Thursday, January 19, 2017

Reader's Review: "Countless As The Stars" by Steve Trower

Synopsis from Amazon:

What if the events of the Bible happened not in the distant past, but some time in the future?
What if instant communication, computers and space travel were commonplace?
What if instead of shepherds in the Middle East, the Patriarchs were space travelers, colonists eking out an existence on a barren world many light years from home?
How would God’s story have been played out in such a world?
In Countless as the Stars, that story begins, taking themes and events from the book of Genesis and re-tells them in a fictional galaxy, giving them a sci-fi twist… 


My Review: 

As a Christian, growing up I read a lot of the classic "good girl" novels growing up, the stuff that passed for Christian fiction--and I grew rather disenchanted with it, because it all seemed to follow the same kind of sanctimonious, milk-toasty, pastel-hued theme that I honestly didn't find at all alluring, much less relevant. Even the Christian fiction intended for adults seemed to follow the same generic theme, the same tired formula. That relevance is what frustrated me the most; why does Christian fiction always "have" to be about romance, or pale-faced orphans overpowering cruel adults with their meekness? Even in trying to develop my own series of "updated Bible stories", the one thing I wanted to preserve was the cultural and spiritual relevance. Because if it's not actually relevant, how then can it be useful?

In the four years since I started putting reviews on my blog, I have had the good fortune to discover several Christian authors whose Bible-centered works I thoroughly enjoyed, because they balanced the principles and God-honoring message with some excellent genre-fiction storytelling.

I am pleased to share with you another excellent specimen! Countless As The Stars tells the story of Abraham--but "updated" and "re-set" far into the ever-popular "terraformed galaxy" of the future. The names are changed, some of the circumstances are adjusted slightly to fit the new setting, but those who are familiar with the original story will recognize just about everyone. For those who don't know the story that inspired this book? It's just a fun, quick, fascinating sci-fi adventure, similar in style to classic sci-fi authors like Isaac Asimov (A favorite of mine). Once I had read far enough to get oriented with the characters and the setting, I quickly fell right into the story and I couldn't stop reading! I thoroughly enjoyed the way it didn't feel like a "Bible re-enactment", but a story, plain and simple, of a young man thrust into an impossible situation, his wife, his pilot, and a whole ship full of people with very little idea of the destiny intended for them. The interactions and quips made the characters spring to life, and the vivid settings set my imagination spinning!

I would whole-heartedly give Countless As The Stars a *****5 STAR***** rating, and add to that an Upstream Writer Certified DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED.  If you're at all interested in re-tellings of Bible stories or fairy tales, and you're looking for something quick and inspirational as well as entertaining and imaginative, certainly check this one out! Here's hoping that this is only the beginning of a whole series!

Further Reading: (Fiction by Christian Authors/Christian-based Fiction)

-For None of Woman Born--S. D. Curran (sci-fi thriller)
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon (steampunk)
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist
       -The Pinocchio Factor
-Thimblerig's Ark--Nate Fleming (the story of Noah told with anthropomorphic animals)
-Out of Darkness Rising--Gillian Bronte Adams (fantasy)
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers (urban fantasy)
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path
-Sanctuary--Pauline Creeden (horror)
-Abiding Flame--Pauline Creeden (supernatural sci-fi)
Becoming Nikki--Ashley Elliott (general fiction) 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Writer's Resolution 2017: It's All About Keeping Foc--Uhhh... What Was I Talking About??

Okay, here it goes: I am a scatterbrain. All the books I read, the shows I watch, the half-finished projects laid by the wayside... It was something of a miracle to actually have somebody to work side-by-side with me on getting Princess of Undersea published, because, knowing me, I am fairly certain it would not have happened without somebody telling me, "Okay, if we want to get published by this date, you need to have XY and Z done by this date." Somebody who knows the ins and outs of the process, and who can stay on task and keep me accountable. 

Now that it's done... What next?

"So is this going to be a series? What about a sequel?"
Boy, am I getting this question a LOT! Well, it was technically supposed to be part of a group anthology, so other people are re-telling other fairy tales... So: No, I was not intending this particular novella to be a series all on my own.

