Saturday, July 22, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter H

The List:
-Herman Haggerty, Harriet, Hailey
-Human Resources, Hawaii, Honolulu
-Half-past, Holiday
-Hologram, hero, hand, hookah
The Result:
"To Honor a Hangman"

At precisely half-past eight in the morning, Herman Haggerty strolled into his new office. The coy young receptionist grinned and nodded to him as she prepared incoming files for the day and sent them to his tablet.
Herman snapped his fingers, and the holographic screen appeared in his vision. It had been nearly a week since his promotion, but so many people still sent him congratulatory messages. Herman scrolled through them with a roll of his eyes, basking in the mingled envy and awe expressed by these employees.
He had earned this spot. Because of his ruthless initiative, Peres Corporation would break ground on the island of Hawaii to set up a fully-automated distribution center right smack in the middle of that most-coveted vacation destination for those with credit to blow. Because of his cleverness, they would do it without the additional "worker welfare" tax typically levied on stores with a minimum staff of ten people. Herman had figured out how to automate the whole store so that just nine programmers could keep things running smoothly. Without the added tax, and the development of android clerks to man the store, Herman Haggerty had just secured a round-the-clock revenue source, just on the brink of the holiday season. Everyone was happy for him.

He made his way down the hall as one by one each manager came to the door and greeted him. Just outside his office, the personal secretary he'd chosen from the Executive Escort pool smiled and stepped forward to accept his jacket.
"It's good to see you, sir," she chirped.
At her cue, the line of managers began applauding. Herman executed a perfect turn and raised his hand to smile and wave his acceptance.
In the flurry of adulation, one man stood out. Herman's eyes scoped him out instantly, the old man at the back standing with his hands folded. 
The moment ended, and Herman refocused on his supportive fans. He gave them another wave, turned, and entered his office.

"Harriet?" He called over his shoulder as the secretary entered behind him.
"Yes, sir?"
"I liked that entrance. Notify all staff that we'll do it again tomorrow."
"Right away, sir."

Herman was a benevolent man. Maybe the old guy didn't understand who he was. Maybe he felt a little awkward about applauding. Well, he'd know for sure by the end of the day!

The next morning when Herman walked in, every employee stood waiting for him. A rousing bout of "Huzzah" echoed and repeated the whole way down the hall. Herman shook hands with the managers like a celebrity on the red carpet. He turned around to give them a wave again—

And there was the same man! Still standing stoically next to the door, still staring at him with the same mild expression. 
"Harriet," Herman hissed as the managers dispersed, "who is that man?" He pointed down the hall.
"What man, sir?" She asked softly, glancing toward the managers.
Herman gripped her arm and pulled her close. "That man!"
"I can check files with Human Resources for you."
"Do that!" Herman plopped at his desk and tried to focus on his goals for the day.

He had just gotten off the phone with the foreman in Honolulu when Harriet requested entry. Herman allowed it, and she stated, "Sir, I've found the man."
"Great! Send me the file," Herman replied, waving her off.
It arrived on the hologram, and Herman eagerly scanned the file.

"Hmm, Nick Carson, eh?" He glared at the photo in the top corner. "I'll teach you to scorn me..." he checked the Employment History section. He winced at the headache crawling into his temples. "Integra? Well, that explains it." Peres had overtaken that company more than fifty years ago, yet there remained a few holdouts who clung to backwards ideals and strange philosophies of professionalism. Most of them were pretty harmless, but that wasn't what bothered Herman. Nick Carson needed to be taught a lesson, and it needed to be soon. 

But how was he going to justify going after just one man?

The issue hounded him all afternoon. It followed him into the lounge that evening where he met his wife, Hailey, for dinner. He should have been enamored with her. After all, she wore a new outfit in the style that showed off every inch of her exquisite, curvy body. She had spent all day at the spa getting her face and hair done in the latest style. Rhinestones gave her eyes an extra glimmer, and a dash of glitter graced her neck. He knew it would be the flavored kind. She liked to taste good, just for him.
She took a long drag on the hookah they shared and blinked slowly at him. 
"What's on your mind?" She whispered warmly.
Herman took the pipe and inhaled, willing the vapor all the way into his sinuses. "Trouble at work," he muttered.
"Trouble?" Hailey echoed, leaning closer. "Didn't you just get promoted to Assistant Director?"
"It's been a couple weeks, but yeah."
"I heard about the memo you sent out, that everybody needed to stand and cheer when you arrived in the morning."
"Yeah, and most of them do." He thought of Carson and his gut twisted again. 
"There's just this one guy who never budges an inch."
"Then have him demoted."
"It gets better: he's one of the Integra holdouts." Herman paused to fill his eyes with the twisting, sparkling dancer on the stage behind him. She, at least, did what she was told. He wondered mildly if Harriet had been trained to do any of those moves. He leaned over to sniff deeply at Hailey's shoulder.
She tilted her head to expose her neck to his lips. "I see," she said. "So you don't want to look bad when you complain about this one guy."
"Right," huffed Herman between kisses. "I mean, Integra probably doesn't exist anymore, but those idiots are famous for how good everybody thinks they are. I need to teach him who's boss, but I need some kind of cover to help me keep my reputation."
"Well," Hailey mused as Herman enjoyed the flavor of her neck glitter, "What if you were to come up with a way to implicate all the Integra holdouts still actively employed? He wouldn't have anywhere else to go, where he could be untouchable."
Herman paused his kissing. "But what could I use, though?" He muttered. 
Hailey leaned back, and her facial jewels winked at him. "Your authority is much higher than it was when you were just the CEO, isn't it?"
Herman nodded. "That's why it just frustrates me that a guy like him won't give me the respect I deserve! After all, President Parisian chose me to be his personal protege! How much higher do I need to be to warrant any kind of honor from those people?"
She still smiled. "Do you still have those secret files from back in the day? The ones you assigned to Integra employees under the table?"
Herman squinted at his wife. "Yes; what do you expect me to do with those?"
She laughed. "Oh honey, don't get so nervous! I'm just saying, what if you were to alter those files, removing your involvement—"
The implication of her plan began to take shape in his mind. "If I removed myself from the equation, and filled in the name of an Integra import instead—"
"The blame rests squarely on their shoulders," Hailey finished, giving him a small peck on the cheek.
"Ohhhh," Herman gushed, "President Xavier would not be happy to see those files with all those names."
Hailey nodded, "And with all of Integra taking heat, nobody's going to notice a doddering old programmer. You could do to him whatever you wanted, and everyone will think he deserved it. You'll be even more of a hero."

