Saturday, September 27, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #9

Image from a Google search
Suggested By: Jess Hughes
The List:
Jeanne Hughes
Lancaster, England
June 24th
Wings
The Result:
When Faith alighted at the little station in Scrabster, she blinked and looked around. She had never been overseas before the trip to France, and now she found herself dragged all over the British Isles by perfect strangers who all seemed convinced she was somebody important. Faith had never done anything significant in her life—till now, apparently. She nervously clutched at the locket Uncle Hugo had given her. At least, he had said it was a locket, but since the first moment she saw it, the thing had somehow fused shut, so it ended up more of a pendant than a locket.
"Come on!" Darren was calling to her as he navigated the streaming lines of people. Mud squelched under Faith's tennis shoes as she trotted over the wet ground to keep up with her guide.
"Some protector," she snorted.
A shadow in the corner of her eye made her turn, and she almost tripped over her own feet when she saw what it was.
"Darren!" She squeaked. "It's the man from Lancaster!"

Darren had other things on his mind. Jeanne Hughes had been taken on the 24th of June, and the incident had made the papers. There was apparently irrefutable evidence that a large animal had been responsible. He would have to find another contact to get—

"Darren! Did you hear what I said?"
Faith tugged at his arm.
He jerked it away irritably. "Ow! Yes, I heard! So what? Plenty of folks come to Scrabster, and you don't think any of them are following us!"
Faith glanced back; the man in the black fedora was nearer to them now. She could not explain the dread she felt when she saw him.
Darren made a beeline for the ferry timetables.
"Oh, bollocks!" He groaned. "We're too late! The last ferry was ten minutes ago." How were they going to get to Orkney now?
Faith couldn't believe the turn her life was taking. All she wanted was a nice, idyllic little vacation in France, and here it had turned into a helter-skelter quest full of dragons and dwarves and magic tunnels—

A gloved hand grabbed her arm and pulled very hard. Darren had his back to her and didn't notice.
"Darren!" Faith shrieked. "Darren!" 
She just barely saw him look up and turn before the milling crowd blocked her from view. She glanced up. 

The man in the black hat, the one she had feared—he had stolen her away! Was he trying to stop Darren? Would he kill Faith to make that happen?
Faith pulled only once, and the strength with which he clamped down on her wrist nearly separated the bones. She didn't try to escape his grasp again.

They reached an alleyway, and he suddenly released her, sending the girl spinning into a stack of dirty, sodden crates. He slumped against the wall, and she saw his face: pale as death, and drawn with pain.
"You the Ecrivaine?" He nodded to her, panting heavily.
Faith looked down to where she clutched her only possession—the notebook—to her chest. 
"Yes," she answered. "What do you want with me?"
The man chuckled to himself as he stood away from the wall, and the pain cleared.
"Do you have it, then?"
"Have what?"
The man cried out in pain and slammed his fist against the wall. Faith did not fail to notice the cracks his blow left in the bricks. Who was this freakishly-strong man?
"Dinnae play games wi' me, lassie!" He burst in a strong brogue. "I know ye summoned the dragon, but did ye have the Ring first?"

Faith remembered the discovery she had made on the train ride from Lancaster. She pulled the strange-looking ring from her pocket. "You mean this ring?" She asked.

Relief swept over the man's features, replaced quickly by pain again. "Yes, that's the—GAHH!" He doubled over and stumbled against the wall. When he looked up at Faith, his whole body was shaking. "Please," he begged hoarsely. "You have to help me." He cried out in another fit and began convulsing violently on the ground.

"Faith!" Darren's voice had never sounded more welcome to her ears.
"I'm back here!" She called.
He arrived at the alleyway just as the man had finally managed to get his legs under him. "Help me!" He begged her. "Make it stop!"
"Make what stop?" Faith shrank away from his touch.
"Here now," Darren pushed the man sideways, and the tortured stranger toppled like a rotted tree. "Leave her alone! Come along, Faith. We've got to find a boat that will take us to Orkney."
"Orkney, is it?" The man groaned from the ground. "You're headed to the Ring of Brodgar, aren't you?"
"What's it to you if we are?" Darren called.
The man crawled after him. "Because I'm the man you were supposed to meet, idiot!"
Darren froze and turned back to the sodden heap on the ground. "You?"
He gasped. "You're the Mark of the Dragon?"
The man squinted up at Faith and Darren. "That's me," he grunted. "The name's Courtland."
Faith heard a peculiar cracking sound, and suddenly Courtland jumped to his feet. Every vein in his face and neck stood out distinctly.
"I need the Ecrivaine to help me!" He growled, gritting his teeth as beads of sweat formed on his skin.
"What could I do?" Faith could barely get the words out, she shivered so badly.
"The pain!" Courtland clamped down on her shoulders with his bizarre strength. "It's too much! Please, make it stop!" His body jerked and he released her as another bout of convulsions sent him reeling around the alley. "Please!" He roared. "Make it stop!"
Faith turned horrified eyes to Darren. "What do I do? I don't know what to do!"
Darren shrugged.
"Write it, ye ninny!" Courtland roared. "Write it and make it stop."
Faith was so terrified at the sight of a man in such pain, she could not think straight. "I don't know what to write! I don't know what to do!" She shoved the notebook at Darren. "You do it!"
He shook his head. "I'm not the Ecrivaine, love. Just write away his pain!"
"Do it now!" Courtland writhed as Faith saw something happening to his coat. 
"I don't know how!"
"Please!"
"I can't!"

And as Darren and Faith watched, the back of Courtland's coat burst open to release a pair of large, black, leathery dragon wings.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Works-in-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea" Excerpt--Enter The Queen

Ylaine stood very still at Nathan's side as the royal schooner pulled into the harbor. The only people visible on-board were the crew at this point--but she knew the Queen and Princess would be emerging once everything was ready. She would not have to wait much longer, and for that Ylaine was glad. She had never had to stand in one place for this long, and her legs were getting tired. Besides, Nathan still had not made any kind of profession of love, and that meant that tomorrow would be her last day as a human. Did she really want to spend most of it just standing in one place? Finally, the crew members began casting out lines from the side of the ship to tether it to the dock. Ylaine spotted the old man who had pulled her out of the water, directing them. In the midst of giving directions, the man happened to turn in her direction. Seeing her standing with the king and prince, he was slightly taken aback, but their previous acquaintance earned him the right to at least give a small, furtive wave. Ylaine smiled and nodded back just as covertly.

Finally, the boat was moored, but still the crew members flocked about, with no sign of the royal guests. Ylaine let her mind wander--as soon as the guests had been duly escorted to the palace, as etiquette demanded, he had promised they could sneak out and perhaps ride horses. Ylaine had never ridden a horse before; she wondered how it would feel to mount another animal and ride upon its power. It must be very agile indeed, managing four legs when she had such trouble with only two! Ylaine quivered with excitement at the thought of just her and Nathan alone, as it was at the beginning. Perhaps then he might...

A loud trumpet fanfare interrupted her thoughts. A page in a frilly collar stood at the top of the gangplank and shouted, "Your Majesties, King Theodore and Prince Nathan, our most distinguished hosts, please may I present to you Queen Devaine and Princess Melinda of Crossway!"

