About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.

Adventure is out there!

As the summer rolls on, it’s becoming harder and harder to hide in my cute little office and work. There are exciting things to do, things to see, and I might be a teensy weensy bit stir crazy. When the crazies set in, it’s time for a change of scenery.

This weekend that drive to adventure took our family up Big Cottonwood Canyon to explore the Mill B area. What’s great about this spot is that the water from the river cools down the canyon floor making it a welcome break from the summer heat. There are stunning waterfalls, comfortable short hikes, and plenty of rocks for the kiddos to scramble around on.

On a recommendation from a family member, we found Hidden Falls which is marked only by a tiny sign. It’s not even a hike, but rather a climb up the side of a hidden stream that leads to a lovely isolated grotto. The kids had a great time climbing and traversing the stream on half submerged rocks like a real world “floor is lava” game, and I was thrilled to get them away from their screens for a while.

To finish up the afternoon, we hiked Mill B South which is also a short well-maintained and nearly flat trail that leads to a larger staircase waterfall at the end. It’s a perfect place to bring a picnic and get away from things.

A lot of this area is what I imagine the dramatic canyons and mountains in Stonebearer’s Betrayal to feel like. There are steep slopes and hidden gems just waiting to be found. Maybe if I go far enough, I’ll find an immense castle occupied by magical immortals.

Hey, a girl can dream.

What are your favorite outdoor activities?


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TV Series Review: Good Omens

I have a sneaking feeling that I might run across lots of mixed feelings on this one. While the two authors, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both have huge followings, they also tend to push the boundaries of the expected into often dangerous territory. In Good Omens, what’s a more dangerous subject than the coming of the Antichrist?

Like I said, it’s loaded with ideas and history that plunges us straight into dangerous territory.

The Story

Like most good fiction, this one starts with a monumental “What if?” What if the child who was meant to grow up to be the Antichrist was accidentally switched at birth? What if the demon assigned to watch over him, has actually been watching over the wrong child?

The story centers on this demon, Crowley, and his angelic counterpart, Aziraphale. These two beings have been on Earth as representatives of Hell and Heaven respectively since the beginning of time, and have formed an unlikely friendship. Not only that, they’ve grown accustomed to the comforts of life on earth and aren’t thrilled at the prospect of the coming of Armageddon, which will end it all.

While the hosts of Heaven and Hell are eager and anxious for Armageddon to finally happen, both Crowley and Aziraphale are willing to do anything to delay it and possibly prevent it for as long as possible.

My Review

I’ll state right now that I’m a biased watcher. I’ve always enjoyed Prachett and Gaiman’s unique spin on stories and their deep dives into unique characters and what makes them tick. I’m also super biased because the two leading actors are none other than the exquisite David Tennant as Crowley, and the ever intriguing Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.

Honestly, the show itself gets forgiven a lot because of these two factors alone.

As a whole, I found the series fascinating to watch. The story is complicated and there are lots of twists and turns to keep track of, which for me is a perk. There are multiple driving forces to push and prod the story in different directions, and all of them are working against the goals of the other.

What I particularly liked is the sheer brilliance of the dialogue between Crowley and Aziraphale. The debates between them and the huge amount of history shows up in these little revealing snippets deepens their characters and the history of the world itself. They care for each other in a way that’s taken millenia to grow. It’s no surprise that most of the watchers who enjoyed the show want to see these two characters in a more serious relationship beyond friendship.

Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of work if you don’t mind diving into a story that centers around Armageddon and all its associated lore.

Recommendations

Obviously if you already enjoy Prachett and Gaiman, you are going to like this show. It has all the charm, depth, and humor you’d expect from a collaboration between the two. While it is complicated, so are most of their writings. Those who already like reading these two authors will be fine in keeping track of what’s going on.

I would warn those who have sensitive religious views to either watch the show with a grain of salt, or steer clear. It doesn’t shy away from this being an end-of-the-world type story and brings in enough theological material to support the differing world views surrounding the prophecy. This might make some watchers uncomfortable.

When it comes to objectionable material, there’s a wide but thin smattering of language, violence, and innuendo that some might find offensive but are neither remarkable or overblown. What’s there is appropriate to the situation.

I rate Good Omens a solid 4/5, a great show but you really have to pay attention.


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Too Many Goals, a Cautionary Tale

As an ambitious person, I tend to go overboard when it comes to setting goals. A good goal should force you to stretch yourself to reach, but still be doable. They require real effort. This is a good thing. Reaching for a goal means that even when I don’t complete it in its entirety, I still work harder and get more done than if I hadn’t set the goal at all.

