Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Pollyanna Plan: Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

Today we have ourselves a book review at hand, for The Pollyanna Plan, by Talli Roland...

Every once in awhile life throws us for a loop. The Pollyanna Plan starts off with its heroine getting thrown twice. Emma Beckett is a sensible underwriter in London, living her life in what she considers to be realistic expectations. Emma is strictly no-nonsense in her approach to life. She has a relationship with a boring fellow named George and a strained family life with her mother, in place following the death of her father. In short order though, Emma loses both the boring boyfriend and the job when she gets downsized. Her free spirit best friend Alice persuades her to start looking at life more postively, like the character Pollyanna, to find something optimistic in everything. Emma dives into the experience, which draws her to a karaoke evening with Alice.

The other half of the equation is Will Ballard, who's spending his time working at a home decorating store, though he in fact comes from a well to do family with a paint business. Will has retreated from the world, for the most part, dealing with a medical diagnosis that's changed his life. There's friction between he and his father, over his refusal to take the reins of the company. Will feels a sense of safety in isolation, not wanting the pity that will come with people knowing about his condition.

The pair meet when Emma comes to Will's shop looking for paint, and then when they turn up at the same karaoke establishment. There's a spark between them, definite chemistry from the start, and the story follows them both as they work through issues with family, and with their own wariness about trusting in love.

Talli Roland is a transplanted Canadian living in England, and she's obviously soaked in the British way of life. The dialogue and atmosphere of the book has a very British sensibility. It feels British, in other words. She has a talent for picking up on details, telling us a lot about a person from the way their home looks, or the way they pay attention to the world around them. She weaves these details, large and small, to give the reader a very strong sense of the world she's writing in. Much of that, of course, is in and around London, but even on a trip to Croatia, she makes the reader strongly see the place she's bringing a character to. Sometimes the detail is less tangible, but still very effective. A small moment that I enjoyed particularly demonstrates that, and it's a nod towards personality traits: Emma is spending time with her sister Meg, a child, and is struck by the fact that she doesn't know how to talk with kids.

The author has a light, deft, and funny style of writing, and it comes across in the sharp, clever dialogue a lot, and in characterization, which feels like the solid bedrock of her writing. Her characters feel grounded and real, like the sort of person you might meet in the park or at a pub. Alice is the funniest character of the lot, a firecracker sort of person who nonetheless has depth beneath the cheery and irreverent personality she shows the world. She has something of a mirror in Lou, Will's neighbour, who's a loyal and outspoken sort of person, watchful and still likely to say something off colour. Emma's ex George comes across, to use a Britishism, as a boring self involved prat, but that's what makes him work. We've all known a George in our life, if not more, and while the author doesn't employ such a technique, we've all been tempted to push a George into the Thames. When we meet Emma's mother for the first time, knowing she's remarried and has another daughter, we expect one thing to happen, and instead the author takes us in a different direction, and we end up understanding, just as Emma does, what her mother has felt in the aftermath of the death of Emma's father.

The two leading characters are of course the core of the book. Emma is a smart, likeable woman, torn between what's safe and realistic for her on the one hand, and hope and optimism on the other. She has to figure these things out for herself as she goes along, wavering between looking on the bright side of life and just going back to being cynical about life. She has a sense of humour, and the reader can really empathize with her. Her character voice is very distinctive, and true to life. Will feels just as real as Emma does. Coping with a medical diagnosis that's difficult, he's been burned before in love, wants to pull back away from the world, instead of dealing with it. There is a warm, playful chemistry between these two, and that's all to the credit of the writer. As the two characters embark on this journey through the book, the reader can't help but root for them. 

The novel has a brisk pace to it, clever banter, and strongly rendered characters who feel true to life. Talli has a winner with this book, and you'll enjoy reading it.


You can find The Pollyanna Plan and Talli's other books through or Amazon.UK. And you can find her at her blog, Talli Roland, as well as at Facebook.. She lives in London, with her husband and their new son, affectionately nicknamed Lobster Baby.