However.. The only thing ruling out a sequel right now is the fact that the last thing a scatterbrain like me needs is to start a WHOLE NEW idea when I have so many unfinished already. Because, as anybody who has watched the Suggestion Box series unfold knows, I am fully capable of coming up with a feasible and compelling plot in literally seconds, so no issues there—FINISHING something, on the other hand, only happens when I can convince myself that there is a good reason to focus on that ONE thing, prioritizing it above all others.

Yeah, so that's rare.

"What's Next?"

At this point, all of the half-started projects that I "really ought to get back to" are:

The Prince and The Rose (and various other sundry "flash fictions")

Now, out of those, only a few are actually close to finishing. The Commander's Courage has only 3 more chapters to go. The Water-Man has 4. The Prince and the Rose has 3 more parts, which will certainly be shorter than actual chapters. The Amazon Triangle is possibly the longest, since I am at this point a full 9 chapters from the end, at least according to the plan I made. The Last Inkweaver and Merely Meredith are both needing rewrites, though some part of me just wants to get through the last 6 chapters of the pre-planned plot in the latter before I resort to going back and dissecting it. Then there is also the short story I am writing for a charity anthology this year, somewhat based on a previous story I wrote, but updated with elements from this other story to give it a more sci-fi feel!

Resolution: Finish Forward!
In the interest of accountability and helping myself keep focus and make progress, I believe the best thing for me is to take all these projects and make them the "Focus of the Month," at least as far as the next six months are concerned. For example:
January: Commander's Courage (And perhaps "The Prince and The Rose", if I finish Commander's Courage quick enough)
February: The Water-Man (Sorry to those who are only on my blog and won't really get to actually see the progress on this one... but Wattpad is free and you can have an account and just be a reader, that's fine! We will still appreciate you!)
March: "The Starborn Legacy" (the anthology story I mentioned; this is the only one with a deadline, so I thought I would give myself enough time to get it read and edited before it has to be submitted)
April: The Amazon Triangle (Again, not going to see this one on the blog much, since I have it going on Wattpad...) 
May: Merely Meredith (At last! Man... I will feel so good if I can actually manage this, because that will mean I have FINISHED no less than 4 stories by this point!
So what does this mean for YOU, my followers/readers??  
Now you know what I plan to do--help me stick to it! I want to get back to blogging more often... I sort of stopped doing it over the month of December because of releasing "Princess of Undersea"... Did you miss me? Let me know!
Currently, my plan is to have regularly-scheduled "Writing Check" posts, where I update you all on how the stories are going. Now as for which day that would be, that depends on what else I would be writing in conjunction with these. What else besides excerpts or check-ins do you want to see? More How To posts? Other articles or Top 10 Lists? Would you be interested in seeing the Clan of Outcasts series continue on Saturdays? Give your input in the comments, or on my Facebook page. And please do continue to leave comments, share the posts you're interested in, and help me keep focused and stay faithful to my resolution! I really appreciate the help; I really wouldn't be writing much without your support! 
Here goes everything-or-nothing! 
Catch You Further Upstream!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Reader's Review: "Kalla" by Amber Morant

Synopsis from Amazon:

Kalla has uncovered the greatest conspiracy the government has hidden under everyone’s nose spearheaded by the Abyss, a powerful underground agency. Abyss has weaponized humans that can control time and space itself. However, they weren’t prepared for a coup d'etat from their own creations led by Kalla. Assisted by her ability to manipulate the climate around her, Kalla embarks on a mission to stop the underground government agency. Follow Kalla through the deep alcoves of the Abyss Experimentation Labs to the forests of the renegade Myst as Kalla learns that not every battle can be won and some victories come with a dire price.

My Review:

Anymore in Young Adult literature, "teens with superpowers" is a fairly common plot choice. So is "government conspiracy." When they're both included as part of the premise, the outcome of the plot is practically inevitable, right?

Not here, not now!