The problem I keep running into is setting too many goals at one time. When this happens, I spend each day scrambling to try to reach the most important ones and lamenting the ones I didn’t have time to work on. It’s a nasty cycle. Without fail, I’ll say stupid things to myself like “I can catch up on that tomorrow or over the weekend” fully knowing that the time fairy isn’t going to grant me more hours, even if I promise to slip her into one of my stories. Sometimes it’s not time that causes the problem, but energy. It doesn’t matter how much free time you have if you’re too tired to think or work.

I started July like I start every month, by looking over what I really wanted to make progress on and then setting goals that would help me do so. Turns out there were plenty of things I wanted to be more consistent doing that included house and yard work, personal health goals, and of course, authoring pursuits.

When I counted the things on my list today, I found sixteen different tasks that I needed to accomplish if I wanted to reach all those goals today. Some only take a few minutes, but most take anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours each. It doesn’t take a genius to do the math there. Even on a great day, there’s no way I’d have the time. Especially since I’ve also got the kiddos at home and need to give them attention as well, not to mention keep everyone fed.

Yep, just thinking about it is stressing me out a little.

Will I learn my lesson when I set goals for August? I surely hope so. The good thing is that every time I work through one of these challenges, I do learn a few things. This time I learned that tracking that many goals becomes stressful and tedious. It’s best to limit goals to the things that are truly important and then do the best you can with the rest.

My question to you is, are you a goal setter? If so, what does your goal setting practice look like?


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Book Review: Verses for the Dead by Preston and Child

This is a year of trying lots of new things, including authors I hadn’t read yet. I’d heard of the Pendergast novels off and on for ages, they are one of those staples of genre fiction that have collected a wide fan base and end up being referenced at writing conferences. A friend of mine had enjoyed the books and we needed a fresh read for our very casual book group so we chose the most widely available title in the library system, the 2018 release Verses for the Dead.

The Story

This book is very much a murder mystery. It starts with the discovery of a human heart found on a gravestone in Miami along with a cryptic note signed by a Mr. Brokenhearts. Enter Agent Pendergast, FBI. He’s got a remarkable track record when it comes to the tricky cases, and this murder is shaping up to be exactly that, tricky.

However, he’s unpredictable and tends to do things in unorthodox ways that leave a body count higher than what his superiors are comfortable with. For this reason, on this case he’s forced to accept the unthinkable–a partner.

The mystery unfolds as our duo work together to piece together the clues. Their murderer follows a bizarre M.O.: He cuts out his victim’s hearts and then leaves them on the graves of suicide victims. If Pendergast can’t find the connections between the victims, he’s sure more women will die in the same horrific way.

Through many twists and failures, we watch as Pendergast works through the case in a way reminiscent of Sherlock, finding the tiniest clues and using them to track down the killer.

My Review

As someone who doesn’t read a lot of mystery novels I can’t say if the pacing of this one was intentionally slow and methodical, or if it was just a slower read because clue hunting, while interesting, isn’t exciting. The way the different ideas came together, and the way it truly took a team of experts to help the case along, made for interesting reading. And, there was an action-packed danger-filled conclusion, so I can’t complain too much.

There is a reason these books are popular. The writing is solid and clear, the characters fleshed out and interesting, and the different settings vibrant and lifelike. There is always a sense of more going on than what happens on the page, especially with Pendergast’s character, which leaves the reader eager to see what else they can learn about him.

While most of the books in the Pendergast series are flagged as standalone reads, there is a lot of backstory about Pendergast himself that I feel I’m missing. I’m considering reading more, if only to learn more about him and why he acts the way he does.

Recommendations

If you like murder mystery, this is a solid one. A word of warning for the squeamish, there are graphic crime scene descriptions, autopsies, and naturally, a few murders witnessed first hand. There is also a reasonable, but not overwhelming amount of swearing. The clues are not super obvious at first, but like any good mystery start clicking together as the story moves forward only for there to be a subtle twist that changes everything.

If you tend to need things that feel like they’re moving and making progress quickly, this might be a frustrating read. Everything Pendergast does is methodical and deliberate so even when he’s rushing, there is still a sense of calm and stillness. This makes it all the more exciting when his feathers do get ruffled during the thrilling climax, but for some that might not be enough.

I give Verses for the Dead 3/5 stars, a solid read but at times too slow and deliberate.


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Wait, it’s Friday?

