Saturday, April 14, 2018

Upstream Updates: April Edition!

It's been a few weeks, but so much has happened since then!

The Starborn Legacy

To begin with, I am just about to put the second round (and hopefully the last!) of edits on my short story for the upcoming anthology! I am super-excited about this, more so because when I got the first edits back last week, there were a lot of changes and tweaks made, and I feel like every one of them has made the story even better than the first time I wrote it! It's a great story by now, and I can't wait to see it in print!

The Dragon's Mark
Next on the Short Story Docket, the "Cinderella + Dragons" story I wanted to write was just not coming for me... I even had a mock cover and everything, and so many potential plots, you would think I would just be rolling in the words by now.... but no! Not even the advice and aid of the people who volunteered input would help make the words go like I wanted them to... Discouragement was imminent...
Then a friend happened to mention the epic plot I had come up with for "The Legend of The Ecrivaine", which, as some of you might know, was the theme for the second "volume of The Suggestion Box series. All of a sudden, in the midst of struggling to come up with something entirely new, I realized that I could just as easily re-purpose an old plot, the same way I did for "The Starborn Legacy." All of a sudden, the plot unfurled, my muse decided to cooperate, and I am pretty sure I can get something slammed out by May, just like I wanted!

Speaking of "getting things slammed out.....

The Last Inkweaver

Huzzah! We now have 12 chapters, I'm finally OVER 50,000 WORDS (which, okay, I know I supposedly had back in November, in order to "win" NaNoWriMo, but in reality, about half of my winning word count was just the notes I had drawn up for it, not so much the actual story... but now that is not the case!) and the beauty of it is... I just compared where in the story I'm at in Draft 2 with where I had reached by 50K in Draft 1... and there's SO MUCH more story there, even as I'm going SO MUCH slower through the actual events of the plot! I know it's exceptionally wordy at the beginning, and it probably still is even at this point, but the fact that I was able to expand and expound, go farther and deeper with the characters is a massive encouragement, and I can't wait to see how many other changes unfold as I keep writing! For now, Callista, Terra, and Rowinna have survived an encounter with "Blackrope", a mysterious black vine with the viscosity of pitch, that seems to have a mind of its own and tends to spread all over everything... They have effectually joined forces with Matthias, who promptly took over as "the man of the group" and is leading them to Aberon... which, for those of you who followed Draft 1, you know doesn't turn out very well... Exciting times!

Other Goals: Word Count Tracking and Reading

Also new this month, is keeping track of my writing with a site called It's been absolutely fantastic! I can log words, and the graph shows up in pretty, customized colors, different for each project I'm working on... it's a great tool to have, and I'm pleased with all I've been able to do with it; even the "uncategorized" writing counts, and I'm getting the hang of all the writing that I actually do in a week or a month!

As far as reading goes... The next indie book I'm reading to feature is Fire's Song by J. E. Mueller; I've also been back to the library a couple times, picked up and read Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, got the next book in Sue Grafton's "ABC Mysteries" series, featuring Kinsey Millhone (Letter S! I'm nearly done with the alphabet!) and also picked up Veronica Roth's Carve The Mark. I'm curious to see how well she does outside the Divergent series.

How about you? What have you been up to this month? Let me know in the comments!

Catch You Further Upstream!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"What We've Unlearned: English Class Goes Punk" by Jeffrey Cook, et al.

Synopsis from Amazon:
14 high school English class favorites reborn. 14 ’punk versions you’ll have to read to believe! As a Connecticut Yankee is drawn from her bleak future life into the past, will the love and purpose she finds endure? After the robot Tom Sawyer’s house burns down, will Aunt Polly be safe if she takes him in? When Beowulf’s diesel-mechanized force of mercenaries goes up against their strongest foe yet, will it survive the conflagration that threatens their entire world? What We’ve Unlearned: Classics Go Punk is the fourth book in the series of ’punk stories (steampunk, cyberpunk, dieselpunk and more) inspired by classic stories you likely read in high school English class. Original stories are by Hans Christian Andersen, Jane Austen, the Beowulf poet, Carlo Collodi, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Christopher Marlowe, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Mark Twain. All profits are to be donated to PAWS Lynwood, an animal shelter and wildlife rescue located in the Pacific Northwest. If you like a fresh take with a unique spin—including dirigibles, roaring diesel engines, and mechanical beings becoming alive—then you’ll love this anthology by Writerpunk Press. Unlock What We’ve Unlearned: Classics Go Punk to stray a bit from the beaten path and reexamine what you love about your favorite stories.

My Review: 
It isn’t often that I reach the end of a book and immediately want to read it over again from the beginning... But when I do, it is definitely a good book.

The Writerpunk group does it again! I swear, this is one group of artists who don’t quit! After being slightly “on the fence”, as it were, about my feelings for the second Shakespeare Goes Punk anthology falling slightly short of the rousing success of the first, I can definitely return to those first feelings because SWEET MOTHER OF ALL THINGS PUNK everybody absolutely nailed it this time! I could practically hear the original authors laughing and applauding at the fantastic adaptations these writers accomplished!