From the very start, Morant sets the tone of her tale, which reads more like an episodic serial than an actual novel—and it is unique and creative enough to keep me intrigued. I can safely say that I could read without being able to predict most of the plot twists that happened! The basic concepts that formed the foundation of this story: the "technicals", or special elemental powers endowed to certain people, the two warring factions, the Abyss and the Myst—all of it was FANTASTIC. It was the kind of idea that sparks in a creative mind and makes an avid-reader (like me) go all "starry-eyed" over it. The plot it spawned—just relentless in the way it just kept building on itself, and pushing toward the finale. Nicely done!
As for the narrative itself—a bit rushed, and jam-packed with information. The plot scurries along at such a pace that the reader isn't given much time to "unpack" as we are hustled from one "plot event" to the next, even taking long "leaps" between some of the "episodes." I would have loved to slow down and explore a bit more of the world, and the ideas and concepts—but Kalla is a character of more action than contemplation, and with good reason! Her world is neither happy nor safe, and she needs all her wits about her, even as her enemies seek to destroy her not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too.
And where would a determined heroine be without a crew at her back? Morant provides a host of diverse and intricately-connected characters—some we get to find out backstories more than others. A few of them managed to develop their own "voices" in my head, but unfortunately not all of them. The dialogue between the characters was a little more "exposition-heavy" and not so much of the "banter" sort—but that could also be affected by the speed of the plot. Too much needed to happen in a short space. These characters just don't have time to kick back and make smart-aleck quips at each other!

It's a desperate race from start to finish! I give Kalla a solid ****4 STAR**** rating, and if you're looking for a neat twist on the "teen superpowers and government conspiracy" idea, a quick read that you'll want to plow through in one sitting, then I would certainly recommend KALLA to you!
Further Reading: (Teens-With-Superpowers/Big Government/Dystopian/Fast Plot):
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie 
 Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
-Disenchanted--Kelsey Gamendia  
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
-Ghost Hand
       -Ghost Hold
       -Ghost Heart
       -Ghost Hope
-The Portal Prophecies: A Keeper's Destiny--C. A. King

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Upstream Writer's FOURTH Birthday Bash!

It's Party-Time!! Man, has it been FOUR years already?

To celebrate this blog, how about a little SCAVENGER HUNT? With more than 550 posts on this blog, there is bound to be something for everyone here! Ready?

All right, so the way it works is this: There is a special message I've broken up and hidden the words across my blog. The words of this special phrase are going to be in Bright green lettering like this to make it easy for you to find. (It would have been purple, but I am aware that this is also the color of hyperlinked text, so I couldn't really use it... oh well!) Furthermore, just so you don't have to wildly comb through each of the 550+ posts looking for green words, I've also listed helpful clues below, one for each of the posts containing a mystery word. Figure out the clue, find the post, get the word--and place them in the correct order, commenting on this post to submit your message!

"But what if I can't find all the words?" If you can't find all the words, and you don't have time to hunt for them all, just make the words you have as coherent as you can--points for getting creative, even if you only find 5 words! (and yes, I'm setting the minimum to 5, in the hopes that you'll at least find this blog interesting enough to hunt for more than just one or two words!) I tried to make the clues as non-cryptic as possible--if you've read my blog at any point, you should at least remember something from the hints I give!

"I don't have time for a scavenger hunt." That's okay! Thanks for reading this post anyway. Do you have a favorite post you've read on my blog? Leave a comment on it to let me know you stopped by! (If you're new to this blog, and thus don't have a favorite post, feel free to search the blog for a mention of something you enjoy, like "unicorn" or "battle", and leave a comment on that post!)

Note: Just to make it even easier to find the posts, I have elected to use only posts of things I have written, so the hidden words are not going to be in any book reviews or reading lists. Happy hunting!

Clue #1:  
In the future, a former "Black Ops" mercenary-turned-hacker gets a new lease on life.
Clue #2: 
A junior cop and his ghosts.
Clue #3: 
A young man, an unscrupulous villain, and LOTS AND LOTS of fairies!
Clue #4: 
Four simpletons journey into a forest...
Clue #5: 
Short story with mermaids! 
Clue #6: 
It is "a truth universally acknowledged," that the middle child of a prominent family--is doomed to remain single for the rest of her life.
Clue #7: 
A magnificent gem called a "gyth."
Clue #8: 
A name, a time, a place, and an object--but compiled all together into one month!
Clue #9: 
Elwood P. Dowd
Clue #10: 
Clue #11: 
A prolific discourse on The Bard.
Clue  #12: 
Rewriting a former fanfiction--with Elves! (Hint: Holds the record for "most attempts at rewriting without being finished")
Clue #13: 
A series of throwbacks to my first attempt at writing an RPG.
Clue #14: 
"You, of all people, should know better than to judge a book by its cover."
"I've never been much of a reader."

