The Hopeful Wanderer – Swift Hooves

Thunder sounded as a herd of horses broke from a stand of trees, hooves drumming on winter dead grass as they passed. One, the color of butter with black tail and legs, paused beside me, dancing and snorting.

“A mountain lion follows,” the horse said. “Climb on, before it catches you!”

A rustle in the trees. There, between the distant trunks, the tawny hide of a cougar flicked from sunlight to shadow. I turned away, saying, “I’m better at running than riding, thanks.”

The horse leapt in front of me, ears back. “You’re too slow on those two legs. Now hurry up!”

I took a breath, knowing the horse was right, and clambered aboard, nearly slipping several times. A low growl, followed by a frustrated roar and the thump of huge paws. “C’mon, c’mon!” I hissed.

Then I was upright and we were away, wind whistling across my ears. Though my fingers gripped rough mane, I flopped around on the horse’s back like a sack of potatoes. Racing steps of the big cat right behind us had me leaning low over the horse’s neck, holding on for my life. The scent of sweat and fear rose from its skin, adding to my own terror. I couldn’t afford to fall now.

At some point, the sounds of pursuit fell away. Behind us, the big cat stood watching us escape, tail twitching. When at last the horse stopped, I slid down its side onto numb feet, then fell over on my butt.

Looking up at the horse above me, I said, “Thanks for your help, but I hope I never have to do that again.”

The horse shook itself out. “Perhaps next time will be under safer circumstances.” It raised its head, ears pricked toward the danger we’d left behind. “Hopefully, anyway.”

This tale dedicated to my mother, Jenette Baker, who loves the Wanderer and horses alike.

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Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agniezka gets thrown into unfamiliar situation after unfamiliar situation, just as she thinks she knows what she’s about. Each time, her lack of understanding gets her into trouble as she tries to fit into her surroundings and play by the rules. Only when she recognizes that the rules are garbage and that she must do things her way does she begin to stand a chance at getting what she needs.


Uprooted Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (less)

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Another library find, Uprooted caught my eye as I prowled the shelves. I was coming down with a cold and needed something to keep me company in the long, gross days ahead. Though I had read no Naomi Novik offerings to this point, I knew her name, and the first page of Uprooted intrigued me.

Appraisals

PLOT

Concerning plot, Uprooted takes its time. Or rather, it covers a lot of ground over the course of the story. From a wizard’s tower to a cursed forest, a trip to a distant capital and back, rescue and battle, and a final confrontation in the heart of the Wood.

The fight scenes present vividly the fear and desperation of battle, all the ways things can go wrong, ending in loss of life. Exploration of the magic and new understandings of old ways of thinking show up as expressive imagery. The world itself appears both vast and detailed.

CHARACTERS

Many of the elements I loved in Tamora Pierce’s series The Immortals showed up in Uprooted. The wild magic element of Agniezka’s powers. The world weary mage in Sarkan. Her complete disinterest in keeping herself tidy, with no level of ridicule or criticism capable of changing that. Her chaos versus his orderliness, and the eventual recognition from both the value of the other’s method, the importance of putting the two together instead of keeping them apart. I found the two vivid and dynamic, changing and growing over the course of the story, ultimately becoming equals.

THEME

Stick with your guns. In Uprooted, Agniezka gets thrown into unfamiliar situation after unfamiliar situation, just as she thinks she knows what she’s about. Each time, her lack of understanding gets her into trouble as she tries to fit into her surroundings and play by the rules.

Only when she recognizes that the rules are garbage and that she must do things her way does she begin to stand a chance at getting what she needs.

ENDING

Possibly my favorite part of Uprooted, the ending. Agniezka ultimately becomes independent, a powerful yet compassionate witch, sharing empathy with her enemy and working hard to set the lingering after-effects of a centuries-long war to rights. She chases after no one’s approval but her own, so that in the end, she is enough for herself.

Criticisms

As mentioned, a lot happens in the plot of Uprooted. Several times, the story appears to be ending, only for another movement to begin. I had no problem with more to read, but getting catfished like that became a little wearying.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.09 stars

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Books Full-Circle

Just had a weird, lightning strike moment, sitting here at the laundromat. I went in search of a specific writerly thing that may only exist on Tumblr. Though I didn’t find what I sought, I wound up on an article called 12 Author Websites That Get It Right.

As I scrolled, taking note of ideas to apply to my own website, I happened across a screenshot of the webpage for Austin Kleon. I liked it so much that I visited his website itself for a closer look.

After reading a few of his blog posts, I clicked on his books page. Feeling drawn, somehow. The titles were interesting but unfamiliar to me.

Then I landed on this book:

Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon

I owned this book, Newspaper Blackout, a long time ago. One of the few I splurged to buy brand new when I was a starving college student (and the first few poems of which I read while on the job working at Barnes & Noble). As Kleon points out on his website, folks often use his books as bathroom readers and mine was no exception. The softback cover got destroyed by the moisture and I eventually had to throw it out.

Though never much of a poetry person myself, I recall enjoying the poems contained within. Likely, as an active artist, I would appreciate them more now. However, Newspaper Blackout did inspire me, several years later, to make my own blackout poetry out of a book I truly despised, but I won’t be saying which one.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Making Change

Sweet, floral perfume hung on the stale air of a forgotten warehouse. Wafting among corroded pipes, which wove their way along a high ceiling and around long, dusty windows. Drifting through the trash and dead leaves scattered across a concrete floor. Reflecting off once-white walls and old, broken furniture.