In a fluffy cloud of silk and a resplendence of diamonds, Their Majesties disembarked.

Queen Devaine was indeed a rather plump sort of woman, and not very graceful. She bore herself with unwavering dignity however, and led her daughter right to dais before the King and Prince.

When she curtsied deeply, King Theodore said, "Your Majesty, thank you for gracing our humble kingdom with your presence."
Princess Melinda
"It is an honor," Queen Devaine replied, "to count Overcliff among the allies of our fair kingdom." She nudged her daughter forward. "And may I present to you my daughter, Melinda?"

Ylaine felt the hot blood rushing through her suddenly freeze in her veins, and she felt as if someone had thrust her back under the water again. Melinda was not just pretty--she was by far the most beautiful human being Ylaine had ever seen. Her clear blue eyes outshone Ylaine's, and her golden hair gleamed brighter than the necklaces she wore. She curtsied as if her body had been made of fine glass, and said to Nathan, "It is an honor to make your acquaintance."

At the sound of her voice, Ylaine felt the same tearing feeling the potion had given her seem to rip through her heart all over again. Not just the simple words she spoke, but the clear, lilting music in them! Ylaine realized then how accustomed she had been to her new, dead voice. Now, after hearing the Princess, she was filled with the longing to forgo it all and jump back into the sea and reclaim her gift from Nayidia, if just for the sake of hearing it again.
Ylaine felt Nathan release her hand, and he took those of Melinda instead. "Princess Melinda," he said, glancing over his shoulder at Ylaine, "May I present Lady Illeinina, a visitor, I think, from Crossway--and my dear friend."
His assertion filled Ylaine with warmth once more, and she smiled at Nathan--but he still held Melinda's hand. She nodded curtly to the tormented young woman.
"How delightful!" she trilled again, sending another pang through Ylaine's chest.

Queen Devaine already hung on King Theodore's arm, chatting way animatedly as the king nodded and muttered and tried his best to keep up. Smoothly, Nathan fell into step next to Melinda.
"Shall we?" he invited her.
"Indeed," Melinda murmured coyly, and no one gave Ylaine even a second glance as she stood there upon the dais, alone.

Her vision blurred, and suddenly, Ylaine felt a wetness in her eyes and she could no longer see or breathe easily. It was as if her gills had opened--but they had not, and the water seemed to spring from within her eyes and trickle down her cheeks.
The soft press of fabric on her cheek caused her to blink, and her vision cleared somewhat. A man stood before her, offering his handkerchief--Ylaine recognized him as Giles, the man who had called her Princess. He said nothing as she scrubbed the wetness from her face, only offered his arm as Nathan once had. Ylaine took it, and Giles escorted her to the palace behind the rulers of Crossway and Overcliff.

Excerpts from "Princess of Undersea":
-"Undersea and Overcliff" 
-"The Wish" 
-"The Witch and The Storm" 
-"The Bargain" 
-"Fish Out of Water" 
-"Walking Through Overcliff" 
-"Dining With The King" 
-"Exposed" 
-"The Exchange" 
-"Carnival Showdown"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reader's Review: "The Boy Named Topaz" by Jeffrey Gartshore


Amazon Synopsis: "Dim-Glow!" That's what the bullies always called Toivo Rallence, the one boy in the entire shining Topaz Realm who can't control Light. His uncle keeps telling him that he has full-bright potential, if he can only figure out how to show it. He sees things so differently than everyone else. He can see hidden things, and sometimes dark things that are looking back at him. Will Toivo survive growing up disabled in the Realm of Light? Will he Shine or Shatter? Only Fate can say....

I will admit, I tend to be a fan of the unorthodox--so long as the author has taken the time to carefully lay out the foundation on which to build the unique perspective and aspect. What better construction for a fantasy world based on the expression of light than having each realm based on a different gemstone? As with any well-grounded world, Gartshore's Realms are each given a specific purpose that contributes to the story: for example, the Rubies tend to be more physical, so they are the military types; those from the Amethyst realm are proficient in all sorts of mind control; Emeralds can manipulate plant and earth matter, and Sapphires have "galvanic" powers that allow them to communicate with and manipulate machines.
 
Not only does Gartshore present us with this multifaceted world and a suitably diverse cast of characters to live in it and entertain us with their interactions, but he provides a deep realism for his world by giving us something that every world needs: glimpses into its cultural history through poetry and proverbs. Every chapter begins with a short, pithy statement that is associated with the different realms and also gives the reader a hint about what is to happen in that chapter. I love it when books do this—and more so when it's a fabricated source for a fictional world. Every verse was enchanting and made me eager to dive right into the chapter. As I always say, "When you want to find out how a culture lived, look at the archaeology; if you want to find out what they believed, look at the literature." The Realm of Light comes to life and the doors and windows to the imagination are flung wide open in this grand adventure.

Furthermore, Gartshore has seen fit to divert from the cliche norm that a super-endowed Child-of-Destiny is automatically the most proficient at everything. On the contrary, Topaz is bullied for being so talented he's almost useless. He has been told by his uncle that he is significant and special... But according to the perspective of his teachers and schoolmates, he is slow, vulnerable, and rather inept. The teasing isn't just physical violence, but happens in more subtle ways: little pranks, whispering and laughing behind his back—everything a young reader would definitely relate to. Suddenly Topaz is not just the hero... He is one of them, a boy who has to learn and work hard to develop those skills that are supposed to make him special, and struggle to ignore opposition in the process. Along the way, Topaz connects with characters who treat him kindly, and the story even contrasts his experience with that of Pho, his best friend who is every bit as adept and powerful as the reader might assume Topaz should have been. And yet Pho remains a steady friend, not deserting Topaz to the bullies, and helping whenever it is needed. Forces of Shadow are at work to hunt him down and snuff him out, as it were, but Topaz doesn't face the villains alone; he has a group of friends with him and he has at least the skill to realize how the different "powers" work together to accomplish their goals. 
 
The characters surrounding our main "hero" are diverse and vividly real. In so many stories, the hero becomes the sole focus, with everyone else serving as a background. Gartshore keeps the focus broad, with fleshing out the personalities of various supporting characters as well, giving us an entertaining ensemble instead of just a stark dichotomy of "hero/villain."

This story made me laugh, drew me in, and surprised me with each twist. It's a five-star, "full-bright shiny" adventure for readers of all ages!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #8

Image from a Google search

Suggested by: Andy Poole

The List:
Place: the Palatinate
Time: 1621
Name: Magdalena
Object: a locket miniature
The Result:

A forest in the Palatinate region of Germany...

"Faster! Faster! Schnell!" She urged the driver on. "Stupid fetteschweine! the moon will be gone by the time we get there!"

The carriage bounced to a halt at last, and the footman ran to assist her even as she was in the mind to leap out of the door herself. The clearing certainly looked wide enough, and the white rock still stood in the grass. She seated herself on this and opened the satchel she had brought with her. She withdrew the scroll she had packed, and—reverently—the featherless quill made of metal that never needed to be replenished. Her entire body tingled at what she was attempting to do. She began to write.

