Saturday, September 30, 2017

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


The List:
-Quincy, Cordelia
-Quebec City, Quebec
-Quarter-after
-Quandary, quest, quills, quixotic, quintessential, quibble, quarrel, quail, quiver, quell, quarry, quartz, quarto, quaff, queen

The Result:

"The Quietest Question"

Summer 1914

Quail Point of Quebec had seen its fair share of uproar. The parties and stories during the winter, when Québécois winds swirled and blew against the walls outside, would set the rafters quivering as burly, bearded men swapped tales with fresh-faced youths.
Nobody expected a woman to ever have cause to enter the lodge.
Gloria Quincy was quite used to being unexpected.

She knew, by the quell that swept through the building at the moment she crossed the threshold, that she would need to fight to be heard. She could tell, by the way men nudged their neighbors and quibbled in voices buried deep within their mouths, that she would have to be very clever to find the quarry she sought.
But Gloria Quincy was an exceptional hunter, of a very different sort.
She scanned the room, querying with her eyes until she found a receptive match. Most of the surrounding crowd had returned to quarreling with each other, so not one of the knot of ten men she approached acknowledged her.

"Listen here," a man whose wiry hair bristled like the quills of a porcupine wagged a knobby finger at the self-assured lad across from him. "Yer want ter know where the best bear cross, ye need ter know what signs to look for."
"I've tracked bear before, old man," the younger man quipped. "Scat, tree markings, prints—"
"Don't be giving me any brush, now!" The hunter protested. "I made the mistake of thinking that all these signs in one area came from different animals, so I was safe. I ask ye, lad—" he pulled back his collar, revealing a sizable divot in his lumpy, scarred skin, barely covered enough by a thin layer of skin to be regarded as "healed." The man left it exposed as he asked the question, "Have ye ever seen one bear leave all of them himself?"
A hushed silence settled, then one of the quarrelsome boasters went in on the storyteller.
"Pooh, that ain't anything; why one time, I nearly got quartered by an angry buck that had just lost a mating duel!"
"I was nearly trampled by a moose with feet as big as my head!"
"I got stranded on an ice floe off of Greenland and nearly froze to death!"
"Stranded? How quaint! Aren't you the most careful man of the lot?"
"Aye! Most always I am. But this time, I had to smack off an iceberg and take my chances because I was trying to escape a polar bear!"
"Polar bear, nothing! What about the time I had to escape a whole wolf pack in the dead of winter!"
Gloria edged around the table to a shadowy corner, where a quintessential old man with a salt-and-pepper beard sat, watching the quibblers with about as much regard as she felt, herself.
He glanced up as she took the seat across from her and quaffed her own quart of beer.
“And what about you, Queenie?” The man muttered. “Aren’t you going to try and best these fine gentlemen, and prove yourself among them?”
“Only if you do it first,” Gloria teased. “Name’s Quincy, actually; Gloria Quincy.”
“Pleasure, Miz Quincy; I am Claude. What brings you to Quail Point? We don’t typically attract quality patrons like yourself up here.”
His eyes twinkled queerly, and Gloria wondered if she might have found her quarry.
“What would you say if I told you I could summon a dragon?”
Claude burst out laughing, full and rich, quashing the shouting happening right before them. He watched Gloria with keen interest. “A dragon? You come into a hunting lodge looking for someone to take you up on a dragon quest? How quixotic of you!”
“I’m not lying,” Gloria quipped. “And it’s not like I want someone to hunt it, either. Like I said, I have the ability to call it right to me.”
The grizzled old hunter wagged his head. “Then what do you want, Miz Quincy?”
The woman sighed heavily. “I need a guide. And a boat.”
He snorted. “Can’t you get the dragon to take you?”
I can’t. It’s a long explanation. Look, if I’m going to explain everything to you, then we might as well agree right now that you are going to be the one to take me."
Claude stroked his beard. "That depends on where it is you want to go."
Gloria nodded and pulled out a weathered, ancient quarto. "According to this," she said, carefully handling its delicate pages, "our destination would be Northern Iceland."
Claude's eyebrows raised, and he squinted to get a closer look at the sketched map, but Gloria closed it again.
"Do we have a deal?" She asked.
Claude hunched his burly shoulders. "Iceland's a fair distance, across waters of questionable risk. What's in it for me?"
Gloria's lips quirked into a half-smile. "That will depend on whether or not we succeed. If all goes well, I may be in a position to give you whatever you want." She gave him a nod. "You and I both know better than to quantify a true tracker's skill."
The old man chuckled, but the keen gleam remained. "We shall see, then! Meet me on the banks of the St. Lawrence River at a quarter-past dawn, three days from now. Perhaps, with an earlier start, we will catch the quieter current."
Gloria allowed herself a small sigh of relief. "Thank you, Claude. I will do whatever I can to make this quest worth your while."

Three days later, Claude welcomed her onto his small trawler, and introduced his quartermaster.
“Miz Quincy, this is Pierre,” he gestured to the rotund man, who stood only about four feet high, and bowed to her with a deep, rumbling, “Bonjour, madame.”
“Pleasure,” she muttered. Unease at finally being so close to her destination made her queasy. Would she be able to fulfill her family’s destiny? What would happen if she didn’t?
Claude rambled off some instructions to Pierre in French, and the dwarf immediately picked up Gloria’s suitcase and hauled it up the gangplank. A few quick adjustments and last-minute preparations, and they were off, sailing northeast to Iceland.