This week slid past way too fast, one of the side effects of having way too much to do and not enough time to do it. It’s a good problem to have. Usually. Part of this busyness stems from going on a terrific road trip with the family last week. This is also the reason nothing got posted here on the blog all last week. Internet connections while traveling from campsite to campsite are notoriously sketchy.

As much as you all were craving a pages long travelogue of all the many exciting parts of the trip, I’ll spare you the slideshow. In short, we crossed the entire state of Wyoming, visiting Devil’s Tower along the way before heading up to Mount Rushmore. That’s lots of forced togetherness time in a car, especially when our phone wielding teenagers had to suffer through several hundred miles of dead zones. In all honesty, they were really good sports for the whole thing.

Being responsible and checking off the bucket list. Woot!

Now that we’re back, I’ve thrown myself headfirst into several projects and figured out a few goals and milestones that I’d like to reach before the end of July. The first of which is to complete edits of at least one scene of my next book each weekday. This would have been so much easier had the scenes I needed to work on this week not been the ones I dashed out during NaNoWriMo while rushing to hit wordcount goals. Note to self, next time you do crazy word goals at least go back and fix the flubsy typing so you can read what you wrote a year later. Okay? Thanks.

It also doesn’t help that I was discovery writing a large part of the story at the time. While there are some bits I’m very proud of, there are also huge chunks of flaming garbage to wade through. It hurts to delete whole scenes because they no longer fit, just saying.

One of the best parts of this week is that I’ve finally given myself permission to spend time on a new writing project. I haven’t worked on a new story for nearly a year and I’ve missed it. Monday and Tuesday I mapped out the key points and pinned down a few bits of research I needed before starting, and then the rest of this week I’ve been writing. My hope is if I approach this one with a bit more intention and less wild finger flailing I can avoid having to delete as much as I usually do. Keep your fingers crossed for me.


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Book Review: The Dark Hero by Ken Mears

I know I’ve said this before, but having authors as friends comes with lots of great perks, one of which is that I’ll never run out of reading material. Ken Mears and I met at Wizarding Dayz last year through a mutual friend. He’s an amazing teen with lots of potential and I am glad to help him on his journey. The Dark Hero is his second middle grade book and part of The Stones of the Middle Lands series.

The Blurb

For the past year, James has been remembering his past. From what he can gather, he may not have been the person he thinks he was. Even more worrisome, he is having nightmares about his past, and he has to wonder if they really are memories. With his thoughts darkened and cruel moods coming over him, James has to wonder. Is he a good person?

After being separated from James and Fenn for a year, Aaron has seen some changes he doesn’t like. With his friends closer than ever, Aaron starts to feel ostracized and battles with jealousy. And with his brother, Kai getting bolder and stronger, Aaron is realizing he can’t be nearly as protective of his kid brother. How can he overcome his jealousy and protect his brother from harm?

General Xanog has been beaten time and time again by James, resulting in his body being defaced with mechanical parts. Xanog has been plotting his revenge, seeking out any way to channel his anger towards vengeance. But something more concerning has arisen. The mysterious new leader of the trolls, The Malevolent One, has been controlling the trolls with no regard for their individual well being. While The Malevolent One presses for more control over Xanog and the rest of the trolls, he starts to consider: Does he have a bigger enemy than James?

My Review

This story is full of adventure and action. From one chapter to the next, James quests forward with his band of trusted friends to find the magical Peacekeeper Stones. There are battles, monsters, and fantastical settings as well as dragons, trolls, and near-death experiences.

There is also a lot of heart and moments of introspection as James learns more about his past and struggles to make peace with it as he moves forward. Several of his friends have changed and matured since his last adventure with him and he must adapt and accept them for who they are.

For a teen writer, I give Ken all the kudos in the world for taking on such an ambitious project and creating a book that’s both entertaining and has some depth. He’s got a great ear for character dialogue and his creativity shines through his unique settings and monsters. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

Recommendations

This is a story for older middle grade readers. Considering the age of the main character, he’s 16, and how the quest is ultimately to save the world, it feels closer to a young adult read. The main character also gets seriously injured several times, enough to where a younger reader might be turned off from the story. The only thing that keeps it back in the middle grade category is that the focus of the story stays solidly on adventure and a sense of wonder.

I imagine this book being great fun for 5th and 6th grade boys who like adventure and danger.

As of July 15th, 2020, The Dark Hero is only available at the author’s website.


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My, Oh My, It’s JULY.