"The Midnight Dragon awoke as dawn spread over the land. The night was over, and a new day had finally begun. His whip-like tail shifted off his back as his powerful legs flexed. His wings unfolded from his sides as he stretched out his neck the size of a tree trunk. The midnight blue of his scales glittered like a sky full of stars in the firelight. He swung his mighty head as big as that of an elephant, and a plume of fire lit up the night sky as the Dragon burst through the fabric between the worlds and landed in the strange forest."

Her servants cried out, and she looked up just as a fireball exploded over the treetops. When she returned her gaze to the clearing, He was there. He was every bit as big as she had written, and when he had lit a ring of trees around the two of them on fire to separate her from her servants, she saw that his midnight-blue scales really did sparkle like the night sky.

"Ecrivaine," rumbled the dragon, "why have you summoned me from my world?"
She bowed low in the utmost respect. "Oh Great Dragon, my name is Lady Magdalena, of the court of the Winter King."
The Dragon bent his great head closer. "What care have I for the Kings of men? Why have you taken upon yourself the power of the Ecrivaine to bind me to your word?"
Magdalena showed him the map she had drawn. "The nations are at war, Great Dragon. There seems to be no other way to end it."
"Than by invoking powers you know naught of?" The Dragon threw back his head and roared. "The Dragon King does not mete vengeance on another's world. I will not be attached to your cause. Let the armies of men resolve their own differences!"
"Please!" Magdalena begged. "If this war continues any longer, it will only mean more death and bloodshed."
"So you would have me accomplish in a single night the work of a thousand battlefields?" The Dragon asked. "I do not yet know this world of yours, Ecrivaine, but perhaps as I visit other times and places, I will discern what justice I will serve."

A horn blast rent the air. Magdalena noticed only then that the ring of fire had burned out, leaving her exposed.
"Drag—" she turned back to him, but the creature had vanished. The Austrian army would be there at any moment. Magdalena slipped the materials back in the satchel and tucked it behind the rock as the hounds bounded through the charred trees and surrounded her.

Two dozen men soon followed, grinning evilly at her. The generalissimo forced the dogs to heel and faced the young woman.
"This reminds me of a story I once heard in a French village," he leered at her. "A tender young maiden ventures into the woods alone."
"I have heard it, Wallenstein," replied Magdalena. "She encounters a savage beast."
Generalissimo Albrecht von Wallenstein smiled. "Of course the beast means her no harm; he only wants to know what a little girl like herself is doing in such a great, dark forest."
Magdalena's heart sank. "It matters not anymore. What I set out to do, I have failed."

Wallenstein turned to his men. "She will make a fine prize for His Excellency, the Emperor. Seize her!"
Before any man could move, a deafening roar split the air and a massive, dark shape hurtled out of the sky. Those far enough outside the strike zone could not believe what they saw.
"Dragon!" The men shrieked.
The creature landed between Wallenstein and Magdalena and the rest of the army. They attacked it with pike staffs and long spears while it blew tongues of fire from its mouth and burned them where they stood.
Wallenstein attempted to drag Magdalena off by her hair behind the Dragon's back, and she screamed.
The dragon turned to her just as a spear entered its side. It roared in pain, and the flexing tail slammed into Wallenstein, sending him tumbling. A blast of fire consumed the rest of the squadron, and when the smoke cleared, the dragon was gone as well.
Magdalena groaned. Wallenstein's fall had wounded her leg and threw her to the ground. She would be dead soon if she was not caught by reinforcements sure to come. Slowly, she pulled herself over to the white rock. Digging into her satchel, she pulled out the pen and parchment. Every movement was burning pain, but she kept writing until it was done.

Wallenstein revived to find himself surrounded by the rest of his army.
"Generalissimo," the captain saluted him as cadets helped him to his feet. "You said you were hunting someone that could change the tide of battle." He gestured to the clearing, now about twice as large as it was before. "What happened?"
The memory came rushing back to him, and Wallenstein stumbled madly around the scene.
"Where is she?" He screamed hoarsely. "Surely she survived, if her body is not here; where did she go?"
"Whom, General?"
Wallenstein saw the glint of metal on the ground next to a roll of parchment and a blackened satchel. He picked up the object: a simple gold locket. 
"She would have changed the tide of battle," he choked.
The captain supported his shoulder as his knees buckled. "Never mind; let us find a leech who can tend to your wounds, and you will feel more like yourself when you have recovered."

Later, as the generalissimo slept, the captain inspected the locket he had retrieved. Inside was a strikingly lifelike cameo of a young woman. She stared at him with marble eyes of such depth, the captain slammed the locket shut and swore to himself never to look upon it again.
By the time Wallenstein recovered, he had no memory of the mysterious incident in the forest. The papers and the locket were shipped from place to place for several centuries, until the locket ended up at an antiques shop in France, where it caught the eye of a man named Hugo.
"Ahh," said Hans, the shopkeeper, "that is the locket claimed from the site of an unknown battle during the first part of the Thirty Years War. They say the woman depicted in it could write things and they would come true--but she vanished on the very same day of the battle no one knows about." He glanced up at Hugo. "Are you a collector?"
Hugo shook his head. "Not really. It will be a gift for my niece, who is coming to visit."
"Shall I wrap it for you, then?" Hans offered amiably.
Hugo nodded. "That would be great, thanks."
Hans placed the locket in a box and attached a note to the top. "What is her name?"
"Faith," Hugo answered, and Hans inscribed it on the card.
Hugo paid for the trinket and tucked it in his pocket. Faith liked antiques; she was going to love this locket...

Inside the locket, the cameo of Magdalena—the first Ecrivaine—stirred once, then became still.

And so it began...

Next Part >>>>>

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #7


Suggested By: Lauren Shearer

The List:
Name: Courtland
Place: Paris
Time: 1943
Object: Mug of hot chocolate

The Result:

Ten minutes later, they sat outside the cafe. Miranda cupped her hands around the steaming mug of hot chocolate, grateful for its warmth in the bracing wind. Her companion did not seem affected by it. When she looked up, he was staring at her.
"You look just like her, you know," he said softly.
"Who, my mother?" Miranda could feel the warm blush creeping over her skin.
"No," said he. "Iona." He smiled, as if there was a long and treasured history with a woman Miranda barely knew as anything but a very old woman.
"Who. Are. You?" She seethed through clenched teeth. "Why are you following me? How do you know so much about my great-grandmother?" She emphasized the words carefully.
The man sighed. His gaze dropped to his gloved hands. "Because the man who abducted her all those years ago—"
"Callum McGowan."
"Aye." Now the burr came out above the other accents of his speech. "Callum McGowan... was my father."
Miranda flinched so hard that her mug nearly fell off the table. She couldn't breathe. She could barely even see. "H-h-how?" she rasped hoarsely. She stared at those impossibly-blue eyes, in which she found no hint of guile. 

He was perfectly serious as he answered patiently, "My name is Courtland McGowan. I am the reason Callum took your great-grandmother to the moors that day. I had been taken by the dragon, you see, and my father wanted to—"
"No!" Miranda leaped up from the table. "What you say cannot be true! You expect me to believe there are dragons?"
Courtland reached out and seized her hand. The ring on his finger glinted in the pale sunlight.
"I expect you," he said urgently, "to listen to my words and understand what I am trying to tell you."
With fear in her eyes, Miranda sat stiffly in her seat.