Clue #15: 
Hit List with many adaptations. 
Clue #16:  
A gryphon named Icarus.  
Clue #17:
Clue #18: 
Young man, "dog whisperer", tasked with caring for a crazy gang-lord.
Clue #19:

Clue #20: 
A writer goes from sci-fi to western--how strange!  

 Ready, set... GO!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Reader's Review: "Blood Ties" by J. D. Cunegan

Synopsis from Amazon:

For as long as Jill Andersen could remember, her father was a hero.

But heroes don’t commit murder, do they? The state of Maryland said Paul Andersen did just that, three times over, and was set to execute him for it. But Jill and the rest of her colleagues at the Baltimore Police Department come across the murder of a law student that leaves her hopeful that she can clear her father’s name.

While Jill and her colleagues work against the clock to clear her father’s name, new players emerge, hinting to a deeper, darker conspiracy than what was previously known. An enigmatic faction known as The Order reveals itself, and the mystery surrounding Paul’s alleged duplicity leaves more questions than answers.

Along the way, Jill must not only face the possibility that her father was not who she thought he was, but she must also face the prospect of her secret being revealed. The stakes are higher than ever in Blood Ties, the intense follow-up to J.D. Cunegan’s debut mystery Bounty.

Can Jill save her father before it’s too late? Will she even want to?


My Review:

What's better than really good fanfiction written for a favorite show that is no longer on the air?

Try a whole series of original crime novels inspired by the show! This fangirl could NOT be happier!

Cunegan builds on the excellent foundation laid in the first novel, Bounty, with Blood Ties, a sequel that does its due diligence in supplying outcomes for the issues in the first book, as well as setting up further complications and consequences with implications lasting beyond the confines of this installment. Jill's father is on death row, a string of homicides are discovered with hallmarks of the murders alleged to his name—so is it a copycat, or will an innocent man pay for the crimes of another? 

My favorite part of this whole mystery, though, has to be the part that Cunegan accomplishes, setting him apart from the "canned crime genre" novelists like James Patterson, Brad Thor, and, dare I say, the "Richard Castle" ghostwriters themselves (BAD move on that last one, guys! Way to blow it... as if that finale wasn't awful enough...), and putting him solidly in Camp Baldacci (far and away my ALL TIME FOREVER favorite!) along with the greats like Anthony Horowitz, Agatha Christie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—

Cunegan keeps the focus on relationships. Other authors get carried away with sensational scenarios or making blatant social and political statements with their characters (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) but not him. In fact, (minor spoilers) the investigations are almost sideshows to the vast importance placed on developing Jill as a sympathetic character, and her quest—since she voluntarily takes herself off the investigation because of the resemblance to her father's case—to come to terms with her only remaining family, her father and her brother. Namely, the repercussions for hiding her vigilante identity from everyone for so long—such secrets inevitably come to light, and what if she can't control the circumstances of yet revelation? How will the distance affect them? It's beautiful and I would definitely follow the series clear on through JUST for those touching and beautifully-wrought scenes! Not just Jill, though—the precinct is jam-packed with worthy characters and entertaining relationships! Ramon, Jorge, Juanita, Watson and Blankenship, Captain Richards--the list goes on! The fantastic mystery and investigations that are sure to accompany are icing on the cake that is a SOLID ensemble full of all the heart and driving soul to carry a story through the most generic arcs! 

As a sequel, BLOOD TIES accomplished everything a sequel should do, joining the main storyline and building on what the first book introduced, without slacking the pace any. It's a superb consolation for any fan of the show Castle! I give BLOOD TIES a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and I am excited to see what is in store for the rest of the series!
Further Reading (Paranormal/Sci-fi/Crime/Mystery Thriller/Awesome Series)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings
        -Grave Measures

The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand
       -Ghost Hold
       -Ghost Heart
       -Ghost Hope

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reading Lists 2016: Best Reads of 2016!

