M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It's All Blowing on the Wind, for Good or Ill

Happened to grab Nevada Barr's Ill Wind, an
older Anne Pigeon mystery, off my to-read pile. Who knows how long it'd been buried there?. But it's about another Colorado localle, Mesa Verde National Park.The book really coveyed the wind-swept atmosphere of the Southwest plateaus I remember from my visits there. I most remember Mesa Verde for its isolation, in spite of all the other tourists running around the place.

[No. I am not on an intentional Colorado reading kick.]

In this third book in the series, Pigeon has just been transferred to Mesa Verde, so recent an addition to the staff that she must live in a "dorm situation" with uncomfotable roommates until permanent, private housing is available. As she gets to know the people around her, Barr uses the time to plant a number of red herrings among the clues. The result is an intricate mystery with several interesting subplots. Perhaps the most interesting--a fellow rangers dwarf step-daughter who provides one of the up-beat notes in the book.

Was surprised to find myself labeling Ill Wind a cozy even though it doesn't have cutzie stuff connected to it. It's all in the development of the characters. Barr takes her time to describe them and their inter-relationships before she gets down to the serious stuff--solving the murders. The reader gets a real feel for living in an isolated spot, over an hour from towns, and how people can grate on others perople's nerves. Barr makes these characters so real that readers root for them.

Then, there are the settings. You can almost feel the cool night winds as you read. If you're looking for loads of background about the Anazazi, the old ones who built the abandoned southwestern US towns, you'll have to go elsewhere.

Read a sample and more reviews on

Interesting Reading

This blog, When a Pantser Revises, by Chris Marra made me pause. As a writer, I'm a panster trying to reform into an outliner. Marrs's an unapoligic panster, a writer who writes without an outline. Writers can find the blog useful for its revising tips. Readers can get an idea about how the "sausage" is made.

While fictional mysteries like Ill Wind tend to be neat and tidy, the real stuff is often the opposite. The New York Times has been running longer pieces on different topics for some time now. On 15 April 2018, it published an article by N. R. Kleinfield on "Never Solved, a  College Dorm Fire Becomes One Man's Obssession". I think the article demonstrates an interesting, reality-based counterpoint to the standard mystery novel is constructed.

My Writing Rut

It's happened. I finally turned On the Run over to my copy editor to play with. I went through the manuscript one more time and didn't find many corrections. But I know that she's going to find all sorts of places there should be commas and other places where my commas should be deleted. We won't talk about all the other stuff.

Anyone want to guess how marked up my manuscript is going to be when she returns it?

Here's a short excerpt from Pillar's first day visiting at a school for mages run by unknown relatives:

Gracie [Pillar's mother's great-aunt] smiled broadly at her. “I see someone taught you how to keep your eyes to yerself. But, you really must learn how to stop leaking power.”
"Don't have any power to leak. Didn't you hear Principal Tankin."
"Oh, it's there if you know how to look."
Thinking Gracie felt as comfortable as the bus lady [a host containing a demon pursuing Pillar] should've been, Pillar relaxed, wishing she knew how to ask the questions buzzing around her head. She didn't want another academy person spitting nails at her. Knowing Delia [Pillar's foster mother] would want her to keep a low profile made her more hesitant.
"So, tell me about yerself."
"I'm Maisie's daughter. I come from the Osseran Commune, and I just graduated from high school."
"I know all that. But, who are you?"
Pillar gave her a sharp look but didn’t know how to phrase the thoughts buzzing in her mind. The question blurted out on its own. "Why didn’t you guys come looking for me when Ma died?”
“I thought it best you were where you was.” Gracie shrugged, her gaze flicking to the hall door. “Going to be fun to have a true Beccon living here again.”
“I thought my father’s last name was Beccon?”
“Goodness gracious no, child. Your parents weren’t married. In fact, Maisie never did name your father.”
I’m nameless? The fact hit Pillar like a fist in the gut. No wonder no one came looking for Ma. Her brain throbbed as she tried to absorb the information. Why didn’t Delia say something before?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

True Hauntings and Fictional: Getting Your Mystery Fix with a Spook

The books in Heather Graham Krewe of Hunters series read two ways--as stand alones or as a strong series where a shifting, but continuing cast of characters solve interesting ghostly mysteries. She even adds more value for the reader by using interesting places for her settings.