Shortly after embarking, Claude approached Gloria on the deck.
“Now then,” he said, “would you mind telling me what all this is about? I’d like to know just what I’m getting myself into, even if it is too late to quit the journey now!”
Gloria sighed, but cast a questioning glance toward the strange dwarf fussing around the deck. Claude waved his hand.
“Don’t worry about Pierre; he only speaks French. Your secret is safe with me.”
Gloria reached into her pocket and pulled out a small bag, from which she withdrew a ruby quartz ring, set in silver sculpted into the likeness of a dragon.
“What is that?” Claude gasped.
“It’s a ring that I think was part of my family’s legacy. I found it while hiking in the Moors of Brodgar, in Scotland.”
The Canadian tracker wagged his head. “That’s a ring fit for a queen, it is! But if you found it, how do you know it is connected to your family?”
Gloria opened the quarto she had pulled out earlier, finally showing him the ancient Gaelic script inscribed on the pages. “This book has been handed down through several generations of my family, beginning with my ancestor, Cailleach Thorne. Her grandparents were the first ones to become the Arglwyddi’r Ddraig, the Lords of the Dragon—she refers to him as Hanner Nos Ddraig, or Midnight Dragon—after they discovered the wounded dragon on the edge of their property and nursed it back to health. Here,” she flipped a few pages, “she writes about ‘The Ring of Brodgar’, and how it is necessary for the Midnight Dragon to be able to return from whence he came.”
Claude nodded, taking her words for granted, as he was unable to read the text. “I see; so that ring you found in Brodgar—“
“I think it must be the ring she’s talking about,” Gloria confirmed.
Claude raised his eyes to where the channel ended, and the open sea began. “And Iceland?”
“That was my own conclusion,” Gloria said, flipping ahead to a series of newspaper clippings attached to the quarto’s pages. “I found the ring, and immediately afterward, a random sinkhole appears, with no end, and no apparent cause in Reykjavik—“
“Coincidence?”
“One thing I’ve learned from all of this,” Gloria shook the quarto in Claude’s face, “is that there is very little coincidence, only circumstances that connect in ways we don’t understand.”
Claude shrugged and might have replied, but Pierre interrupted with a string of frantic French. Even in her limited understanding, Gloria caught a few phrases she knew were curses. The ship began jerking and bucking in the choppy waves of the open sea. The tracker turned his back on her and went to steer the boat as they launched out into the North Atlantic Ocean.

[…]

Gloria stood at the edge of the sinkhole. The inky blackness of its depths seemed to fashion a bottom of itself, as her eyes refused to see deeper than a few dozen yards of unbroken shadow.
Claude shuffled behind her. “Are you sure about this, Quincy?” he asked.
Gloria glanced back, but instead of Claude, his dwarf companion caught her eye. Pierre stared at her with a gleam in his eye she couldn’t quite dismiss.
“I’m sure,” she replied to Claude. “There’s a small footpath along the rim, I’ll take it as deep as it goes.”
“And what am I supposed to do?” Claude grumbled in reply. “Just sit here and bide my time?”
Gloria took a deep breath. “If I am successful,” she said, “I will return.” She marched forward, attempting to put some distance between herself and the tracker who brought her here.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to completely shut out his quiet question, which then lingered in her ears long after she descended: “But what if she doesn’t come back, Pierre?”
“I will come back!” Gloria promised herself. “I must!” What a quandary this was! She trudged deeper and deeper, till the darkness gathered so close it threatened to choke her, then—
Gloria stumbled forward as her steps leveled out in pitch-darkness. She pulled out an electric torch, fumbling with the switch to activate the feeble beam. It barely cut three inches into the shadows before her, but it was enough to inch her way to a small, round pedestal set up in the middle of this room of sorts. Gloria noticed a small divot in the center of the pedestal—just the right size for the Ring, perhaps? She tried it.
The fit wasn’t exact, but it was enough room for the whole thing. Gloria stepped back, the beam of light trained on the ring, all her attention focused on that one small area.
A gust of wind swept around her, sending a quiver down her spine. Only then did she notice small points of light gathering behind the stone.
“Why have you summoned me?” a deep, booming voice seemed to fill the cavern.
Gloria tried to speak, but she had to stop quaking in her boots, first.
“I am Gloria Quincy, descendant of Cailleach Thorne, and I come bearing the Ring of Brodgar, which I am prepared to use to release you to your own world.”
The Midnight Dragon dipped its head low, so that its massive eyes glinted in the weak beam of light from the torch. “You are foolish, Gloria Quincy,” it uttered softly. “The Ring of Brodgar that opens the pathway between our worlds is not something that can be borne. You have used this ring without the Ring—therefore, the heritage your family has prized for so long is no longer yours. Return to your home, compile all the knowledge you possess about me, all the records your family has kept—and await the coming of the Ecrivaine, who will be the one to release me as you have tried to do.”
The Dragon beat its wings, stirring up a wind so strong that Gloria felt the torch slip from her grasp as she covered her head with her arms.

“Quincy!” a familiar voice cried, and Gloria slowly lifted her head.
She stood on the edge of the sinkhole once more, daylight overhead, and Claude running toward her, while Pierre trotted behind. The ring she had placed so much faith in lay glistening in her palm.
“What happened?” Claude asked, throwing a wool blanket about her shoulders. “Did you succeed?”
Gloria felt the sting of tears in her eyes. “No! I failed!” She held up the Brodgar ring. “This ring—It’s not what I thought it was!” She turned to throw it away, but a small hand slipped around her wrist.
Pierre stopped her, his eyes asking what his mouth could not. “Madame?” he queried.
Gloria scowled and let the ring fall into his grubby palm. Like the quintessential dwarf he was, Pierre didn’t bother continuing on with them, instead choosing to scurry off in another direction while Claude and Gloria returned to Quebec.

Across the ridge, Pierre chuckled as he took out an old, bent spade and began carving a tunnel into the hillside. Once it was large enough for him, he crawled inside, digging away the dirt in front of him until he reached a wide-open space. He placed the ring on a velvet pillow, and picked up an antique hand mirror. Puffing on it, he polished the reflective surface and checked to see that it was still in working order. The small, baby-faced imp that stared back at him winked cheekily.
Mais oui,” he muttered to himself as he climbed out the door at the top of his hideaway, the one that led to the forest of Rien-a-Voir-Ici in France, “c’est un bon cadeau por l’Ecrivaine…”

Did you like this story? Start >HERE< to read the tale of the Midnight Dragon and the Ecrivaine from the beginning!

 Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continu-ations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A*       ]     [-Letter K*
-Letter B*       ]     [-Letter L*
-Letter C         ]     [-Letter M
-Letter D         ]     [-Letter N*
-Letter E         ]     [-Letter O
-Letter F         ]     [-Letter P

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reader's Review: "P.A.W.S." by Debbie Manber Kupfer


Synopsis from Amazon:

When Miri receives a silver cat charm from her omama, Celia, on the night before Celia dies she has no idea that the charm holds a secret, a powerful magic that saved her omama’s life and is about to make Miri’s a whole lot more interesting.

