an awfully long time to come into her own, but I don’t think that’s actually wrong for the era the story is set in, just a character annoyance I’ve mentioned before.

On the other hand, Daughters of the Witching Hill is, we find, based closely on actual trial reports from the pre-Inquisition Witch Trials of Pendel Forest, though you’d swear from the story itself that everything was made up from whole cloth. It wasn’t a highly active story, but it spread over 3 generations and included the sort of little touches that really made these women very real to the reader. That it was read by someone (audiobook, again) with a very good handle of the vernacular made it all the more pleasant to listen to.

In more recent history, and far lighter, I switched to Melissa Joan Hart’s autobiography and, while a lot of reviews I saw were negative, I really enjoyed reading about her early years in television and thought the anecdotes about her Sabrina years were more than adequate: I didn’t need some sleazy tell-all. Some criticize her insistence that she’s normal as can be considering to be a false front and took offense at her name dropping, but what else can you do when you work with other stars?! I found it refreshing, honest, and down to earth.

And then–do you remember several years ago (2010ish) when the apartment was discovered in Paris that hadn’t been touched since WWII??? I vaguely did, so when I stumbled upon Paris Time Capsule I was curious how the writer would spin the story. According to the notes, the book is based upon that same discovery, the owner was, in fact, a French courtesan of the era, and the painting that was found in the real apartment and in the book was painted by Bouldini, a painter of the era known for painting the fringes of society.

Seeing as this was a bit of a romance, it has a predictable ending in that respect, though it does take quite a while for the main character, Kat, to find her ever-lovin’ spine! Sheesh! As to the bigger question of the story–why was Kat left the Paris apartment and not the family that was, apparently, the woman’s descendant? That one I figured out pretty early on, though not all the details, of course. It didn’t take away from the reading since it was more a passing thought towards the beginning and not something more in-your-face. Hearing about the French countryside and the path a refugee from Paris, escaping on the eve of the Nazi invasion, was quite interesting was very entertaining as they uncovered each piece of the puzzle.

And the Rest…

  • The Mermaid’s Sister*
  • Dead Secret
  • We Were Liars
  • The Rose Girls*

These last four books were just sort of all over the place, thematically.

The Mermaid’s Sister is set in turn-of-the-century America with it’s peddlers and traveling medicine shows, and a woman on a hill who adopts two girls–one left for her in a sea shell, the other brought by the stork. The shell child starts to transform into a mermaid at age 16 and a plan is formed to bring her to the sea before she wastes away to nothing. While first her sister and then their family friend are, in turn, committed to breaking this “curse” the continue on and I began to wonder how we were only halfway through the book when we were so close to the obvious ending?

And then something happens to completely change the story and then I knew how we were only halfway through. I was also suddenly more interested in the story at this point, as the first half was sweet, but not exactly gripping. The second half was far more entertaining and satisfactory as far as character growth went. The ending was exactly as I suspected, but there were some nice twists in there that made it that much better.

Fast forward a few centuries to modern-day England and you’ve got the setting of a typical whodunnit that was a bit sluggish throughout, really. I set it down several times in favor of other books throughout the first half of the month.

We Were Liars was the book club pick. Not too far in there’s a starling passage that turns out to be nothing more than a teenage melodramatic metaphor, something that is a bit of a hallmark of the book. With a definite poor-little-rich-girl vibe (I mean, really, broken home notwithstanding, her family owns a private island near Martha’s Vineyard where they all summer, the whole clan, and the kids run rampant and unsupervised), the teenage narrator dines out on metaphors like they’re candy. Seriously, it was a bit much. Despite all of this I was actually enjoying the book after it got going and as the main character struggles to regain her memory after an accident 2 years prior, and then…

I swear I’ve seen a someecard or similar that says something to the effect of you can kill any character you want, just don’t kill the dog? I can’t find it, but I wanted to use that as a virtual bookmark for We Were Liars. Yeah. Forewarned and all that.

Still, the ending was not exactly what I expected it to be, but I got to the correct conclusion several pages before the “protagonist” and at least she then has the decency to cut out all the melodrama in the face of true tragedy.

Ending the month was something decidedly lighter, with The Rose Girls telling the story of three girls recovering after the death of their mother, secrets revealed, lives set right, and a big old manor house (complete with moat!) saved from ruin. I was just a sweet story, overall, with some laugh-out-loud moments here and there and an ultimately satisfying ending. It was exactly what I needed as I packed kits and dealt with website stuff at the end of the month.

At the beginning of the year I set my reading goal at 75 books, figuring that if I was mainly reading at night before bed, two books a week (for 100 books/year) might be pushing it. Obviously that was before several things changed and before I joined Kindle Unlimited. Now I’m at 66 books for the year, so will likely reach my goal in September. Maybe I’ll make 100 my stretch goal or, maybe, I’ll switch things up and not read as much? Yeah, okay, I don’t see that really happening, but even I have to admit my book consumption tops even my summer reading mania during my school years.

Read anything good lately? I’m obviously open to suggestions!

(*denotes an audiobook)

Younger Tom’s Tollbooth in the City of Windy Poplars… and Other Stories

Everyday Adventures

Which is to say, the books I read in April are (were? they still exist…):

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Girl Who Owned a City
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Anne of Windy Poplars
  • Younger


And in May I added the following to the read:

  • The God Conspiracy*
  • Digital Magic*
  • Roses of Winter*
  • Into the Woods*
  • The Paying Guests
  • Big Little Lies
  • Brood of Bones*
  • Chasing the Bard*
  • The Seventh Child

Now, my book posts tend to run a bit long, so I’m going to try to keep this brief, by comparison, because I’ve been meaning to write this post since the beginning of May when I was otherwise distracted by Todd’s broken bones. It’s pretty much been hanging over my head as the one I needed to get out of the way so I can get back to blogging regularly, even though it’s more for me than anyone else: turns out I like recording what I’ve read!