Herman wagged his head as he kissed Hailey's full, soft lips again. "You're hot when you play dirty, you know that?" He whispered.

Nick Carson was going to hang, and Herman Haggerty would gladly do it with his own hands, if he had to.
This excerpt is based on the projected plot for "Focal Point", a future novel in the ReBible series, based on the book of Esther. As a contextual reference, for those who know the story: "Nick Carson" is based on Mordecai--his real name is Mike Decker, and he remained in the corporate city owned by Peres Corporation (aka the Persian Empire) and took on a cover identity, along with his daughter Vanessa, who takes the cover name of "Tricia Carson" when she is forced to participate in a televised contest to become the personal assistant (much like Harriet in this scene) to President Xavier (King Xerxes). Herman is, of course, Haman, who has it out for the "former Integra employees" (the nation of Israel being represented in this story line as a small business called Integra Communications). Follow the hyperlinked text for previous excerpts--some of which may not end up in the novel at all, since only recently I've been inspired with new ideas to add to contribute to the setting. Enjoy!
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Reader's Review: "Barrow Fiend" by Amy Hopkins

Synopsis from Amazon:

When Emma is approached by DCI Greyson to assist with a case, her first instinct is to say no. Still shaken by the attack on her life six months earlier, and balancing her friendships with a budding relationship, she'd prefer to stay clear of the danger.
However, circumstances force her hand and she throws herself into the investigation. She soon realises that her target isn't a mysterious creature, but a dangerous man without the slightest care for human life...
Can Emma survive the biggest risk she's ever faced, or will she have to sacrifice too much?


My Review:

You know that feeling when you finish a book and it has taken you through such a roller coaster that when you finally get to the end you feel all hyper like you want to solve all the world's problems and you're just going to forego all semblance of punctuation in the process?

Yep, this is basically me just now.

I read the first book in the series about a year ago, and absolutely adored it—now reading the next one is like revisiting old friends, seeing how much everyone has grown since the last harrowing experience, and vehemently rooting for them in the face of this new peril!

I loved every moment of this book. Emma is more accepted into the Talent community—albeit grudgingly, and it doesn't mean that she has grown in confidence in her abilities. Doesn't help that most of the Talented people in her life view her as either a political tool or a pretentious weakling. But when a string of vandalism uncovers a dangerous smuggling ring that threatens to expose the Other world to our own—Emma has no choice but to dive in and help prevent the impending disaster, even if it might kill her in the process.

The expansion in the world-building that happened in this novel was absolutely amazing and just stellar in every way! I loved the lessons learned and the way the characters unfold even more this time around. Harrod and his stuffy ways getting overruled or told off for his insensitivity, Martin preferring to withdraw from pressure and yet having to step up and defend those in danger, even the way Emma grows to depend on Gibble and Barg as more than just "non-human assistance", but as friends. No spoilers, but she does get taken pretty low, and the way various characters rally around her touched me deeply. The camaraderie in this story is absolutely delightful. This is just the sort of wholesome storytelling that remains treasured for generations, with none of the "grey morality" or "questionably intimate scenes" that very often accompanies urban fantasy adventures dealing with magic and makes it hard to share with a younger generation.

Amy Hopkins blows me away with BARROW FIEND, and I would rate it *****5 STARS***** all the way, and add without hesitation an Upstream Writer Certified WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMENDED endorsement. A delightful adventure from start to finish, and characters worth raving about!
Further Reading: (Urban Fantasy/Excellent Series/Great Characters/Good Pacing)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
        -I Still Have A Soul
        -I'm Still Alive 
 The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path
       -Tiger's Shadow
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd  
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter G

The List:
-Great Moon Rising
-Gorge, gulch, graveyard
-Gate, Giant Squid, General, gills, gossamer, gauntlets, garnets, garland

The Result:

"Gondu's Gamble"
The sunbeams cast rippled patterns over the seabed, broken by dark shadows darting to and fro. The kingdom of Undersea was awash with activity: the King's Army would be setting forth on a mission to conquer the monsters that had been plaguing the merfolk.

"General Gondu!" A messenger swam through the long, narrow maze of passages that served as the army garrison. "Has anyone seen the General?"

A bulky guard eyed the lithe swimmer only just over half his own size. "The General is in his quarters," he drew the name out slowly, his gills flapping in barely-concealed irritation. The soldier drew two thick bone-knives from their sheaths on his back to check their blades. "He's kind of hard to miss, if you know what I'm saying."

The scrawny young messenger popped his throat gills in terror, but scurried on his way.
"General Gondu!"
"Get outta the way!"
The messenger had to dart and twist to avoid being pushed back by an entire unit swimming toward the exit behind him. Twisting and curling his tail fluke out from among the savage blades, the messenger sighed with relief as he hovered in the empty tunnel.

"General Gondu, sir?" The messenger inched forward.
"... No, no; that's not it. Why, I'd be delighted, your majesty. For me? Ah, that's quite lovely!"

The messenger followed the droning, aimless voice till he came to the opening in the coral wall, draped across with a curtain of sea grass.
"And now," the voice continued, "shall we discuss that betrothal you mentioned? Your daughter is quite—"
"General Gondu?"

The messenger darted back against the far wall as the tall, grey-skinned merman lunged toward him. Bulging green eyes glared from amid a tangle of red hair as Gondu sneered at the messenger.
"How dare you sneak up on me like that?" He thundered. "Do you want to be taken for a spy? Don't you know that I could have you exiled? My mother's a gossamer, she could rot the scales right off your—"
"General Gondu, sir!"
"Do not interrupt me! I am a General in the King's Army and I will not be disrespected by meaningless little—"
"The King is ready to depart, sir!"
The messenger delivered his notice and made for the nearest exit.

Gondu ruffled his neck-gills in disgust. "Guppy," he snarled, withdrawing into his room.
He emerged a few moments later, wearing a pair of golden gauntlets set with glittering garnets, his hair interwoven with a green seaweed garland. He paused to observe his reflection in a shiny slab of obsidian, flexing his long limbs and straightening his tail.
A chorus of voices outside the garrison distracted him from his musings. Gondu slipped out an opening and joined the school of soldiers swimming overhead.
The merman beside him snorted. "Took you long enough!"
"Shut your gob," Gondu jabbed him in the side, sending the merman into the current of several other soldiers.
The merman just ahead, a long, swift soldier with white hair chopped short, turned back to glance over Gondu's accessories.
"You're ridiculous, Gondu, you know that?"
"Hey!" Gondu stiffened but did not slack his pace. "Remember, Gryff, you're a captain and I'm a General. You should show me more respect!"

