Book Review: The Dragon’s In the Details

Chism, Holly. The Dragon’s In the Details. 2023 Kindle edition

Dragons come in small packages. And not so small. This collection of short stories features dragons in urban fantasy – big dragons, small, tiny, numerous, and singular. And all of them are life-changing for the women and men who encounter them.

The first story begins with a tired mother and a daughter who is a bit disconcerted to discover a basset-sized reptile in the young lady’s wagon. Happily, the dragon is housebroken. Another story features a pocket-sized dragon. In some cases, the dragons change size, or mass (mostly). They can be singular or numerous. In all cases, they are forces for good.

One of the linking themes in these short stories is healing. The human characters recover from the past, from sorrow, from bad deals or other problems. Another theme is self-reliance.All the characters are doing what they can with what they have when a dragon or two appear in their lives.

The stories are all short, as is the collection. It is a treat of a book to be dipped in and out of, or read through. I’d recommend reading and coming back. There is a similarity in the stories beyond theme and style. This isn’t bad, just noticeable in spots. It’s light as well. Any violence is limited, and makes the collection suitable for mid-teens and up.

It’s a fun little read, good for a rainy afternoon, or waiting for an appointment, or any time you want some dragons in your life. (And cats. there are a few cats as well. More or less. Ish.)

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use and received no remuneration or consideration from the author for this review.


I Miss Louis Rukeyser

Friday nights at RedQuarters were reserved for Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser™. This program ran on PBS from 1970-2002, and featured discussions about current events, financial matters, stocks and bonds, and other things. Louis Rukeyser was low key, began with a little humor and (usually) a few terrible puns, and then the panel would take up the discussion. The panel included stock brokers, bond people, corporate financial specialists, the occasional economist, and sometimes historians and Mr. Rukeyser senior. The elder gent had been a financial reporter who covered the stock market in 1928-1970s and brought a very long-term view to the program.

One of the points repeated over and over on the program was that short-term investments are not everything. Investing for the very long term is the smarter way to go. Mr. Rukeyser and his associates looked five to ten years down the road. What did the company produce? Was it something people could use? What was the price to earnings ratio? Dull, pedestrian companies that made goods or provided services that everyone needed (like light bulbs, or lawnmowers, or basic groceries) would be better than the stock-of-the-moment.

I also remember this:

Part II:

And part III:

It is the opening monologue after the Monday market tumble in 1987. “It’s just your money, not your life.” His guests included two of the most important men then working on Wall Street, and a retired power in the market. Rukeyser’s observations as to the purported causes of the Crash sound rather familiar. His calmness was a refreshing reminder that there are more important things than the folly of the week.

That incident introduced me to the concept of “bottom fishing,” where long-term investors buy stocks of steady, producing companies after the crash. At the time, this was before day-traders and personal computer-based investing, so it tended to be regional—Midwestern investors bottom-fished after the East Coast gurus panicked and dumped solid stocks at fire-sale prices.

I miss the calm, mature voice of reason in financial news. Today it feels as if the entire purpose of shares, bonds, and so on has vanished into the past, and nothing exists but gambling. I know part of that is how trading has developed, with personal investing and the federal governments requirements for all sorts of things. Some of those requirements are good. As we can see with certain personnel at Silicon Valley Bank, some of those requirements led to less-than-ideal people in certain positions. The days of John Templeton, Louis Rukeyser, and that generation are gone.

Still, I wish Louis was still around to give a bit of calming, gentle humor and steady perspective to the events of the day, week, and year.

Seasonal Confusion, or The Other March Madness™

The poor plants. Some are blooming, some are thinking about opening their leaves, and a few are hunkered down swearing that they won’t get caught this year. Humans are trying to decide how many layers of what we need to wear. And then there’s the [unkind words here] time change last weekend. Blargh.

Daffodils began blooming three weeks ago, despite MomRed ordering them to go back to sleep. The first shoots appeared in January, eliciting groans. Everyone has been expecting the worst. It’s not Easter until the daffodils get flattened by snow. Granted, we need the snow, so that wouldn’t be the problem.