Join Miri on a mysterious and supernatural journey with her new friends, members of an underground St. Louis society known as the Partnership for Animagi, Werewolves, and Shapeshifters, better known as P.A.W.S.

>>>>>

My Review:

I do enjoy a good shifter story! It's always fascinating to read how various authors treat the concept: whether it's painful, whether they can still talk in animal form, how they communicate with other animals/shifters, whether the shifter maintains a sense of self in either form, things like that.

P.A.W.S. introduces us to Miri, a girl with very few friends and very strange dreams, orphaned and sent by her mean, selfish aunt and uncle to live at a boarding school. There, she discovers her family's legacy, the reason behind the dreams, a secret organization that protects people like her, and a diabolical enemy who would stop at nothing to get what he wants from her.

The story starts out a little jumpy, but things smooth out as soon as the P.A.W.S. organization is introduced. This makes me think that perhaps Kupfer was just really excited about what was to come, that the introduction/exposition came as an afterthought, almost. I also felt like some of the situations were very much geared toward a middle-grade audience, while certain other moments were definitely suited to an older age group. 

Whatever the case may be, I enjoyed this new look at the lore behind werewolves and shape shifters, what they can and can't do, how they are born or made, and the way family legacies are handed down through generations. It definitely gets into the ethics of gaining power at the expense of others, of the corrupting allure of power, and the dramatic difference between a community that functions for the betterment of each other, versus a hierarchy of constant power struggles. 

All in all, I give it ****4 STARS**** and add to that an Upstream Writer Certified Recommendation for a good premise, distinctive characters, a strong conflict, and a compelling conclusion. If your teen-age reader is looking for something to read and enjoys magic and shapeshifting, definitely this book is a great launching point into an excellent genre!
 
Further Reading: (Shifter Stories/Young Readers/Magical Legacies/Girl of Destiny)
 
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist
       -The Pinocchio Factor   
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path
       -Tiger's Shadow  
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny
     -A Halloween's Curse 
 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

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


The List
-Philomena, Persimmon
-planting season
-Mount Placid, plantation, Prattville
-planting, peaceful, picture, painting, portrait, packet, potpourri, porch, post-chase, platform, porter, productive, pocket, poplars, private, please, property, passengers, pile, police

The Result:

"The Perturbation of Mount Placid"

"Prattville Station! All passengers with the destination of Prattville, Alabama!"
Ruby peeked out the window of the train as the piercing whistle heralded the squeal of the brakes slowing down its progress.
She reached over and nudged the sleeping Nora.
"Ma," she whispered, "we're here."
Nora raised her head. The two-day trip from New York to Alabama seemed to hang from her every drooping wrinkle. She looked positively wilted as she followed Ruby's gaze.
The young woman felt the stiffness of her mother-in-law's grip on her hand.
"Coming home should be peaceful," Ruby heard Nora's perplexed voice. "Why does it feel like punishment?"
Ruby patted the old woman's shoulder. "It'll be all right," she whispered. "You'll see."
They stood up, but it was a while before the press of bodies in the aisle cleared up enough for Ruby to lead Nora out of the train.
On the platform, she discovered that the hasty porters had simply tossed the luggage in a pile, and she could see the corner of her small valise poking out from under a rather hefty trunk.
Cold horror gripped her chest as the young widow remembered exactly what she had so carefully packed in her case.
"Oh no!" She gasped, running forward. "Oh no! No!"
Fear gave her limbs astonishing strength as she single-handedly fought to pull the trunk off her precious package.

"Hey you!" A voice barked. "Hey! That Negro is stealing my trunk!"
Whistles shrieked, and a porter just coming down the platform grabbed her arm.
"Please!" Ruby begged. "It's got my—"
"Get away from his stuff, lady!"
"Thief!"
"Somebody call the police!"
"No wait, please!"
Chaos reigned for a few moments, and Ruby couldn't even see the pile of luggage as passengers converged to make sure "the Negro thief" hadn't touched their belongings. When the porter released her arm, Ruby saw her flattened bag on the platform, next to Nora's travel trunk. She dashed forward, fumbling at the clasps with shaking hands. From the inner pocket, she withdrew a portrait she had commissioned just after marrying Charlie, intending to create a tradition of bringing it out when he was away.
The frame had bent and the glass had cracked under the pressure, but the painting was still intact.
Seeing his face again... Ruby felt the pain anew, bursting a hole right through her core. She clutched the picture to her chest as the sobs overcame her.
"Charlie!" She whimpered. "Oh Charlie!"

"Yes, just that one," she heard Nora giving instructions.
Ruby hastily dug a handkerchief out of her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. A porter loaded Nora's trunk onto a cart. Ruby slipped the painting back into her valise and picked it up to join her mother-in-law.
“I thought you might want a private moment,” Nora muttered, deliberately avoiding eye contact with Ruby.
“I’m all right now, Ma,” Ruby whispered.

“Ellenora Burke?” a man stood outside the station, a horse-drawn post-chase tethered to the rail outside.
Nora stepped forward. “Ellenora Mulberry, if you please.”
Ruby frowned; why wouldn’t Nora keep the name she’d taken as a wife?
The man took Nora’s hand to assist her down to the chase. “You and your companion can sit there, ma’am.“
“I’m not—“ Ruby stopped as the sound of her voice prompted the man to turn and acknowledge her for the first time. She cleared her throat and raised her chin. “I am her daughter-in-law, Ruby Burke.” She smiled and extended her hand, as etiquette dictated she could.
The man only stared at her with a puzzled expression, until Nora added, “Yes, she’s my—she’s family. Now, please, let’s go.”
The man shrugged, but he didn’t lift a finger to help Ruby after getting Nora settled. He climbed up to the driver’s seat and lifted the reins.
“Next stop, Mount Placid!” he announced, and they departed.

