Arctic Fire Could Use Some Warmer Characters

Everyday Adventures

(this post includes affiliate links)

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?

I Don’t Know Why I Do This To Myself?!

Everyday Adventures

I don’t watch movies that I know will make me sob (Nicholas Sparks, I’m looking at you), The news is usually depressing, so I avoid the local broadcasts and newspapers, settling for what various feeds filter through to me, knowing I’ll get the important stuff that way. I avoid people that I know frustrate, take advantage of, or otherwise cause drama whenever possible. And I don’t watch horror movies before bed so that I can sleep in the dark without having to meditate for an hour to feel semi-safe.

In other words, I guard my mental health rather carefully. It makes for far better days and nights.

And yet…

I have a penchant for end-of-the-world books and movies. Not necessarily dystopian stories, more like the actual here-comes-the-end stories. Some are tame and a degree removed from my reality–movies like Twister and Volcano feel more remote thanks to geography and small in scale, for instance. But others are decidedly less removed and send the creepy crawlies up my back and into my brain.

Case in point: my current audiobook is Cyber Storm by Matthew Mather and re-reading Life After War by Angela White. But this really started way back in the day when I read Alas, Babylon because it was on the high school reading list and I’d found a copy in the used book store by Mom’s office. I still have that same copy, though the back cover is missing and the pages are beyond worn.

Alas, Babylon was very close to home, dealing with a pocket of survivors in a Florida town, after a sudden and swift nuclear war. While the town was fictional, plenty of other things weren’t, and I think about scenes from that book almost every time we head to the central or southern parts of the state.

Back then, of course, all I could do was worry and fear. Fear was a big part of those years from one source or another. While I enjoyed the story I certainly can’t say that I enjoyed the feelings it provoked.

These days, with the “prepper” mentality becoming more and more mainstream, I admit that stories like these turn my thoughts to stocking up on dry goods and buying a rain barrel or three. When the story centers around a natural disaster it’s easier to distance myself from the fear and worry. After all, you can only do so much and worry doesn’t help. But in the case of Cyber Storm, well, that one feels a little more real.

I mean, just think about how many times someone in your circle (if not you, yourself) have had a credit card or other account compromised by low-life hackers just because they can. (And, yes, that’s a broad generalization but I think it’s justified for the havoc they wreak.) Or the data breaches going on at large retailers. Or even the DDOS attacks that are focused at any given large governmental network for any given time.

The idea that a city’s (or country’s) infrastructure could be compromised and crashed? Not so far fetched. That nuclear codes, missile launch keys, and other such systems could be triggered by a dedicated few out to cause mischief? Sobering to say the least.

But I’m really enjoying the story, too!

Part of it is the resilience of a tiny group of people banding together to survive. It lessens the fear by knowing that it’s possible to survive. But part of it is that the story has a definite, focused conflict. There’s no schmoopy romance (or very little), no time for extensive navel-gazing, and a fair amount of action to keep the story moving. Those are the things I enjoy most in almost any book, this genre just tends to supply it more consistently.

So while I debate the merits of storing rice in recycled 2L bottles, here are some of the books I’ve been both enjoying and fearing:

  • The Last Girl by Joe Hart
  • The Brilliance Trilogy by Marcus Sakey (Brilliance, A Better World, and Written in Fire)
  • The Wayward Pines Trilogy by Blake Crouch (Pines, Wayward, The Last Town)
  • The Origin Mystery series by AG Riddle (The Atlantis Gene, The Atlantis Plague, The Atlantis World)

Do you ever read books or watch movies that intentionally scare you? Why do you think you do it?

The Senses Project | Inspired By… Van Gogh

The Creative Life

I just finished listening to Van Gogh: A Power Seething* and the synapses are firing, the ideas zinging around my head, and it’s inspired me to start up a new series here on the blog: the Senses Project.


One of my high school English teachers didn’t assign book reports. Instead, we did either tracking projects on whole-class reads (we each had a character, element, or theme to track throughout the book then give a presentation on it at the end of the unit) or spin-off projects for independent reads (where we took an aspect of the book we chose and developed a presentation on that, rather than a synopsis of the book). These were, in my opinion, far superior to writing a book report and allowed us to express our creativity in the process. This is along those same lines.

I doubt I’ll do this for every book I read this year (in fact, I probably won’t even log this year’s reading the way I did most of last years–those posts were just gargantuan!), but I am in the mood to read more non-fiction, biography, etc. so as the inspiration hits, I’ll put a new one up.

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Today’s has a very stream of consciousness start. There I was, in the car, listening to someone report on the early life of and read aloud letters sent by Vincent van Gogh largely to his younger brother, Theo. I’m sure most of us have this picture of the tortured artist in our heads from the public scuttlebutt about his life, but what we hear about is largely from the last decade of his life and some of it isn’t even correct.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let’s start with this quote from one of his letters to his brother. He didn’t start out wanting to be an artist, I don’t even think it was in his top 3–frankly, he didn’t seem to be setting out to do much of anything for a while, except push peoples buttons; this isn’t an entirely flattering “portrait” of the artist, more brutally honest than anything. But eventually he did find his way to art, and had this to say during the early days of painting:

“I’m glad that I’ve never learnt to paint… Probably then I would have LEARNT to ignore effects like this… I don’t know myself how I paint… I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me and that I’ve written it down in shorthand.”

Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, The Hague, September 3, 1882, letter 260
as quoted in Van Gogh: A Power Seething by Julian Bell

I love this idea that formal instruction would have been an impediment to his process and style. Granted, maybe things would have been easier for him, but easy is not always right. And it wouldn’t have suited his temperament as far as I can tell. We learn so much from just experimenting and trying.