Courtland began. "The dragon arrived not long before the first Uprising of 1715, when I was just a little boy."

Miranda drew her breath sharply. The man didn't look much older than her own father—and yet he spoke of his younger years occurring more than two centuries ago! She said nothing, and he went on.
"I had always known that the moors where the dragon lived were dangerous. It killed anything that ventured near its den. Soon, all of the moor became off-limits, until one very foolish, very drunk young man got it into his head to play dragon-slayer." Courtland cracked a wry smirk which Miranda did not return. He moved on with the tale.
"It was a dark night, and I do not recall much of it. One moment, I was sloshing my way through the bog, and the next, I was trapped in a small, warm crater which the dragon guarded, waiting for my father to come for me. 
Eventually he did, but the dragon would not allow him to see me. It told him—"
"Dragons can speak?" Miranda forgot about listening until Courtland motioned with his hand. "Sorry," she muttered, and lapsed back into silence.
"It told him," Courtland repeated, "that it sought the Ecrivaine, and if my father wanted to free me, he should bring her."
"So your father," said Miranda slowly, as Courtland paused to sip his tea, "thought my great-grandmother was this Ecri-person?"

Courtland shrugged. "Or the next best thing, perhaps. At any rate, my father returned a year later, bearing with him a woman—Iona—who was the famed Bride of Brodgar, and who should have been wearing the Ring of Brodgar to identify herself." He began twisting the ring on his own finger. "But she had lost the ring somewhere, and so the dragon accused my father of fraud. By that point, I knew my father would rather attempt to kill the dragon than be separated from me for a moment longer; the dragon realized this as well, so it grabbed me from the crater—" Just when Miranda had convinced herself that it was just a story, Courtland pulled up the cuff if his sleeve—revealing the same burn marks she had noticed on her great-grandmother's arm! "And before it let me go, it Marked me."

Miranda felt faint; nothing made sense anymore. "Marked you?"
"To the human eye, I am unchanged," said Courtland, "but my reflection—as you so conveniently discovered earlier—discloses my true form. I am cursed to amass the scales of a dragon on my body over the course of a century, and when my whole skin is covered, I enter a brief hibernation-like state, and shed the scales, renewing and maintaining the body I had that day."
Miranda blinked. As incredible as it was, everything made sense now: by all logic Granny Yoyo should have died long before Miranda's primary-school graduation, when the call came. No wonder the family had been so secretive about Granny Yoyo's age! "You're immortal?" She gasped.
"And somewhat invincible, at least where I am covered by the scales," Courtland confirmed. "Believe me, Miss Clarion, it is not as glamorous as the novels make it out to be. My fate since that day has been tied to that of the dragon. If the dragon dies by any hand except the one that bears the Ring of Brodgar, I will die. That is why I need your help."
"Me?"
"I have been following you since I first spotted you in Paris—"
"Paris!"

"Miss Clarion, please! When I saw how much you resembled your ancestor, I began to wonder if the dragon perhaps was not mistaken but only a few centuries too early to find the Ecrivaine."

"I don't even have the slightest notion what you're talking about."
"You know nothing of the Ecrivaine?"
Miranda shook her head. "What would a dragon want with her?"
"The Ecrivaine is the one who summoned the dragon to our world in the first place," Courtland explained. "And she would need the Ring of Brodgar to send it back."
"How do you know she hasn't got it already?" Miranda observed. "It's been almost two centuries by now; surely someone would have found it."

"I know it is not found because if it was, she would have to summon the dragon to her before she can send it back, and there haven't been any such sightings yet."

"Is that not it?" Miranda pointed to the ring on his finger: a silver dragon wrapped around a stone.
Courtland shook his head, "I wear this because sometimes when I awake from hibernation there are things I may forget, and I do not want to forget this, of all things. It is a replica of the real Ring of Brodgar; the original has not been seen since its disappearance. I only know what it looks like because Iona described it to me."
"What would you have done if I had been the Ecrivaine?"
Courtland gazed at her very seriously. "I would have stopped you from summoning the dragon."
"Hang on!" Miranda frowned and tilted her head. "I thought you wanted to summon the dragon, so that it can be sent back and lift your curse."
"I did, but, Miss Clarion, there are things that must be done in a specific order. The word of the Ecrivaine is powerful enough to summon the dragon on its own, but if she summons it before the Ring of Brodgar is in her possession, it will draw not only this one dragon but all dragons to her."

Miranda covered her head with her hands. "Ooohhhh boy, how did I ever get stuck in the middle of this?" She moaned.
Courtland sighed and pulled a few bills out of his wallet to pay for their drinks. He signaled that they would walk again.
"I don't know," he said once they had put the cafe a sufficient distance behind them. "All you or I can do is live with what we have been dealt. I must leave shortly—"
Miranda stopped. "Where are you going?"
Courtland pressed his lips. "I will sense it if the Ecrivaine summons the dragon, and unless the Ring has been found, I will enter my last hibernation that will lead to my death. If that does not happen, I must travel to the Stone Ring on Orkney Island off the coast of Scotland. There is where the Ecrivaine must bring the Ring so that she can release the dragon, and me as well."

Miranda stood and shuffled; no doubt her parents were wondering where she was; and Jeremy had promised to take her to dinner and the movies tonight.
"What do I do?" She asked.
"Nothing," answered Courtland. "The Ecrivaine will be in your direct line, but my guess is she has not been born yet. Go and live your life, Miss Clarion, and know that while I am still searching for the Ecrivaine, or waiting for her, as the case may be, I will be living my life as well. Perhaps we will meet again sometime later." He touched the brim of his hat to her and turned to continue down the sidewalk.

Miranda sighed and started the long walk back to her street. What a confusing day it had been!

Had she looked back just then, Miranda might have glimpsed a familiar, round face just disappearing into the crowd.
Pierre the dwarf did not stop till he reached the dark, cozy safety of his antiques shop. There, he reached into his pocket and took out a ring: a silver dragon wrapped around a fiery diamond. It had come to him from a mountain climber who had been exploring craters in Reykjavik. Pierre didn't know enough English to understand exactly what this ring meant, or why it was so important; to him it was just an impressive bauble. But they had mentioned the Ecrivaine, her way with words, and her apparent need for the ring—and Pierre was the only being who knew where, when, and how to find the Ecrivaine. Perhaps she could reward him handsomely for delivering this valuable ring to her. Tucking it back into his pocket, Pierre rubbed his hands together, flexed his knuckles, and picked up his spade. It was an old, bent thing, hardly worth two glances from anyone who came into the shop; only Pierre knew of its special properties, that when the spade dug, it not only cut through dirt but the fabric of time as well. He was headed west, to Marseilles, fifty years into the future, to the modest homestead of Miranda's future daughter, a woman by the name of Arielle...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Works-in-Progress Wednesday: "Princess of Undersea" -- Dining With The King

(Image from a Google search)
"The gown she received was a peacock-blue brocade trimmed in gold...."