The anthology begins with "A Connecticut Rigger In King’s Court" (based on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), a delightful cyberpunk/steampunk adventure by none other than Lee French. I knew I was in for a treat when I reached a certain exchange of dialogue and could not stop laughing! It was a delightful synthesis of two eras, exactly the way Twain tried it two hundred years ago, and it boded well for the rest of the book!
After the feel-good story, the anthology took a dramatic turn into the sweet-and-slightly-creepy clockpunk rendition of Pinocchio, called “Aurelia Awakes.” The sheer magnitude of the concepts addressed in the story had me gasping. Those who know the story know just how dark it really is, even the Disney version, and it fits nicely into the genre twist, near-gothic vibe of the tale. Excellent choice, and a striking adaptation!
There was a “classic punk”edition of a Sherlock Holmes mystery… but I wasn’t altogether sure where the “twist” part came in, since it felt more like a repeat of the original than the other stories here, but oh well!
I admit I was terribly excited to arrive at last at Nils Visser’s contribution, "The Rottingdean Rhyme"—a delightful little steampunk adventure based on a Rudyard Kipling poem I hadn’t read… but all the Visser charm worked together to make a marvelous story and characters I was positively smitten with!
The next few stories were fascinating, more because I was unfamiliar with the source material for most of them, but on the whole, I found them interesting stories in their own right: In "The Scout", the cyberpunk rendition of a Jack London short story carries all of the weight of peril and isolation that comes with exploration in barren lands that the original author communicated—this time, on a faraway planet, cut off from the rest of civilization by many lightyears instead of miles of ice. I wasn’t familiar with the source for the story "The War Room", and while I found the dieselpunk "Bea Wolf" entertaining, again, it didn’t carry the familiarity of some of the others—such as the steampunk Tom Sawyer, "AutomaTom."
Zounds, Gyzander is good at what she does! Consistently, in all the anthologies, she delivers a poignant, heartfelt story with vibrant characters and top-quality entertainment value… and this was no exception! Aunt Polly’s interactions with the automated Tom hold a quaint sort of intrigue, and the conflict she builds is both singular and full of hope. Marvelous!
Of course, as I ramble on through this review that wasn’t supposed to be this long (I’m trying, I promise!) I cannot dismiss my feelings for the “myth-punked” version of The Little Mermaid, titled "Muddy Water Promises." Striking, beautiful, and enchanting—it would be exactly what I would want someone to come up with, as far as adaptations of this story go, and Michelle Cornwell-Jordan executes it spectacularly.
As for the rest of the anthology, they were mostly steampunk: Anne, Buttons and Birds, based on Anne of Green Gables in absolutely the best way possible; a beautiful multi-punk rendition of a poem I didn’t know; A new rendition of Northanger Abbey (Set in a space colony, no less!) called "Of Folly and Fallibility" (Though this source work is one of the few Jane Austen I hadn’t read, but her quaint charm effused through even this delightful adaptation!); Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins (or as I like to call them, “The Wonder Duo”) teamed up again for a Steam-, cyber-, and Teslapunk version of A Christmas Carol called "The Consolidated Scrooge" and it is not to be missed—finishing off with a rousing steampunk “Huck Finn Versus The World”, which had quite a lot to say about the portrayal and judgment of “coggers” that would have had Twain himself handing out lusty huzzahs!

It goes without saying that this book gets a *****5 STAR***** rating, and the biggest most heartiest Upstream Writer Certified EMPHATICALLY RECOMMENDED. This review has rambled on long enough, but I cannot stress how important it is for everyone reading this to add this delectable tour of classic literature in new and exciting ways to your bookshelf, as a fitting contemporary companion to all the works represented therein.

Further Reading: (Other Works By Contributing Authors)

Dawn of Steam Trilogy--Jeffrey Cook
      -First Light
      -Gods of The Sun
      -Rising Suns 
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight
        -All's Fair
Spirit Knights--Lee French
       -Girls Can't Be Knights
       -Backyard Dragons  
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd

Friday, March 23, 2018

Reader's Review: "Charon Unguarded" by A. H. Johnstone

Synopsis from Amazon:
Charon was once the Ferryman of the Underworld. Now he’s the doorman of a disused office block. If only the old Gods hadn’t lost that drunken bet all those centuries ago, things would be very different. For a start, Ragnarök probably wouldn’t be on its way.
Ra is looking for a way of escaping the mortal realm, but there’s something about his plans he isn’t telling everyone.
Maybe Charon is the only one who’s noticed. He certainly seems to be the only one who cares. But can he do anything about it? It looks like he’s going to try. But there are others who might profit from the situation, and the last thing he wants is the Fae Courts breathing down his neck.

My Review:

Supernatural/mythological fiction has seen a sharp uptick in popularity, especially with the likes of Rick Riordan and Neil Gaiman taking a stab at the more popular pantheons. Religion in literature is a hairy thing to contend with, especially if you do it wrong and end up either bashing other religions, or shoving a certain religion very un-subtly in your reader's face. Somebody like Brandon Sanderson, for example, and his Mistborn series saw several para-religious themes carried out in a balanced and respectful way, paying homage to many different beliefs. In the realm of independently-published authors, I've enjoyed the finesse of authors like K. M. Vanderbilt and the "dynamic duo" of Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins.

After reading this book, I would willingly add Johnstone to their ranks. Merely the fact that, out of all the Greek pantheon, she selects Charon as her main character, lets you know that this isn't going to be an ordinary adventure. The fact that, essentially, the gods have been forced to live in the mortal realm (under our very noses!) is both hilarious and a great way to place all the characters on even footing, though some would rather see about setting themselves up to receive all the power over others.

The thing I loved most about this book was how relatable the characters were. From Charon trying to get Hermes on board with his schemes, to pompous Ra, "Big Boss-Man" Zeus, and the double-dealing Odin--all of them were quite entertaining with their shenanigans! I felt for Charon in his quest to get to the truth of the matter and stop the ones who would just destroy the mortal world and everyone in it because it suited (or didn't suit) their desires... The pain and betrayal he experiences along the way, as well as the unassuming sense of morality he has--all of it came together nicely in a well-paced adventure!

I would absolutely rate Charon Unguarded a full *****5 STARS***** for all the fun I had reading it! It has everything from humor to heaviness, intriguing mystery, twists of peril, and a great many feelings in between! Be warned: once you start, you'll want to just keep reading more about Charon and his quest to save the world, long after the last page of this book!

Further Reading (Supernatural/Paranormal/Pantheons/Multiverse Adventures)

The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight
        -All's Fair 
The Firebird Fairy Tales--Amy Kuivalainen
       -The Cry of the Firebird  
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
  -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
-Skeins Unfurled--K. M. Vanderbilt
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training
        -Angel Eclipsed
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings
        -Grave Measures
        -Grave Dealings  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Spring Has Sprung!

It's been a long time coming... but here are a few updates as to what I've been doing instead of blogging regularly, like I usually do....

Blogging Elsewhere
Just in case you weren't aware, I had a blog post re-posted on the blog of Adam Mitchell, a fellow writer and indie author--and he asked if I would be willing to do a whole series of once-a-month guest posts! So in the last few weeks, I've launched the series, "How To Bring Characters To Life." Feel free to stop by and leave your thoughts, contribute to the discussion, if you like!