I know I’m not the only one to think July has crept up on all of us. That weird cold break a few days ago was enough to make me think maybe we’d hit a time vortex and ended up in March again. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

On a brighter note, I’ve got a handful of baby tomatoes starting to grow in the garden and petunias and clematis flowering around yard. There are beets that are almost ready to harvest and roast for a glorious roast beet and feta salad. Purple hands are worth it for that little slice of heaven. I might even share…

My dear chickens have decided, like they do every year, that they don’t like the heat and spend the better part of the day pretending they’ve melted in the sun. Think cat splat, but with feathers. When they are up and around, they’re hunting the new hoard of grasshoppers that have come in from the nearby field. In this case, the grass really is greener on my side of the fence. Sometimes I even get eggs from them, not the grasshoppers, the chickens. Best cranky pet ever.

Meet Millie and her trademark scowl (she’s miffed I didn’t bring a treat.)

On the writing side of things I’ve found that I really should have been much more diligent in keeping track of important details throughout the series so far. There have been way too many instances where I fell down a “what color were his eyes again?” research hole. Sometimes I can even find the answer, sometimes it turns out I avoided the question for two entire books and get to make even more stuff up, erm, I mean allow the character tell me what works best for the image they’re trying to portray. This is one of those things where you do get better at it the longer you play the game. All you readers can look forward to steadily improving worldbuilding and character building with each release. Yay.

As for goals, I’m still working toward getting book three ready for release by the end of the year, ideally before everyone is finished with their Christmas shopping. To make that happen means hundreds of hours of work, but it’s work I enjoy and find gratifying, so I can’t complain.

Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash

Happy Fourth of July weekend to everyone! May you celebrate safely and with your favorite people. Follow your local firework guidelines, be responsible, and have as much fun as you can have legally. For us, it means lots of family time, game nights, small fireworks in front of the house, and lots and lots of treats.

Popsicle anyone?


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Book Review: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

There are only a handful of books that have stuck with me even years after reading them. This is one of them. Flowers for Algernon is as fascinating as it is heartbreaking. It was originally written as a short story in 1960 and won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story, then it was adapted into a novel which went on to tie for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966. There have been dozens of references to the story, including one on the Simpsons on the 2001 episode “HOMR.”

The Story

Charlie Gordon is a 32 year old with an IQ of 68. He begins the story working menial jobs at a bakery to keep from needing to live at a state institution. From the beginning, he has this drive to better himself and to do so takes reading and writing classes at a special school. Two researchers have discovered a way to increase intelligence through a surgical procedure and Charlie’s teacher, Alice, recommends he try the procedure.

Over the course of three months, Charlie’s IQ shoots to 185. Suddenly he no longer fits into the world he’s always been part of. He realizes that his coworkers at the bakery, who he always thought were his best friends, have been mocking him all along. The researchers continue to treat him the same way they’d treat a child, even when his intelligence exceeds theirs. He tries to fix broken ties with his parents only to learn that they no longer recognize him.

Determined to further the research that made his new intelligence possible, he continues writing reports and caring for the mouse they first experimented on, Algernon. However, he discovers a flaw in the theory that could cause the procedure to revert. This flaw is confirmed when Algernon starts behaving erratically and eventually dies.

He knows he will lose his new found abilities as well, but now has a much greater understanding of what that means. After he regresses, he remembers that he was once a genius. He can’t stand being pitied and so chooses to live in a state-sponsored home for the mentally handicapped where no one knows about his past.

His last writing is asking someone to put flowers on Algernon’s grave behind his old apartment.

My Review

The story itself is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be changed in a fundamental way only to have it taken away. But, what makes it powerful is how it’s delivered. The story is written in a series of letters that Charlie writes as part of a continuing assignment to his teacher Alice. In the beginning, we see that he struggles with putting together even the simplest of sentences and spelling is a huge challenge. But, even through that, we see his drive to be better, to be smarter.

Through each letter we see first hand how the procedure is changing him. The sentences become more complicated and the thoughts behind them more nuanced. The spelling issues disappear. As we reach the pinnacle of his intelligence, we see him pass into the language of complicated academia as he starts understanding the research behind his procedure in a much more detailed and granular way.

And then he starts to slip, and what’s so heartbreaking about it is that he can feel it happening. He knows what life was like before and he is terrified to return to what he once was. The sentences grow simpler and the structure and spelling decline until we return back to the beginning, but with one fundamental change. He remembers what it was like when he was smart and knows he can never go back.

Where many books rely on the artistry of the wordsmithing paired with the story to make them powerful, this one is powerful because it strips that away and lets us see pure character and how this huge change affects him.