An uncomfortable silence pervaded the inside of that small coach, so small that the two women sat knee to knee. Nora could only ignore Ruby’s pointed stare for so long.
“It just hurts, you know?” she complained. “Hearing his name attached to mine, when he’s been gone for almost two years now. In Manhattan, I could at least live in the place he bought, walk through the stores he supplied—here? There is nothing of Ethan in Prattville. Particularly when we get to Mount Placid, you’ll find everything revolves around the Mulberry name.” She nodded with satisfaction, but when Ruby still wouldn’t reply, Nora grumbled, “It’s not as if you have to be Ruby Burke, either! There is nothing for you here—why did you even come? You saw the way those people treated you at the station; you realize we’re going to a plantation? One of the few that’s managed to stay productive? Didn’t that ever give you pause? Life in New York is very different than the one we live in Alabama—better and more peaceful in some ways, and in others…” her voice trailed off as they approached the lane lined with poplars—the private drive to the main property of Mount Placid plantation. “So much worse,” she finished.
Ruby leaned against the window, where the aroma of fresh green vegetation was most profuse. She sighed. It couldn’t be so bad, if a place had such pleasant smells. New York had always smelled like coal, kerosene, and vomit to her. Mount Placid smelled like the little packets of potpourri Ophelia would give her for her birthday.
“I came to support you, Nora,” she replied softly. “Before I met Charlie, I never had a mother—Ophelia was the closest thing to family I ever had. Since marrying him, you became my mother—and without him, you are the only person I’ve ever claimed as my real family. I don’t mind what other people say about me or do to me—it’s not altogether different than the life I led in Harlem. You accepted me as part of your family, so I am going to do everything I can to be a daughter to you.”
The post-chase pulled to a stop in front of a tall porch. The driver again helped Nora out of the carriage and up the steps, leaving Ruby to trudge behind. She stepped in and took her mother-in-law’s hand when the driver went back down to retrieve Nora’s luggage.

A dark-skinned woman in a voluminous plaid dress opened the door to greet them. She grinned when she saw who had come.
“Well, Miz Nora! You done made it home, child!”
“Hello, Persimmon,” Nora said. “How is Mother?”
Persimmon wagged her head, “Missus Philomena ain’t left her room since planting season.” She took Nora’s free hand and patted it. “She been getting worse since the Master passed away. You best be getting on to her.” Her gaze came to rest on Ruby. “I’ll show your help downstairs—“
“Thank you, Persimmon,” Nora held onto Ruby’s hand still. “That won’t be necessary. This is Ruby—my daughter-in-law. She’ll be staying in one of the guest rooms.”
Persimmon immediately ducked her head and said nothing. Perhaps she knew better than to protest.
Ruby didn’t look at the housekeeper as they climbed the stairs together, but she could feel the cold prickle of that persistent stare all the way to the second floor.

>>>>>>


This story is a scene from another planned installment of The ReBible Series--"The Remnant Resonance", a re-telling of the story of Ruth, set in America during the Great Depression. Head over to the series page via either the tab at the top of the blog, or the hyperlinked text above for more excerpts from this title.



 Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of previous Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A*       ]     [-Letter K*
-Letter B*       ]     [-Letter L*
-Letter C         ]     [-Letter M
-Letter D         ]     [-Letter N*
-Letter E         ]     [-Letter O

Saturday, September 16, 2017

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


The List:
-OPHELIA
-Occulus, ocean, orchard, oasis
-One o'clock, once, October
-orange, ominous, optimal, obligation, occupational therapy, octagram, octagon, occipital lobe, operation

The Result:

"The Octagram of Obligation"

Tricia had just found a quiet corner of the main floor to sit, when the silver-suited female android, Nerissa, approached her from some hidden door in the oddly-shaped walls.
Please follow me to the Occulus,” she said. “It is time for your first Occupational Therapy session with OPHELIA.”

OPHELIA—Tricia felt the pit of her stomach tighten and twist just a little. All she had ever known of the woman was the interactive talking face on a screen from her orientation tutorial. How different would she actually be in real life? Was OPHELIA an android like Nerissa? Or some new tech that Tricia hadn't encountered yet?
Nerissa waited a full minute before prompting, "You have not started walking. Do you wish to override the prescription?"
The young woman sighed. "No," she replied, pushing herself up to stand, "I'm coming."

She nearly fell over several times as the tall, stilted heels slipped and wobbled over the sleek obelisque floors. Nerissa immediately slackened her pace and matched Tricia's wobbling stride, sticking close to her in case of overbalance. The android's reaction speed was such that Tricia would barely falter before she felt the warm, artificial touch pressing on key points around her sides, keeping her upright with a controlled frenzy of precise movements. It occurred to the young woman that this could very well be the case for the women she saw drifting around the oasis with ostentatious grace—the reason they had the silver-suited entourage wherever they went. Even their sense of balance, like so many other aspects of the Peres life that she had secretly envied for so long, was a carefully-orchestrated farce.
Nerissa led her into a large foyer-type room, oblong with a long white couch in the middle. The walls swirled with digital displays of swirling abstract colors. The android waited until Tricia seated herself on the couch, and then departed.
Tricia waited, forcing herself not to pick at that one random orange spot on the side of her skirt. When would OPHELIA appear?
At precisely one o’clock, the swirling colors abruptly halted, and a soothing chime resounded through the room.

Welcome, Tricia Carson.”
Tricia felt a small thrill run through her at the sound of such a gentle voice saying her name.
The voice continued, “I am OPHELIA. Thank you for joining me.”
Tricia looked around her as the colors shifted into another pattern; walls began to form around her. “Where are you?” she asked.
“One moment, please.”

The image in front of her solidified, and Tricia gasped when a gigantic eyeball covered the space directly in front of her, spanning the screen from top to bottom.
“This is my original form; does it trouble you?”
Tricia could feel her heart ready to pound right out of her chest at the horrifying sight. “Yes,” she huffed. “I think it does.”
“One moment please,” OPHELIA said again, and after a brief screen jump, the “eyeball” slowly rotated, as if it had only been a decoration on the back of a round chair. Seated in the orange-cushioned interior was a familiar-looking woman who stood and walked toward her. Tricia immediately kicked off her painful shoes and rose to greet OPHELIA barefooted. She made it all the way to the point just before reaching out to take her hand—when her sense of reality clashed with the optical illusion and her fingers collided with the smooth screen.