Monday, January 28, 2013

True Believers In Life And On The Page

Every once in awhile you learn something about a complete stranger that you would have preferred not to know. I stop most days at a library close to home in the evenings, and spend some time online. Generally I book the same computer when I do so; we all have our preferences. Back in December, someone started regularly turning up at that computer in the time slot before mine, a guy who's probably past fifty. Looking at the guy, he's unremarkable, nothing to make him stand out in a crowd beyond the fact that he has long hair. And in this case, I know more about him than I would have ever liked to have known.

One day last month, I turned up a minute or two before my booking, caught a glance at what was on the screen, and was puzzled by the title of the site. After he was gone, I looked at the site, and found it to be a profoundly repulsive white supremacist conspiracy site with a particular anti-Semitic slant. It's one thing to look at that in terms of research, or in terms of stumbling across it. It's another if it becomes repetitive.

He's turning up now quite regularly at the same computer, before my booking, when I'm there. I've taken to calling him Der Fuhrer. I've arrived a few days after that first occasion to see a prominent Nazi swastika on the computer screen; upon his departure shortly thereafter, he had a happy expression that was the face of a true believer. Any other time since then that I've arrived early, sure enough, there's something on that screen that looks decidedly white supremacist in nature. This is the sort of person who takes racial hatred to heart. A strange thing, knowing something like that about someone and not knowing their name. Personally, I find racism repulsive and abhorrent. I have mentioned my idiot ex-brother-in-law before; one of the many, many reasons I disliked him was his rampant bigotry and racist views. I feel the same revolted response to this guy.

I wrote a passage in Heaven & Hell that I'm adding in here. It's a passage that was very difficult for me to write, for the simple fact that I was getting into the head of a white supremacist. That's not the kind of mind I want to spend any time in, yet I felt the need to flesh out their backgrounds. These two unnamed characters, both true believers, are very unpleasant people, far more than the terrorists I write as antagonists. The passage doesn't really tie to the key events in the novel, but those events form part of the backdrop of this sequence. I have thought of using white supremacists in some future book, but the prospect of getting into their minds again for anything more than a brief sequence is a deeply unpleasant one. And so without ado, here it is. Let me  know what you think.