Gryff shrugged. "You really think a couple of trinkets and seaweed in your hair is going to protect you from these monsters?"
Gondu rolled his eyes and held up his hands. "They're not just trinkets, Gryff. Remember the event that just happened?"
"The Giant Squid attack?"
"No, you gutless grouper! The Great Moon Rising!"
"So? Rumor has it that this is he last one we will be celebrating in a long while."
Gondu frowned. "Who says that? Never mind, that's beside the point. My point is—you know how my mother is a gossamer, right?"
Gryff gave a careless pop of his gills. "So?"
"So I got these from her." Gondu held up his hands to admire the gauntlets.
"Your mother gave you useless pieces of treasure that offer you no protection and make you look like a cucumber."
"They are ENCHANTED!" Gondu practically screamed.

Far ahead, the commander swimming next to King Davor turned back to survey the army. "DISORDER IN THE RANKS!" He boomed, his fiery orange tail of hair whipping out from under a helm of scallop shells. His yellow eyes traveled down the long, snaking school till he saw the mass of green and flash of gold.
Gondu caught the furious stare of the commander and stared right back.
Gryff twisted forward. "Great, now you got us in trouble," he muttered.
Gondu folded his arms. "I'm a general. He can't make trouble for me."

The army swam onward until they reached a long, wide crevasse lined with quartz crystals and hard coral branches: the Glittering Gorge, the very edge of Undersea's boundary.

"Gather!" Boomed the commander, and all the mermen pulled in close to hear him. Gondu jostled and floated higher till he was near the top. He hated having someone else's tail in his face, as much as he didn't mind obstructing the view of those behind and below him.

"Generals!" Commander Dyllum instructed, "Our scouts have sighted the predators frequenting a few areas along our borders. Each of you will be posted to those areas, with the task of corralling the creatures and directing them toward the King's division, which will be posted at the geyser under the rise at the down-current edge of Undersea. General Tynnan, you will lead the squadron toward the Great White Shark’s hunting grounds, in the ship graveyard,” He waved his spear, and the General split off with his men.

“General Urgyn,” Dyllum indicated another merman, “Your group will track the Giant Squid currently feeding on the schools in the Tunnel Caves.”
Gondu watched with envy as a second portion of the mermen departed. He had always envisioned himself as the hero who would vanquish either the fearsome shark or the terrifying squid. The fact that those two predators had been assigned to other units meant that he was left with—

“General Gondu!” Again, Dyllum’s eyes bored right through Gondu’s face. “Post your guards here at the Gorge, to await the Giant Oarfish. When it comes, you are to direct it there,” he gestured with his spear up the rise behind them, “toward the geyser.”
Gondu felt his gills tense; he wanted so badly to protest the unfairness of his position. After all, shouldn’t the merman with enchantment to protect him be the one to lead the largest group against the fiercest predator, rather than waiting for some eel’s cousin to come wedge itself among the crystals and coral? But just before the words came out of his mouth, Gondu saw King Davor pass by, leading his men up the very rise. He would show the king just how respectful and dutiful he could be!
“Yes, sir!” Gondu barked, gratified when he saw the king pause, his dark hair swirling in the current.
Dyllum only joined the pod and traveled to the rise without a backward glance.

Gondu turned and stared at the mermen aimlessly hovering behind him.
“You heard the commander!” he barked. “I want all you worthless bottom-feeders to take up positions along this gorge! The Oarfish is coming! Move your tails!”

The shadows deepened as the sun moved along its course. Still, the oarfish did not make an appearance. Gondu watched with growing fury as plenty of other fish coasted by his post—but not the great, impressive predator he wanted. He drifted off in the direction of the Tunnel Caves. How he longed to be there! He could almost hear the shouts of those soldiers as they gave the Giant Squid chase through the arches—
“Hey!” Gondu flinched as a merman called out to him. “Where are you going?”

Gondu turned and gave the insolent perch his most ferocious stare. Bringing himself up straight to his full height, he growled, “Never you mind! Attend to your duties!”

A moving shadow distracted him from his anger. The Squid! He could see flashes of its tentacles as the mermen herded it up toward the rise. Every soldier felt the explosion of the geyser and heard the lusty cheers as the Giant Squid met its hot, sulphuric end. Gondu even heard some of his own men calling out to their barrack-mates—or so he thought.

“Fish ho! I see it! General Gondu, I see it!”

Gondu whirled around just in time to see a dark streak slice through the water. His gills began fluttering faster than they ever had before.
“Oh! Um, okay,” he stammered, thinking hard about how they were ever going to get that creature contained in the gorge; it was headed the wrong way! How was he ever going to gain the recognition he sought?

“Change of plans!” he announced to his squadron. “Follow the oarfish toward the Tunnel Caves!”
“Follow it?” queried one of the soldiers. “But Commander Dyllum instructed us to—“
“I know what are instructions were!” Gondu snapped. “I say we’re changing the plan. We’ll corner the oarfish in…” he swam out a ways, seeking a location just ahead of where the oarfish aimed, “That gulch!” he pointed to a shadowy gap. “We’ll get him in that gulch and finish him off ourselves!”
“But what about—“
“DO NOT QUESTION ME!” Gondu raised both fists, letting the dying sunlight glint off the gold gauntlets. “I AM YOUR GENERAL AND YOU DO AS I SAY!”
He turned and swam toward the gulch.

The closer he got, the more he began to recognize that it perhaps wasn’t the most strategic location, as far as being able to control the charging oarfish—but at the same time, the troop on the rise would have an excellent vantage point to see what should promise to be a stupendous battle—even if it was just an oarfish.

“INCOMING!” a solder at the back screamed, and Gondu whirled around just in time to see the oarfish charging directly for him! Easily twice as long as Gondu himself, the predator’s eyes seemed to follow the glint of the golden gauntlets, and Gondu rushed away with an unbecoming shriek. Too late he noticed the length of garland stretching beyond his hair, right into the oarfish’s path.

Every tendon in his body seemed to snap as the oarfish took the garland in its mouth and twisted in the opposite direction of Gondu’s flight. The soldiers in his command all swam like scared angelfish, well out of reach of the oarfish’s sinuous tail.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Gondu screamed, as the oarfish dragged him like a length of rope from a shipwreck. “SOMEBODY STOP THIS MONSTER!”