“This form is more conducive to the intended relaxed atmosphere of our sessions,” OPHELIA intoned. She smiled, her ombre hair framing her multicolored eyes. "What assistance can I offer you today, Tricia?" OPHELIA asked from an untraceable distance.
"Offer me?" Tricia snorted. "These sessions are scheduled. You sent for me."
"It is true, these are mandatory training sessions, but I am here to tell you that there are many aspects of our sessions that are completely in your control. The environment, for example; this room is equipped to mimic the airflow and barometric pressure of all sorts of outdoor experiences. Care to join me in an orange orchard?" OPHELIA calmly took a step back, and immediately the blank walls melted and Tricia stood on a grassy strip between rows of trees, each blooming with fragrant blossoms and fairly-large fruits. Tricia inhaled through her nose and found the rich orange scent stimulating her olfactory nerves. Even the floor itself seemed to change texture, and Tricia could watch in awe as her toes curled around blades of grass projected over the once-smooth floor. She glanced around.
"What is this place?" She asked.
"The Oculus is where you will come for all your official sessions with me. It is where we can both be candid with one another, and harbor no fear of offense, no matter what we say." She paused to allow Tricia to absorb this information. "What would you like to talk about first?"

A million questions crowded into Tricia's mind: what if she didn't want this life? (What if she did?) Would she ever be able to see her family again? What about the ones who returned to St. Louis? What were the chances of checking in with them at all?

"Here is a topic of conversation that might help stimulate conversation: Eliminations begin in October; are you nervous?"
"Yes!" Tricia seized on the opportunity to fit in among the other recruits by responding the way they would. "What if I do it all wrong? There's just so much to remember! I don't think I have what it takes to succeed as Personal Assistant to President Peres."
Ophelia turned and fixed her opaline gaze on Tricia. "Has any of the medical staff approached you about the operation?"
Tricia frowned and leaned away from OPHELIA involuntarily. "What operation? I told Marcia I didn't want any body alterations."
OPHELIA smiled, and the forest melted away to a clean, white beach beside the ocean. Tricia wanted so badly to jump and splash in the waves beyond the... virtual therapist; but she knew they were just an illusion. It did remind her of the last day of freedom she and her Dad had taken, before answering the summons and leaving Paristown for Peres.
"It is not a body alteration procedure," OPHELIA was saying. "It is a small implant at the base of your occipital lobe—"
"My brain?"
"To aid in computation, comprehension, and retention of visual data, to help you become your optimal self."
"My optimal self?" Tricia hugged her shoulders. She hated the crawling feeling of inadequacy that overwhelmed her when someone started talking about optimizing—or a new, better kind of "self" than the one she was.
OPHELIA stopped at the edge of the surf, and Tricia imagined she could almost feel it crawl over her feet when it exceeded the limit of the screen.
"You have not yet heard about the Octagram of the Obligate Identities?"
Tricia immediately recalled the design of eight interlocking rings she had seen before, but the design had seemed so ominous that she had tried to ignore it. "I saw the pamphlet in my room, but I didn't read it."
"You should; it is more of a handbook to help you understand the eight identities and their proper order, to be more conducive to optimal performance."
The room darkened, and Tricia saw eight rotating rings projected on a dark background all around the room. OPHELIA appeared next to the one at the right of the front of the room. The word "Personal" appeared in the center of the ring.
"Optimizing starts with compartmentalizing your personal identity, recognizing its connections to the identities beside it, and how they support your sense of personhood, or self."
The words "Mental" and "Physical" appeared in the rings on either side of "Personal."
"As you can see," OPHELIA continued, "your Personal identity is linked to your Mental identity—your abstract, creative thoughts and your memories—and your Physical identity—your body's health, strength, and stamina. If one of these supporting links is weak or overlooked, the outcome will affect the strength of your Personal identity."
Tricia listened to the soothing voice for the rest of the tutorial, at first wondering where her father's constant iteration that she was a child of God fit into all the sequence, regardless of whether she actually understood what he meant by it. According to OPHELIA, her Mental identity was linked to her Personal and Emotional states—her feelings and instincts; Emotional identity, in turn, was connected to the Mental and Sexual identities—her thoughts, memories and instincts guided her in forming relationships and adjusting the way she related to others. "Particularly," the therapist advised, "the clients you will be called on to assist."
Tricia couldn’t restrain a small shudder at the ideas arising in her mind, but OPHELIA just kept on talking, distracting her from the ominous ideas.
Your sexual identity is linked closely with your emotional security and your spiritual flexibility.”
Spiritual! Tricia felt a sense of relief; perhaps now she could figure out a way to sneak in a bit of her old beliefs into this new set of principles she would need to observe.
Your spiritual identity, is of course, linked to your sexual identity—those you would form relationships with—and the beliefs that guide the core of your philosophical identity, or the basis for your logic and decision-making.”
Logic? Tricia frowned. If her spirituality was tied into the people she interacted with and her decisions, then she couldn’t necessarily justify clinging to an identity no one else had. She worried about this while OPHELIA explained the remaining three identities, and OPHELIA brought the session to a close, though Tricia was now in worse state over the nature of her obligation than ever before, and the overpowering murk of obfuscation clouded her worse than ever. She followed Nerissa back to the oasis without even noticing. The question hammered in her head, along with everything else:

Who was Tricia Carson?
>>>>>>>>>

Did you enjoy this excerpt? Today's story comes from a future project stuck in several layers of rewriting, potentially due for yet another overhaul--Focal Point, the story of Esther told in a dystopian cyberpunk setting. Click on the link for the ReBible series to find excerpts from this and other planned adaptations of Bible stories, to be finished sometime in the future.





 Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of previous Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A*       ]     [-Letter K*
-Letter B*       ]     [-Letter L*
-Letter C         ]     [-Letter M
-Letter D         ]     [-Letter N*



 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

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


The List:
-Nora Farthington, Ned Silver, Nelson Garrett, Naith
-Nebraska, Nigeria, the Nest, the NICHE, nowhere, neighborhood
-nighttime, next, never, Neanderthal, nanosecond
-napkin, necklace, note, nebula, nightclub, name, nightstand, nightgown, nerves

The Result:

"N.O.W.H.E.R.E."