The pears started budding out two weeks ago. They are peaking right now, which isn’t great news, since it’s supposed to get into the low 20s later this week. If we get moisture, and if there’s not much wind, and if the highs are warm enough, it might not do too much damage. Maybe. The hawthorn remains un-budded and dormant. It won’t get fooled again. The April that turned most of the garden into plant-jerky almost did in that tree, and since then, it blooms later than average. The plum trees are budding right now, as well. Wisteria remains dormant and I didn’t even see buds on the two I pass on my walks. They must have talked to the hawthorn.

The roses . . . Are starting to put out shoots, those that survived. At least two are dead, mort, defunct. One of those was new, and had been doing OK until it got into the 60s back in January, then dropped to the single digits. That seems to have killed it. Most of the new leaves are on the roots, which is OK for the roses at RedQuarters. All are own-root. We gave up on grafts a decade ago. However, I suspect a lot of places will lose grafted roses. I’m torn between uncovering the new growth so it gets sun, or burying it in mulch to shield it from the forecast for the latter half of this week.

And then there’s the people. With days starting in the upper 20s and then peaking in the 60s, layers are necessary. Which jacket? Big coat and then lug it around later? Will this shirt be too warm or is the wind high enough that I need something else? Should I start digging out lighter-weight pants or wait?

Spring is SO confusing around here. But we are getting moisture. RedQuarters had .10″ on Tuesday morning. It looks as if, perhaps, the La Niña pattern is shifting to neutral or even an El Niño. Either one will bring more chances for water, which this part of the country needs.

Tuesday Tidbit: What Ails The Bird?

A professional comes by to check on the injured great-hauler.

Two days later, Saxo staggered along from the grain-shed to the food mixer. The sack felt as large as he was. Mistress Carys waited by the machine. She’d already put green hay into the mixing box. “Saxo! That’s Huw’s job, not yours.” She planted her fists on narrow hips. “Where’s Huw?”

“Helping Master Agri, ma’am. They are training the new lead female, and Huw told me to bring this to you.” And do all the other things that needed to be done. “All in, or just part, ma’am?”

She pursed her lips, then murmured something firm-sounding as she helped him up the short ladder. She handed him the blunt awl they used to unstitch the top of sacks. “Half. Otherwise I can’t turn the crank. You need to watch the mix. The hay is very wet.”

“Yes, ma’am.” It might clog the paddles, and someone needed to catch it before the machine locked up. He poured in the grain, working it back and forth in an even layer. Mistress Carys took the half-empty sack, and handed him the slender eich rod they used to break up clumps. “Thank you, ma’am.”

She rubbed her hands together, took a firm grip on the handle of the crank, and began to turn the paddles. She was stronger than she looked, but she gritted her teeth as the wooden paddles began to churn the grain and hay together, breaking up the hay and softening the grain. Saxo watched, poked a lump, then bumped some hay back down into the middle of the box. Mistress Carys kept working, her upper body rocking up and down as she cranked.

“Greetings in the name of the Lord of Beasts,” a cheerful voice called, but quietly. Mistress Carys kept cranking, so Saxo waved to Master Jeaspe. The beast healer wore the brown and red robes of Yoorst over thick brown trousers and very sturdy boots. The priest came closer. “Mistress Carys, why are you doing that? That’s work for a man.” He smiled, teasing a little.

She stuck her tongue out as she straightened up. “And greetings to you, too. Because my husband is trying to convince a new female to act as lead. Saxo, please show Master Jeaspe the ailing bird.”

“Yes, ma’am. This way, sir.” Saxo leaned the rod against the outside of the wooden mixing box, climbed down the ladder, and led the beast-healer to the gelding’s pen.

“What ails the bird, Saxo?”

“I think he was stung, or bitten, or got a bramble in his leg, sir. It swelled around a white-centered lump, and felt hot to the touch. He favored that leg.” Saxo started to open the gate to the pen.

Master Jeaspe held up one hand, stopping him. “Let me see from here, first.” Saxo stepped well clear of the gate and waited. The gelding strode over to study the beast healer, turning his head from one side to the other. The gelding’s eyes were bright and clear, and his long neck had no swellings or missing feathers—the warning signs of throat-apple. The gelding moved better, and the swelling on his injured leg had gone down by at least half. The bird blinked, then turned and walked over to get a drink. The healer said, “He looks almost well. I’ll check him now.”