Giles led her to a spacious room and introduced her to the maids who would be waiting on her, and sent for the royal tailor to get her fitted for new dresses. In the interim, Giles arranged for a dress to be sent up from the dress shop in town, so that Illeinina would have something to wear when Nathan introduced her to his father. The gown she received was a peacock-blue brocade trimmed in gold. It set off her eyes and pale skin, while two maids combed out her luxurious dark hair and styled it around her head very becomingly. She made her wishes known by head movements and hand gestures.
Finally, they helped her stand and walk out into the hallway where Prince Nathan was waiting. As much as she had been squeezed, pushed, jerked, and pinched by all these new things, Ylaine actually found that she could relax into the tiny steps the dress restricted her to, as it made her feel more sure of her footing instead of ready to fall over.
That moment when Prince Nathan turned and saw her all cleaned and human-looking was a sight Ylaine knew she would treasure for the rest of her life.
He grinned, but it wasn't the grin of amusement over her embarrassment. Ylaine wondered if it wasn't love in his eyes when he looked at her. He offered his arm as he had done in the marketplace, but this time Ylaine slipped her arm through his, the right way.
He laughed, "They must have some strange customs on the mainland, but you are learning ours quickly enough. My father awaits us in the Great Hall."
A fresh wave of apprehension washed over Ylaine as Nathan led her to the massive double-doors flanked by guards. How on earth was she going to impress the King with the horrible stutter she could never be rid of? Nathan ignoring the impediment was fortunate enough; Ylaine doubted she could have the same luck twice.

King Theodore sat at the head of the table. The smile he bestowed on his son faltered when he spotted the strange—albeit beautiful—girl behind him.
"Father," Nathan announced, bringing Ylaine forward,  "I've found her."
"Found whom?" Theodore frowned in puzzlement. "My son, the table is laid, and you bring a guest?"
Nathan signaled a waiting footman. "Bring another place. She will dine with us."
Ylaine hesitated there at Nathan's side. She knew that the ruler of a kingdom deserved a demonstration of respect—but she had no idea how humans bowed. As a mermaid she would straighten her body, thrust her arms back and flutter her tail; as a human, her body was already straight, and she had no tail. On impulse, Ylaine bent her head toward the King and bent her body into a half-crouch, throwing one arm back and bending the other in front of her as she had watched Nathan do. She held this position till her legs began to wobble, then stood.
The King and the Prince just stared at her. Ylaine saw a smile play across Giles' mouth.
King Theodore blinked. "What is your name, Lass?"
Ylaine could feel her tongue seize up; her mind fairly screamed the answer but her mouth would not move. 
Nathan answered for her. "Her name is Illeinina—and she was the one who saved me from drowning two days ago."
Theodore started and nearly fumbled his fork. "Really? Hm, ah, yes.... Indeed; well, Lady Illeinina, you have the kingdom's profoundest gratitude. Please do sit and join us."

Nathan grinned at her as she sat before the plate.
"I hope you like it," he said, "being from a sea town and all."
Ylaine stared at the dish before her: a sea bass, filleted and roasted, still crackling from its brief respite in the castle ovens. Not that she had not consumed fish before; the big, flat tunas and the sleek eels were every bit as much a food source to the mer folk as cattle and fowl were to humans. 
What puzzled her immensely was how to go about using the strange-shaped utensils laid all around her plate. All her life she had never used anything other than the fine-tipped whalebone skewers to either pinch or stab the food. These strange shapes—several with many stabbing points, one with a flat, smooth edge, and another that looked like a small sword—made the very act of eating seem like a complicated maneuver. Ylaine picked up the pronged utensil, watching Nathan's hands carefully out of the corner of her eye to see how it was used. 
The King and Prince, for their part, did not notice their guest's predicament, instead conversing amongst themselves.
"I hope the arrival of this girl has not made you neglect the instructions I gave you, Nathan."
"Not a bit, Father! Giles still makes me sit while he throws figures at my head like knives at a target!"
"Oh? Then what have you learned about the nation of Crossway?"
"Well... erm..."
"If we are going to establish a treaty, son, I want you to know all about it."
"No, no; I remember. It's just..." Involuntarily, his gaze betrayed his thoughts and wandered to the girl beside him.
"Well?" Theodore recalled him to reality. 
"Oh, er," Nathan stammered as both Giles and the King watched him from either side, "I know that the principal export from Crossway is fish and, um... Coral?"
"I believe the pearls are that kingdom's greatest treasure, but we will let that stand. Who rules Crossway?"
"Um, King—"
"Queen, son."
"Queen.... Davo--Davi..."
Theodore rubbed his brow. "Her name is Queen Devaine."
"Right."
Theodore cast a concerned glance in the direction of Giles. "I see that you have not been giving this kingdom the attention it deserves. Perhaps when the Queen arrives tomorrow I may have to—"
"No father!" Nathan begged. "I'll do better, I promise! It's just that, today, with Illeinina and all—"
"Is she too much of a distraction for you, Nathan?"
Ylaine could not restrain a hazarded glance; would she be sent away for his sake, so soon?
"No she is not," Nathan affirmed, even going so far as to take Ylaine's hand and clasp it reassuringly. "I will learn everything by tomorrow evening."
King Theodore snorted. "Hmph! See that you do."

Nothing more was said during the meal, but as they parted ways to retire for the night, Nathan put his arms around Ylaine's shoulders. She felt his warmth seem to radiate from his core; she had never felt such a thing in the water.
"Now that I've found you, I will never send you away, Illeinina," he whispered in her ear, his breath pulsing against her skin. "I promise."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Serial Saturday: The Suggestion Box, Vol. 2! List #6

Image from a Google search
Suggested By: Sam Garcia
The List:
Name: Miranda
Place: The border between Italy and France
Time: 12:00
Object: Hand mirror

The Result:

At a table outside a cafe in the little French town of Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee, just across the border from Italy, Miranda sighed and slammed the journal shut with a vengeance. "There was nothing to do but wait. The monster came"

Was that any way to end a journal? Was that any way to end a life?
She looked back at her notes again. Monsters did not exist—so what had Great-Granny Iona and her "wild, desperate" captor really encountered that day? She had survived, that much was certain. Miranda carried distinct memories of the elderly presence at her sixth birthday party, the crotchety old biddy with a scratchy brogue that the older generation called "Granny Yoyo," for whatever reason. 
But if there was no monster... What had threatened them? Granny Yoyo had large red birthmarks on both arms, which she claimed once were burn marks from dragon scales, but Mum had assure the young, impressionable Miranda that it was nothing more than subcutaneous blisters from a hot-water burn; that should have been the end of it.
Then, abruptly, as heirlooms were being shuffled from place to place or sold altogether as the Second War dragged on, Miranda had discovered Granny Yoyo's journal, and read the fantastic tale it contained: about her dear brother Fagin, and this mysterious Ring of Brodgar, the massively strong warrior Callum McGowan... And the Monster of the Moor. Miranda had visited the Old Country before the war started. Castle Brodgar was charred ruins by then, and the moors nearly dry—there had been a large clearing at the center of the moors, but this was undoubtedly a natural occurrence of some ancient volcanic shift. 

Miranda checked her watch. It was nearly 12:00; Jeremy would be knocking on her front door in about four hours, and there was still so much she had to get ready. She slipped the irksome journal back into her satchel and started the long walk back to the cab stop. 