Finally, a few of the spear-bearers drew close enough to distract the oarfish, who released its grip on Gondu’s garland—but the garland itself remained tangled in its jagged teeth. Gondu wrenched himself away, and one of the spears scored a hit, drawing a red cloud of blood from the fish’s side, but the oarfish lashed out immediately, chomping at the merman’s tail fluke.
Gondu fought to put as much distance between himself and the oarfish as possible. He was just supposed to direct his portion of the troops, wasn’t he? He didn’t necessarily need to be part of the fighting.
“Dear mother, protect me now,” he whispered to the gauntlets.
“LOOK OUT!” a merman screamed, and Gondu found himself once again the target of a very angry oarfish.
Gondu held up his gauntlets. “NOOO!” he wailed.
The snout of the oarfish caught him square in the chest and sent him reeling and tumbling backward as the fish merely glided right over him. When Gondu finally regained his balance, the gauntlets were gone. He had no more protection—and no weapon.

“SHARK!” one of his men screamed, and Gondu saw the clear trail of blood left by the oarfish—and the Great White Shark, just in the act of coming up the rise, surrounded by General Tynnan and his soldiers… coasted right across the dark current.
The General had to bark out quick orders as the shark immediately descended into a blood frenzy. Now every available mer-soldier fought to take the Great White Shark down, while it swam after the wounded Giant Oarfish. Gondu, meanwhile, cowered in a cave; there wasn’t much else he could think of to do. He trembled in the shadows like a little guppy, while King Davor himself came off the rise to finish off the shark, once it had slain the oarfish that should have been Gondu’s responsibility.

Gondu watched the whole scene and drifted his own path back to the garrison of Undersea. He knew what his fate would be.


“General Gondu,” King Davor announced in the royal court on the following day, “in light of your disobedience, your disregard of direct orders, your foolishness that placed so many valiant soldiers in needless peril, and your willful disregard of your post—you are hereby dismissed from my army!”

“NOOOO!!” a creaking voice wailed from just in front of the coral walls. An ancient merwoman—more of a withered sea-hag than merely an elder—glided forward, her pale-grey hands reaching like the feeders of a sponge. “Your Majesty, I beg you! Forgive my son, he is but a boy!”
Gondu cringed at his mother’s simpering response. If Davor wasn’t going to pay him any attention, why did he need to keep working so hard and getting into dangerous situations, anyway?
His mother continued, “Please, take my son back—his military stipend is the only thing sustaining me in my old age!”
King Davor folded his arms, and the Royal Medallion glinted on his chest. “I have passed judgment,” he said firmly. “Present yourself to the Council if you seek assistance, but your son will no longer have a place in my army. He is a coward and a buffoon—“

You take that back!” The hag rasped, shaking a gnarled finger at the king. “Do you not know how dangerous it is to gainsay a gossamer as powerful as I am? I know you think you’re so special because your little daughter got the last fairy’s Gift—well, faugh I say to that! I have a Gift, myself! And with that Gift I curse your daughter! May her Gift bring you nothing but grief! May your Grace tumble into an early grave! May you never know a moment’s goodwill—“
“REMOVE THIS WITCH AND HER UNGRATEFUL SPAWN FROM MY COURT IMMEDIATELY!” King Davor thundered, and a host of guards dragged the keening gossamer out of sight, with Gondu following limply behind.

Davor relaxed and glanced to the throne next to him. His wife, Queen Yssandra, stretched out a hand toward him, and he took it. In the other arm, she cradled their infant daughter, a tiny thing who was all black tail and purple hair.
“Do not worry, my love,” Davor murmured to Yssandra. “I vow that I will let nothing ever happen to you or to our child. Dayina will never be allowed in the kingdom again. All will be well.”


Did you enjoy this story? "Gondu's Gamble" is a tie-in tale to my fantasy novella, "Princess of Undersea", available on Amazon!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reader's Review: "I'm Still Alive" by Kelly Blanchard

Synopsis from Amazon:

Sorcerer Prince Lorrek returns home to find chaos. It is feared Princess Mordora has released an ancient, embittered magic user from his prison. He must be stopped before he regains his strength and reduces all mankind to dust. At the same time, visitors from another world have come. They claim the World Orbs and handblades of Cuskelom are theirs, and they want them back, or there will be war. Lorrek must resolve both issues without ushering in another age of war and conflict.


My Review: 

Three books in, and this series CONTINUES to astonish me! After the intense emotional roller coaster of the last one... I suppose I should have been expecting more... but I was not prepared for how much more Blanchard was ready to deliver! 
If you've made it this far in the series, get ready to see more of the different kingdoms, learn more of the ancient legacy, and discover a slew of new, deadlier conflicts to face! More of everything: more giggles at Vixen's sassy quips, more gut-wrenching at the effortless power of a mysterious new villain, more sympathy as Lorrek expends more and more of himself to try and keep all his friends (and family... to say nothing of the whole freaking world!) from falling apart at the seams, more heart-stopping clashes between enemies, more lush, thrilling scenery as the characters actually travel to locations that before had only been mentioned in reference, more jaw-dropping reveals as characters you thought you knew turn out to have VERY intriguing secrets! 

I love it. The development felt very well-thought (well, except for one thing... I still can't figure out why [SPOILER] had to happen, though the narrative explains it well enough, but MY WORD!!!) and totally irresistible, and the expansions weren't just "adding for addition's sake", but each new concept served a very real purpose in the plot and character arcs. I loved the number of times the title came into play, (not going to delineate, because SPOILERS, but yeah!) creating a consistent theme throughout the book.
I am continuously fascinated by the new developments and the world-building exercised in this series, and I positively cannot wait for the next book!

Without a hesitation or a doubt, I give this a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and add to it an Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED endorsement. If you're looking for an excellent mashup of science fiction and fantasy, of magic used in tandem with technology in a plausible manner, of characters that leap off the page in real color and inspire real emotions, and expertly-drawn, action-packed scenes that will take your breath away--you do not want to miss a single word of the Chronicles of Lorrek!

Further Reading: (Fantasy/Sci-fi/Great Characters/Fantastic World-building/Great Storytelling)

The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
        -I Still Have A Soul
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path  
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
-Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways 
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -Dream Stalker 
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
   -Who Can You Trust?
The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4--A to Z Challenge" Letter F

The List:
-Fernando, Fiona, Freddy, Felix
-Farthen Festival, Fortnight
-fight, fire, flame, fear, family, florins, fate

The Result:

"The Flames of Farthen's Eve"
The folks at Farley's always said he had a gift. That's what they would call it.
"You're so talented, Fern!" They would gush. "The fire is like clay in your hands, you can make it do anything!"
A bitter smirk curled his lips as he sent a few stray flames skittering toward an unassuming corner, where they would fester until he gave the word. He would make the fire do things tonight, things these people had never seen before, things they wouldn't be prepared to stop.