Saxo opened the gate, then closed it once more when Master Jeaspe entered the pen. The healer made soothing noises as he approached the gelding. The healer’s head was almost as high as mid-neck on the great-hauler, even though he didn’t look that tall. Or was the gelding smaller than most? Saxo hadn’t noticed before. As the healer hummed, Saxo felt himself relaxing like the bird did.

The gelding blinked and turned, presenting his injured leg to the beast healer. Master Jeaspe called quietly, “Saxo, what did you use in the poultice?”

“Betony, clary root, lumpwort, and one leaf of stinging stem, pounded with cold water,” he recited. “Goodwife Eadburg said to rub it in line with the hair. I put it on with a cloth, not my hand, and ran down the feathers, not against.”


Saxo blinked as the man held his right hand just above the injury. He saw something, maybe a little reddish brown glow? Master Jeaspe nodded and inspected the leg, still making soothing sounds. The gelding remained calm, crest feathers relaxed, wings still. The beast healer straightened up and eased back with slow, smooth steps. He kept his eyes on the gelding until he reached the gate. Saxo opened it once more, and the healer eased out.

“It was a thorn. Here.” He held out his hand, revealing a black-thorn spike as long as the top joint on Saxo’s little finger. “Your poultice drew it out as well as keeping the healing humors in. You did very well, Saxo.”

Saxo looked down at the dirt. “Thank you, sir.”

“Well? How bad’s the injury?” Master Agri demanded, stomping up to them. Huw followed behind, holding one arm. Dirt covered Huw’s sleeve, and Saxo hid a wince. The female had kicked him, or nipped. Probably kicked, since the fabric wasn’t torn.

“It could have been very bad.” Master Jeaspe showed the others the thorn. “These have a poison in their nature. Saxo’s poultice drew out the poison with the thorn and cooled the heat. Another day, and you can use the gelding for light work. Don’t ask him to pull a full load until after the next Eight Day.”

“Huh.” The bird breeder glared at Saxo. “So the boy’s got a knack. Good to know.”

Master Jeaspe folded his arms. “Who are your gods, Saxo?”

“Born for Yoorst, born to Korvaal, although the priest wasn’t sure on that,” Master Agri said. “Priest thought he might be born to Scavenger, depending on if he was born before or after noon.”

The healer frowned and rubbed his chin. “Saxo, have you ever had temple training?”

Master Agri jumped in before Saxo inhaled to speak. “No need, Master Jeaspe. He’s a charity child, so he can read names and numbers, and count. He doesn’t need more than that.” The healer’s frown grew deeper, and the farmer added, “Does he? Did the law change?”

Master Jeaspe glanced to Saxo, then Huw, and back to Master Agri. “Not the law. He may have the gift for herb healing, and that needs to be trained. The Great Northern Emperor has reaffirmed the decree that all gifts are to be trained, even if the bearer does not use them again. If Saxo has the gift, he needs to learn how to use it properly, so he doesn’t accidentally do more ill than weal.”

Saxo risked a glance at Huw. The older boy’s face had folded into a ferocious scowl, anger burning in his dark green eyes. What was wrong? Suddenly Saxo remembered. The feed mill! Mistress Carys needed him at the feed mill. Saxo bowed and hurried back to the machine. He shouldn’t have stayed with Master Jeaspe. “I’m sorry, Mistress Carys,” he called as he slid on the dirt. Two baskets of mixed feed needed to be moved. “I won’t forget again.”

“You didn’t forget. The beasts come first, and you’d gotten all the lumps out for me. Move the full baskets to the barn, and I’ll load these two.” She nodded to the two full containers of fresh feed.

“Yes, ma’am.” Saxo wrestled one off the ground and staggered with it to the barn, then returned for the second one. A third waited by the time he finished. They were more bulky than heavy, but even so, he felt tired when he finished moving the fourth basket. “I’ll get more fresh hay.”

She stopped him with a raised hand and a small frown on her round face. “No. Rinse your hands and break your fast. I know you didn’t eat what I sent, so do it now.”

Thanks be to Gember! “Yes, ma’am.”