It’s a beautiful work and deserving of the awards it’s received along the way.

Recommendations

This book is emotionally hard hitting. It touches on important themes such as the treatment of mentally disabled, the conflict between intellect and emotion, and how past events affect someone later in life. I’d only recommend this to readers who like stretching the boundaries of their experience. It hits many of the same notes as the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, when it comes to capturing the experience of the mentally disabled, and does an admirable job.

If you like digging deeply into another person’s world, even when that world is fraught with very real challenges, then this book is for you. But, if you are sensitive (like at all) to any of the issues already discussed, then this book might be too painful to read.

I give Flowers for Algernon a rare 5/5 for challenging my world view and sticking with me.


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This Week’s Update

This week it finally got hot. Suddenly going outside in the middle of the day doesn’t feel so good anymore and my new found love of working in the yard turned into less of a love and more of a like. Thankfully, the evenings and mornings are still nice and I found a hammock to fit in my hammock stand.

Sneaking out in the evenings with a book? Yes, please.

More work got done on book three. I delighted in sending both Katira and Isben to be punished for a misdeed. Nothing horrible, just an icky chore that no one else wanted to do. I also planted a few lovely seeds that will grow up into some cool ideas later in the book.

This week I also got to hang out with guys at Dungeon Crawlers podcast and talked about all sorts of nerdy fun ranging from Star Trek to where story inspiration comes from. When I get the air date, I’ll let you know.

Until then, Live long and prosper.

Jodi

Book Review: Ghost Story (The Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher

I did something terrifically stupid by making an assumption that wasn’t true. Somewhere between hearing Dresden fans rave about the books and using the internet to answer a question, I decided that it didn’t matter what order the Dresden Files were read in.

Short answer: It does.

Slightly longer answer: The book still stands up on it’s own, but you miss hoards of character development and relationship backstory which sucks some of the deeper meaning out of it.

Do I regret my decision to dive into the story where I did? Yep. The longer I think about it, the more I realize just how badly I’ve shot myself in the foot. I’ve robbed myself of all those fabulous ah-ha! moments as the story unfolds. Bad author, no cookie. Feel free to chastise me in the comments.

The Story

Harry Dresden is Chicago’s first and only Wizard PI. In Ghost Story, he is stripped of all of his usual tools needed to solve cases. He can’t use his magic, can’t interact with the physical world, and can’t even talk to the people he needs to get information from. Even still, with all of this drastic change, he’s got a huge problem to solve and not much time to solve it.

Three of the people he loves most are in danger. To save them he has to solve his own murder. To make matters worse, there is a huge power vacuum left in the world from Dresden’s actions in the previous book. Several nasty entities are rushing into position to take advantage of this opportunity and are creating chaos and havoc at every turn.

My Review

As my first foray into the Dresden Files, Ghost Story was probably the worst possible place to start the story. That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It simply means I’m still kicking myself for not asking an actual Dresden fan where I should start (for those just joining us, it’s at the beginning).

Judging from the thin slice of the Dresden universe I enjoyed, the fans are right. There’s a lot to cheer for here. The characters are fun and unique, the settings gritty and realistic, the narrative voice entertaining, and the overall story is just the right amount of twisty to keep me interested.

I can’t judge Ghost Story against the other books in the series because I did a dumb. But, from the reviews and articles I’ve read, many fans weren’t crazy about the book compared to their love for the other books. Part of this might be the drastic change in Dresden himself where the most entertaining and compelling parts of his character were taken from him and he was forced to flounder in a new and unexpected way.

For me this universe was a new interesting place to explore and I didn’t have any expectations that I hoped the story would meet. I enjoyed the story enough to most likely pick up the other ones, in order this time, and dive into the world the way it was meant to be experienced.

Recommendations

Start at the beginning. No, really. If you’ve never read any of the Dresden Files, don’t start here.

For being a gritty, crime-solving, Wizard PI novel, it’s a pretty clean read. Swearing and intimate content were at a dead minimum if there was any. Dresden’s preferred swear is “Hell’s Bells” if that’s any indication. There are a handful of graphic injuries and intense fight scenes, none of which bordered on horrific for me, but were present.

I’d recommend this for those who like urban fantasy and a story that seems straight forward on the surface, but gets deeper and more complicated the further you dig in. For the graphic stuff and story complexity at the end I’d recommend this for readers no younger than 15.

If you saw urban fantasy and thought sexy vampires would be featured prominently in the story, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

I give Ghost Story 4/5, a good read and entertaining, but I didn’t leave it thinking “Wow.”


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