Priscilla (Non) Sum

How many of you read the "Priscilla Sum" series? What did you think of it so far? For my part, I'm kind of feeling like I had all this build-up and I was so excited about the upcoming blog series, after the success of "The Clan of Outcasts", I thought I had what it took to create another series right off the bat... but no dice. It's taking far too long (compared to my usual weekly schedule) to complete each part, and so far, there hasn't been much response, so I'm backing off from that one for the time being.

That being said... I do have several projects already in action!


April/May: "The Starborn Legacy" is going to be a thing!! The anthology I submitted it for is back after an unexpected hiatus, and we are on track for a May release. Stay tuned for more information as we get closer! I'll definitely keep you all posted!

Also in April, there will be confirmation as to whether "Heartsong" will be part of another anthology (release pending), so that's something else I have to look forward to in the coming months!

June: June is the submission deadline for yet another anthology--and this one will be different, because for the first time, I'm submitting to an anthology produced by a group to which I do not already belong... so this will be a new and exciting experience for me! The theme is "Cinderella with a twist", and I had the brilliant idea to add dragons into the mix.... But how? I tried out a few ideas and I'm not completely sold on any of them; unfortunately, I can't get a fix on which idea stands out from the rest as the idea I would choose! So let me ask you, my followers:

Which would you rather read?

Plot A: Low-fantasy, Cinderella set in a human kingdom plagued by dragons who regularly purchase the princess of the kingdoms with gold--but this particular kingdom doesn't yet have a princess. The prince has three days to find his princess, but only the king knows her eventual fate.

Plot B: Cinderella is rejected by her stepmother and stepsister because of a skin condition on her arms and face, that gives her the appearance of "scales" (dry, crusty skin, or hard layers). It helps her with dealing with extreme temperatures and pressure in the course of hard household duties, but it gives her family an excuse to oppress her. There is a ball, and Cinderella tries a few methods of going, but it ends up that the thing everyone rejected about her is the thing that makes her accepted by the rulers.

Plot C: Totally high-fantasy, it's a Fae kingdom, and this time the stepmother and her daughter are "dragons" with the ability to enchant their appearances to make themselves look beautiful, and Cinderella has no such abilities, and so that is the reason she is rejected and demeaned; she is "not special." The question becomes: does she "fit in" by altering her appearance like everyone else does, or does she remain true to herself, and what are the consequences of the choice she makes?

The thing that I need to remember is that the word count limit is 3,500-10,000 words, so I don't want it too over-complicated, but I need to have room to make it unique and intriguing enough to potentially get picked! Help me out, maybe?


Meanwhile, I'm plugging steadily away at The Last Inkweaver. I'm nearly done with Chapter 10, and I'm only as far as the very start of "Phase 4" of the 8 "Phases" of the "Hero's Journey" I'm putting my main character, Callista, through! It's going very well, and I am liking the character development and the way the pieces of the story are shaking out--in short, I'm still alive, writing is still something that occupies my time (even if I haven't updated in a while!), and great things are coming "up the stream"!

Catch You Further Upstream!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 2

Walking back to campus the next day was hard. Not that I told my parents about my experience in the storm; frankly, I had no idea what exactly happened. My subconscious had latched onto the sight, though, and my dreams were full of strange people made of water, malevolent beings intent on smothering and drowning me over and over. I would wake up struggling to breathe, my heart racing. I needed something else to think about. I wanted an alternative for my mind to obsess over, and leave the water-demons behind.

The crisp almost-spring-but-not-over-winter breeze curled around my ankles as I walked past the Regenstein Library for the second time in less than twenty-four hours. I almost made it by without glancing warily around the columns as if the face would manifest again—but the only thing to approach me was a lanky senior with short, curly hair and the faint wisp of a goatee across his chin. He had a familiar sheaf of papers in his hand.
“Priscilla?” he guessed my name, eyebrows arching over dark-brown eyes.
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“Oh good.” He gave a chuckle and thrust the sheaf at me, still in their paper clip. “I’m Ryan, Tony’s TA. He said you needed these back first thing.”
I took my notes, slipping them into my bag. “Thanks,” I eyed Ryan with more than a little confusion. “Is he okay? He was supposed to meet me last night.” I’d meandered the entire breadth of the Regenstein three times before I gave up and sent Tony a hasty “Where r u?” text and marched back home to eat my dinner.
Now it was Ryan’s turn to look puzzled. “Last night? I don’t know anything about that. All I know is, he was in a big hurry this morning when he dropped these off at study hall.” Ryan gave a little half-shrug. “He looked a little flushed, but that was it. He left before I could say anything.” His lips quirked in a tiny grin. “I had to ask around the study hall to find out what you looked like.”
He stopped like I was supposed to react in some way, but I was still in the middle of processing what “he looked a little flushed” meant, or why Tony might be in a hurry.
“Oh,” I muttered to avoid hesitating any longer. “Well, I’m, uh, glad you did.” How else could I end the conversation quickly? I was going to be late for class! “Thanks Ryan; see you around.”
“You bet, Priscilla,” he waved as I walked away.