New York City

They had come into the city hours earlier, from their homes upstate. It was a trip they didn’t particularly like making- this city was one filled with those they considered the enemy- but it was a necessary one. Some of those enemies were of different races or faiths, the sort they would consider sub-human. Others were people who merely had different political thoughts. Most of them would never share their leanings. All of these reasons made them enemies. And all of them were freely considered to be targets in a war that had to be won.
            They had come down through the towns and villages along the Hudson River, pulled into the orbit of the sprawling city as they got closer. New York was home to a melting pot of culture, a swirl of people of various races and creeds, few of whom would agree with the way the two men thought, the loyalties they held. It was home to banks, to financial institutions, to the cultural elite and intellectuals they and their friends railed against. In short, it was a place that disgusted them both.
            The older of the two men was in his fifties, a farmer in northern Vermont, and a cell leader for their group. He looked undistinguished, had the sort of face that could be easily forgotten. He had inherited his loathing for anyone who wasn’t white from family. His father and grandfathers had been in the Klan; he knew they had committed their share of lynchings in their time. His mother and grandmothers had been fierce white supremacists. He himself would have ended up in the Klan, but that organization, finally broken, was a mere shadow of what it had once been decades ago. He had found like- minded people in the survivalist groups, the rabidly anti-government far right extremists. There he had people he understood, and who understood him in return. Gradually over time, he had worked his way up the ladder. The group he belonged to wasn’t as well known as some of the others, but there were advantages to that. There was less of a likelihood of infiltration by the hated federal agents who would seek to break them.
            The younger man had been in the group for five years now. He was in his late twenties, firmly committed to the cause. A good soldier, the leader thought. He might have never come to the cause had circumstances been different. He had ended up in a factory, mindless assembly line work, frustrated by watching others get ahead, and had found an outlet for his frustration. Immigrants and people of other races had gotten the promotions that should have been his. His frustrations had continued to fester, to build inside him. Finally his wife had left him, had walked away from their marriage. It had been yet another reason to be angry, to spend his nights drinking, listening to the hard right talk radio shows and the apocalyptic talk about how they were responsible for what was wrong in his life. They might be liberal thinkers, the government, ethnic groups... but the talk he heard built up in his mind, and gave direction to his anger.
            And then she had come along. She had been a member of the group, devoted to white supremacy, to the cause. She had listened to him, had given him a friendly ear so that he could vent. And she had given him much more, taking him to her bed. It hadn’t taken long before he had become fully devoted to the cause, willing to give his life in the war that was soon to come, the final war against the New World Order their allies on the radio and in the far-right anti-government groups insisted was coming. Both men had already shed blood, had killed enemies, and had successfully gotten away with those crimes. The younger man had learned well, knew how to cover his tracks, to conceal evidence. Yes, he’s a very good soldier, the older man thought as they made their way to their next target of the evening. They had already made one such stop.
            They had been at their homes, watching the news- FOX was their preferred choice, since one of their heroes occupied prime time space on that network. The explosion and subsequent violence in the Middle East dominated it all. Given their low opinion of people on all sides in that region, both men would have gladly preferred that nuclear weapons be dropped along a line all the way from Morocco to Pakistan, wiping the whole region and its peoples out of existence. Watching the locals rise up and be at each other’s throats instead would have to be enough.
The older man had received a call at his home, instructions from the group leader in Idaho. The timing seemed right to take advantage of the turmoil unfolding half a world away. From there it was a simple choice of who to take along. The two men had made the trip to both of their targets on previous occasions, a rehearsal of sorts for this day. They had driven down with sufficient explosives, well hidden out of sight. In the past, they had driven right into the city with explosives and back out again. Once again, they had succeeded, bringing their customized bombs into the city.
The first target had been a mosque, with minimal security and easily infiltrated. They had worked in the darkness, assisted by compact night vision goggles, a gift from members of the group who also served in the Army Reserves. The explosives had been placed, both men well acquainted with them and with the blueprints to know where the most damage could be done. The explosives had been wired for remote detonation, and the men had left as quietly as they had come.
Now they moved through the shadows to the side door of a synagogue a few blocks away. Like the mosque, it had minimal security arrangements, had never been the target of any threat. The younger man quickly defeated the lock, and the two men donned their night vision goggles, and went inside, toting kit bags. Both men worked in silence, placing and wiring explosives at key places throughout the building, particularly in the sanctuary. The older man made a point of placing a set close to the Torah ark cabinet on the east wall, and the bimah, the reading platform at the heart of the hall.
It didn’t take long, and they were finished. They verified that the explosives were active, both men examining the work of the other, and withdrew from the building, taking their empty kit bags with them, removing their night vision goggles. They walked away, down the street, to a side street, where their car was parked. No one was about at this time of night, even in the city that never slept.
The older man removed the detonator from a pocket, knowing that the distance to both sites were in range. It was a custom made device, much like the explosives they had placed. All it required was the press of a button, and he did so. The explosion rocked the neighbourhood, a loud roar that set off the car alarms close by. Another explosion was heard, somewhat more distant. They could see a glow down the street, beyond the corner from where they had come. The two men got into the car, and the younger man started it up. They pulled away, down the street. The older man saw smoke out of the corner of his eye as they went through the intersection. He smiled to himself, congratulating himself on a good night’s work.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Donald, Where's Your Trousers?

Before getting to today's mischief, some business to take care of, in the form of a cover reveal for a fellow writer; here's Vampire Nocturne, by Lorelei Bell:

From Lorelei, a taste of the third book in her series:

Sabrina is becoming a magical creature—not just a clairvoyant with
ring that thwarts a vampire's thrall. In this exciting third installment, Sabrina learns how to travel the ley lines, and travels to another world called Beyond the Black Veil ~ a world where vampires outnumber humans ten to one, and humans are merely blood donors and objects of their sexual desires.