{In fact, she teased me into buying this book by setting The Hidden in Estes Park, Colorado, a retirement-central extraordinaire if you like a high altitude and cold. [I prefer the flats along I25.]}

Seems like I've read a few books set in my local area, lately. Sometimes, the descriptions have been right on [Lee Child's Midnight Line]. Other times, I had a hard time recognizing the places. Graham got the mountains surrounding the bowl/park right. But, Estes Park is infested by unavoidable elk. Two days after finishing the book, I can't remember one mention of elk. They're one of the prime tourist Estes Park's attractions in addition to the Stanley Hotel.

Copycat murders provides the core mystery for The Hidden. Former Reb soldier, Nathan Kendall, is murdered, shortly after the US Civil War. The crime was never solved. Today, his ranch has become a guest ranch and museum.

When modern descendants [thank the various DNA sites for this] are killed in much the same way as Kendal, the museum director, Scalett Barlow, comes under suspicion for their murders. With a plot hop--a Krewe of Hunters member is her former husband who rushes to prove her innocent. Everyone gathers for the crime-solving fun. 

Of course, there is a romance. Actually, a couple of them, including the runaway marriage of Nathan Kendall and his wife, who lend their ghostly fingers to solving the muders.

The Hidden isn't one of Graham's better books. I thought it lack suspense, the m/c was rather sappy, and the plot predictable. Maybe I have read too many of them, and the well-constructed plot elements have become tedious for me. [Must admit the moose was a surprise.] Or, is it just the romance and bed scenes I find overly similar? 

On the other hand, I always get a good relaxing read from Graham's books, reads that tempt me to read one more chapter, even though it's midnight or after. Bottom line: when you craft a book as well as she does, even your less than stellar books are worth reading. It's not her fault I've usually guessed the perps 2/3rds into the storyline.

Want to read other peoples' reviews? You can also check out some samples on

Other Interesting Reading

Stephanie Laurens has it made with her Cynster series. Her characters and backgrounds come ready made. She's now working on the grandkids of the first book m/cs, an English duke finding his true love during the French Revolution. The series has reached the Victorian era as she writes the stories of how the varioious members of the Cynster clan find true love. She gets a little explicit on the love scenes, but she really doesn't go overboard. Of course, an evangelical Christian whould probably disagree with me.

What's notable--her female Cynsters are just as strong and dangerous as the males. If you like your romance in period settings you might take a look at A Match for Marcus Cynster. -- Yeah, Laurens has strong non-Cynster ladies in her world--though they aren't as menacing as her masterful males.

Have you ever though about writing a blog? Jane Friedman, one of the best bloggers, is holding a webinair [12 April 2018], sponsored by Writer's Digest, on how to do the blogging bit effectively. [Yes, there are ways to write better blogs than I do since I'm a confirmed dillettente.]

My  Writing Rut

Don't think of my blog as a rut, but I do write it. Imagine my surprise when I noticed I've written 500 blogs. 

Actually more. I used to write a separate blog about my Far Isles Half-Elven. But I got in a rut when after writing Night for the Gargoyles. I couldn't get out of Andor. Seems publishers think demons are more interesting than elves. You can download ebook free, for sure, on Amazon , iBooks, and kobo/Rakuten. Don't know if it shows up as free in other countries besides the US, but you might take a look.

Night for the Gargoyles was the inspiration for There Be Demons, the first of a possible Demon War trilogy, which is available at the same places. Had to write a book to find out what happened when Gillen tried to teach for head-strong teens from the projects how to fight demons...and survive. I like to joke that the book has more reviews [good] than sales [bad, though it's approaching the average sales for an indie].

Monday, April 2, 2018

When Refugee Colonizers Go Astray, What Must They Do to Survive

Polymath by John Brunner is one of those hidden ScFi classics from back in the day when there was much controversy about calling Science Fiction ScFi. The book, written in 1974,  also illustrates the optimistic viewpoint about democracy: people could rule themselves when guided by wise men. [Of course, the wise men still needed sharp, with-it women as mates.] 

We won't ever talk about how space exploration has been retarded by political decisions. 

But yeah, the social aspects of the book seem dated--almost fifty years later--but Polymath still gives the reader a quick moving, engrossing tale where one cheers for the good guys.