I stepped into Natural Sciences just as Mr. Gorden walked behind his desk. He looked up, as he normally did, taking a visual roll of the class. I dropped quickly into the nearest seat, and saw his face relax only slightly.
“Good morning, everyone,” he said. “Don’t get out your notes just yet.” He waited a moment for the projector to flicker on, revealing a slide with two words designed to strike fear in the heart of even the most ardent student: “POP QUIZ.”
A groan worked its way through every row.
Mr. Gorden waved a wrinkled, arthritic hand. “Now, now—before you all get too excited, we won’t be taking the quiz right away. First, I have a very special guest I’d like you all to meet.” He stepped back and beckoned forward a man I’d hardly even noticed.
He was very round, both his gut and his face. His eyes were tiny, pinched behind wire-framed glasses. His hair was gathered in one very thick, curly patch on top of his head, with the sides shaved so severely, one could see the fluorescent lights reflecting of his shiny scalp. He grinned at us, displaying most of his enormous teeth.
“Greetings, everyone,” he warbled in his strange, high-pitched voice. “My name is Edgar Montaine, and I want to tell you about a very exciting opportunity coming right to you all the way from—“ he stopped and fumbled with the projector remote until the screen jumped two slides and we were left looking at a random map depicting several known ancient civilizations in Eastern Europe, coded in bright, garish colors. Edgar gestured to one of the areas, a bright-cherry-red blob, and finished his sentence, “Macedonia!”
Half the class promptly leaned back and lost interest in the man. The other half—myself included—leaned forward, eager to learn what the exotic and the unknown lands on the other side of the globe might hold for a bunch of land-locked nobodies like us.
Edgar gripped the edges of Mr. Gorden’s podium with his pudgy hands. “Quick question, who knows where Macedonia is located?”
I raised my hand, and it was only when Edgar looked straight at me and nodded that I realized I’d been the only one.
“Um, it’s an ancient kingdom that used to be part of Greece, isn’t it?” I guessed. Not to mention, last I checked, “Macedonia” wasn’t even supposed to be its name, but I wasn’t about to heap a bunch of information on him like a wannabe-teacher’s-pet.

Edgar’s jowls wobbled as he nodded. “Quite right, excellent! And technically, the area I’m speaking of is part of the ancient kingdom, not the land-locked region currently known as the Republic of Macedonia.” He punched the button on the remote again, and we were treated to a charming aerial photograph of what looked like a raised patch of forest in the middle of a wide expanse of water.
“The island of Fourtouna, off the coast of what is now Greece,” Edgar narrated like some first-century travel guide, “and the last untouched segment of what used to be a thriving kingdom under some of the greatest empires in history.” He flipped through some close-up photos of strange men digging around an astonishing array of artifacts almost too fast for us to follow, talking all the while. “We thought we knew everything there was to know about the place, but once we learned of this island that didn’t show up on any map, we realized that if such a location had lain undiscovered for centuries of exploration, it could potentially carry secrets that would disprove most—if not all—of what we had built around the known borders of the ancient kingdom.”

A tiny shiver worked its way down my spine, and a cool breeze seemed to brush over the little hairs on my arm. A brand new corner of the world, an intact time-capsule of sorts, right in the middle of the Aegean Sea! How exciting!

Edgar must have sensed our growing enthusiasm, because he grinned at us and wagged a thick, stumpy finger. “That’s where you all come in! My group, Fortune Research and Educational Discoveries, otherwise known as F.R.E.D., has been approached by Daeva-Staite Foundation to invite a group of eager students from colleges all across the U.S., to use Fourtouna as a hands-on learning experience, training you in some real archaeology!”

He flipped through pictures of small groups of grungy twenty-somethings like ourselves, giving squinty thumbs-up and usually gathered around a large fixture, like the base of a pillar, or a largely-intact urn. “As you can see, we’ve been digging around Fourtouna for quite some time, and yet,” he flipped to a map roughly in the shape of the island, with a small section highlighted orange, “we’ve only managed as far as this first ridge—there’s still so much left to discover!” His beady eyes wandered over our faces. “Who’s up for the adventure of a lifetime?”

“Not it!” yelled Skylar from the back of the room, garnering loud hoots and snickers from the clowns sitting nearest him, and setting off an extended murmur, peppered with shouts of “That sounds awesome!”
“No it sounds boring as heck!”
“What would you know, loser?”
“Count me in!”
“Do we have to?”

Mr. Gorden took his place at the podium, waving his hands. “All right! All right! Quiet!” he thundered.
The chaos evaporated. The instructor waved a few people bearing stacks of paper forward.
“The blue sheet is a flyer explaining the visit by the Foundation and what it promises for each of our students who are interested. Everyone please take this home and discuss it with your parents. The flyer also provides details about a scholarship opportunity attached with this. If you are definitely interested right now, there is a quiz going around with questions about the Natural Sciences aspect of an archaeological dig. Please take this quiz and turn it in on my desk if you are interested and serious about participating with this opportunity. The highest scores on the quiz will be considered for the trip. That will be your exit task!”

For the rest of the class, there was little noise beyond the rustling of paper. I took a blue flyer and also a quiz. Being a World History major, I knew I could do fairly well. Certainly I was one of the few who actually paid attention at any given moment.

Question 1: Label the geological strata of this core sample taken from a dig in Macedonia.
Question 2: How would the climate of the Aegean Sea affect the preservation of artifacts on the Greek islands?
Question 3: approximately how many known civilizations settled around the Aegean Sea?
Question 4: What natural advantages did the Mediterranean region possess?

I stared at the quiz; a few of the questions, I could figure out, but the more I went on with the short responses and multiple choices, the more it felt like blind guessing. They were all centered around the Mediterranean region, which made sense, but some of the things they were asking, I had to work hard to remember what was the correct answer, and not the easy one.

By the time I sat through Edgar’s spiel in my Ancient Civilizations Class and started the quiz, I finally put together what was confusing: some of the events mentioned in the quiz weren’t ones necessarily that we’d discussed in class, but they were ones that my dad had told me about, when I was younger. He called them bedtime stories, but they were really just legends and myths and epic battles that he would describe before I went to sleep, so that my dreams were filled with super-strong characters or scenes of key moments in bygone eras—whether or not they were historically accurate. Most often not, but now that I was being quizzed about it, I struggled to delineate which was learned in class and which one was fictionalized by Patrick Thiele, Master Storyteller.

To top it all off, I went the entire day with no reply from Tony. I tried asking anyone I knew where he’d gone, or if he’d said anything before he just vanished, but nobody had noticed anything out of the ordinary, and those who did said the same thing as Ryan: “He was really nervous about something, but he never said what it was” or “he did seem really out of it the other day, but the next day he was fine.” After three unanswered texts, and one attempt at calling that rang until it went to voicemail, I just decided to leave it be for the day. I could only hope that whatever it was, he would be back soon, and I’d finally get a straight explanation.

When I arrived home, I stepped inside just in time to see Mom headed across the foyer carrying something gingerly in her white-gloved hands. She paused and smiled at me briefly.
“You’re home early,” she remarked.