(*A sequel to the story "Occupational Heresy")

Nora took a deep breath to steady her nerves; no sense in notifying the Occupants that one of their number was at present severely high-strung for no apparent reason. Ten minutes after Professor Silver departed, Nora made her way back into the neutral zone, back to the noxious hum that buzzed in her ears louder than ever before. She tucked the necklace back into her collar, felt the warm metal nestle against her skin.
Could she really be the one to liberate Earth, as the professor said? She wondered, for a nanosecond, whether it could actually be possible. No one had ever thought to resist the Occupation; the longer they remained nested in every continent, the more the Occupants negated any historical record in which they were not the dominant species. As far as anyone even knew, an insurrection had never been tried.

Until now.

Nora concentrated on her firm, measured steps all the way back to her small apartment. She had agreed to meet him at noon the next day; he promised information that would help her. It sounded so easy when he said it: in order to find the other keys, they would have to break into the NICHE—the National Interspace Command Headquarters Edifice from which the Occupants controlled the entirety of human governments worldwide—and find the Nest, which served as the nexus of power for these Occupants whose presence everyone felt, but never actually saw. She had initially objected at being the “lone heroine to save the day,” but Professor Silver had laughed and assured her, “You won’t be alone. There are others who will be with you every step of the way.”
Nora went through her customary nighttime routine, wrestling against the urge to change even a single moment of what would be considered normal. She combed her hair, exchanged her uniform for a nightgown, and brushed her teeth. Last of all, before getting into bed, Nora removed the earplugs, basking in the stark silence. She closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.

Not much later, the nightmare began. Nora found herself navigating an endless maze of dark hallways, with nebulous shapes wafting in the shadows, manifesting periodically in forms from the deepest, darkest corners of Nora’s psyche. Slithering tentacles, gnashing teeth, fearsome claws—Nora could do nothing but run from one horror straight to the next. She woke with a small whimper to an absolute mess of her bed, pillows and blankets thrown about, nightgown rumpled. She sat up and rubbed her face, panting hard to calm her shaken nerves. The earrings on her nightstand flashed a soothing green. The Occupant assigned to her neighborhood was trying to make contact. Nora groaned softly to herself as she obediently replaced the earring so the Occupant could network with her.
“Hello, Nora.”
“Hello, Naith.”
“I noticed you weren’t sleeping well just now. What seems to be the problem?”
“Nothing,” Nora tried to keep the tremor out of her voice. “Just normal things; a nightmare is all.”
“Nightmares are often caused by neural unrest. What is the nature of your nightmare?”
“Know what?” Nora murmured, “I don’t even remember it now. I think I can sleep just fine.”
“All right. I will be with you in the morning, Nora.”
“As always, Naith.”

Nora couldn’t get the small studs out of her earlobes fast enough. She laid the gemstones back on their stand, now returned to their customary blue hue, and laid down in her bed, pulling the covers up to her chin. She glanced out the window, watching the undulating nebula wavering over the sky. No one could pinpoint exactly when the nebula had first entered human cognizance—whether it had appeared as suddenly as the Occupants, or whether it had always hovered in the night sky, undetected until the present moment. Nora knew there was some important connotation attached to the phenomenon, if only she could figure out what it was.

Nora found it even more difficult to focus on the mundane routine the next morning. She fumbled through dressing, and she nearly walked out with only one earring in, and her necklace in plain view on the outside of her uniform. Frantically, she kept the door of her apartment firmly shut until she had everything in order, and only then did she allow herself to emerge like a good little Occupied student.
Nora fought to keep from nodding off during the Arithmetic lecture; at least here she didn’t have to worry about double-speak and ever-changing narratives—did she? Nothing about numbers and figures seemed in the least way out of the ordinary. Contrary to what she had told Naith the night before, she could remember the most intense moments of her nightmare, seared into her brain with vivid, excruciating detail.
Nora walked out through the university commons as the massive clock tolled the noon hour in digitized knells.
A note had found its way into her locker, in Professor Silver’s familiar handwriting and inscribed hastily on a napkin. He wrote in bold capitals for some reason, and the message was especially cryptic. “NOWHERE IS NOWHERE,” it said. At the bottom he had drawn a symbol she recognized, the logo of a long-defunct nightclub. Nora headed there now, nagged by the incessant humming of her earrings, knowing her every movement would be tracked—she could only assume the Professor had found another one of those “noise-canceling pockets” like he had near the library.

She passed through the narrow gate under the decrepit sign that read NETHER-LAND. Rather a naughty name for an establishment, however appropriate. Her hand trembled as she knocked at the door. The nozzle of a gun peeked out the window next to her.
“Nobody home! Buzz off!”
Nora held up her note, hoping that whoever was inside could see it. “Professor Silver indicated that I should come,” she said.
“You numpty!” The voice growled, and the door opened at just about the same time two large hands grabbed Nora by the arm and dragged her inside.
“Naming names in the open like that! Do you want to get us all nixed?”
“Who are you?” Nora demanded, wrenching away from the grip in the dark interior of the vacant nightclub. “Where’s Professor Silver? Is he here?”
“Ned!” the man called, leaving Nora standing in the middle of the room that stank of countless crowds, unwashed dishes, stale cigar smoke, and who-knew-what-else. “Someone here for ya!”
“Nora!” At last, a familiar voice! Nora nearly cried as the professor she barely knew stepped into the room and wrapped his arms protectively around her. “You got my note! You found us.”
“I did,” she admitted, swallowing the tears and rubbing her nose. “Though I’d like to know: who is us? What is this place?”
Ned Silver smacked his forehead. “I’m sorry; in my effort to hide our true intentions from anyone who could betray that information, I may have muddled things for you. Come! Let me show you!” He took her hand and led her further back into the club, where a large room completely hidden from any windows held many monitors and screens and some very sophisticated navigational equipment. “Welcome to N.O.W.H.E.R.E.!”