The Dagger of Delphi becomes her weapon of choice. And what becomes of Dante Badheart, whose spirit essences is contained in the stone he gave her when last he spoke to her from the dead, is another mystery that intrigues her.

Sabrina Strong's cousin, Lindee, has disappeared, and when she goes to the last place Lindee was seen, she finds herself transported to another world and century, where vampires rule. While trying to solve the mystery of where Lindee could be in this world, Sabrina encounters Drakulya—the real-life Dracula—a.k.a. The Impaler—who has somehow managed to become a vampire living in this strange world, and rules as King.

Lorelei will be releasing Vampire Nocturne soon, and you can find the previous books in the series at her Amazon author's page.  You can also find her blogging regularly at her two blogs, Lorelei's Muse and Lorelei's Writing Journal. Check them out, and you'll find Lorelei to be a lot of fun!

Now then, to the mischief on hand for today...

"Nae man can tether time nor tide." ~ Robert Burns

"If ye decide to commemorate me in dinners, please, don't ye get it into your minds to serve haggis as the meal. That food is just awful." ~ Robert Burns' last request, completely ignored by his friends and everyone else since.

It's Robbie Burns Day in Scotland and abroad, marking the anniversary of the poet's birth. We've done a blog marking the day over at our joint blog, so have a look over there when you've finished up here.

The day is a big one in Scotland, a national holiday that features get togethers centred on the drinking of whisky, and the eating of haggis at festive suppers. For those of you who might not know what that particular instrument of cruel and unusual punishment actually is, haggis is a pudding mix of oatmeal, onions, suet, spices... mixed with the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep, and cooked inside the sheep stomach.

Yes, you read that right.

A few days ago I had fun with the Australians here in the blog, so of course I have to do the same with the Scots on their big day. I've started with that title, which of course you can never ask of a Scotsman wearing a kilt. He's likely to put on war paint and go berzerk. And you'll be in a world of hurt.

Robert Burns: Poet, Consumer of Haggis, Recounter of Tall Tales

The Loch Ness Monster always turns up when you're not looking

Of course, I still want to see Scotland for myself. It must be in my blood somewhere along the line... some distant Scottish ancestor. I want to walk the highland paths in the mist, hear the sound of the bagpipes, have a dram of the fine stuff, and figure out how the locals end up becoming Jedi Knights.

Just as long as I don't have to wear a kilt. Just saying.

With that, I leave you to the pics. Enjoy, and Happy Robbie Burns Day!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Day In The Life Of A Starfleet Captain

Stardate 56899.5. Captain's log. 0800 hours. Waking up. Must replicate tea, Earl Grey, hot. Can't start a day without it.

0801. Replicators must be malfunctioning again. Tea tastes like Romulan ale. This is what we get for subcontracting building starships to Teamsters.

0830. On bridge to relieve night watch. Confer with first officer. En route to Deep Space Ten to take on new crew members on assignment. Hopefully none of them will be overeager little twits like that late and unlamented former Ensign who shall go unnamed...

0834. This will not do. Looking at list of new crew members waiting at Deep Space Ten. One name stands out.

Why didn't anyone tell me that dolt Ensign Chemiserouge had a brother???

0845. Annoyed. Profoundly annoyed. Here I thought I was rid of that idiot Chemiserouge, and now I've got another one coming on board my ship.

This after the first one nearly caused an interstellar crisis with the Andorians and the Cardassians.

1105. Arriving at Deep Space Ten. Leaving my first officer to get the new crew settled. Have given her strict instructions not to let Ensign Chemiserouge the Second on the bridge. Stick the little nitwit somewhere that he can't do any harm. Like deflector control. Or painting the outside of the ship.

While we're at warp.

1325. Back en route from Deep Space Ten. Have received word of possible Breen encursion in Sector 1745. Engaged at maximum warp. First Officer reports all new crew settling in.

Confirms that Ensign Chemiserouge is as much of a nitwit as his brother was.