The market square ahead of him hummed and clattered with activity. Most merchants had their booths already secured, prepared for the Farthen Festival beginning tomorrow. Normally, the celebration lasted a whole fortnight. Fern smiled to himself. With any luck, these folks wouldn't even see it begin.

As he made his way through the alleys, he reflected on how this town remained the most familiar to him, out of all the cities he'd performed in. Yet this town, out of all other towns, held that special magic that returned him to a small boy of eight years old, running down the narrow, twisting streets, down alleys barely wide enough for him.
He didn't have a prayer of fitting in them now, but the fire could. He let the small, glowing bundles roll like living embers into the spaces.

The quick slap of feet caused him to turn, a splay of flames in his palm.
The big round eyes in the tiny face before him held the glint of reflected fire.
"Pretty flowers!" The tiny person gushed, her mouth gaping in awe.
Fern clenched his fist, squelching the gleam and the fire.
The little girl wilted without the light, and she scurried away back to the square without another sound.
Fern stood rooted to the spot. It wasn't the first time a big-eyed little tyke had been drawn to the flame like a moth to a candle. Most children huddled behind their terrified, resentful parents, trying to withdraw themselves as far away from the flame as they could.

Not Fiona. Nothing he could do ever fazed Fiona.
Fern hesitated the merest fraction of a moment, tiny wisps of flame in hand. He knew exactly what she would say, what she would do, if she were there. He could just picture her, standing in the street just behind him. Watching.

He would turn, and meet her gaze.
"What are you doing, Nando?"

Only she understood his name. Everyone else could only manage as far as "Fern", and besides, Freddy Farley told him that nobody used names like "Fernando" anymore.
Except Fiona.

The flame puckered and hissed, the heat of it nipping at the quick of his nail. Fernando dropped it and sent it on his way.
Fiona wouldn't stop him. She probably believed the news he was dead. He remembered spreading that rumor himself, just to keep her from searching.

Almost the same way she fought to keep him from searching.

She would try to outsmart him at every turn. Her persistence made him regret ever confiding in her.
"Please, Nando!" She would beg from the mouth of his tent, the minute he opened his eyes. "I want to help you find your family!"
"No, Fiona!" He would growl. "Your place is here with Farley and the others."
She would fold her arms and stamp her foot. "You know good and well that they're just as much my family as yours!" She would chide him. "Maybe our families were friends."
"No!" Fernando would push past her to go warm up for the day's fire-juggling. "You're not going with me! I have to find my father alone."

Find him? More like face him. Fernando smiled a little bit more as he sent his little "sentries" into a blind corner. He'd had so many questions when someone finally told him that the misplaced memories in his head truly belonged to his life as the son of Felix Fidelius, the chief of Fetherwynde. A chance meeting with his old nurse, Fannie, brought his past to light, and she painted such a forlorn picture of the whole family that Fernando had all but jumped at the chance to break away from Farley's troupe. According to Fannie, the friendly, jovial Freddy had all but stolen Fernando off the street the last time they performed in Fetherwynde, so the next time they neared the town, Fernando vowed to return to his family and never to leave them again. Fifteen years he had remained with the troupe, watching, tracking, imagining the look on both his parents' faces (for surely they both still lived!) when their lost and long-forgotten son came running up, a fully-grown man. Then one night, he seized his chance.

He had almost finished. In a few minutes, he could begin.

The road to Fetherwynde wasn't altogether long or treacherous. He arrived in due course, and found the house of the Chief Magistrate. Striding inside, he made straight for the only room in the house from which he heard voices, and presented himself to his father with the words, “I’ve come home!”

The smile on his face disappeared as the memory soured in his head. His father had stared at him, actually gaped, more fear on his face than elation. The young man at Felix’s right hand had actually deigned to sneer at him, “Who the blazes do you think you are?”
Fernando had been forthwith removed from the house, and by skulking around and listening close, the chilling truth had unfolded: he hadn’t been lost that day. Felix had sold him to Freddy Farley for the grand sum of fifty thousand florins, because even then, Fernando had begun displaying the hallmarks of a born firemage, and the pompous magistrate was afraid of the stigma such an unnatural occurrence would bring to the Fidelius name. Fernando had disappeared from the streets of Fetherwynde for the second time—but it wasn’t an accident, and he wasn’t really gone. Five days later, here he stood, on the edge of the city, eyes focused intently on the spires of the Fidelius family home.

“Fumetas,” Fernado whispered.

A flame jumped up on the western side of the palace, followed by another close by. The furious firemage watched in delight as the “flowers” he had planted sprung into full bloom. Alarms rang, crowds began shouting as they ran about his feet like so many frenzied ants. Fernando laughed inside as he fairly floated among the shadows. Happy Farthen’s Eve to you all, he thought.


The reproachful voice stopped him as easily as a wall. The ground beneath his feet became soft, and Fernando doubled back, turning to face the speaker.

“No…” he grunted. “I told you not to follow me!”

Fiona stared at him. “I didn’t,” she answered, turning and twisting her hands. “They sent for me, because of what you have done.”
Fernando felt the ground behind him sink away, forcing him to step closer to her, and farther from freedom. He could see the Federals with their iron chains gathering behind Fiona, waiting for him to tumble feebly into their grasp.
“No!” He let both of his hands ignite, sending the men scurrying away in fear. Only Fiona stood firm. She splayed her fingers, and a fine dust like mist spread out from them, building between herself and the flames till an entire wall of sand smothered the flames. He glared at her, preparing to call up the hottest blaze yet.
Fiona’s chin trembled, and he could see the tears in her wise eyes. “Fernando,” she begged softly, “Please don’t do this! It isn’t you!”
“What isn’t me?” Fernando snapped back, spreading his hands beyond the boundaries of the sand and levitating globes of living flame above his palms. “This isn’t me? Of course it is! You know I’ve never been anything else!”
The soldier cowering behind a tree shouted something at Fiona. She sobbed in earnest now. “People are dying, Fernando! Tell me you are not so cruel, to leave so many innocent lives to such an unjust fate!”
Fernando threw back his head and laughed. “Unjust fate? You want to talk to me about unjust fate? Try being sold like a common steer because your own father couldn’t stand what you were! Try living your whole life thinking that you were one thing, finding out the truth, and then finding out that who you were is exactly the person nobody wanted! You think I don’t know anything about unjust fate?” The ground rumbled as Fidelius Tower collapsed in a well of fire. Who held the power now, Felix?