He rinsed his hands, then bolted the food and followed with several gulps of water. The heavy, sausage-smeared bread filled the hole inside him. He trotted to the hay pile and grabbed an armload. He’d learned how much he could carry without wasting any. He hurried back to the feed grinder and climbed up the ladder. Mistress Carey steadied it, and him, as he dropped the hay in the box. He made sure it was evenly spread, then ran back to the pile and got a second load. He’d finished, and was adding the last of the grain by the time Master Agri and Huw finished their business.

Huw’s left arm looked fatter. “That’s why you need to watch the crest feathers,” Master Agri reminded him. They start going flat, and you hear that hiss, you need to either get clear or step so close the bird can’t put force in the blow.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll never forget, sir,” Huw assured the beast-raiser. He sounded tired. Saxo looked away, picking up the eich rod and pretending he had not seen or heard.

“Go rest,” their master ordered. Huw bowed, sort of, and staggered a little as he went to the barn. Once he’d left, Master Agri growled, “Of all times to get kicked. Just a muscle bruise, but a bad one. Master Jeaspe agreed to ease it, then applied something to pull out the heat.”

Saxo bit his tongue to keep from making a sound. That meant Huw couldn’t do even the little things until he healed. It wasn’t fair. Everyone knew you stayed far away or very close to an untrained great-hauler, or one that acted agitated. Well, Radmar had turned His Wheel, and Yoorst only know what Huw had done, or not done, to irritate the young female.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Book Review—Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods

Collins, Andrew. Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods. The Temple of the Watchers and the Discovery of Eden. (Bear and Co. 2014) Kindle Edition

The book wasn’t quite what I expected, but the first half or so is a great description of fascinating archaeology. Then the book gets Odd. The introduction by Graham Hancock gives readers a large hint that this is not a standard academic or even popular archaeology book. Which was a bit disappointing, but I still learned a great deal, even if I did a lot of eye-rolling toward the end.

The author, Andrew Collins, became intrigued by Neolithic and Paleolithic sites that don’t seem to fit what most archaeologists accept as the standard progression of society and culture in terms of technology and organization. The overall idea is that over time, small groups of hunter-gatherers coalesced on occasion into larger groups for rituals and socializing, then scattered out again, but that they never really built major structures (with a tiny handful of exceptions, including the complex at Salisbury Plain in England, and Göbekli Tepe, and Catalhuyuk in Anatolia.) At some point, agriculture began to complement, then slowly replace the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in much of Eurasia. These developments happened locally, to meet local needs, and agriculture also spread relatively slowly. That’s the standard.

The first part of the book is a study of the site of Göbekli Tepe. It is a collection of megaliths (carved standing stones in this case) that seem to be part of a larger complex of structures. Some of the stones and the buildings were aligned with particular stars and constellations back when the complex was built. There’s not an obvious local development pattern at Göbekli Tepe that archaeologists have found yet, unlike Salisbury in England. I emphasize yet, because Anatolia – modern Turkey – is a comparatively understudied area. This chunk of the book is great, and the author is careful to note what we can 100% confirm, what archaeologists are mostly certain about, and what is speculation or is based on computer modeling.

Then the book launches into speculation based partly on the Apocryphal book of 1st Enoch, Genesis, and some other texts, plus theoretical archaeology, and some other things. Collins believes that the remnant survivors of a superior culture (not necessary alien, but certainly odd-looking) were forced from their homeland in the north by a terrible disaster. They spread, and taught the people of Anatolia and elsewhere metalworking, construction, and to remember a terrible flood, among other things. These people remained semi-separate, and were priests and leaders until they finally died out. The Book of Enoch preserves some of this in the description of the fallen angels who had relations with men, and of the skills they taught mankind. Collins then combines this with Genesis to find the Rivers of Eden and perhaps the Garden of Eden itself in the mountains near Göbekli Tepe.

Collins writes well, and the story is intriguing. If you are interested in lost civilizations, prehistory, and what-ifs, it’s a great book. As I said above, the first half or so had solid archaeology and was quite clear what’s known vs. theorized vs. private speculation. The second half I read as an interesting fiction. My difficulty with Hancock, Collins, and others is that they have to pull too many stray bits and pieces together. Francis Pryor’s understanding of the Salisbury Plain complex, for example, is simpler and fits the evidence without requiring a super-civilization in the past. The photos and diagrams are very good, and the book has decent maps.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use and received no remuneration or consideration from the author or publisher for this review.