Nora gazed in bewilderment at the assembled group: people milled about the screens, entering information, reading articles and streams of text she couldn’t possibly dream of understanding, and speaking together in small groups over short stacks of printed material. “Nowhere?” She repeated.
A man stopped in the act of walking by. “Yes, we are the National Organization of World Historians to End Research Entropy.”
Nora frowned. “Research Entropy?”
Ned nodded. “What can I say? The acronym came first, before the official title. Basically, what we are doing—right under the noses of the Occupation—is collecting and preserving any records we can find of pre-Occupation historical events. That way, no matter what they try to do with replacing or negating our past, we can still know how things really happened.”
“And someday,” the man agreed, “When we figure out how to neutralize the Occupant’s surveillance, and how to re-activate the Stonehenge Shield, we’ll be able to correct the nullified records.”
Ned smiled and squeezed the young woman’s hand. “That’s where you come in. Nora, meet Nelson Garrett, one of the first historians on the team. Nelson, this is Nora Farthington—and she is the key-holder for North America.”
“Key-holder?” Nelson gasped, and the same time Nora cried, “North America?”
“Yes,” Ned agreed. “You recall how I told you there were five keys? Well, thanks to some very relentless hacking, our team has discovered that potentially the other four keys are located somewhere within four other continents: Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. We’re still narrowing down the specifics—which we can’t do unless the neural network spanning the nation is neutralized—but thus far we’ve been able to isolate four different regions: Norway in Europe, Nepal in Asia, Nigeria in Africa, and New South Wales in Australia.”
Nelson snorted. “Yes, well, if we were at the Home Office in Newfoundland, I could network with all the agents in those areas, thereby making our search more effective, but no! You had to call us all out to bleeding Nebraska, of all places—“
“Oh!” Nora gasped, noting the nature of Nelson’s complaint. “That’s what your note meant! “NOWHERE is now here.”
Nelson would not be so easily deterred. “We are indeed, and we have precious little to show for it. I mean, really! I acknowledge that Nebraska might be a nexus of power for the Occupation in this part of the world, but the accommodations are bordering on Neanderthal!”
“Nevertheless,” Ned cut in, raising his hand, “we’re doing pretty well with what we have, working in secret like this, and—if you’re on board, Nora—we can start planning how we’ll infiltrate the NICHE.”
Nora took one more glance around the room, and then nodded at Ned.
“Count me in,” she said.

 Original Suggestion Box Image
 Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of previous Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A*       ]     [-Letter K*
-Letter B*       ]     [-Letter L*
-Letter C         ]     [-Letter M
-Letter D     

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reader's Review: "Cry of the Firebird" by Amy Kuivalainen


Synopsis from Amazon:

After the murder of Anya's shaman grandfather, Tuoni the Finnish God of the Dead, arrives to give her a mission; awaken her magic and take up the family mantle of Gate Keeper to Skazki, the Otherworld, before monsters and dark gods break in and start a war in the real world.

Joined by Yvan, a Skazki prince who can transform into the legendary firebird, Anya is hunted by the prince's dark-magic-wielding brother, and they are forced to flee to Skazki for safety. There, they meet a host of friendly and hostile forces, and Anya learns the secret history of her family.

Anya's magic is unstable, and she finds herself returning to the real world, bringing all of her new enemies with her...

>>>>>>>

My Review:

I picked up the whole trilogy when it was on a promotional sale, intending to get to it at some point--imagine my surprise when I found it on the shelf at my local library! Needless to say, this title got bumped up the TBR list on the spot, and I plowed through it in a matter of weeks!

I loved the story right from the start. Anya is a lonely, headstrong farm girl with very little family and a very strange grandfather--and her life gets completely turned on its head when Death himself meets her for coffee, and a flaming phoenix appears at her isolated little farmhouse. From then on, mythology mixes with the real world as Anya travels with the phoenix (and the man with whom it shares a body) to the mystical world from which her legacy came, the realm of Skazki, and discovers a host of new magical abilities her grandfather never told her about, while fighting to stay out of the reach of a diabolical enemy who will stop at nothing, not even killing her.

It was like reading a fresh new story from all my favorite mythological-fantasy authors, particularly the likes of Cornelia Funke and Naomi Novik, since a large part of the mythology used was Nordic in origin. Whether it was volk kroi (werewolf) or vampire, Thanatos (the "Grim Reaper" of Greek mythology) or a pair of Native American mystic Twins--each developed into their own unique character, with real-life struggles and strengths that weren't dependent on their other-worldly identities, which made them all incredibly relatable.
I loved the narrative style, the way the characters had time to build banter and interact between crises, the way Kuivalainen would pull back at times and give a brief "omniscient" view of an impending threat, calling attention to exquisite detail and building up the thrill for what is to come. The adventure is enchanting, and definitely be prepared to read for long stretches at a time, because each chapter pulls you in further until it's near impossible to put down!

In case it wasn't obvious, I definitely give this book a *****5 STAR***** rating, and if you're a myth and fairy-tale junkie like me, I would add an Upstream Writer Certified DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED. You will laugh, squeal, gasp, and turn pages all the way to the end--and then you will feel the urge to get your hands on the next book in the series (Ashes of the Firebird) as soon as possible! The Firebird Fairytales is a complete and utter win on all fronts, and not to be missed!

Further Reading: (Mythology Meets the Real World/Girl of Destiny/Excellent Characters)

The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
       -Untamed
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie
-Songstruck--Sofia Black
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 
Spirit Knights--Lee French
       -Girls Can't Be Knights
       -Backyard Dragons
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -Dream Stalker
     -Barrow Fiend  
-Kalla--Amber Morant
-The Seventh Crow--Sherry D. Ramsey
Tales of the Fallen--Katika Schneider
       -Devotion

Saturday, September 2, 2017

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


The List:
-Meredith
-Mid-morning, minute, month
-Mesa, Minnesota, Malibu, Mangrove Row, Mimi's Cafe
-mile, makeup, mocha, matcha, muffin, manicure, meal, maverick, money

The Result:

"Musings in Mesa"

Meredith shifted her posture as the low murmur of the car engine coaxed her to wakefulness.

“Morning, sunshine!” Chirped a gentle voice from the driver’s seat.