1335. New arrival on bridge. Ensign Chemiserouge walks over and introduces himself in that same infernally annoying cheerful tone that his brother used to have. Claims it's a great pleasure to be serving on the same ship that his big brother served on. Thinking of having him meet a bad ending in a transporter accident.

1340. Insist to Ensign Chemiserouge that his presence on the bridge is not required at this time. He seems oblivious to my disdain.

1345. Arrival in Sector 1745. Breen ships attacking El-Aurian transport ship. Ordering all crew to battle stations. Breen must never be underestimated.

Ensign Chemiserouge proclaims he has a brilliant idea and dashes up to Tactical.

1346. Ensign Chemiserouge ordered off bridge after forgetting to arm the photon torpedo before firing.

1355. Have engaged and defeated the Breen ship, which is now beating hasty retreat out of the sector. Dispatching medical and engineering teams to El-Aurian transport to assist.

Thinking of whether or not I can have Chemiserouge court martialed on his first day.

1515. First Officer briefs me on status of El-Aurian transport, crew, and passengers. All seems well. We discuss the best way to handle the Chemiserouge problem.

1530. Beaming over to El-Aurian ship. Meeting the captain. Must apologize for that stray photon torpedo that bumped into the ship during the battle. Explaining that a rather foolish junior officer thought he was trying to help. Captain is very understanding. Says that one of his officers is an idiot too.

1655. Have escorted El-Aurian transport to their final destination. No further signs of Breen activity in sector. En route to survey Sector 1752.

Time to chew out that nitwit Ensign Chemiserouge.

1710. Have found Ensign Chemiserouge in Astrometrics. As expected, Chemiserouge is apologetic, going on and on about how being a Starfleet officer is all he ever wanted to do. Seems incapable of letting me get one word in as he keeps chattering away. Talks about distant ancestors who died on board cruise ships, or in plane crashes with a South American soccer team in the Andes, or in battle, or in zoo mishaps.  I don't really care about your family, Ensign.

1725. Have finally interrupted Ensign Chemiserouge. Resisting temptation to kick his butt. Warning him that he must not go anywhere near a weapon's system on board. Or engineering. Inform him that I'm assigning him to custodial maintenance for the next six months.

What damage could he do there, after all?

1835. Off duty for evening. Heading to Ten Forward. Confer with chief engineer, who informs me replicator problems are being looked into. The lieutenant commander informs me that his team have determined that the late and unlamented Ensign Chemiserouge once inadvertantly created a computer virus that messes with the replicator program, adding that it's a nuisance trying to rid the computer of the virus.

Wonderful. If it's not one nitwit Ensign Chemiserouge annoying me all day, it's the dead one still annoying me from beyond the grave.

1845. Having dinner in Ten Forward. Ensign Chemiserouge turns up, apologizing once again. Wondering if I could get away with a phaser "accident".

1900. Called to bridge. Ferengi ship in vicinity. As usual, their captain demands to speak to the commanding officer. What is it with Ferengis? Did they ever hear of manners?

2025. Have spent more than an hour conferring with Ferengi captain, repeatedly telling him that no, I don't have anything I care to trade. Ferengi can't seem to take a hint about my not being in the mood to barter.

Wondering though if I can trade that infernal nitwit Ensign Chemiserouge over to him.

2100. Have finally left bridge. So much for catching up on my reading. Maybe I'll spend some time in the holodeck.

2230. Back in personal quarters. Time to turn in for the night. Spent time on holodeck with customized program. Killing both Ensign Chemiserouges over and over and over and over again.

If only I could do the same to the living one still on my ship....

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Day In The Life Of A Cat

7:10 AM. Waking up in the presence of the staff, who is for some reason still asleep. Time for breakfast, staff. Wake up.

7:15 AM. Sitting on top of the covers, directly on staff. Staring at her as she dozes. Tempted to swat at her cheek with my paw. Should I use claws, or keep them retracted?

Alarm clock goes off, ending that personal debate.