Whoo-wee! Is it the end of the year already? Okay, folks! You know what that means--a look back at all of the reading I did over the last year, and what I would recommend as the Best Books of the year! I will say that I did enjoy reading in batches of ten, and doing the Ranked Reading Lists--and it was rather fortunate that I only did manage to complete 5 lists (50 books total--not my best record, but decent!) because now, for my final Top 10 Reads, here are the Top 2 from each list that I enjoyed most of all! (Accompanied by a pertinent quote from the review)

Winter (Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer--"The most perfect adaptation, and excellent closure I could have wished upon star for!"
Liar's Key (Red Queen's War #2) by Mark Lawrence--"How do I love a Mark Lawrence novel? Let me count the ways!"
Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater--"Once again, every time I sat down to read it (usually before bed) I could not tear myself away."
Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2) by Jim Butcher--"Lovely and wonderful and thrilling and spectacular!"
Calamity (Reckoners #3) by Brandon Sanderson--"I have been pining for this book for just about a full year, and it did NOT disappoint!"
Stars Above (Lunar Chronicles #4.5) by Marissa Meyer--"OH THE FEELS THIS WAS EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED IN THE LUNAR CHRONICLES!!"
Wheel of Osheim (Red Queen's War #3) by Mark Lawrence--"Superbly satisfying ending to a spectacular series!"
Queen of the Tearling (Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen--"I am completely smitten with this book and all the promises contained therein."
The Last Mile (Amos Decker #2) by David Baldacci--"This one definitely takes the cake! I really love Amos Decker as a character."
The Last Dragonslayer (Chronicles of Kazam #1) by Jasper Fforde--"It’s fun, it’s hilarious, it’s British, there’s dragons… I loved it!"

Next up, I wanted to recognize all the indie books I've read this year! I managed to tuck away no less than 30 titles, once again SMASHING the total from last year... and from the looks of my TBR list of books I own but have yet to read... I look forward to once again exceeding that record in 2017!

Be that as it may, choosing a "Best of Selection" proved considerably more difficult than just choosing from an already-ranked list. Eventually, I had to do it by review stars—which, really, hardly reduced it at all. So here are ALL of the 5-Star reviews from 2016—do enjoy these titles, and don't forget to pick up copies for yourself!
The Truth and The Lie (Volumes of the Vemreaux #2 and #3) by Mary E. Twomey--
"If THE WAY was a bare first, clenched for a fight, THE TRUTH was the first round of that fight."
"In a word, THE LIE was PERFECTION. Twomey is an absolute wizard with words."
Street Fair and A Fair Fight (Fair Folk Chronicles #2 and #3) by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins--
"Once again, Cook and Perkins delivered on every level!"
"Every time I open a Jeffrey Cook novel, I am blown away by the magnitude of the fantasy—and characters so impossibly real that it HURTS." 

Escape From Neverland and Dance Into The Wyrd by Nils Visser--
"All urban/contemporary fantasy enthusiasts would do well to purchase a copy for themselves at once! It does not disappoint!"
"Highly recommended for teens and adult readers who grew up on fairy stories and are looking for urban fantasy of considerable depth and substance."

Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke-- "It's poignant, it's relevant, it's thrilling, and it's thoughtful."
Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence--"The same visceral, compelling prose that so drew me to devouring any story with his name attached still shines beautifully here."

Someday I'll Be Redeemed and I Still Have A Soul (Chronicles of Lorrek #1 and #2) by Kelly Blanchard--
"It's an exciting book that had my imagination firing on all cylinders the whole time!" 
"It's complex and relentless and broad and explosive all at once." 

Grave Measures (Grave Reports #2) by R. R. Virdi--"Virdi delivers on every level--and then some!"
Murder in Absentia by Assaph Mehr--"It's a paranormal investigator... In a toga? Yes, it is. And it couldn't be more brilliant."
Untamed (Untamed Series #1) by Madeline Dyer--"This book just about destroyed any semblance of productivity in me every time I picked it up.... That's how compelling it is." *(Plus, check out that SNAZZY new cover!)