I shrugged the bag off my shoulder and set it in the armchair next to the coat rack nestled in the crook of the stairs. “Just a bunch of quizzes this morning. We had an archaeological team visiting, talking about a new dig off the coast of Macedonia, so they wanted to get us interested in doing a student internship trip over spring break.”
Her slender eyebrows arched. She gave me a little nod and kept walking. “Archaeology trip? You would be interested in that sort of thing?”

I followed her down the hallway to the wide room on the east side of the house known as the “exhibition room.” In the original floor plan it might have been a masculine study, but Dad wasn’t much of an “office” person, so Mom used it as a place, she said, to “maintain the display quality of artifacts that were not in use by the museum.”
I stopped in the doorway, the way I usually did when I wandered this way on a whim. The room always felt creepy to me, particularly when it was devoid of people. Mom stopped next to a glass case containing the remains of a woven basket along with the ancient coins found inside.
“Priscilla, why do you hesitate?” she demanded. “Come talk to me.”

I crept forward. The bank of hellish masks leered at me from the walls on either side of the doorway. The one time Tony had ventured into this room, he had immediately voiced his assumption that the masks concealed a network of invisible lasers designed to fry any unwanted intruders. I knew they were just masks, but I scurried past them as fast as I dared.
The entire back wall was lined with pottery fragments and cases of metal implements: a ceremonial knife, a few belt buckles, a necklace, some hinges and brackets from a building that had long-since crumbled. Normally I would be completely weirded out by the time I’d ventured this far into the room, but this time, the artifacts made me think of the Macedonia trip. What would I help find in the heart of Fortuna?
Mom finished lightly placing an ornate bronze pendant in the glass case and sighed. “So,” she slid the pane shut and turned to me with a dubious glance. “Archaeology?”

I huffed. “Mom, I’ve practically grown up with half my house used as a museum; my bedtime stories were all about epic battles and demigods duking it out over petty things that was a simplistic society’s way of explaining science and why things were the way they were...”
“Didn’t you recently ask Pat not to tell you those stories anymore?”
“Not the point!” I pursed my lips. “My point is, why wouldn’t I like archaeology and learning about bygone civilizations and ancient cultures from a logical, informative standpoint.” I glanced past a gilded relief depicting a horribly twisted face. “My problem wasn’t Dad’s stories, per se; it was the way he told them.”
“Priscilla,” Mom wagged her head. “Pat can be a little enthusiastic with his storytelling, but you really can’t fault him for—“

I turned away from the wall of creepy and raised my eyes to glance out of the vaulted skylight. “A little? Mom, he wouldn’t stop giving me the folktale version, all sensationalized and triple-dipped in paranormal. I’d ask him how a thing really happened and he’d launch into this whole big scene with spirits and magic and whatnot, that is what I minded!” I snorted and shuffled after her as she checked moisture levels in the display cases requiring a lot more delicate treatment. “Believe me, I tried asking him to dial it back, to just give me the facts without having to weird me out every time, but he just couldn’t.”
She turned to face me and folded her arms. “What makes you think those weren’t the facts?” she challenged.

I couldn’t understand why a collected, logical person like my mom would be so wishy-washy on the subject of her husband’s version of history. “Mom, honestly! Shapeshifters turning the tides of great battles? Immortal demigods causing the geological anomalies? Trickster spirits altering the course of history? You really think those things could actually happen and we have no actual physical remains of what should be left behind?”
Mom turned to check on a collection of fantastic quartz crystals set or bound with metal, each with a different exotic location across the globe. “Who is to say they didn’t?” she asked.
I wagged my head as we both moved back toward the foyer. “Um, try a whole panel of archaeological experts consulted as content editors for the book that all archaeological students must read.” I didn’t mean to be disrespectful or sarcastic, but I did make a point early on as an adult to be honest with my parents, as they were with me.

Mom frowned at me, and I could feel the goosebumps rippling across my skin at her gaze. “Just because your father has a unique way of telling stories doesn’t make him an idiot,” she warned tersely.

I shrugged. “I never said he was. I just think I am a little over the fictionalizing and sensationalizing of historic events.” My phone buzzed, and I hoped it was a response from Tony. I didn’t dare check it while Mom and I were still talking, though.

She stared at me for a long time in complete silence. Her lips parted, and she looked ready to unleash a verbal smackdown, but instead, she closed her mouth and walked back toward her office.
I sighed and checked my phone. It was a text from Caroline, another classmate, asking if I’d heard from Tony. I sighed and texted her a thumbs-down emoji. Had I missed something important? Where did everyone go?


Monday, February 19, 2018

Reader's Review: "Angel Eclipsed" by C. L. Coffey

Synopsis from Amazon:

Six weeks ago, Angel earned her wings. Six weeks ago, Angel killed an innocent person. Six weeks ago, Angel set Lucifer free.

Michael doesn't accept that Lucifer is alive, let alone free, and he should know – he was the one to kill him. Thankfully, Veronica and the cherubim are on her side, only they seem more interested in proving Michael wrong than helping put Lucifer back in hell.

Then there’s Joshua. Angel is convinced that the best way for her charge to stay alive is for her to stay away. The problem is that Michael is adamant she remain his guardian angel.

Can Angel keep her charge and New Orleans safe from the evil that is lurking, or will her own demons be their downfall?


My Review:

Wow, what a ride!

Even though it's been more than a year since I read the first book in this series, I had no trouble leaping right back into the story. My love for the characters rekindled just as strongly as it had been the first time, and even more so, since Angel and Joshua seem to be getting closer--even as Angel is wracked with guilt over what had happened to him the last time she let him get too close to her. But what else can she do, as his guardian angel?
The challenge to write a strong sequel that both advances plot and character development and manages to leave some plot for the rest of the series, while not stagnating in the process, is a difficult one--but Coffey meets it head-on, and provides consistent, well-rounded characters meeting some perilous conflicts while in the process of furthering the objective introduced in Angel in Training.