Fiona lifted her chin and advanced. The ground softened again under her influence, but Fernando baked the ground beneath him with fire to make it hard again.
“You will stop this!” she declared flatly.
“Never!” Fernando replied.
Fiona set her mouth in a grim line. “So be it,” she answered.

The fight between the firemage and the Earthmage didn’t last very long. Fernando immolated his whole body and spread flame over every inch of the area around them, but time and again, Fiona diffused it as easily as she had when Fernando would lose his temper at Freddy in their younger days. At the last, Fernando dared to release a flood of fire directly at Fiona herself. Instead of retreating or even merely staying put, Fiona ran—right into Fernando’s outstretched arms. Flinging her arms around him, she unleashed a torrent of sand around them, snuffing out the flame and tearing Fernando’s skin and clothes with thousands of tiny cuts. When the flame died, so did the whirlwind, and Fernando collapsed, bleeding heavily. The spark had all but gone completely out of him at the strength of Fiona’s attack.

She remained, as the hesitant Federals advanced with their shackles, ready to take the firemage into custody. Fiona cradled his head in her lap, weeping softly.
“I’m sorry, Nando,” she said. “For your childhood, for your father, for your family, for your city… I’m sorry… Forgive them… Forgive me…”

This story was inspired by this image; credit goes to JasonEngle
Also in the Series:

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge"--Letter E

The List:
*Supplied by +Chelsea N. 
-Edward and Elaine
-Envelope and Earrings

The Result:

"The Erstwhile Enthusiast"
This day had to be the most miserable day of her life. Elaine Elliot, heiress to a vast fortune in Texas, cringed and tottered across the quad of Upton University as the rain poured.
"Stupid weatherman!" She growled, feeling the rain soak through her silk blouse and collect in her Louboutin pumps and run down her cheeks and flatten her hair. "Of course it would be the only profession where he can be wrong most of the time and still keep his job!" She charged through the door, ignoring the pained shout that resounded on the other side.
"Stupid freshman!" She muttered. "Get out of my way!"
She looked up, brushing with freshly-manicured fingers at the streams of mascara running down her face. Her eyes caught a pair of blue ones, and the face they belonged to broke into a smile.
Today officially sucked.
“Elaine!” he cried, running to her side.
She shook her head and waved him away as he got close. “Don’t bother, I’m fine.”
“Please, allow me,” he picked up the stack of books scattered on the floor around her.
Elaine sneered when he offered them to her. “Those aren’t mine,” she declared.
The freshman approached, rubbing her arm where it had collided with the door. “Those are mine,” she took the stack out of his hands. “Thanks, Ed.”
Elaine finished straightening herself and prepared to stride expertly into the Commons Area.
“So, um, Elaine,” Ed still followed her like a hopeful puppy. “I wanted to tell—I mean ask, I wanted to ask you—“
Elaine stopped in her tracks and cranked up her “Southern Charm” to full-blast. She faced Ed with a large, sarcastic grin and crooned, “Oh, sugar, you know the answer’s always gonna be no.”
He persisted. “But the thing is that I just—“
“Look,” she kept her voice tender, her drawl deep, although the words came a little terse. “You’re a numbers guy, right?”
Ed flushed and shrugged bashfully. “Yeah, Business Accounting actually—“
She tapped a finger against her dimple. “Hmm, so do you want to know what your chances are with me?”
Ed’s eyes lit up; the poor, socially-inept soul! “Yeah, I would.”
Elaine moved in for the kill. This was her favorite part. “Take the highest number you can think of,” she began.
Ed blinked as he honestly considered her suggestion. “Like, off the top of my head?”
Elaine maintained her mask of happy. “Whatever you like. Sure, go ahead and name any number.”
“Um, okay…” Ed hemmed and hawed for a moment before he blurted, “Twelve hundred to the millionth power!”
Elaine nodded. “Now multiply that number… by zero.” She paused to bask in his crestfallen face. “That’s how much chance you have with me. Now stop following me around.” She stalked through the door and began scanning the benches and tables. He should be here by now… no way she had missed him already…
Outside the Commons, Ed sighed and walked away. Elaine watched him go with a smirk. Once he was gone, she whirled back and resumed searching for the one she would give anything to get noticed by: George Spencer Herbert Elliot IV.
She spotted him, leaning up against a shelf, with his back to her. Elaine felt her heart flutter in her chest; the way his leg bent ever so slightly, and the way his arm stretched, allowing the shirtsleeve to cling tightly to the contours of his bicep… She could almost hear him muttering softly to himself as she crept closer, watching the back of his perfectly-coiffed head ever so intently. How studious he must be! He hadn’t once glanced over his shoulder. Elaine stifled a giggle as she imagined the look of surprise he would wear when he heard her call his name.
“Oh, Georgie!” she sang out, as she leaned against the edge of the bookshelf.

George snapped straight, and a second pair of hands flattened out against the bookshelf he stood against. Elaine felt the fluttering in her chest freeze over when a small, lithe body slipped out from the space and scuttered away, head ducked to avoid Elaine glimpsing her face. When George turned around, it was Elaine who stared at him in shock.
“What is it this time, Ellie?” George groaned affably. He smiled at her, as if she had not just caught him in the act of hobnobbing with another student—a junior, no less!
“Georgie!” Elaine reproached him. “How could you! Why, I ought to—“
“What?” He shrugged. “Kiss me? Turn me over your knee and swat my backside?” He laughed and ambled past her. “Stop acting like a prude, Elle.”
“But,” Elaine spluttered, clacking after him in her heels, “Don’t you even care about the family’s reputation?”
George wagged his head. “Oh, it’s The Family, is it? Look at me, I’m shaking in my Pumas.” He picked up a few books, winked at a passing sophomore, and set them aside. “A little fun never hurt anyone.”
Elaine leaned against his shoulder, clinging to his arm in case he tried to turn away. “We’re supposed to be getting an education,” she hissed as close to his ear as she could.
George reached over with his free hand and ruffled the hair on the top of her head. He laughed as Elaine tore away with her hands clapped to her rain-ruined hairdo. “I am getting an education,” he protested.
Elaine shot him a dubious glare. “One that will help you become financially stable in your adulthood?”
George grinned roguishly at her. “Definitely.”
Elaine rolled her eyes and stalked away. “You’re impossible!”
“I’m going to make loads of money!” George hollered after her, loud enough for the entire Commons to hear. “Just you watch!”

