Impractical Magic

I’ve wanted to own a Ford Mustang for about as long as I can remember. Last year I finally bought one… and it’s the most impractical car I’ve ever owned. But I love it all the more for that fact.

I saved for several years in order to purchase my dream car and planned to buy it on or around my 50th birthday. My dad would be visiting then and I figured shopping for a car together would be something fun to do. We’re both pretty interested in cars: we both used to race (in amateur leagues), can talk about tires, and will turn our heads at the sound of a particularly nice engine burble.

I started shopping in about October 2017, cruising local dealerships and Ford’s certified pre-owned website for something about two years old with low mileage. Why buy new when I could save about ten grand by getting a gently driven model with a similar warranty? I knew I was buying a somewhat impractical car, so I figured I could be logical about the purchase.

Then came the question of where to put it. We already owned two cars and our house came equipped with two garages—which we actually do use to shelter the cars. No towers of boxes or piles of old furniture for us! (That’s all in the basement. Thank God we have a basement.)

We decided we should build a third garage. My Mustang definitely needed to be garaged and my older Toyota wouldn’t last much longer if it had to live outside, and the Durango is our all-weather car. It needed to be inside and ready to go. So, a third garage. Practical, right?

We came up with several plans for the thing, a number of which included adding the garage as an extension to the house.

“We’ll bump out the far wall of our bedroom and add a decent bathroom and a proper walk-in closet!”

“I could have an actual office up there. With a door that closes!”

“We could do a little patio, too. Overlooking, the… swamp.”

“Maybe not a patio.”

“What if we put that here, and then we could put a sunroom by the kitchen, and bump out the…”

You get the idea. We contacted a few builders and got all excited about the plans to renovate. All so we could buy a car. Then the estimates started rolling in and we decided to build a freestanding garage next to the house instead. It’s a shed. A very large, very nice shed with one and a half garage doors, plenty of room for the Durango and all of the requirements of suburbia: lawn mower, leaf blower, snow blower, weed whacker, chainsaw, shelves full of inert fertilizer, boots none of us remember buying, tubs full of rotting sports equipment, and at least one paint can from every room in the house. And a few boxes, and one piece of broken furniture.

We finalized the plans for the new garage about a month before my 50th birthday. Then it started to rain and rained about every day for four months. You can’t dig a foundation in the rain—not when the lower corner of it is pretty much part of the swamp. The official designation is wetlands and it’s nice having twelve acres of wetlands as our back yard. Not so much when you want to dig a hole in part of it.

The garage was completed in September 2018 and I started car shopping. I was still looking for a trusty second-hand vehicle with low miles and a great warranty. Then I found a new one at a local dealership in a colour I hadn’t seen before: royal crimson. I ran the numbers. Taking into account a few Ifs, I could afford it. Just. But buying a new car was so impractical! I’d be just fine with a used one. I could get more features with a used one. I wouldn’t be as paranoid about scratching the paint on a used on.

Before I could convince myself to buy it, the car disappeared from the dealer’s inventory. That was the universe telling me I had made the right decision.

Finally the weekend we’d put aside to Buy Kelly’s Mustang arrived. We visited a local dealer and asked to see their preowned selection. It was two cars, both of them older than I wanted, one with a soft top. My list of wants and needs was fairly small: I wanted a V8. I wanted a manual transmission. I wanted the fastback body. I live in northeast Pennsylvania. It rains a lot here. It snows. And I have hair. We figured we’d make the trip worthwhile by at least taking one of the new models out for a test drive.

You know those moments in life that make up a very special album? Your first apartment, meeting The One, meeting The One Who’s Actually Meant to Be, seeing your kid smile for the first time, and actually having a complicated dessert turn out just like the picture on Pinterest. Add pushing the start button on a V8 Mustang to that list. Oh, the sound. The rumble, the roar, the vibration through the seat. It’s… amazing. It was everything I hoped it would be.