On the way, her feet—drawn by the idyllic nature of "rue bon marche" and heedless to her practical mind—led her down an alley fairly crawling with hawkers and vendors offering their wares. Her eyes feasted and drank all the vivid colors and pleasing sights... Then her eye caught an otherwise nondescript storefront sandwiched tightly between two gaudier tourist shops. The small hanging sign merely read "Objets Antiques," as if there was nothing more to be said.

Miranda opened the narrow little door and peeked inside. It was a dim little shop, but packed full of interesting things from all over the continent.
A gravelly voice greeted her with a stream of French that sounded very pleasant. Miranda's practical side nearly won out, and she would have ducked back out the way she came with a foreigner's stock phrase "Non, merci!" 

But quite suddenly, there he was, standing in front of her, the wizened little man with the round face, offering her something that looked like a tea tray in his pudgy little hands. It was an ornate silver hand mirror.

"Un cadeau pour vous, mademoiselle! Il est très spécial!" The shopkeeper held out the mirror to her. "Très spécial!" He repeated.
Miranda backed away. "No," she stammered, "no money; I cannot pay."
The little man (he could not have been more than four feet high!) puffed out his chest and looked extremely offended. "Pierre dit que c'est un cadeau!" He remonstrated her, "Il ne prendra pas l'argent pour cela!" He fairly slipped the mirror into Miranda's satchel. "Il est à vous!" he insisted.
Miranda just wanted to get out of there. She swept out the door and fairly dashed down the lane, jostling against passersby as she did so.

One such pedestrian wore curious garb for a light spring day: a long black trench coat with a high collar, a wide-brimmed grey fedora, and black leather gloves. He entered the shop as Miranda left. He seemed to know the owner, who regarded him as one would a snake that had formerly bitten him. 

The man did not waste a moment.
"What did you find, Pierre?"
The dwarf said nothing.
"Come now, you gave her something; what was it?"
Still the antiques dealer did not answer.
"So that's how you're going to play it, eh? You really think she's the Ecrivaine?"
The dwarf still stared at him, blinking very slowly. 
"Come on, Pierre; I know you know where the Ring is. Tell me: is she the one?"
Pierre folded his arms over his barrel of a chest and stared back in defiance.
"Dwarves," the man spat, and stalked out of the shop.

Out on the street, Miranda's path lost aim when she pulled out the mirror. Why had the shopkeeper given it to her? What was so "tres special" about it?
Miranda finally noticed that she had taken a wrong turn down a deserted street and was now hopelessly lost. She stopped and tried cutting down a side street to try and return to the cab stop—if she could ever find the center of town again. 
Five more minutes presented a new problem: now that she was alone and disoriented, the second set of footsteps behind her grew impossibly loud. Miranda glanced over her shoulder. The man was dressed in all black and grey, making the round, silver ring on his gloved hand stand out with even more contrast. Miranda wondered briefly how the ring seemed very familiar for some reason, but mostly she just wanted to get away from this situation. She picked up her pace and headed back into town. Once there were more people about, she could lose herself more easily.

After many turns and feints among the visitors and citizens of the little town, Miranda dared to check if he was still behind her. She pulled out the hand mirror and, under the pretense of inspecting her appearance, she surreptitiously snuck a glance over her shoulder.
Blast! The man was only a few yards away. Miranda saw him reach up to adjust the angle of his hat. She almost got a complete look at his ring. She squinted closely at it—

Then she nearly dropped the mirror in fright. 
The man behind her was not a man at all. 

The face in the reflection was dark, scaly, and menacing. She wanted to run, but her feet stayed rooted to the spot as the ominous footsteps drew closer.

A large, rough hand clamped her shoulder. Miranda whirled around, shielding her face with the mirror.
"What do you want with me?" She shrieked.
Gloved hands closed around her fingers and twisted the mirror out of them. She squeezed her eyes shut as her body trembled.
"You are Miranda Clarion? Daughter of Suzanne Clarion.... the granddaughter of Iona Bhean An Brodgar?"
The use of her great-grandmother's full name came as a shock to Miranda. The family matriarch had been Iona Brodie since Mum was a little girl. Nobody but those of her own generation knew the whole title. She finally raised her gaze.
Keen blue eyes met hers. The man standing before her looked perfectly normal. The monster from the mirror had vanished. This face was soft and kind. Worn, yes—excessively so—but very harmless, and (more importantly) human.
Miranda blinked. "Who are you?" She gasped.

The man's icy blue eyes darted around the street where they stood. He handed the mirror back to Miranda, taking care to cover its surface so that he would not glimpse his reflection. 
"There is a cafe just over there," he nodded, "let us go over there to talk."
Miranda tensed as she looked at the mirror again and the fearsome image returned to her mind. "Why did that—"
 "Please, Miss Clarion!" His accent was thick, but untraceable. "You will want to be seated when you hear what I have to say!"


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Works-in-Progress Wednesday: "The Princess of Undersea" Excerpt--Walking Through Overcliff

The Overcliff Market (Image from a Google search)

"Look out, girl!"

The harsh cry grated over Ylaine's ears, jerking her from the introspection. She shrieked as a large wagon pulled by a strange animal bore down on her. The staff fell from her grasp as she tumbled out of its path.

SPLAT!

Ylaine felt like she was back in the sea as she landed headfirst in a cart full of fish. She flailed her arms, but the fish would not let her go. Unexpectedly, a human hand grabbed hers and pulled, bringing her up and out of the cart. Ylaine frowned to see that the fish had left stains and slime on her dress.
"Hello, there!" A voice laughed.
Ylaine looked up. Her rescuer had dark hair and twinkling brown eyes. He smiled at her. "Are you all right? That was quite a tumble!"

"Y-y-yes," she stammered. Her cheeks burned to hear her dead, clumsy voice—the reminder of what she had given up. She turned and began to hobble away.

In three strides, the tall young human had caught up to her. "Have we met?" He asked abruptly.
Ylaine didn't trust herself to speak, so she only shook her head. She was quite sure there was no possible way for him to have seen her anywhere on land.

Her companion shrugged easily. "Oh, don't worry, it'll come to me. What's your name?"
Oh gracious! She didn't know if she could manage her own name.

"Y-y-la-laine-ne," she sputtered.

"What? Ill—Illeinina?" He mistook her stutter for extra syllables. "Hmph; is that all? Have you no other title or family name?"

She shook her head again; the only title she could claim would be Princess, but surely that did not matter here in the human kingdom. She could be plain Illeinina the human for as long as this form lasted.
"You must be poor, then," the young man continued bluntly.

The remark stung Ylaine; the royal coffers of Undersea made her richer than any human could ever hope to be! She turned to hide the flush of shame and did her best to flounce away from him in a huff. Ylaine was careful to give a wide berth to everything around her, shrinking back from the slightest noise. Once, a large animal let out a loud "Moooo!" just as she was very near, and Ylaine whirled away with a scream—
right into the waiting arms of the young man.

"St-st-stop f-f-following-g m-me!" She spluttered.