The thing I love most about this series is that it follows the characters through some real-life struggles, most notably the "Imposter Syndrome" everyone can relate to, that nagging self-doubt that wonders if the effort is worth it, if you've made the right choice--whether you ought exist at all. Angel is questioning why she should be Joshua's guardian angel; Josh is questioning why he needs a guardian angel at all, and what part he could possibly play in the Grand Scheme; plenty of others are questioning Michael's leadership, as it seems their enemies know how to exist outside of his hitherto-unchallenged omniscience. There were reveals that had me slapping myself for not realizing the significance staring me in the face the whole time, and that's the brilliance of Coffey's work. The plot stands strong, the stakes are higher than ever, the angels are closer than ever before, though the enemy seems leagues ahead of them every step of the way--and I am absolutely committed to seeing this series through to the end!

It is entirely without reservation that I give ANGEL ECLIPSED a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and once again add an Upstream Writer Certified Totally Recommended endorsement! If you're looking for a paranormal series that's not all about teen romance, or overburdened with extreme peril merely for drama's sake; for a solid series with excellent characters, a plot that keeps you guessing, and an intensity that won't quit--The Louisiangel Series is a sure bet on every front!

Further Reading: (Supernatural/Paranormal/Excellent Characters/Intense Peril/Kickass Heroine)

Judah Black Series--E. A. Copen
-Guilty By Association
Alexi Sokolsky: Hound of Eden--James Osiris Baldwin
        -Burn Artist 
        -Blood Hound
 The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings
        -Grave Measures
        -Grave Dealings
Runespells--Sarah Buhrman
       -Too Wyrd
  The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand
       -Ghost Hold
       -Ghost Heart
       -Ghost Hope
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -Dream Stalker
     -Barrow Fiend
The Firebird Fairy Tales--Amy Kuivalainen
       -The Cry of the Firebird
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
-A Spell in the Country--Morgan Smith
-The Seventh Crow--Sherry D. Ramsey 
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -Jacq of Spades
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 1

The bright sunlight sliced through the room at a definite angle, stiff and cold in its precision. Nearly half of the room fixed on what the instructor at the front of the room said, noting down the various algorithms and key points. Among the others, a few pretended to take notes while secretly smashing everything from gems to bugs and cookies under their fingertips. A pair of serious faces tapped away at their netbooks, but only those flanking them knew that the text on the screen had nothing to do with the current lecture, or even with chemical applications whatsoever.

As for me? I like to sit in the third row, two seats from the end. Not committed enough to be on the very edge of the row, but still close enough to the front to catch what the instructor is saying, without being in his or her direct line of sight. Also, being close to the front ensured that I would always be sitting among the more serious students, rather than the ones who apparently didn’t give a flying fig for this class.

“Which brings us to the question,” the professor at the front of the room ceased fussing with the unresponsive projector remote and moved straight into his wrap-up, “What is the significance of this gap in the geological strata?” he gestured back to the last slide, a cut-away of a cliff in Africa, revealing many kinds of fossils embedded across and within each layer save one wide swath of rock that barely contained any. “Use what we’ve learned to prepare a paragraph hypothesis as your writing assignment this week. Dismissed!”
The mad shuffle of papers and textbooks sliding into backpacks and bags commenced, and students vied for space as they headed out the door and split off toward different destinations. I took my time. I had ten minutes to get to my next lesson. I didn’t need to rush off. Besides, I was wearing my nice grey suede booties today, and I didn’t see any sense in getting them scuffed. As the number of students dwindled, a gap opened, and I seized it.

I hardly paid attention to the pressure on the crook of my arm until I had cleared the crowd, and it didn’t let up. I turned to see who it was at the same time the person asked, “Hey, can I borrow your notes from last week?”
I rolled my eyes. “Really, Tony? And the reason you couldn’t review, replay, and re-read all the material to get your own notes is...”
“Come on, Pris!” Tony tried his cool and casual smirk, “don’t be that way. I was sick on Thursday, that’s why I missed those notes.”
I smirked right back. “Are you sure it isn’t because you tend to zone out during these lectures?”
Tony huffed through closed lips. “Hey, it’s not like half the class isn’t doing the same thing.” He smiled. “We can’t all be history nuts like some people!”
I pouted and pretended to be all offended, when really I was proud of that very thing. Getting lost in another time period was a constant fantasy of mine. “Somebody’s gotta preserve the past; the more it disappears, the more we risk repeating the mistakes of our predecessors.”
“Speaking of repeating...” Tony capitalized on another opportunity. “Can I borrow your notes? I promise I’ll give them back!”
I checked my watch. Ten minutes had warped into five. I hadn’t even started across the quad yet. I was going to be late!
I studied my friend’s face. Tony and I had a friendship that went all the way back to grade school. He’d had my back then, when I was a scared little newcomer with no clue how this “school” thing was supposed to work. Tony wasn’t much older than I was, but he looked out for me, waiting for me to get off the bus, coaching me through the intricacies of my day, and fending off those who would try to take advantage of me.
Compared to that, what was a little note sharing now and then?
“Okay, here,” I acquiesced, handing over the requisite pages. “Just get them back to me before the end of the day. I need them before class tomorrow, so I can be ready for the quiz next Friday.”
“Sure thing,” Tony responded, keeping the stack neat and tidy, exactly the way I handed it to him. “I can have it back to you before Calculus tonight.”

I shrugged. “You’d better, I need those.” I fumbled with the strap on my satchel to close it. “On that note, I need to head to Ancient Civ class. We just reached the first century CE, and I’m supposed to be discussing the generational gap between the switch in time reckoning.”
Tony nodded absently. “Hey, a bunch of us from Econ are going out to Giordano’s tomorrow night; want to come?”
I could feel my thoughts spinning as soon as he asked. “Saturday? Well, I—“
A rolling murmur and a flurry of paper exploded just before the icy breeze swept through at just the right angle to slide across the space between us. We both gasped and curled up against the cold. As hard as it blew, the breeze died quick enough to leave shivering people and scattered documents in its wake. My skin tingled as I felt the air heat up several degrees, even though the sky remained just as clear as ever.
Tony relaxed the grimace on his face, as the wind blew his stiff hair into his eyes. “Ow, that hurt,” he grunted.
“I’ve gotta go,” I muttered, sighing and walking toward the building on the south side. “I’ll let you know about Saturday, okay?”
Tony waved. “Sounds good. See you later, Pris.”