But art as shorthand for nature, that’s just beautiful, too.

At any rate, listening to the book reminded me of two other works, stream of consciousness-style. The song Vincent by Don McClean (also sometimes referred to as Starry Starry Night, from the opening lyrics) and the movie Mona Lisa Smile. The former is a direct connection, the latter, well, if you haven’t see it, I urge you to for a variety of reasons, but of particular interest is the scene where the teacher and students discuss van Gogh’s sunflower painting.

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh (image via

And a popular lie is uttered:

…he never sold a painting in his lifetime.

But that’s not true, he sold at least one of record, and a second one is suspected (though the details are a bit fuzzy per this 1998 article from the Baltimore Sun). Furthermore, there’s a good chance he sold some sketches earlier on in his career and, as Bell points out, technically sold all of his work past a certain point to his brother. Theo largely supported Vincent and, in a fit of something, the artist decided he would not take handouts but would forward work onto Theo and would consider any money received to be payment for said work ,and based on merit, to boot!

Still, Vincent was just starting to make a name for himself in the larger art world when the confusion of his mind–he’d be living in an asylum for several years due to fits of what we would now call bipolar disorder or a non-seizure form of epilepsy, making him a danger to himself and to others–became too much and he committed suicide.

Mona Lisa Smile also sent me on a tangent to see if the other item of note in that scene, the paint by number kits of van Gogh’s more famous works, still existed (presuming that they did in the first place). They do! Though the ones I found on Amazon seem to use acrylics, not oils, and require the painter to add their own stretchers (wooden frame) or other support to facilitate painting. Still, I admit I’m tempted. Though the movie makes good story-use of the sunflower kits*, I’m more drawn to the almond blossom one* (based on one of his last paintings, done in the Japanese style that was heavily influencing art–and other realms–in those years, as a gift for his nephew). The colors and style would go nicely in our living room and, since it’s from the 1890s, isn’t all that far off from the time our house was built!

Blossoming Almond Tree, Vincent van Gogh (image via

Almond Branches in Bloom, Vincent van Gogh (image via

In moments I’d come up with something to read, see, hear, and do–what about the last sense, taste? (One could argue, after all, that paint would tickle the sense of smell, especially oil paint!) Food may not have featured highly in Vincent’s letters to Theo, but drink did. For those who are open to adult beverages, Absinthe is your best bet for imbibing as van Gogh did. And he was from Holland (though spent a lot of time in France and some in London as well), so you could also indulge in some good, imported Gouda (their best-known cheese); I prefer the smoked variety, though I don’t know how authentic that would be! Potatoes would also be appropriate, of you could go with a Dutch Baby pancake (maybe topped with cheese for a savory supper).

The Potato Eaters, Vincent van Gogh (image via

The Potato Eaters, Vincent van Gogh (image via

And thus we have a recipe for some independent study, engaging all the five senses and with both quick and more involved options. I kind of love the idea of a book spurring deeper investigation and self-study, don’t you?

To sum up:

Anyone game to try? Have you ever read and seen something that sent you on your own journey of exploration?

DIY Planner: Fabric Fauxdori Cover {video}

In The Studio

As I said in my Helmar post, I’m in full-on planner mode these days, and in addition to reformatting my Creative Days planner for 2016, I’m changing binding styles, too!

Inspired by the Midori Traveler’s Notebook as shown in Kiala Givehand’s video on the topic, I’ve joined the many Faux-dori’s out there by making my own cord-bound planner cover!  And since the first one went so well, figuring it out as I went, I decided to make another and video it so anyone who wanted to make a similar fabric planner cover could follow along!

(Direct link for the feed readers: Fabric Fauxdori Planner Cover)

Some of the Fauxdori makers have their own shorthand (like JenDori and FoxyDori), so maybe this is a ScrappyDori? Hey, a girl can try.

I’ve been using my pink cover and my new 2016 planner prototype for a little over a week, now, and I have to say I’m really happy with the changes I’ve made so far! I want to give it another week or so before I decide on the final changes for the 2016 Creative Days planner and put those out at the beginning of October.

What I Used:

  • 16″x9″ Fusible Fleece (1 piece*)
  • 17″x10″ (ish) Fabric (2 pieces*)
  • 1/4″ eyelets (6)
  • Silkies Necklace Cords (2)
  • Foldover Elastic (~12″)
  • 2″ Charm

*To fit an A5 or US Letter folded in half-sized planner or notebook.

Along with the usual sewing bits: scissors, sewing machine, iron, etc.

You know, I’m more inclined to iron for craft projects than I ever feel compelled to on laundry days!

And even though the video is almost an hour, it’s only that long because I wanted to take you guys through the different decisions I made and how I got here–it took less than an hour of actual working time to make this planner cover and it’s mostly straight seams (I rounded the corners, but that’s a personal preference thing).


Midori Traveler’s Notebook
Kiala Givehand’s Book-in-a-Day Traveler’s Notebook Tutorial

JenDori aka ChickSparrow Journals
FoxyDori Etsy Shop (currently on hiatus)

Stretch Magic Silkies Necklace Cords (affiliate link)
Jewelry Fundamentals Thick Elastic Cord (affiliate link)
2.5mm Crimp Tubes (affiliate link)
Fold Over Elastic (affiliate link)
Blue Moon Beads Shortcuts Connectors

If you give this project a go, I’d love to see how yours turns out!

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)