Elaine stomped away as delicately as she could, so that the pavement wouldn’t scuff her shoes. When she reached the villa at the edge of student housing, she burst through the door and wrenched the shoes off.
Her younger sister Meredith sat in the big armchair, her face buried in a book.
 “Let me guess,” she said from between the pages, “he didn’t fall for it again, so you’re just going to sulk about it all afternoon.”
“Don’t even start, Meredith!” Elaine snarled, charging into her room and slamming the door.

Elaine was more or less re-styled and refreshed (after a good long sulk, true to form) by the time Meredith knocked on the door.
“Dinner, unless you’re planning on going out tonight,” Meredith mumbled around a bite of something she was still chewing. “Oh, and this came for you.” She handed Elaine a white envelope and walked back toward the kitchen.
Elaine stared at the package, addressed to “Elaine Elliot.” Her mind whirled with questions. Was it evening already? Had George decided to send her a gift after all? Who else would it be? She had taken great pains to rebuff any and all attentions from every other guy on campus—in spite of the fact that they all seemed steadfastly enamored with her. She opened the envelope, and a small box fell out, along with a card. She read the card first.

“Dear Elaine—I hope you’ll accept this little gift as a token of my feelings for you, in spite of how I may come across in person. I figured a note was the best way to let you know what I couldn’t exactly manage to say in person: I’m going away, on an exchange trip to the University of Edinburgh. I know you think little of my brother and me because my attendance thus far at Upton has been due to generous scholarships, but I hope this trip abroad stands as proof of my academic merit, along with the assurance that, starting next semester, I will be working to fund my own education. I hope we can get to know each other better, without the difference of our tax brackets coming between us. Believe me when I say that you are more than just a rich girl to me. Please wear these and think of me till I get back? Yours faithfully, Eddie

Elaine almost dropped the box in her hand. Eddie? Poor Boy Ed Winston? She almost didn’t want to know what dime-store imitation lay on a bed of cheap velour inside. Slowly, she cracked the lid and gasped.

Inside the box lay a pair of very small, but exquisite emerald earrings. They couldn’t have been more than a carat or two each, but the fact that someone on a full scholarship would splurge on a pair of earrings for a relationship that only existed in his head… Elaine closed the box and left it on the table in her room. She wasn’t about to let Ed Winston mistake any sort of feelings for her whatsoever. She would send the earrings back, and that would be the end of it.

Did you enjoy these characters? Read more excerpts from this unfinished work, titled Merely Meredith.

Also in the Series:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: "A to Z Challenge"--Letter D

The List:
-Damaris, Denahlia
-Drawbridge, Dungeons
-Defiance, Dragon, Door
The Result:

"Damaris and The Dragon"

*This is a continuation of the previous Serial Saturday series, "The Clan of Outcasts"

Freedom, that's what he felt. Freedom and power.
"That's it, Damaris! Faster!"
The young Phoenix soaring through the sky squawked and dodged at apparently nothing.
If only he could be free of the Shadow's voice in his head.

Even from that height he could hear people below gasping in awe and fright. Damaris would have loved to stop and light a bonfire or two, but Troy had changed his form, and Troy controlled him now, pushing him farther and faster. He could see the spires of the White Castle. Was the Shadow planning to strike the castle a second time?

The brilliant purple of dusk unfolded across the horizon, but the deepest shadows couldn't touch the brilliant flames over Damaris' body. He wanted to keep flying, to just chase that last glimmer of the sun till he was far away from the Realm. As much as he would rather be here in the sky than buried under the building, left for dead by the only people in his life who actually cared about him—he wished with all of his might that his rescuer was anyone in the Realm except Troy, the meddlesome troublemaker. Being a true Phoenix felt dramatically different than merely existing as a “fireproof boy”—but Damaris wasn’t sure he enjoyed it one bit.

All too soon, the walls of the White Castle came into view. Damaris could see the drawbridge wide open, and a small group of figures heading across it. One of them was small and grey, blending well into the weathered wood of the drawbridge.

"Light it up!" Troy commanded.
Damaris dearly wanted to light him up, although he knew that would be impossible. The Phoenix screeched, and a jet of flame from his beak chased the figures across the bridge. Damaris swooped down and would have followed them through the gate itself, but the clatter of chains over cogs warned him away. He watched—not without some measure of satisfaction—as the drawbridge swung closed at a furious rate.

“Well,” Troy remarked beside him, “I suppose if we’re not going through it,” he gestured upward, and a thrust of force shoved Damaris toward the sky, “we’ll just have to go up and over!” They cleared the topmost turrets and Damaris spread his wings to adjust his flight.

The young Phoenix just about tumbled backward when a roar ten times more powerful than his screech thundered at him from the courtyard. A dragon, this time with glistening red scales, charged at him, spreading her wings wide in defense of the castle.

Damaris, the calm, quiet voice of Erlis reached his mind, in spite of Troy's presence. What are you doing? Stop this! She spat an angry plume of fire at him, but it just washed over him like a wave on the beach. Damaris hardly felt more than just pressure on his flaming feathers.

I can't! Damaris squawked back. He’s too strong for me! He’s in my head and he won’t stop!

Looking down at the courtyard as he flew, Damaris saw Beren ducking into an alcove, while Zayra remained in the doorway. Jaran lay crumpled on the ground—but from that distance, Damaris couldn’t tell if he was dead or just unconscious. The deranged Queen held in her hand a blue orb that looked like Jaran’s lightning power—had she somehow taken it away from him? Damaris let another jet of fire well up in his throat. If Troy wanted him to burn things, why not aim for the person who caused so much damage?

He sent the fireball racing toward her, enjoying the way she flailed her arms to dive out of the way. A sudden pull on his neck diverted the trajectory of the fireball to ignite the doors around her instead.
"Ah-ah!" Troy chided him. "Wouldn't do that if I were you!"

The dragon swooped in behind Damaris, driving him closer to the courtyard, where Denahlia, Edri, and someone Damaris didn't recognize stood braced to defeat him. Troy used a tether made of shadow to jerk Damaris around to face the dragon and fight her, but the Phoenix knew his odds of survival were dramatically shrinking.

In the courtyard, Denahlia spread her hands before her face. In between her outstretched palms, her vision darkened and shifted color, allowing her to see the winged avian body amid the hot flames.

“All right, Lizeth,” she said, “We need to take down the Phoenix. I’ll tell you where to aim, and you can—“


Denahlia nearly blinked her vision back to normal. She glanced at Lizeth, maintaining the dark-shaded coloring in spite of how bizarre it looked. “Are you kidding me right now?” she seethed.