I gave a little sigh of relief as I sank into a seat near the front of the room and hauled out her notes binder. My mood lifted as I reviewed the notes from the last session, the colors and the streaks of highlighter splashed over the page. Out of all the classes this semester, I enjoyed Ancient Civilizations the most. The close inspection of the lives of early societies gave me a thrill I just couldn’t find elsewhere. Being able to look back at the early records to decode a person’s search for meaning in their life provided a much-needed distraction from the disappointment and apathy I felt about life in the present.

Not to mention, the instructor, Gina Heathers, had proved uniquely qualified to handle the material in a way that made it memorable.

“All right, everyone!” she finished taking attendance and stood from her desk. I always admired the woman’s style, usually consisting of a small-print shirtdress with a chunky sweater layered over it, complementing her wavy auburn hair. “Let’s get started. We’ve been working on piecing together the lives of certain people groups in the Mediterranean region during the time period spanning the turn of the time reckoning, or as I like to call it, ‘Decoding Year Zero.’ Mikayla, you were looking at the differences in architecture,” she pointed to the girl with the frizzy hair slumped at a table near the door.
Mikayla raised and eyebrow and nodded mutely.
Ms. Heathers displayed all five names on the board, with checkboxes. “David, you covered the arts,” she checked the box next to Mikayla’s name and moved the cursor down the list. “I saw your DQ’s on the iBoard, nice work!” She checked the box as a young man near the middle of the room grinned at the praise.
The cursor moved to the next name, and the redhead sitting next to me promptly dumped her whole backpack onto the table in front of her.
Ms. Heathers tilted her head down to peer over her glasses. “Is everything all right, Cassie?”
Cassie swore, and I couldn’t help but stare askance at the mass of crumpled papers, random article pages, and general disorder sprawling next to her. “Fine! I just… I’m looking—“
The patient professor pursed her lips. “Do you have your assignment on the social ramifications of the generation gap, Cassie?”
The words hit me like that rogue breeze earlier. I stiffened in a mild panic as I read that very title across the top of my own notes. As Cassie continued to freak out and dig through various papers, I raised my hand.
“Yes?” Ms. Heathers gave me her full attention.
I held up the sheaf of papers. “Um, I wrote the notes for that topic this week.”
Ms. Heathers frowned. “You did?” She checked the list of assigned topics. “I wondered why your questions seemed a little off; I think you were supposed to look up the government structures and political hierarchy. Hmm…” she glanced over her notes. “I must have switched those when I gave out the assignments. Oh well,” she shrugged and moved on to the “Featured Presentations” slide. “I guess we can just go with what we have!”

The rest of the hour-long class trudged by, in spite of the lively discussion and thought-provoking questions Ms. Heathers would ask; how could I have gotten the assignment wrong? Ms. Heathers praised my work, and much was made of the fact that Cassie had not completed her work at all, claiming her projects in other classes as an excuse, but Ms. Heathers shook her head.
“Cassie, if you’re going to take the course, you’re going to need to do the assignments I give.”
The redhead crossed her arms and glared at the instructor as if it had been her fault instead of Cassie’s own.
“All right people,” Ms. Heathers addressed her class, “your next assignment will be to read Unit 3, Chapter 4, and complete the State of The World packet. Remember that I am checking my inbox every day, if you have any questions,” her eyes shifted to both Cassie and me in particular, “please, please do not hesitate to ask me!”
Everyone stood and packed their things. I slipped my binder back into the satchel, while Cassie shoved and stuffed loose papers back into her backpack. 

By the time I reached the main courtyard, the sun of the afternoon had disappeared, replaced by a grey, gloomy layer of clouds. Many of the students swarmed out of the lecture halls and toward the nearest dining commons, while others headed for the parking lot or bus stop.
I glanced back toward the tech lab, thinking of Tony tinkering away with circuit boards and wires, but I headed north, toward the towering roofs and pristine streets of the Hyde Park neighborhood. Tucked away in the very heart of the area, I took the road that curved around to a gate between two houses, with a sign proclaiming, “PRIVATE PROPERTY—NO TRESPASSING.”

The strap of my satchel was beginning to dig into my shoulder. I shifted its position as I entered the code that prompted the automatic gate to roll aside.
“Hold the gate!” a voice yelled behind me.

I looked over my shoulder, even though I knew exactly who it was. Only one person I knew had that booming voice that carried over crowds. Only one person looked big enough to take up professional wrestling as a hobby, and yet those who knew him knew that his personality more closely resembled a teddy bear. Only one person was rich enough to buy the largest lot in the neighborhood, yet at the same time completely comfortable walking past stately mansions, his shoulder-length ombre hair twisted in a messy man-bun, wearing nothing but a wetsuit. Even his feet were bare.

That person was Patrick Thiele, the man who adopted me.

“Hi, Dad,” I muttered to him as we walked through the gate together.
His arm curled around me, and he hugged me so close the smell of algae and lake water transferred from his wetsuit to my skin.
“Hey Nosy,” he still used his pet name, from when we first met and I was absolutely curious about everything around me. “Glad I caught you before it closed. How were classes today?”
I huffed. He’d slowed down to walk alongside me, but I was still taking twice as many paces as he was. “Oh, fine,” I gave the standard answer at first, amending with, “Except the part when I turned in the wrong assignment for Ancient Civ class.”
He threw back his head and laughed, prompting a chorus of protests from nearby pigeons in the trees lining the lane. Reaching up, he pulled out the hair tie holding his bun in place. A puff of sand accompanied it, falling over my shoulder as he shook his streaky hair loose. “So all that time you spent studying… all those discussions we had—“
“Yep, worthless,” I agreed. “Well, not quite; actually, the person who was supposed to discuss the turn of the millennia hadn’t done the assignment at all, so it wasn’t like I was being redundant, fortunately.”
“Yes, very fortunate!” Dad broke away as we came up to the house. Built on a slope, the back of the house faced the sun, so there were a lot of windows and a wide balcony for perfect views of both the sunrise on one side, and the sunset on the other. The front of the house had a lot of decorative stonework across the façade, giving the illusion of a stately medieval manor.
“What about you?” I asked, nodding at the wetsuit. “How was sailing?” Dad owned a thirty-foot catamaran he would take out on Lake Michigan almost every day.
“Fantastic! The lake was in one of her moods today—but it’s more exciting that way, you know? It beats just taking the catamaran out for a skim when it’s calm,” he shrugged his burly shoulders.
The wind seemed to pick up again, and I remembered the freak breeze that had swept through the quad at school. I shook my head as Dad opened the massive front door.
“Honey?” he called. “We’re home!”