Meredith peeked over at her traveling companion, Phoebe Russell. A merry twinkle glinted in the older woman’s eyes.
“Ugh!” Meredith moaned, “Are we there yet?”

“Not hardly! It's only mid-morning; you've been asleep since we crossed the border into Arizona a few hours ago, Mer,” Phoebe chuckled. “We still have six more to go till we reach L.A.”

“Six hours!”

“That puts us on Rodeo Drive in time for an early dinner, just as George prefers.”

“Murder me,” Meredith muttered, raising the seatback to try and coax herself to wakefulness. “Can we at least stop for some coffee and a muffin?”

Phoebe shrugged, switching lanes, and tapping on the navigation screen in the Chevrolet Malibu. Her extensive acrylic manicure made it difficult to interact with the digital display. “Hang on, we might be able to stop for breakfast if it’s not too much out of our way—“

Meredith waved her hand aside. “Here, you drive; let me be navigator.” She pulled up choices of the closest diners in Mesa, Arizona. “How about Mimi’s Café? It’s only a few miles off the freeway.”

Phoebe glanced at the screen, narrowly missing a lane-changing driver just ahead of her in the process. “Good enough for me!” she announced, and promptly changed lanes while flashing her blinker briefly at the same time.

Meredith’s hand flew to the handle of the door. They’d been on the road since the previous evening, and yet she couldn’t manage to overcome her nervousness at Phoebe’s haphazard driving style.

Minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of Mimi’s and took an outdoor table. Meredith ordered a mocha, while Phoebe primly schooled the unprepared waitress on the minutiae of a perfectly-crafted matcha macchiato.
While they waited for their meals, the two women sipped their beverages in relaxed silence.
“So,” Phoebe mused, “are you excited to finally be back with your family?”

Meredith snorted and swiped a dollop of whipped cream off her coffee with her finger. She glanced narrowly at her friend and longtime mentor. “Oh yeah, I am just beside myself with jitters at the prospect of once again occupying close proximity to my father who is obsessed with his own image, and my sister who is intent on controlling absolutely everything and everyone around her.”

Phoebe sniffed. “Well, you don’t have to be so mean about it,” she chided. “I’m sure they’ll be excited to see you again. Besides,” She raised a narrow-penciled eyebrow, “I wasn’t aware that you were altogether enjoying your time back in Beaumont, either.”

Beaumont… Mangrove Row… the Estate with the Crofts… listening to Cassandra complain and fret about Lily, with the threat of Fred “stopping by” hanging over her head from Sofia’s sociable suggestions… “I’m just—what do you call it—in transition, I guess,” Meredith mumbled. She huffed and tapped the table with her fingertips. “I don’t know; just nowhere feels like home anymore.”

Phoebe smiled. “Nowhere except that miserable little flat in Houston, you mean?”

Meredith rolled her eyes. “Now you sound like my sister; it was plain, but it was cozy, and most of all—it was mine. Ever since I had to move back to the estate, well…” she shrugged. “You know how it’s been.”

Phoebe gave a warm chuckle. “Oh Meredith! Every day you sound more and more like your mother.”

Meredith blinked. “I do?”

Phoebe nodded. “Sarah could never quite fit into the same social circles the Elliots traveled in. She was a bit of a maverick, the outsider from Minnesota that no one could quite pin down.” Phoebe sighed, relishing the delight shining in the young woman’s eyes. “She wasn’t about to indulge in that movie-star life like everyone expected her to. George could be adamant about a lot of things, but the one person who managed to throw it back in his face every time was the woman he married. No one could figure out how they could stand each other, much less adore one another as much as they did.”

Meredith’s expression softened from the jaded sneer to a rampant curiosity. “Dad doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who likes to be ignored a whole lot.”

“Oh, trust me, it wasn’t easy for him.” Phoebe laughed lightly.

The waitress meandered over with their plates, and they paused to take a few bites before Phoebe continued. “Many’s the time poor George called me in an effort to make me convince Sarah that she shouldn’t do whatever she pleased. Of course, I had only recently married Tobey, myself, so I wasn’t quite the relationship maven I am now.” She paused to pluck a piece of lint off her sleeve. “As if anyone could make Sarah do something when she didn’t want to!”

Meredith felt the calm washing over her as she thought about her mom. No one else talked about the Elliot matron, and the lack of photo albums that weren’t family heritage records or collections of newspaper clippings from every time the family name made it into the headlines of the Beaumont Enterprise made hearing these stories from Phoebe that much more thrilling.

“Phoebe,” Meredith asked as she carefully quartered her chocolate-chip muffin with a fork, “what was the craziest thing mom ever did?”

Phoebe looked up from inspecting her makeup in the silver compact. “By whose standard?” she asked. “Mine or your father’s?”

Meredith grinned impishly. “Oh, do dad’s!”

Phoebe laughed. “Troublemaker,” she muttered. “Well, according to how long they argued, and how much he refused to let it go—it would have to be the day your mother went out and used a whole month’s allowance to buy herself a zippy little cherry-red truck.”

Meredith clapped a hand over her mouth and giggled. “A truck?” she gasped, just imagining the horror on her dad’s face at seeing the vehicle parked next to his luxury sedans in the carport. “What did she need a truck for?”

Phoebe shrugged, peeking over the check brought by the waitress and smoothly handing over her card. “She didn’t need it, and that was the whole point. She wanted it, and she put the money down to get it, and nothing could induce her to rescind her purchase.”

“Dad didn’t get mad at her because it was expensive at all, was it?”

“Oh, lord, no! It was the simplest, plainest thing you ever saw!” Phoebe wagged her head, glancing out the window as if she could see the grill of her dear friend’s truck pulling in, even then. “I think the thing that irked George the most was the fact that Sarah offset the cost of the truck by refusing to buy new clothes for two months.”

Meredith chuckled. “Yep, that would do it.”

The two women stood and Meredith even stretched her arms a bit.
“Ready to go?” Phoebe asked.
She nodded. “California, here we come!”
>>>>>

This scene is meant to be a part of "Merely Meredith: A Modern Persuasion", an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel "Persuasion." Follow the hyperlinked title above to read more excerpts from that project!






Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D     
-Letter K
-Letter L