Complexity as Rebellion?

One of the things that I enjoy about some symphonic metal is the complexity of the harmonies and parts. You have basic rhythm (percussion and bass guitar or equivalent), vocals (usually but not always), and then harmony instruments (keyboard, brass, woodwinds, other keyboard, entire orchestra, folk instruments . . .) Harmonies and rhythms shift more than the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-up a half step-verse-chorus-cadence. I also listen to much simpler music – chant, some folk music, early rock and metal. There’s a time, place, and mood for everything. Harmonies appeal to me, even in otherwise very plain-seeming music.

I’ve griped in the past about pop music, especially church pop (praise choruses), and how there’s no “there” there. Now, granted, praise choruses have a purpose and are supposed to be semi-hypnotic, because that’s their function in worship in that style of service. Chant can also have that effect, perhaps. Not for me, but if you have been doing it daily for decades . . . Why is pop music so simple now, more so than in the 60s-80s? Simple sells.

It’s not just me. And it’s not just AutoTune and programs of that ilk. The marketing people want to tuck performers into the same box, because that box sells. Like all the “produced by” “Irish” music that has some nice moments but all sounds the same once it comes out of the mixing equipment. “Celtic Thunder” ain’t early DeDannan or The Bothy Band or the early Chieftains.

The more popular a genre of music grows, the simpler it gets. Which . . . might explain why symphonic metal and its offshoots, folk metal, and some others remain thick and complicated. Not always, because not all songs and moods benefit from complexity. A ballad can work perfectly or even be more effective with just a lone voice. (“The Cruel Mother/ Greenwood Sidie-o” being one classic example.) Symphonic Metal and Friends has its own fan base, will probably never, ever dominate the pop charts, and will always have that outsiders’ edge to it. Given that two groups are composer led (Nightwish and Xandria, Avantasia sometimes), complexity will probably remain more of a trait in the genre, at least for the foreseeable* future. To have multiple harmonic shifts and to trade parts back and forth with a choir as the brass does their thing, then drop to lead vocalist, guitar, and keyboard for the core of the piece, and to do it all well, might be a way of rebelling against the mainstream.

“Simplify it? Oh [rude words] no. I’m gonna polyphony the h-ll out of it! Listen to this!”

(Hmmm. Does this mean that groups like Freedom Call and Twilight Force, which use no swear words and have no references to sex, are rebelling against the rebellion?)

*Covid19, the economy dropping as energy prices rise, especially in Europe, might continue to encourage smaller sounds. Perhaps. Or something else no one has predicted yet, like a computer virus that takes out all the electronic keyboards on the planet.

State of the Author – March ’23

The next Merchant book is at 32K words. I hope to make decent progress this coming week.

I have three stories to finish for the next Familiar Generations collection. They are on the back burner for the moment. I do not have release dates for either of those.

Two short stories or novellas, both music inspired and both fantasy, are also on the back burner. They are not part of any series at the moment.

I’m reading a number of books, including Charles Murry’s By The People. Just his descriptions of Supreme Court cases makes the book useful for me. I’m not entirely sure about some of his ideas, but he makes good arguments and it’s a great spring-board for discussion.

David Carrico’s The Blood is the Life is good thus far. How can you be a faithful Orthodox Jewish vampire? Carrico does characters very well, and I’m enjoying the book.