Then I drove the thing. My test drive was fairly sedate because while I already acknowledged that a Mustang wasn’t a terrible practical car, I did want to know how it would feel as an everyday sort of car. Something I could drive to the store and back. As you can imagine, the car handled beautifully. It was a dream to drive.

The dealer, of course, wanted to know if I’d be interested in buying it. I was, but not that particular car. It was white and just… white. I wanted royal crimson. Or a dark grey, like the $50K super upgraded model parked next to it. But I didn’t have $50k and I couldn’t afford that loan, so we talked second hand again.

Then we found a new one. V8. Manual. Royal Crimson. 600 miles away. In my price range. Our salesman all but got down on one knee to offer it to me and I said yes. Then I had a panic attack. I was about to spend what amounted to a year of my daughter’s college tuition on a car. Money that many people would consider an annual salary. I could feed hundreds with this money. Clothe people. Educate them. Yes, I’d saved for years for just this moment, but what if it was wrong. What if…

And I hadn’t driven a Charger

Did I forget to mention that part? Every time I looked online for a Mustang, I’d check out comparable cars that were more practical. The Charger has an all-wheel-drive option, which would be great for the snow and rain and hills. And it’s a pretty mean looking vehicle. Predatory. Then there are those smaller SUVs that would make so much sense when I’m carting boxes of books from the library to storage. Or broken furniture to the hard waste collection. Or, just, you know, grocery shopping. Did I really need a V8 engine? The cost of gasoline would be ridiculous. Especially with all these hills.

Did I really need a new car? I loved—still love my Toyota. I’ve had it for fifteen years. She’s been a truly faithful partner and the idea of not driving her anymore made me more than a little sad. Thankfully, she’d remain a part of the family—as my daughter’s first car.

So, anyway, after sweating it out (literally) for five days, I got a call from the dealership. They had my car and it was beautiful. When did I want to come to pick it up?

Max (the Mustang) is a beautiful car. The colour is almost shocking in its allure and I think I’m the only person in 600 miles driving one just like this. Everyone in town knows it’s me. I park him at the end of every lot, away from all possible door dings and spend every minute in every store paranoid that some teenage hooligan is going to run a key along his glossy side.

Getting into the car is a bit like making yourself into human origami. You have to fold in the middle, with your legs one way and your arms another.

I’m only just tall enough to see over the wheel comfortably and the bulge of the hood (housing those glorious eight cylinders) is so high that I pretty much just have to trust the road is there, where it should be when I crest certain hills.

No one older than five can comfortably sit in the back seat and I’ve stopped tossing my purse in there because I did something to my neck contorting myself to get it out. Likewise, I can’t fit my bag of books back there without shifting the seat.

My travel tea mug doesn’t fit in the cup holder.

I get one mile per gallon.

It doesn’t cost a fortune to fill the tank. Sticker shock is somewhat allayed by a fifteen-gallon tank. And it runs just fine on regular. Is in fact designed to run just fine on regular.

It doesn’t fit through the drive-through lane at the bank.

I can’t drive it when it’s raining because the angle of the back window is so acute that it’s constantly awash in water making visibility very, very bad. Also, the car is somewhat low-slung and we get a lot of water on the roads when it’s raining.

I can’t drive it in the snow. There’s a setting for it, for the traction, but… no.

The seat belt is so far back that I nearly put my neck out the other way reaching for it and pulling it over my shoulder.

But…

Every time I push the start button, every impracticality fades beneath the burble of eight cylinders doing their thing. I could sit and listen to the engine for hours. I’ve actually turned the music down on occasion to do just that as I’m winging around the tight corners.

Max is so much fun to drive. The way he clings to corners and leaps up hills. The sound of the engine when I change gears, the roar up and down. The feel of the wheels on the road. The suspension. The fun extras like the fact the speedometer is labeled Ground Speed and when I open the door, the word Mustang lights up on the jamb, reminding me every time I fold myself in half, legs one way, arms another, that my car is special.