Lizeth clenched her fists at her sides, and the blue flame unfolded. “He needs our help, not our enmity. If anything, we should figure out the best way of taking out Him.” She pointed to the flickering, incorporeal black shape wafting across the sky.

“Believe me,” Denahlia spat with an oath, “he’s untouchable! I’ve tried about three times, and failed every one!”

Lizeth smiled. “They said the same thing about a lot of the patients I treated.” She held her flaming blue hands in front of her. “This fire is about more than healing or activating herbs; with this flame, I can touch the untouchable.” She glanced at Edri. “The same way I touched you.”

Edri frowned and grunted, returning to directing the palace archers in launching arrows at the two beasts fighting in midair.

Zayra, meanwhile, had found servants to douse the flames blocking the doorway.
“Oh no you don’t!” she screamed at the Phoenix diving and swooping above. “That’s MY DRAGON!” She lifted her hands, and arcs of lighting streamed out of the crown on her head. Gritting her teeth, she thrust her open, crackling palms toward the pair.

A massive branch as big around as she was split across the space in front of her, crackling and absorbing the energy from the bolts. It burst into flame, but thickened and spread, covering over the burned areas with fresh, new bark. Zayra couldn’t so much as turn to defend herself before a thick tree root sprouted from between the flagstones and wrapped around her body.

More roots seemed to emerge from down below the castle, from the dungeons. Two figures calmly walked among the winding, rending wood: Kaidan and Javira Clissander. Javira twirled her hand with a casual air, sending tree roots spiraling in all directions.

Her brother had other plans. He marched straight up to the trapped Queen Zayra.
She blinked in disbelief. “I don’t… I don’t understand,” she whimpered. “How did you get more power?”

Kaidan shrugged. “We are only as powerful as we ever were—but now we have our original abilities back, rather than the ones our father forced on the two of us.”

“Original?” Zayra hated being this close to anyone over whom she had no control—but she was far too disoriented to try and exert her will over the man before her.

Kaidan smiled. “Tree roots is Javira’s capability. Mine is, of course, much different.” He slid his hand along the smooth bark of the root gripping Zayra tight. “My touch can read memories.”

“Memories?” Zayra echoed in a tiny voice.

“Memories,” Kaidan confirmed. “Something you don’t seem to have a lot of—so let me help you see what you really are!”

He clapped his hands over Zayra’s ears and the young queen screamed.

Also in the Series:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reader's Review: "Cadeau, Volume 1: Who Can You Trust?" by Connie Olvera

Synopsis from Amazon:
A millennium has passed since humans arrived to colonize the planet Cadeau only to find several indigenous species with higher intellect and psionic abilities peacefully cohabiting on the world. Fighting soon broke out over land and resources across the continent of Mardeaux.

An ancient telepathic people from another dimension brought peace once again when they developed a symbiotic relationship with the alien humans. This cooperation between the species had lasted hundreds of years, however, bigoted human factions now seek to profit by eliminating all who stand in their way. The tenacious young duchess, Naomi, is trying to save her territory and the species that live there from these partisan forces.

Raised as a sagoron prince, behind the guardian border, Tobin’s life as a half-breed—or graftling as the sagoron children taunted him—was lost and friendless. At the age of fifteen he ventures beyond the protection of the sagoron’s forest, out of a hunger to know his human mother who abandoned him. His search breaks the carefully erected barrier between the sagoron and human realms, and leads him to join the divergent group of resistance fighters supporting Naomi. 

My Review:

What was the last book you read that made you think, "Oh yeah—this is definitely a book that's going to be around for generations!"
Cadeau definitely filled that role for me. It was a rocky start at first—the blurb didn't seem to match the story I was reading for about the first seven chapters, and there were so many questions I couldn't find the answers to—

But I kept reading, and boy, am I glad I did! The more I read, the more I understood. Cadeau unfolded wider and wider as this rich and vibrant world that arriving humans had only begun to probe. It was a world of kingdoms and duchies, with political unrest and Marquises jockeying for power, while the humanoid race on Cadeau, the sagorons, demonstrated incredible feats of supernatural power which they were now forced to employ against the invaders, to protect the land they had regarded as their home. Not only that, but it falls to some humans and sagorons to receive telepathic abilities, which both increases the potential for peace and also makes it all the more difficult to know whom to trust, as those most skilled in reading the minds of others are equally adept at hiding their own thoughts.
A half-blood sagoron prince and a young noblewoman both seek peace between their species, but he is the son of the sagoron leader who would just as soon have nothing to do with the humans, and she is the daughter of a cruel and vicious Lord who seeks to corrupt and destroy all who hinder him in his push for more power. A savage betrayal thrusts them together, and—along with the Duke's daughter, exiled and forced on the run from a murderous enemy—they must trust each other, and learn how to discern the truth in a vast sea of lies.

I loved all of it. Even the first bit that left me confused—after finishing the book, I went back and re-read the beginning, and the new understanding I had gained really helped! (So if you start reading it and get very confused... don't worry! Just keep reading till you get it, and then you can go back and read the beginning part again) 
The pacing is carefully constructed—while not completely perfect (the feeling of "jumping around" does take some getting used to) in the end it's worth it, to see the story that unfolds, to follow the characters and see their storylines intersect in exciting ways.
The wealth of new species impressed me the most: the Ancients, with actual musical notes representing their names in the text, the sagorons and their "powers" of Ker'ah, which is to literally pray and cause a thing to happen; the mysterious, aggressive Ren and their connection to much more of the history of Cadeau than anyone realizes... and those are just the non-human sentient races! Many more creatures leap from the pages in full, breathtaking detail, drawing the reader in, immersing them in this creative new world.

That being said, I would give CADEAU a *****4.5 STAR***** rating—with the stipulation that pretty much the only thing keeping it from a solid 5 stars is the fact that the story is not quite as fluid as it could be. Perhaps it is just the nature of a world existing in two dimensions that run on different timetables, or perhaps it is something that could be amended with a few minor tweaks—but be that as it may, I still loved it very much and I would add an Upstream Writer Certified WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMENDED endorsement. If you love creative fantasy worlds, strong moral principles, engaging characters and a story worth reading over and over again, CADEAU is definitely the book for you—and I might add that it's only the beginning of an epic series! I can't wait to see more amazingness in the books to come!
Further Reading (Amazing Fantasy or Sci-fi/Marvelous Characters/Excellent Worldbuidling)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist
       -The Pinocchio Factor
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
        -I Still Have A Soul 
 Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny
     -A Halloween's Curse