Ghost Hold, Ghost Heart, and Ghost Hope (PSS Chronicles #2-#4) by Ripley Patton--
"I ran out of feelings by the end of it."
"It's intense, it's striking, it's maddening and awesome by turns, and it absolutely gets the job done."
"The story grows and barrels forward at a breakneck pace, but not a single character is abandoned in the wings." 
Bounty and Blood Ties by J. D. Cunegan
"I fell in love with the characters, intrigued by the mystery, entertained all the way through, and by the end, I wanted more."
"This fangirl could not be happier!"
Girls Can't Be Knights (Spirit Knights #1) by Lee French--"I am intrigued by the concept ... and I would love to read more of the exploits of a crew I have steadily fallen in love with."
A Wolf's Path (Therian Way #2) by Kimberly Rogers--"A stellar piece of urban fantasy sure to excite fans of shows like Grimm and high fantasy like Lord of the Rings, as well as those who enjoy a good mystery and vivid characters in an urban setting."
Dream Stalker (Talented Series #1) by Amy Hopkins--"Beautiful, enchanting, and wonderful from start to finish."
Skeins Unfurled (Breadth Key Cycle #0.5) by K. M. Vanderbilt--"The plot is complex and yet the Norns themselves could not have woven it better."
Angel in Training (Louisiangel Series #1) by C. L. Coffey--"Looking for something really good to read that's a little urban fantasy, a little 'buddy cop', with a great heroine and supporting characters to get obsessed over? This series is a definite win on all fronts."

How about you? What was/were the best book(s) you read in 2016? What do you recommend for me in 2017? I am always open to suggestions!
As always...
Catch You Further Upstream!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: "The Prince and The Rose", Part 3

"The Prince and The Rose": >>Part 1<< >>Part 2<<

Part 3

Charmaine alighted at the gate in front of the towering Haunted Castle. All the stories she had heard about this place leaped to the forefront of her mind and swirled there, like the fog around her ankles and leaching from the windows—or were those ghosts?

Charmaine shook her head and fixed her gaze squarely on the doors of the castle. She willed herself to think of only getting inside the castle. The breeze whipping past her increased, bringing a chill to whatever exposed skin it touched. She pushed on the heavy door, and it creaked open. 

"Hello?" She called into the stillness. Somehow the sound of her own voice in the dead quiet brought comfort, because it meant that she wasn't dreaming. "Beas—I mean, Prince Raul?" She spoke, traveling deeper still. "It is I, Charmaine—daughter of Marius." She made it through the dark, damp entryway, and into the massive ballroom that took up half the palace. Streamers hung like spectral shrouds from the ceiling, and the furniture lay cast about, many pieces raked and rent as if by massive claws.

Charmaine stopped in awe. So this was where it all began; the party she didn't get invited to—the one that had ended so badly for everyone.

A golden flicker caught her eye. In the black shadows of evening, the flame of a candle stood out like an inviting beacon. Charmaine scurried toward it.

A candle indeed burned in the hallway outside—a whole candelabra full, but who had lit them? Alcoves punctuated the long stone wall, and in each, a gilded stand of candles lit the way. Charmaine shivered at an errant gust, but followed the candles to a massive parlor, where a fire burned in the hearth, and a warm blanket draped over a soft couch. Beside the couch, there stood a table laden with a warm meal: a tureen of soup and a crusty loaf of bread, with a steaming pot of tea besides. Charmaine immediately sat on the couch and spread the blanket over her shoulders. The soup was delicious, and warmed her all over—but where had it come from? Charmaine set down her bowl and reached for the teakettle.

A flurry of movement caught the corner of her eye. She whirled to face it, almost knocking the teapot off its stand—but all she saw next to the hearth rug were a pair of slippers that had certainly not been there moments before. Intrigued, Charmaine kept the blankets wrapped around her as she padded over to trade her tired, pinching shoes for the soft, cozy slippers. Her feet fit perfectly into them. She stared in amazement at the ornate stitching, till the clink of dishes distracted her. She looked up at the table.

The magical meal, with its tasty food and pristine dishes, had vanished. Not even the crumbs are left. Charmaine blinked hard and rubbed her eyes, only realizing in that moment just how tired she was. She gave a loud, noisy yawn and stretched. Still, the only thing that moved in the room were the dancing flames in the hearth and on the candles.

"I suppose I ought to have a bed to sleep in!" She announced to her unseen host.
With a series of soft "poofs", the candles down another hallway illuminated. Charmaine held the blanket close and shuffled in the slippers. Once again, following the candles she made her way through the dark castle. 