I could write another post, longer than this one, about the times I’ve chosen the practical direction. I’m a plotter and a planner. I save my pennies, buy everything on sale, and hate spending money. I plan our weekly menus around one main ingredient. (This week it’s sweet potatoes.) I’m not allowed to book family vacations because no one wants to go on practical holidays.

I require advance notice in triplicate of any change of plans.

But

I love my car and despite the fact I still fret about spending so much money on one frivolous thing, I’m glad I bought it. I worked hard for that money. My husband and I both did. And when I’m out driving, or just visiting Max in the garage, I’m happy in a way that’s difficult to describe.

I guess the closest I can get is to say it’s probably the feeling you get when you finally realize a dream. One long-held, one planned for, one you really didn’t think would actually happen.

And the fact that it ’s not practical or sensible only makes it more magical.

 

(At some point, I’ll stop talking about my new car. At some point. In the meantime, here’s another picture!)

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Review: Mission to Mahjundar by Veronica Scott

Mission to Mahjundar

Major Mike Varone and his cousin, Johnny, have been pulled out of retirement for one more mission to Mahjundar. A ship has gone down in the mountains and the crew needs rescue. Seems simple enough but simple doesn’t make a very compelling read, does it? Their first day planetside adds several complications. The crash course in language and culture doesn’t cover the current political climate or help them interpret the nervous twitches of their guide. The bomb in a public plaza is a more obvious marker of civil unrest.

The bomb is an assassination attempt, the apparent target the current empress. Caught in the blast radius is a princess of the blood, Shalira. Mike rescues the princess, discovering in the process that she’s blind and has been since a previous assassination attempt fifteen years before. His gallantry is awarded with ceremony, a useless dagger and a task: he is asked to escort the princess into the mountains to meet her betrothed. Acceding to the emperor’s request will delay their own mission. It’s made clear that refusing will result in permanent deferral, a withdrawal of permission to venture outside the city.

The journey into the mountains reveals the farce of Shalira’s impending marriage and uncovers a deeper plot that lies at the core of the political unrest on the planet. Mike and Johnny are drawn into events, at first unwillingly, and then because of the growing attraction between Mike and Shalira. On a remote and somewhat barbaric planet, Mike has found the woman of his dreams. Shalira has found someone who doesn’t consider her blindness an imperfection. For his part, Johnny is simply a good man, and loyal to his cousin.

I really enjoyed author Veronica Scott’s world building. Mission to Mahjundar reads almost like fantasy. The planet of Mahjundar has a rich culture and history, yet there are subtle reminders we’re in a future, either our own or one of Scott’s making. Technology is woven in with the magic, giving the reader the sense this planet has been inhabited for so long and has drifted so far from the mean, that technology is magic. Mike’s thoughts and recollections keep us firmly in the present, however. The universe of The Sectors clearly exists outside the planet, giving Mahjundar a place in the whole.

The action throughout the novel is thrilling and well-written, the choreography of every battle easy to follow. The various tribes are different enough to be interesting rather than simply derivative. I gained the sense of a vast and fascinating history leading up to the current events.

My only quibble is the romance. It moved a little too quickly for me. I would have liked more time spent on Mike and Shalira getting to know one another. They fall awfully fast and the chemistry feels very ‘heat of the moment’. The affection between them does feel genuine and there is a sense of destiny in their pairing. I simply prefer a longer build. The adventure and stakes are high throughout the novel, so we don’t get a sense of how these two will fare as a couple when their lives don’t depend upon the actions of the other.

Despite this little nitpick, I enjoyed Mission To Mahjundar. It’s a fun read, very fast paced and easy to follow with good adventure and excellent world-building. The love story is integral to the plot, which is a plus for fans of romance. Though secondary, Johnny is a great character and I’d love to see him revisited in a future book set in this universe.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Her Sexy Sentinel by Jenn Burke

Her Sexy Sentinel (Entangled Covet)

The most dangerous thing they could do is fall in love…

Callie Noble fled to Ottawa to escape danger. But she is far from safe. Overwhelmed by a strange new power she can’t control, Callie is terrified and painfully incapacitated. Her only hope is to seek the help of the one man who broke her heart…

Derrick Llewellyn is one of the Sentinels charged with the protection of the city’s mysterious secret. Seeing Callie again is a shock enough, but the electricity between them is stronger than ever. Still, loving another marked individual is forbidden, and Callie needs his help—not romantic complications.