He only laughed. "Oh come," he said with a merry twinkle in his eye, "if not me, then who else would you have to save you from the great and terrible milk cow?" He nodded toward the animal.
Ylaine frowned and tried to change direction once more. "I d-don't n-n-need y-you."

She and he were the same height, but he had more command over his legs than she did. He caught her again. "Illeinina, wait! Are you sure you have never been to one of my—of the palace's gala events?"

She jerked her hand away, "I h-have n-n-never-ver b-been t-t-to O-o-Over-c-c-cliff b-be-f-f-fore."

"Really?" The young man frowned. He surveyed the tattered dress and the tilting walk. "What are you doing here, then?"

"I n-n-need to f-f-find s-someb-b-body."

"Who is it?"

"N-none of y-y-your b-b-business!"

He still would not leave her side. "Illeinina—" he sighed. "Look, I'm sorry about the cow thing. That was unbecoming. Let me make it up to you: you could use a guide, since you're new here, so why don't I buy us a picnic, and after we eat, I'll help you find whoever it is you're looking for. Does that suit you?"

Ylaine almost refused him yet again, but she knew that what he said about a guide was true; maybe he even knew the man she sought. She had no idea what a picnic was, but it sounded like some kind of food, which she hadn't had since leaving the water. Finally, she nodded.
"Y-y...yes!" The word came out short and sharp, like the bark of a dog.

The man smiled and held out his arm to her. "I was hoping you'd say that," he said.

Ylaine wasn't sure what he was doing with his arm. She held hers up in the same way. Maybe this was a special way humans walked—

The young man laughed and took her left hand, bringing it through the crook of his arm.
"Pleased to meet you, Illeinina," he said. "My name is Nathan."

[...]

"In all seriousness, Illeinina, I envy you; you come to my country having freely left your own to begin a fresh start in a whole new world. I wish I could have that chance!"

Ylaine couldn't help feeling that there was something familiar about the longing in his eyes as he spoke.
"Not...really," she spoke slowly, quelling the relentless urge to stutter over each consonant. "Truly... I...feel I...changed...so much th-that maybe...I...didn't leave...at all...but...that... someone...else... not...me... left...in my...place."

Nathan shrugged and drank from his jug. "That's an interesting point: why leave if you have to be someone other than yourself? I can't help feeling that I certainly wouldn't want to risk not being myself. I don't know; you seem like a genuine article to me. In fact—" he peered at her searchingly, "I can't shake the feeling that we've met somewhere before."

Ylaine blushed and dropped her eyes. How could he know the impossibility of such a thing?

Nathan soon dispelled her confusion. "Oh now I remember!" he cried. "You remind me of the girl in my dreams." He looked at her with eyes alight.

Ylaine glanced up in alarm. What if he—no! It couldn't be! "D-d-dreams?" she forgot all about covering her stutter.

Nathan shook his head. "Not like that!" He tried to explain, "Okay: a few days ago I was out boating with some friends. A storm hit and the boat sank. I survived when they didn't, and just before the world went black..." He had been speaking very animatedly, but suddenly he recalled himself and stopped. "Never mind," he muttered, "I sound ridiculous."

Ylaine felt the realization flooding over her heart. "You...wonder...how... you... woke... up... on.... the... rock... in... the... Channel."

Nathan blinked in astonishment. "How did you—oh gods, you are her!" He seized Ylaine's hands with sudden energy. "You're the girl who saved me!" He reached up and smoothed her hair from her face. It was the same! The pale skin, the ethereal eyes! He had not recognized the raven-colored hair. "How can I repay you?" he gasped.

She blushed; isn't that just what she wanted him to say? Why did she feel so unworthy, then? "Well, you saved me at the market," she mumbled.

Nathan shook his head at the stuttering girl's modesty. "From the fish barrel?" he chuckled, "Come, that was nothing; I only rescued your dignity. That is far less than a life! I am still in your debt; tell me what you—"

"Your highness!"
The pair looked up as a well-dressed courtier approached from the road. He seemed to be waving to them—for a moment Ylaine wondered how a human could know she was a princess, but then Nathan was pulling her to her feet and straightening his appearance. He smiled as the courtier bowed. Suddenly the young lady felt her heart thudding within her as she realized she had grossly underestimated her new friend.

"On second thought," Nathan was saying with a grin, "I have an idea. How about a room at the royal palace?" He winked at her.

Ylaine's brain was spinning out of control. "P-p-p-p-palace! H-h-highn-n-ness!" She was so astounded that she would have run away, but he still held her hands. She did not know what to think. "Y-y-y-you! You're th-th-th-the-the—"

The courtier frowned at the stunned young lady in the tattered, sodden dress, and told Prince Nathan, "Your father requests that you return for supper--and I do believe you have a certain royal guest to prepare for?"

Nathan sighed and dropped Ylaine's hands to run his through his hair. "Oh yes, the Queen." He sighed, "I'd forgotten about that."

The courtier couldn't help casting a worried glance toward the strangely tall woman behind the prince, who had ceased jabbering and lapsed into petrified silence. "I beg your pardon, Highness, but what is that?"
Nathan stepped aside and led Ylaine forward. "Don't be rude, Giles! I want you to give her a room, and servants, and dresses befitting a lady who saved the Prince's life!"

Giles' eyes opened wide. He had been among those concerned for the Prince's safety during the storm that claimed so many lives, and elated at his miraculous rescue. He now smiled at Ylaine. "Oh! Right this way, Milady!"

Hearing mention of her new friend's identity only sent Ylaine into another bout of stuttering. "Th-th-the-the-the p-p-p-p-p-p—"

Excerpts from "Princess of Undersea":
-"Undersea and Overcliff" 
-"The Wish" 
-"The Witch and The Storm" 
-"The Bargain" 
-"Fish Out of Water" 
-"Dining With The King" 
-"Enter The Queen" 
-"Exposed" 
-"The Exchange" 
-"Carnival Showdown"

Monday, September 1, 2014

Monthly Reading List: August

*Not pictured: J is for Judgment and The Good, The Bad, and The Mediochre

Magyk (Septimus Heap #1) Angie Sage
Rather pleasant little book. Very light reading, but not super-annoying characters.
The last time I picked up a series that looked intriguing after seeing it repeatedly on school library shelves (The Last Dragon Chronicles) it ended up very very badly. The series completely lost its head after two books, and I finally had to give up instead of risking yet even more mess. (though, now that I'm looking back, it might have been warranted, but premature... we'll see if I end up revisiting that series...)
This one caught my eye because of the neat cover design. (Always a plus!) I felt that the adventure started out well enough, and if I am reading the reviews aright, it sounds like Sage keeps it light and fun. The things most people find annoying aren't that much of a bother to me, and there are plenty of entertaining characters. 
Here's to a great series!