Up a curving flight of stairs to a tower, and through a doorway, she arrived in a spacious room. There again was a roaring fire, and lavish bedclothes—but not another soul to be found.
Char dropped the blanket and changed out of her dress, slipping on the nightgown instead.
"Why," she gasped aloud. "Maybe this castle isn't haunted—maybe it's enchanted!"
It certainly seemed that way. Perhaps, if the enchanted castle favored her well enough, she would not have to so much as glimpse the Beast Prince before the spell ended. Charmaine settled into the soft bed and snuggled under the covers. She would be doing a lot of exploring the next day.

That night, Charmaine dreamed that she was home. She woke in her own bed to find her father standing next to her, apologizing profusely for the whole thing. Felice came in shortly after that, bringing with her a tall man whose face remained indistinguishable, no matter how hard she tried to see it. Charmaine felt excitement; this had to be the prince! She had never seen what he looked like as a man—now she would get her chance! She could hear him talking, but his face seemed always just out of view. Suddenly, he stopped talking and walked out of the room.
"No, wait!" Char cried, leaping after him—

Then the dream ended and she sat up in bed, wearing unfamiliar clothes—in the Beast Prince's castle. Charmaine huffed. Not even the small plate of cookies and milk on her bedside table could cheer her up after that disappointing vision.
"You had better help me be able to find a way to break the spell without seeing the Beast!" She announced to the whole castle.

Once out of bed, she glanced at her old dress. There would be no wearing it without her corset, and she could not get her corset on by herself. 
Charmaine sighed as her eyes slid to the wardrobe in the corner. Perhaps...

She strode to the wardrobe and flung open the doors. Such a fount of bright, rich fabrics graced her eyes! She even found several styles with front-lacing bodices—a bit out-of-date, but definitely nothing she would be ashamed to wear! 
"Now this is the sort of thing I like!" She cried happily, slipping on one of the dresses. 

Suitably attired, she left the room and went back down the stairs. This time, she noticed a few doors open. One led to the library, a spacious room lined with books of every sort, and high windows letting in brilliant sunshine. A pianoforte graced the dais at one end of the room.

Charmaine sniffed and closed the door. "None of that boring stuff, thank you! Stupid stories full of sloppy romance or dull histories—most definitely not for me!" She announced to the castle.

The next door led to the sun parlor, where a delicious breakfast awaited her on a small table. Charmaine sat down and helped herself, remarking to the empty room how delicious everything was. Once she finished, the young woman set about seeing what else she could find in the castle. 

Down another hall and up a flight of stairs, Charmaine discovered a sight that made her squeal with joy: an entire room of dresses and accessories, hats and boots of all sorts. 
"Now this will keep me happy, even if I have to stay here forever!" She cried. She spent hours trying on the dresses, parading in front of the mirrored wall where she could admire herself from every angle. At last, she tired of changing dresses and decided to see what else she could find. It pleased her to live so much like a princess, without having to deal with the monstrous occupant. 

"I'm lucky this castle's enchanted!" She mused, as she meandered across the great hall to another tower. "Father really has no idea what an opportunity he passed up! He must feel awful by now, thinking I am up here in terror, absolutely miserable!" She laughed. "Serves him right!"

She found a door slightly open down the hallway. Peeking inside, she saw no fire, no finery; it was altogether a miserable space. She almost closed the door again and moved on—but a rosy glimmer caught her eye. Charmaine stopped and peeked in a second time. On a lonely table sat a solitary rose, standing in a vase under a glass cover. It was so beautiful, Charmaine had to get a closer look. She glided forward, mesmerized by the glorious sight. When she was close enough to touch the table, she noticed something.

"That's odd!" She remarked, merely because she had developed the habit of doing so, "There's no water in the vase! No, it's silly, really," she snorted. "It's probably why it's wilting. The stupid beast has no idea—"

Just when she was in the act of taking the cover off, a ferocious growl issued right behind her.
Charmaine felt her heart seize in her throat—and it made her angry to be so terrified of something that she hoped would not dare risk hurting her.

"Stop right there, Beast!" She said, not daring to turn her head and look at him. "Yes, it's me, the girl who's been handed to you as a sacrifice—so if you hurt me, you'll never get another chance to break the spell! Now BACK. AWAY!"

The growl came, low and sustained, but it faded as he did what she asked. Charmaine felt the thrill of power coursing through her as she released the cover and let her hands drop to her sides.