My mom—Patrick’s wife—came out of her office in the back on the east side of the house. Where Patrick tended to be tousled, laid back, and gregarious, she was more sleek, refined, and subtle. Aurelia DelVento was the youngest daughter of an oil baron, and the money she earned from oil fields all around the world went straight into supporting various charities and social funds. I knew she was also on the board of directors at the Smart Museum, and it was kind of her job to oversee the acquisition of antiquities, at least some of them, anyway.
She typically wore slacks and a formal top, even while working from home, but today she was dressed in a floor-length fire-red gown, and she’d had her hair professionally styled.

Dad let out a wolf-whistle, but Mom nailed him with a look that said Do not touch me.
“Patrick,” she cooed in her smooth, exotic accent. “What was our rule about you entering the house after you’ve been sailing?” She sounded like he was in trouble, but they smiled at each other. She gestured back toward the front of the house. “Use the mudroom shower, please. I’ll bring your suit down for you.”
Dad winked at me and responded with an eye roll, “Yes dear.” He clomped off to clean up.
Mom smiled at me, massaging my shoulders in a no-touch hug like she often did when she was dressed up and I wasn’t.
“How was school, Priscilla?”
“For the most part, it went well,” I answered, letting my satchel slide off my shoulder as I hopped up on one of the padded stools at the floating bar leading to the kitchen. “I’m really liking the classes I’m taking this semester.”
She nodded. “That’s good. You’d better get ready, too, if you’re going with us tonight.”
I frowned. “Going with? Where are we going?”
Mom blinked. “Priscilla, it’s April fourth—the fundraiser gala for your adoption agency, remember?”
April fourth; this time next week would be my “Got’Ya Day,” the day Patrick and Aurelia officially adopted me. Normally I was totally fine doing these things with them—they were my parents, after all, and the best ones I’d ever had.
Tonight, though, the urge to just change into my pj’s and not do anything was strong within me.
I shrugged. “Can’t, sorry, I have—“
“You said last week that your Linguistics class was canceled for the next couple weeks because your instructor had an emergency medical procedure, so you’d be taking it online until he was able to return.”
Snap, she had a point; my cell phone buzzed in my pocket. I peeked at the screen to see a text from Tony asking if we would be fine meeting in front of the Regenstein Library. I looked back at my mother to find her face a picture of bland disapproval. “You’re thinking of meeting somebody?”
“Not for dinner,” I assured her. “It’s just Tony; he borrowed some of my notes today and wants to give them back.”
Aurelia pinched her lips. She was funny about house rules, one of which was that I shouldn’t be out walking late at night when she and Patrick weren’t home.
“Can you get them when you go to school tomorrow?”
“I need them for Study Hall first thing in the morning,” I objected, pulling away from her and flopping on the puffy leather couch. “It’s just to college and back—almost as if I still had that Linguistics class.” Why was this such a problem?
Mom glanced out the window. “It’s going to storm tonight, Priscilla; you know—“
“Then I’ll bring an umbrella!” Was she bound and determined to make me feel miserable no matter what I chose? “It’s not like I’m going to melt, I’m not made of sugar.”
“That’s not what—“

“Aurelia!” Patrick boomed, thumping into the room dressed in a jet-black tux. His long, wild locks had been somewhat tamed, smoothed back into a discreet braid and rolled at the nape of his neck, and he was just fastening his cufflinks. “I’m ready. Is Priscilla coming?” He stopped when he saw me sprawled on the couch.
Mom set her face, but her eyes spoke the disapproval. “No she isn’t; we still have an hour before our reservation.”
Dad’s disappointment held more sympathy than Mom’s did. “Aw, that’s too bad. Well, we’ll just have to plan something extra-special for next week to make up for it.” He wagged a finger at me, grinning behind his huge beard. “And no more excuses, young lady!”
Mom stepped into the hall closet to grab her coat and purse. She glanced back at me again.
“Umbrella, and you go straight there and come straight back, promise?”
I groaned; why did she have to treat me like I was seven? “Mom, I’m an adult—“
“Fine! It’s not like anything is going to happen, anyway!” I folded my arms and settled further into the couch so I wouldn’t see them leave.
“Don’t have too much fun without us!” Dad had a way of soothing my disagreements with mom by softening her warnings with a joke.
I took a deep breath. “I won’t!” I called over the back of the couch.

Once they left, I ordered dinner by delivery. After it arrived, I texted Tony to say I would be on my way soon. The weather had darkened considerably, and the threat of rain still hung in the air, but the musty humidity made it feel warm and gusty as opposed to cold. I grabbed an umbrella off the mudroom rack and headed back down toward the university.

Sure enough, I had just reached the edge of the campus when the deluge hit my umbrella with such fury it almost jumped out of my hands. I clung to it with both hands to keep it steady, even as the water ran over the pavement and plashed onto my shoes. When I turned down the street in front of the museum, a massive gust of wind whistled around the glass dome at the edge of the square and hit my umbrella square on. The force of it popped the canopy inside out, and briefly, I cringed as the rain pelted down and soaked through my sweater.
The icy wind slammed into me again, and it almost seemed like the raindrops immediately in front of me froze in place. My eyes registered something like a face in the air before me, but I wrestled the umbrella in front of me, using the wind to pop it back into place. The moment ended, but I was now soaked by the rain in spite of my umbrella, and marginally shaken by what I saw—or I thought I saw. I scurried under the eaves of the Regenstein and focused on finding Tony as soon as possible so that I could return home quickly.