Trying a Little Too Hard to Rehabilitate Baba Yaga

So, I’ve been reading a compendium of various tales and discussions about Baba Yaga and figures like her in Slavic mythology and folklore. Some of it is very interesting, and cautious about reading too much into things. Other parts . . . When the quote begins with a paean to Marija Gimbutas, you know where it’s going to go. Baba Yaga is the misunderstood mother goddess, the Matriarch, the creatrix, the mother-of-creatures, and so on. She was vilified by the mean, nasty, unwashed* Christian priests and turned into an evil monster, but the real Baba Yaga is the Great Goddess who terrified the would-be patriarchs and so—

Sigh. It gets boring and predictable after a while. “If it was before Christianity, it must have been good! Otherwise the churchians wouldn’t say that it’s bad and try to chase people away from it, and women ran the place and everyone lived in harmony with nature and was kind and vegan and loved trees and—” Everything was better either before Christianity, or before the Proto-Indo-European speakers arrived with horses and patriarchy. Which one you choose depends on your starting point and which sort of paganism you assume predominated in the place and time under discussion. I’m still waiting to hear someone talk about how China was so wonderful before the terrible Confucians arrived. (No one seems to beat up on the Xia and Shang Dynasties, even though they were patriarchies that encouraged large scale human sacrifice. And horse sacrifice, once they had horses.) The “prehistory was better” wail has a long history with a lot of predictable variations. Like the Slavic neo-pagan who wants to rehabilitate Chernobog. I stopped reading at that point, because I did not care to know how he thought modern neo-pagans should venerate that particular deity in their family religious observances.

Anyone who has read more than one Baba Yaga story knows that she’s both good and bad. She punishes the arrogant, rewards the faithful (Vasilia the Wise), tests the noble, and can be a force of evil. It depends on the story. That means that she’s old, very old, very complicated, and there are probably a number of other stories and traditions that get lumped in under the name of Baba Yaga. The little house on chicken feet might have one foot, or four feet. It may whirl around constantly, it might peck and scratch around the yard like a “normal” chicken, or it might even be up in a tree (only a few stories). The fence may be a standard fence, it might be made of bones topped by human skulls that glow at night. Baba Yaga might travel in a wooden or iron mortar, driven with the pestle, while sweeping away her tracks with a broom. Or she might ride on the mortar (think something more like an American-style upright churn than the short, squat mortar and pestle mostly used today) like riding a horse.

Oh, and her cat is really a folk-memory of the lions who accompany the Great Goddess. Really.

Sure, she might be a “demoted”deity. Or she might be one of the many characters in human archetypes who shifts her nature depending on the person seeking her power or her possessions. Coyote, Anansi, Frau Pechta, some of the unofficial saint stories, the good ruler in some folk-tales, they can all be good or evil, or be seen as good or evil.

Although I think the “Baba Yaga is a folk memory of aliens” and “Baba Yaga and a male partner were Vedic yogis who brought wisdom to the pre-Slavic peoples of Russia” may be my favorites.

*OK, in some cases the unwashed part wasn’t wrong. Some Russian Orthodox clergy gave up bathing, or stopped bathing in winter and then took a rinse before Easter.

Beef or Berries? Seasonal Foods of the Past

A repeat from 2016.

Do you buy meat or vegetables? Do you choose your groceries based on the outside temperature? For most people reading this blog, I suspect the answer is no, unless the air conditioner has died and you look at your house or apartment-mate and say “Cook? Forget it. Let’s get ice cream” or you go to an air-conditioned bar for a cold one. Or you are stocking up in case a winter storm takes the power out for an extended period (let’s see: chili in a can, stew in a can, bread, powdered milk, corned beef hash in a can, and so on.) ‘Twas not always so, something that a few writers of historical fiction occasionally miss. Continue reading

T.N.N. – Teacher News Network

Some weeks back I wandered into the main workroom at Day Job to make a copy and see if I had any mail. Two large bags of popcorn slouched on top of the big table. By large, I mean two feet tall, and almost as round, or so it seemed. One had been opened the day before during an open house event. The other remained unsampled, as best I could tell.

I made my copy and read the tag on the unopened bag. “Kettle Corn.” Oh. Oh dear. Beside the big bag was a smaller bag with fold-your-own popcorn boxes. So I did. It was perfect kettle corn, a little sweet, a little salty, but not overwhelming.

As I was munching away, Mrs. Hankie (the middle-school counselor) came in. She gave me a curious look. I held up the box. “Kettle corn. High fiber, low fat.”

“Kettle corn?” She came over and sampled a bite. “Ooh. That’s my weakness.”

Munch, munch, munch.

When I returned almost two hours later, still before lunch, almost half the huge sack of kettle corn was gone. The Teachers’ News Network had struck again.