This round of books started with finding a copy of Uncle Ton’s Cabin on my Kindle. Now, I thought I was pretty familiar with the story, having seen The King and I oodles of times since I was small and they’ve got that fabulous version of the story as the entertainment for the big important dinner party.

Not the movie version, but a very good rendition of it. (Direct link for the feed readers: Small House of Uncle Tom, Ballet from The King and I)

So I thought I knew what I’d be reading, right? Wrong! Rogers and Hammerstein took some serious liberties with the source material! Eliza? Never met Legree. Legree doesn’t even show up until probably 2/3 through the book! The other thing I was unprepared for was the outright preachiness of the book. I suppose it makes sense given the time it was written in, and the moral appeal Stowe was attempting to make (while being pretty patronizing at the same time), but still. Sheesh!

It also took me about 2 weeks to get through, reading before bed, which is where the graphic novel (Girl Who Owned a City) came in–I wanted a nice, quick read–a palate cleanser, if you will–and I also wanted to try out the public library ereader system. Because that was something else I did in April: got a library card! Of course, I’d hoped to be able to remotely check out the upcoming book club titles but, as with a lot of newer books, there was a waiting list. And when they finally did become available, wouldn’t you know they both popped up in the same week, with only 7 days allowed for each, overlapping? So I sped my way through The Paying Guests and Big Little Lies during the last week of May. I was okay with the Paying Guests (kinda feel about it the way I felt about The Awakening from an earlier month’s book club) but I absolutely adored Big Little Lies.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I also read a real-life paper-printed book in April–Anne of Windy Poplars–which led directly to receiving tickets to the local production of Anne of Green Gables at the end of the month for my birthday. Todd’s great at observational gifts like this. The funny thing about Windy Poplars, is that I have all the Anne stories in Kindle format except Windy Poplars. For some strange reason, at the time I purchased the collection, the publisher had not okayed that particular volume’s digital rights, so there was this gaping hole. And since her years teaching at the college and dealing with the Pringles, et al., are my favorite from the television shows, I was bummed that it was the Windy Poplars installment that held them. So, when I had a couple days off to run some errands in town and I happened to find this in The Bookshelf, I picked up a copy and started in while I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Grassroots Coffee. That was an awesome day!

Rounding out the April books (back to digital) was a bit of old and new. The Phantom Tollbooth was also lurking about the Kindle files and I’m sad I never read this as a kid because I would have adored it! Having read it for the first time as an adult, though, I think I appreciate it differently. (Just like when I read A Wrinkle in Time a couple years ago–very different from if I’d read it at the intended age.) Younger was one of the Kindle First offerings and I really liked that it dealt with the issues of aging and beauty but turned the often-trod topics on its ear a bit by starting with an older protagonist and regressing her in a very curious way.

When May rolled around and I was spending a lot of time in waiting rooms and monitoring Todd’s recovery, reading was not something I was very good at. If you notice the asterisks on most of May’s reading list, those are all audiobooks–Podiobooks, technically speaking, books published in podcast form. I used to listen to these ages ago while at work, but I find it difficult to concentrate on narrative while working, these days. But! My 2+ hours spent in the car each day? Perfect for consuming audiobooks, and I can get through a book a week or so this way.

There are a couple of things to be aware of if you want to take advantage of Podiobook’s catalog of free audio books. First, the reader is often the author, and that doesn’t always work out so well. Sometimes it’s just the tone of voice that doesn’t sound right to me, so being able to listen to a bit of the first chapter is a good thing before I download the whole series. Other times it might be cruddy production value. Also, my ancient iPod (a 2nd gen Nano) has a default of sorting podcasts newest first and not autoplaying the next one. Because of that, I was focusing on books that had 30 minute or more chapters so that I wasn’t having to fumble with the player while on the highway. Safety first! Then I realized I could drag the podcast episodes into a playlist and put them in any order I wanted, and it’d auto play from one to the other. Success!

Despite my dislike of the preachiness of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I knowingly downloaded The God Prophecy–does that make me a hypocrite? I don’t think so. I just like knowing what I’m getting into! And end of the world stories are generally fast-paced and interesting. The Christian point of view is a natural one for this sort of story, though I gave the speakers a serious side-eye when the Big Bad’s real identity was revealed. You had to go there, huh? Sigh… Another standout was Brood of Bones. I mean, a narcoleptic priestess in a town where every female over 12 is pregnant all at once sounds like a dark comedy in the making, but turned out to be incredibly suspenseful, bordering on scary at times. The fact that this is but the first book in a series makes me very happy. The fact that the other books are not available in audio form, read by Henrietta Meire, makes me sad. But I will hear here voice in my head as I look up the rest of Marling’s work. After her, the Phillipa Ballentine books (read by the author) are both engaging and a aural pleasure. Seriously, these books make me look forward to driving to and from work.

And I finally finished The Seventh Child. Holy cats, y’all, but that was a slog. I really don’t like books with a slow start (The Paying Guests, this goes for you, too), but I’ve found that if I can stick it out, I’ll be rewarded. Eventually. The Seventh Child took a slow meander through several different orphans lives while building to any sort of real action. It was a good 70% through the book before the pace finally picked up and I wanted to power through to find out more, only to switch to another set of characters who were meandering their way through political machinations and, in the process, killing the momentum. Was the ending ultimately good? Yes, thankfully. There was even a little twist I didn’t expect (though not the ultimate plot answer: that I saw coming pretty much from the beginning, which is why slogging through this book for more than a month was just so excruciating).

Okay, so brief is relative, I guess. But I think that covers it all, more or less. Now I can get back to the other stuff I want to tell you guys about.

Next week!