7:40 AM. Staff comes downstairs in a rush. Staff, I want breakfast post haste, and for the last time, it cannot be field rations.

7:41 AM. I am displeased. Displeased in the absolute sense!

Field rations!


7:50 AM. Staff heading out front door. Off to that silly work place she goes to.

Reluctantly go into kitchen to eat field rations.

8:20 AM. Sitting by front windows, staring out at snow. There really is a lot of it.

8:35. Can hear the distant barking of a dog. Sounds like that idiot dog from the farm down the road.

What am I saying? All dogs are idiots.

11:15 AM. Waking up from nap. No trace of staff. Will turn on television for awhile. Maybe I can find something interesting.

11:18 AM. Why is there footage from that Washington place on every channel?

11:22 AM. Blowhard commentators yakking on and on about Inauguration Day. Oh, come on. First of all, I'm Canadian, so this doesn't apply to me. Second, a president still is a lot lower on the ladder than a cat.

11:35 AM. Can find nothing else on television but this inauguration thing.

Really, television? This is the best you can do?

11:40 AM. Simple fact. American Presidents, regardless of party, tend to have an appallingly bad habit of having dogs in the White House.

At least the British have their priorities straight. There's a cat in Ten Downing, and the cat even has a cabinet title. Chief Mouser To The Cabinet. Not quite Supreme Excellency And Benevolent Overlord, as we expect, but it's a step in the right direction.

11:55 AM. Vice President taking the oath. Manages not to sneak the word malarkey into the mix.

11:59 AM. President taking the oath of office. For some reason, he's not pledging allegiance to felines everywhere. This is most disturbing.

12:20 PM. Talking heads droning on and on. Turning off television. Time for a nap. Will dream of being crowned Supreme Excellency And Benevolent Overlord.

3:45 PM. Waking up from nap. Turning on television to see if I can find something along the lines of When Cats Attack.

They're still covering this inauguration thing????

6:10 PM. Staff arriving home. Calls out to say hello. Staff, you had better have some treats for me. The American President refused to pledge allegiance to us cats, even though we are clearly the ultimate life form on the planet. I am quite put out at the moment...

6:35 PM. Staff making dinner. I can smell meat. Now, if she'll just do as I command and feed me...

6:40 PM. Staff sets down bowl of milk and plate of raw lamb strips. Staff, there may be hope for you yet...

6:50 PM. Staff eating her own dinner. Stepping into living room. News on. One of those anchors is muttering something about someone named Russell Brand pushing the ambassador of Belgium into the Potomac after hitting him in the face with a cream pie.

Isn't Russell Brand that drunken idiot who seems to delude himself into thinking he's amusing? And by extension, doesn't he look like something I cough up on occasion?

7:25 PM. Russell Brand issues rambling live statement declaring that he's really, really, really sorry, and swears it won't happen again.

8:15 PM. Anchors remarking on how this is really more of a British problem, rather than an American issue, since Russell is a British citizen. Staff remarks on how those witless buffoons at Entertainment Tonight must be going into overdrive trying to track down Katy Perry for comment. Staff is not impressed with entertainment reporters. For good reason.

9:25 PM. Belgian leader gives live statement on television. What time is it over there anyway? Demands Russell Brand be extradited immediately. Darkly threatens to keep all Belgian chocolates from leaving the country. Well played, sir, well played. Almost worthy of a cat.

The staff gasps in shock.

9:55 PM. Press Secretary announces that Russell Brand has been taken into custody and will be on his way to Europe tonight. Adds that there will be no holdups in Belgian chocolate shipments from Europe.

Staff rejoices.

11:20 PM. Russell Brand on television, being dragged up stairs onto plane at airport, protesting that this shouldn't be happening to him.

Staff turns off television, and picks me up.

Staff, wait. Bedtime is when I stipulate, and not a moment before.

It's futile. Staff doesn't listen, and takes me upstairs, stroking behind my ears. Can't help myself. Start purring madly. Happens every time she strokes me there.

Okay, so the day's over. All in all, not a bad day.

Well, unless you're Russell Brand.