But there are forces at work in the city, and Callie finds herself inexorably drawn into a world filled with danger and untold magics. A world where loving Derrick isn’t just forbidden…it’s the surest way to drive them both mad.

Jenn Burke is my writing partner and super-duper friend, so I’ve read this book three times, each a different version. Honestly, I liked the first as much as I did this last, because though I know Jenn worked hard to produce a novel that satisfied her, I’ll always love her stories regardless of polish—and I have a list of reasons why which will serve as my review of Her Sexy Sentinel.

Characters

Jenn’s characters are living, breathing entities. I know what they look like and a few pages in, I feel their perspective. I get them. That doesn’t mean they can’t surprise me. They do, all the time, and that only makes them more human.

In Her Sexy Sentinel, we spend most of our time with Callie and Derrick, but Chris, Risa and the other supporting characters are more than thin templates used to support the plot. They’re people, too, which is why I really hope Jenn continues this series one day so I can continue to read their adventures.

I adore Derrick. Skimming other reviews, I was disappointed not to find more love for him. Am I the only person who loves White Knights? Men so enamoured of honour and principle that you can’t decide whether to slap them or kiss them—possibly do both at the same time. Men—or indeed, characters—you can trust to have your back, no matter what, because they stick by their every annoying word. This is a man who throws strength at his doubts, who armours himself against hurt. If anything, he’s annoyingly human. But so is Callie. Her refusal to accept the existence of magic, let alone the fact she is suddenly imbued with it, is refreshing. She doesn’t immediately fall in with the plan and her struggle to accept her magic self is as fraught as her journey to find her actual self. This is her epiphany, her moment. The cusp that will change the rest of her life. No, she doesn’t deal graciously, and that’s why she’s so appealing. We feel her confusion and her anger.

Plot

Jenn’s imagination never fails to astound me. She doesn’t just hang a story off a romance plot. Her books tell stories in which people happen to meet and fall in love—while they’re doing all kinds of other cool stuff.

I love the plot of Her Sexy Sentinel. I love the suggestion that there is another world out there, right under our noses. Portals to other realms—whether they are planes or alternate realities, interdimensional portals, I don’t care. Our world is full of mysteries and I love the idea that we don’t always look to the most logical answer. That maybe there is a gate to hell under parliament hill. It probably connects to the basement of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. and from there you can take an express planar blip under the Atlantic.

Jenn deftly handles the issue of magic versus mundane. Her Community exists to serve all of Ottawa, but only those with a touch of magic know what’s really going on. There are some lovely metaphors there.

Romance

Jenn writes sizzling sex scenes. Seriously, they’re hot. And, in Her Sexy Sentinel, we get Magic Sex. Yep, we need capitals there. The world—and fiction—needs more Magic Sex.

Beyond the extraordinary, though, what I love about the romance in this book is the built-in panic button. There is nothing more enticing in a romance novel than the quandary of: they want to, but they can’t. That being said, the reasons why they can’t have to be compelling enough to make it work, to make all that hot and lusty tension worthwhile. Forbidden love is a good reason, particularly when one of your characters is all rightly honourable and the other hasn’t a clue. And when they’re attracted to one another to a ridiculous degree. Throw in the fact they nearly got it together before, but didn’t—and also never forgot the fact that they didn’t—and the pot of tension is bubbling over.

I actually texted Jenn as one point to express my EXTREME disappointment that I had flipped the page to discover it was the next morning. Why was it the next morning and why hadn’t they had sex yet? Of course, my reward was the scene worth waiting for.