I was following a trail of flowers.

Each blossom sprang from the concrete as if grown from dirt – fresh, colorful, trembling with life. The trail meandered this way and that, seeming to follow the least messy path through the warehouse. Once, it stopped at the windows, leaving a large cluster of plants there. A circle rubbed clean of muck showed where hands had wiped away the dirt for a clear view outside.

I did not bother looking out myself. This city, I knew, only decayed.

At the farthest end of the warehouse, a curious thing hung from above. A bower of flowers, twisted around themselves and ballooning upward to the ceiling, where strong roots dug into cracks in the plaster. This bower reached almost to the floor, where a gaunt woman stood weaving more blooms in among the rest. A carpet of blossoms festooned the floor around her. The trail ended here.

Candlelight illuminated my approach, evidencing my following of her, yet she did not stop her work. The plants around the hem of her dress seemed to grow without pause.

When I had come close, I asked, “Who are you?”

She drew another cluster of flowers from the floor to the bower in her hands. “Nobody,” she replied.

Groaning sounded from above and I tipped my gaze upward. The roots along the ceiling spread even farther. “And what are you doing here?”

A small, bitter smile. “Nothing. Just trying to make a small change.”

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can leave a tip for the price of a $3 coffee ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

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Book Review: Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones by Micah Dean Hicks

The narrative examines topical questions of today wrapped up into one metaphor – those of labor replacement as artificial intelligence and digitization invade the workplace, as well as the decline of the coal industry (and others) as alternate energy options become available.

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones Synopsis

Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.

When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

On a trip to Tulsa, OK to view the release of Detective Pikachu at the Warren Theater, a few of my friends and I stopped into the Barnes & Noble down the street from the hotel where we usually stay. Fresh from a job promotion and corresponding pay raise, I had given myself permission to buy a book. A new one, never used nor from the library sale rack.

Though I had a few possibilities lined up, none of the books on offer there interested me much. But one of my friends casually suggested Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones to me. The first few pages showed a life none of the other possibilities had, so I bought it. My first book purchase in a long, long time.

Appreciations

PLOT

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones presents an immediate saturation of imagery, never leaving the reader confused as to description. Quick sentence elements and dynamic plot shifts barrel the story forward.

The narrative examines topical questions of today wrapped up into one metaphor – those of labor replacement as artificial intelligence and digitization invade the workplace, as well as the decline of the coal industry (and others) as alternate energy options become available.

Specifically, it covers how such economic changes effect workers and their storied histories of fighting just to exist in such industries at all. Plus the uselessness of such strife when changes make all that effort moot.

CHARACTERS

Jane, the main point-of-view character of Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones, clings to the known as it disintegrates around her just for the familiarity. Holding out on change until the very last second, proving herself no different from the rest of the townsfolk, both living and dead, even though she can see what’s happening to all of them. She takes some stabs at making a difference and finds that reality bites back, hard.

THEME

Death does not us part. The point of view of Henry, Jane’s younger brother, demonstrates what a great hold one’s surroundings can exert, to the point that even death imparts no relief from tasks uncompleted. In Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones, anger and hopelessness at the current climate, and the unwillingness to change and improve a given situation, holds all back from betterment.

ENDING

The ending of Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones takes a surreal turn, pulling out a peculiar and inexplicable subplot as the solution to the narrative’s conflicts. Symbolic, to be sure, but almost to the point of incomprehensibility.

Criticisms

Gloominess begins and ends Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. Given a natural melancholic bent myself, this made finishing the book while remaining cheerful a very difficult task.

In addition, I prefer character-driven stories in appreciation of the human element. But Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones leaned far more toward a plot-driven narrative, hammering home the sense of uncontrolled hopelessness present throughout the tale.

My Rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 stars

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The Hopeful Wanderer – A Seed of Doubt

Brushed with soft pink hues in the fading evening light, full white dandelion heads stretched away from either side of a dirt path. Evidence of a wishing festival lay scattered all around me – broken, bald stalks discarded in the dirt. On still air rode the scent of sap and cut grass, warning other plants of the danger of being plucked.

More than half of the dandelion field lay in ruin. Stalks crunched beneath my shoes as I made my way to the first line of puffs still sanding. Rumors said this particular field imparted more potent wishes than most, but only on one day of the year. Today. I knelt and took a living stalk in hand. I had until the suns fell bellow the horizon to make my wish.

A little burst of feathery seeds floated past my face. Someone’s earlier wish. I followed their progress into the smokey blue evening, away until I could see them no longer. Sun rays glanced through the head of the dandelion I held poised to pick, illuminating the clinging seeds like the hundred tiny things I wanted. Yet how they clung, not quite ready to go or else they would have already gone. In what way had I earned a say in that timing?

As the suns slipped away, I sighed and released the dandelion, laying back on the bed of destroyed plants. Better these seeds flew off in their own time and not in mine.

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can leave a tip for the price of a $3 coffee ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

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Author Update – Patreon

Presenting the long-promised Patreon!

We hit our followers and subscribers goal! Yay! Now, those hoping to take their involvement in this community to the next level can show their support @ patreon.com/sgbaker.

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