"I'm guessing that's the rose the fairy gave you, isn't it?" Charmaine continued, waiting till she heard him grunt in confirmation. "We've all heard the story—goodness knows the poor provincial town hasn't had anything else happen worth talking about in the last year! I'll make you a deal: you don't bother me, and I don't touch your rose. If you get anywhere close to me, I will take this rose and run far away to watch it die, knowing that you'll never get what you want—But," she went on, as the growling behind her intensified, "if you do stay out of my way, and if I feel like it, maybe at some point I will decide to help you break the spell. Do we have a deal?" 

The beast stopped growling and grunted once.

Charmaine felt the flush of pride—tempered somewhat when she realized that, with the beast standing behind her, there was no way to leave the room without seeing him. 

"I'm going to leave now," she said. "I am going to close my eyes and walk out of here. Remember our deal!"

She heard his heavy panting, but he made no move. Her nerves were strung just about to their breaking point as she closed her eyes and slowly turned. Placing one foot in front of the other, Charmaine edged toward where she remembered seeing the door.

Behind her, the beast grunted and growled at her, but Charmaine fought to ignore the unsettling noise as she concentrated on getting out of the room. 

A heavy object landed on her shoulder, and she felt a sharp pain as she wrenched away. Her eyes flew open—it was the Beast, reaching out his claws toward her!

Charmaine nearly tripped over the squat statue right in front of her, but she threw her arms over her head. 

"Get away!" She whined, flailing and charging. One of his claws connected with her face and arm, a stinging slash in her terrified retreat. "Ugh! You're so ugly!" Shrieked Charmaine, nearly tripping over her billowing skirts to get away from him. Once safely out of the room, Charmaine didn't stop running till she returned to her room. In the tall mirror, she surveyed the damage: blood dripped down her cheek and arm. The dress she wore had ripped in a few places, more from her terrified struggle than the Beast himself. The pain finally registered, and she burst into tears. "YOU HURT ME!" She shouted for him to hear. "THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU MONSTER! I WILL NEVER LOOK AT YOU AGAIN!"

She heard something scrape against the stone floor outside the door. Opening it, Charmaine found a bowl of water and clean bandages. She cleaned her face and wrapped her arm, but the damage was done. There was no hope of returning to her beautiful self now. 

Charmaine spent a miserable night dreaming of her encounter with the beast, and when she awoke in the morning and checked the mirror, there it was: a wide pink scar on her perfect face. 
This was completely not what she planned. Deal or none, curse or none, she was going home. "And none of you better stop me!" She shouted to the enchanted room as she wrapped her cloak around her shoulders and swept down the stairs.

At the bottom of the tower, she emerged into the great hall—and nearly collided with the Beast. 
"Oh!" She gasped, jumping back as if he would reach out and scratch her again.

But how could he? At the moment, his huge paws with their vicious claws were full of a tray set with the same breakfast she had eaten the previous morning. Charmaine's mouth and eyes jerked wide open as she realized what this meant.

"YOU?" she gasped. "This whole time—the castle... it can't be!" She felt the sobs rising in her thrust again as her emotions spiraled out of control. "NO!" She slumped to the floor, weeping. "There... there is no enchanted castle, is there?" She glanced around. "I'm alone here... with you."

The Beast bobbed his shaggy head as if nodding. He held out the tray to her, but Charmaine scrambled to her feet. "Absolutely not!" She said. "I will never accept anything from you! Stay away from me, you monster!" She ran toward the outer courtyard, headed for the gate that led to freedom—

But the gate was nowhere to be found.
Charmaine stopped and looked from one corner to the other. She ran to every corner and searched the entire perimeter, but all she could see was one continuous wall. 
"NO!" She screamed. "NO! NO! NO!"

Charmaine ran back inside, back to her tower. The Beast had left the tray of breakfast outside her room. Charmaine ran inside and threw herself at the window, but it was no use. She could still see the unbroken wall, so high she could barely see the woods on one side, and the impossible precipice on the other. She was trapped with the Beast, in a castle not enchanted, but abandoned. There was no way out. She couldn't be sure if she would ever see her father or the rest of the town ever again. 

Charmaine crumpled to the floor and sobbed.

Further Reading:
-"Heartsong" (A 7-Part Story)
-"Arthur and The Egg"
-"The Glow" (A 3-Part Story)