As a writer, I couldn't help feeling envious. Today, Polymath would be considered a novella.  [Both my books are twice that long.] Today, it ends at where the false conclusion starts.  Yeah, there's no hint that the human vermin are destroying the ecology of the planet. The reader is left to assume that things will be done wisely, according to the Americal Way. [The reader must remember that the AW was not so explotive and predatory back then.]

Settling an alien planet is a common theme in Science Fiction.  The problem in Polymath happens when the colonizers land in the wrong place, far off the established space lanes. Two different space ship landings offer two possible solutions to the dilemma. Granted the AW wins, but Brunner gives the reader a suspenseful ride. I would have liked to have read Brunner's take  on what happened after the  steering rules were set up.

The characters made the book for me. All were multi-dimensional, especially the main character, Lex, a polymath being trainned to organize newly settled planets. But, the villians have more than one trait, too, as well as providing some comic relief.

You can read a sample and more reviews on
Amazon        Nook        kobo/Rakuten

Other Interesting Reading

Writer, Writer, how does your garden grow? Oh. You write. Here's an interesting take on editing your manuscripts by Kristen Lamb: The Dangers of Premature Editing.Pruning Our Stories vs Pillaging Them. You might want to take a look.

My Writing Rut

Still doing content edits of On the Run. Here's Pillar's reaction to the demon battle at the end:

"A scattering of drips splashed against Pillar’s face from the trees overhead. Without knowing it, she had stepped back into their shelter after the explosion of light. Ears ringing and muscles trembling, Pillar blinked, but the world was slow to come in focus. Everything had gone silent. Pillar coughed to clear her lungs as she fought to return to the world. Lefferson’s books had hinted that power could explode rather than just light fires, but she hadn’t taken the notebooks seriously."

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reading Historical Fiction for Truth or Fairy Tale

Most weeks I start browsing to see which book on my to-read pile holds my interest. This week's winner: Phillpa Gregory's The Last Tudor. Yes, she has finally come to the end of her Plantagenet and Tudor novels. The Plantagenets are favorites, the Tudors not so much. Still, I've read many of her novels set in the period. They' ve all been fascinating reads.

The Last Tudors tells the story of Lady Jane Grey who became Queen of England for nine days as her father plotted to rule England. [They were Protestants and Princess Mary Tudor was Catholic, which was rapidly important then.] Most people know how that turned out, but they don't know much about her two sisters who were among the possible heirs to Queen Elisabeth I. The book's about being jerked about and imprisoned by someone who has the power to remove your head from your shoulders.

Phillipa Gregory's lack of admiration for Elisabeth is obvious. Very little nice is said about her. Of course, she was dealing a bankrupted kingdom back on its financial feet at the beginning of her reign. But she could have been nicer.

Must say though, I rather agree with Gregory's interpretation. I've always thought that all three Tudors were autocratic despots. In fact, I can remember reading this glowing book about Elisabeth I in eighth grade and suddenly realizing: Hey, this woman's a dictator. Having a difficult childhood wasn't any excuse, in my opinion, to take her anger out on other people. Queen Elisabeth I was lucky to have Cecil as her right-hand man.

Okay, Gregory is a master at writing historical Fiction, but she does it differently than most. Her books aren't dense, weighed down with tons of factoids. She concentrates on her character's thoughts with sparse, judicious descriptions to anchor the reader in the time period. In The Last Tudor, Gregory gives one of the best descriptions of what a lady in waiting actually did in court taking care of the queen.

Other people think she's better than sliced bread; others not. Read a sample of the book and other reviews on:

Amazon       Nook       kobo/Rakuten

Other Interesting Reading

Romance appears in all genres as well as being a popular genre of its own. I'm not a big romance reader...though I like to think I tolerate it. Anyway, I encountered this discussion of romance novels curtesy of Books Go Social. Darcel Rocket explores Where Are Romance Novels Headed Given Given the Current State of Women's Issues? In the Chicago Tribune. Yeah, it's complicated, a lot more complicated than the news bites lead one to believe. Think the ideas can apply to other genres too. 

My Writing Rut

Still revising/editing. My editor was right. The ending seems a little rushled. Am think whether I really want to write a new chapter and drag it out. The middle of the book was important because that's where Pillar's assumptions are destroyed.

But I have got my taxes done and in. Think a lot of people are going to be surprised when they do next year's taxes.

Interested in adding some short stories to your ereader for when you want a quick fantasy read? Check out my Andor stories about the problems demons cause. Available at