It’s hard to review a book when you know the author. But it’s always a pleasure to read and review a book that I genuinely like and want to share with my friends. I recommend Her Sexy Sentinel for fans of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. I don’t think it’s beyond the grasp of a Contemporary Romance, reader, however. This isn’t a book that requires a lengthy glossary of terms. Jenn doesn’t baffle her readers with incomprehensible lore. Her writing is clear, concise and full of emotive encouragement. I really hope she returns to this world.

Review: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

Sword of the Bright Lady (World of Prime, #1)

Christopher Sinclair wakes from an interesting dream into a more interesting dilemma. He is in an alternate reality, a world eerily similar and yet markedly different to ours. The sleepy village he finds himself in appears to be stuck in the medieval age, but for certain marvels. This ‘magic’, apportioned by a substance known as ‘tael’, affects the very way society operates, marking the most startling differences. The higher the rank, the more magic a practitioner commands.

On his first day in this new world, not quite given over to the fact he has left his own world, rather, Christopher believes himself the displaced victim of a plane crash. Our hero manages to transgress several laws while coming to the defence of a young woman. He does not know that striking a nobleman, even to save a young woman’s virtue, is a serious crime punishable by death. He is summoned by church officials and interviewed. By the time his audience with Saint Krellyan is finished, two things are clear. Christopher is no longer in Arizona or anyone on his Earth and he’s in deep…er, trouble. Continue reading “Review: Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck”

Review: The Adorned by John Tristan

 

The tail end of a war can be as devastating as the first strike, or the most decisive battle. Soldiers become battle fatigued, their leaders jaded and the citizens, those who work to support the soldiers, who suffer privation so that they can continue to fight, are all but forgotten. Families robbed and left to flounder, children orphaned, men and women left alone in the world.

The Adorned by John Tristan tells the story of one such man. After the death of his father, the young Etan journeys to the Grey City where he quickly falls afoul of thieves. Left bleeding and penniless, he is rescued by a bondsman. Soon after, he signs away five years of his life for the promise of food and shelter, both of which are scarce. Before he embarks on a career of indentured servitude, Etan catches the eye of master tattooist, Roberd Tallisk. He is offered a different contract, the chance to become one of the Adorned.

The Adorned are playthings of the Blooded, who are the aristocracy. Imbued with magic, the tattoos of an Adorned appear to breathe and move. They are trained in the art of display and serve as companion and entertainment at feasts and parties. Like any courtesan, an Adorned soon learns to play the game of politics and Etan’s naiveté doesn’t exclude him. In fact, it makes him the perfect tool.

Etan’s heart is tender, however, and he tries to balance his actions to please all, but especially one man, his master. Tallisk is contrary and cantankerous, but his care for Etan is obvious to all but the young man. Their slow journey together is not the only delight in this tale.

Given the pace of modern romance, particularly the steamier variety, I had almost forgotten the pleasure of a love story that takes almost an entire novel to consummate. It’s the most delicious sort of torture. Every look, touch and guarded word coaxes you forward and every set back begins to feel personal. I suppose it is, in a way, as invested as I was in this story.

The Adorned isn’t a heartless tease, however. The plot is worthy and keeps the pages turning. I read every word, which is rare for me. Etan’s voice is compelling, and his slow metamorphosis into a man fully in possession of himself is worth the time.

Then, when things come together, they fall apart.

First, and foremost, this book is fantasy and the story doesn’t end simply because Etan and Roberd finally admit they’re in love. No, the plot continues around them and does terrible things to them. The theme I outlined at the beginning of my review is as important at the end of the book as it is at the start. The aftermath of a war is an uneasy time and often fraught with more danger.

I’m not going to give away the end of the book because this is one you must experience for yourself. If you enjoy simple, yet lyrical prose, richly detailed fantasy worlds, politics, beauty and love stories, then The Adorned is a must read. I found it absolutely lovely and finished it in a single day.

Written for SFCrowsnest.