The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
Severe disappointment on many counts after the ravishing color of the first one!
Cormoran Strike is back in action. Since the Lula Landry case, he has been mucking his way through infidelity confirmations, both imagined and real. Robin, his "temporary assistant" has kept on with him so faithfully that her boyfriend Matt is getting jealous.
Their next case seems like a simple one: a prolific author has disappeared. His wife is convinced he has just run off and needs to be brought home. Then he is found murdered in a truly sadistic fashion. Then Strike finds out that the manuscript he supposedly took with him contained scathing caricatures of pretty much everyone in his life—presenting him with a hefty list of suspects who would certainly have motive to not only want him dead, but the gumption to do it.
Anybody who is expecting a nice, delightful romp through the psyche of a writer (as told by a writer) should just forgo this book and stick with the first one. Sure, the character development between Cormoran and Robin is a thing of beauty—dear Ms. Rowling certainly hasn't lost her touch in that respect—but these scenes are far overshadowed by the grisly, crass, graphic, vulgar nature if the case. It is seriously the worst thing I think I have read (in content, NOT quality.) I only kept at it because I wanted to see how in the world such a wonderful author could feasibly finish such a tale of total depravity and despicable imagery—and even then, I was a little bit disappointed with the ending, which did not justify the disturbances of everything preceding it in the least. The thing is, it was well-written, I heartily acknowledge that, and this unfortunate installment in no way lessens my respect for her... But I am sad that so much of the book is so completely the opposite of my tastes so as to render this book un-commendable.

The Target (Will Robie #3) David Baldacci
Interesting finish to an exciting series, finding out a lot of past to a very intriguing character.
In the last book, Robie and Reel went from enemies to tentative allies. Now they're together again, and the CIA wants them because something went rotten in the White House, and who better than the very best to rectify the situation? 
As usual, Baldacci's treatment of his characters is marvelous. A bit light on "Super Agent Nicole Vance" this time, but Julie Getty returns for her moment to shine, and we get to find out more about the elusive Jessica Reel.
Where this book kind of falters is in the nature of the "foreign policy" side of the story: the things that are going on in places outside the US. I felt like the things that happened on "home soil" were a lot better paced, more exciting, and a lot more simplified like his usual style. While the "foreign" stuff I realize was necessary, I confess I found the other parts (like the numerous connections and reveals of Jessica's past as it catches up with her in the middle of all this mess) a lot more interesting. The banter was witty as ever, and the whole thing highly entertaining.

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) Marissa Meyer
Wow! I read this book in a single day because I couldn't get enough of it! Kiera Cass should have known about Cinder when she went and invented America, The Vapid. 
Just when you thought all YA adaptions of fairy tales were shallow drivel laced with love triangles, steamy make-out scenes (and fantasies-of-making-out scenes) and docile, innocent white girls... When a certain "fairy tale-ISH" series has you mistrusting any author with the last name "Meyer" or any variant thereof...
I finally broke down and placed a hold on Cinder just because I'd been seeing the third book, Cress, on the shelf repeatedly and was extremely curious what it would be about. I checked it out with the intention of confirming or dispelling my suspicions. It could be another "Selection"... But then again, it could not be. I determined that if I detected even a smacking of America Singer I would return it immediately.

I couldn't be more delighted to be proven so very wrong.

Set in a future where humans own android servants, Cinder, as a cyborg, is definitely a second-class citizen. Her "stepmother" is the wife of the man who adopted her and died soon after, leaving this shallow, materialistic woman with two daughters and a cyborg.
The winks and nods to the original fairy tale fit wonderfully into this new setting (like the "pumpkin coach" is an "ancient" orange-colored Volkswagen Beetle that she fixes up to drive herself to the ball) and the twists and new sides of the story are both intriguing and amusing. I am excited to see what she has done with other tales as I continue through the series!

The Giver Lois Lowry
Very good story, poignant and simple.
I remember reading the story "Number the Stars" and enjoying it very much growing up. I don't know why I didn't read the book sooner. Maybe the title gave very little indication what the book could actually be about; I don't know why, but I would constantly get this title mixed up with the Shel Silverstein story, "The Giving Tree." Maybe the gnarled tree and the gnarled old man on the front always misled me as to what it might be about.
Lesson learned: don't judge a book by its cover. 
The Giver turned out to be nothing like I expected. The story was simple, straightforward, concise, and yet extremely poignant. Lowry seems to almost mimic her own world in the style of her writing: stark yet teeming with life, each word weighed and measured and laid down with such deliberation that she gets her point across in far less time than most YA authors today. I very much enjoyed this book.


The Good, The Bad, and The Mediochre Calum P. Cameron
Ridiculously fun read! The funniest book I've read since... oh, I don't know, Grave Beginnings? (and definitely a lot cleaner, language-wise, since it's a kids' book!)

I probably would have never even considered a book like this had not one writing buddy shared it with another on Facebook. It was free that day, so I thought I'd just sample it and see whether I might like to download it myself.
I got about five pages in and knew it had to be so. The author writes in a voice similar to Doug Adams, with characterizations worthy of Eoin Colfer, and a fantastically unique approach to the whole business of the "magic realm within the real world" trope that had me giggling long after I finished the book. 
The spelling was a bit off, the lack of chapter divisions made reading the book feel like trying to keep track of the errant clauses in a run-on sentence—but the story was so incredibly delightful that my inner child trounced my inner Grammar Police. This book was a wonderfully eclectic homage to some of YA's most entertaining sci-fi/fantasy authors—replete with judicious nods and references that outdid each other in gregariousness. If you adore fantasy and humor and are looking for some light, fun reading, I would definitely recommend this book!

J is for Judgment (Kinsey Millhone #10) Sue Grafton
Interesting mystery, but can't say it was ever very exciting at all.

Grafton has done a fairly decent job in her series, so "sloughs" like this are not as much of a problem to me. (It's the tenth book, for crying out loud! The woman deserves a medal for creating a series of mysteries for every letter of the alphabet! How many authors do you know have created a series longer than fifteen books and still maintains such a fresh and promising voice?) 

This book starts with a decent premise: the Insurance agency Kinsey works with has only just paid a client's life insurance policy, when the deceased is spotted at a resort in Mexico. Kinsey is sent to investigate, and this puts her squarely at the center of a mystery that struts its way through all the cliches: the man runs before Kinsey can catch him, after his son was arrested as an accomplice to murder; before she can find him, he's broken his son out of jail. Meanwhile, he had remarried under the new identity so his wife never knew he was alive, and this woman is under a false name as well, and things just get really confusing. There are some attempts at humor and awkward situations (that I did not find all that entertaining) and news that Henry's brother married the crotchety Rosie (which I found VERY entertaining!), but on the whole this was just an unsatisfactory "filler chapter" in an otherwise entertaining "book."

The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain #1) Lloyd Alexander
Finally, I'm reading the book everybody's referencing all the time. Yay me! It was pretty good, for a classic. It's been a long time since I've read a classic. What can I say about it? Classics are good for idyllic landscapes and moral guides for stalwart children through a treacherous land of enchantment and inhuman characters. I had seen Disney's "Black Cauldron" a few years back, so reading it through brought back flashes of memory, and I am definitely going to continue this famous series, but yeah, classics are very different. They certainly don't write them like they used to!
Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper loses the most special pig in the lot, the "oracular" (whatever that means) Hen Wen, and so chases after her. His journey takes him all over the place and turns his simple lifestyle on its head as he discovers unrest between kingdoms, a plot by one to overthrow the rest, a deposed Prince, a kidnapped, feisty princess, and a strange creature named (or called) Gurgi. It's fascinating and at the same time teaches a lot about character and good and evil and whatnot.