Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reader's Review: "Obsidian Son" by Shayne Silvers

Synopsis from Amazon:

My name is Nate Temple, and I’m secretly a wizard. I ride a foul-mouthed unicorn, I drink with Achilles, and I’m pals with the Four Horsemen. I’ve even cow-tipped the Minotaur. I understand the theory of following the rules…I’m just not very good at the application.

Because rules were meant to be broken.

Especially when I find out a monster just murdered my parents. Now all I can hear is the sweet, soothing song of vengeance in my ears, playing on repeat.

But when shifter dragons come to town, I’m forced to step away from hunting down the scumbag murderer. Because I know the cure for a reptile dysfunction, and the dragons aren’t going to like it.

This fight soon opens up Pandora’s Box, and suddenly every flavor of supernatural thug is after me. The only way out of it—to save my city—is to murder my best friend.

I didn’t want, ask for, or start any of this. But I will finish it. It’s time I show St. Louis that magic is very, very real. And that an angry wizard is truly something to see—at least once in your life.

You know, right before he puts you and everyone you've ever met in the grave...

My Review:

I became acquainted with this author via another author whose works are easily among my favorites, R. R. Virdi.

Both Virdi and Shayne Silvers write in the similar genre of "paranormal/urban fantasy."

Both men are heavily inspired and influenced by Jim Butcher's Dresden Files--but in the grand scheme of things, Nate Temple has a bit more in common with Harry Dresden than Vince Graves does, since both Nate and Harry are "wizards working in a criminal consultation capacity" and Vince... isn't that. 
On the other hand, comparing Nate Temple and Harry Dresden is a bit like comparing Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Whimsey and Sherlock Holmes, respectively speaking. One is a man of modest means who gets by and succeeds out of pure skill and a healthy respect for the great responsibility that comes with his great powers, a sense of professional obligation to apply his superior knowledge to assist others (Sherlock)--and the other is rich, bored, more annoying than admirable, and gets by on a surplus of the power with very little of the restraint or responsibility (Lord Peter).

Bottom line, I had fun with this book, I enjoyed the characters, and yes I did stay up past 1 AM to finish it because I couldn't put it down... but holy heck, is this a CW/Starz/HBO show with how much nudity and sensual arousal there is in this? *sigh*... I mean, a bit I can understand, a character here and there... but literally everyone?? Come on!

The mystery itself was intriguing enough, and the twists were all there to throw suspicion in all the wrong directions. I mostly kept reading because I wanted to find out how things tied together and resolved, more than I felt any kind of connection to the characters.

Obsidian Son is a romp, pure and simple. It's flashy, it's got fistfights and dragon fights and flashy cars and parties and a whole lot of magic--but at it's core, the story stuck to the tropes and played up the "entertainment value" more than the "heart and soul" that gives a story actual meaning. It grazed over the surface and took the imagination on a thrill ride with big explosions, high-speed chases, eye-popping visuals--and when it was over, the reader climbed out of the ride and moved on.

Obsidian Son earns itself a ****4 STAR**** rating. It wasn't terrible, and I might be tempted to pursuing the rest of the series at some point in the future... But as far as being "committed" to the series, as I have been with other books--Nate Temple hasn't quite won me over just yet!

Further Reading: (Supernatural/Paranormal/Urban Fantasy/Compelling Series/Great Characters)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice 
        -The Truth Behind: A Short Story Collection 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart 
       -Wolf's Path 
       -Tiger's Shadow 
The Firebird Fairy Tales--Amy Kuivalainen
       -The Cry of the Firebird 
       -Ashes of the Firebird 
       -Rise of the Firebird 
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland 
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings 
        -Grave Measures 
        -Grave Dealings 
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed 
        -Angel Tormented 
Stories of Togas, Daggers And Magic--Assaph Mehr
       -Murder in Absentia 
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -A Drop of Dream 
     -A Dash of Fiend 
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Upstream Updates: A 2019 Retrospective!

Oh glory! Well, here it is near the end of December, of 2019, of the 2010's decade... whichever!

All in all it's been a pretty good year. In some ways, I haven't quite made the progress that I thought I would at the beginning of the year... and in other ways, I've made more progress!

I'd like to take this moment to look back over the year, by way of these "Upstream Updates", and compare where I was at then to where I am now, with the projects involved. You'll be getting a more thorough update on current standings and future plans in the Upstream Birthday post in a couple weeks, but just to avoid redundancy, I've chosen to keep this a "retrospective" type of post.

Writing Projects Finished

First of all, I really want to acknowledge the thing that I'm most proud of succeeding at this year. If you've been around this blog for the last few years, you know how significant is my penchant for starting ideas and then just not finishing them, and thanks to The Shelf, everyone here can see for a fact that my ratio of "Project Ideas" to "Finished Projects" is sadly skewed... But this year alone, I managed to finish not ONE but FOUR short stories that began the year "as yet unfinished" (or, as in the case of the first one, "nonexistent")!

It started in September/October, when the group that brought you Cracks in The Tapestry announced that they were going to produce another anthology, this one with more of a sci-fi theme. I didn't have a story readily on hand, but thanks to the "Flashes of Inspiration" series, I had at least one that I could expand and tweak a bit, that ended up well within the word count limit (something I'm quite proud of as it doesn't happen often!) and I submitted it before the deadline! Still haven't had a recent update on that one, though, so stay tuned for when/if it's going to be released!

Then in November, I managed to finish two short stories and a novella. "The Prince And The Rose" made a shocking return after I mentioned it once or twice at the beginning of the year and then spent the rest of the year ignoring it completely until October, and "Red, The Wolf" was one I started back in January in the hopes that a bit of engagement would help me confirm the direction for the project, as I was writing it for an anthology submission.... Failing that, I got a bunch of helpful input from the anthology's editor, wound up submitting an "abridged" version, and then stalled on it (at the editor's request) until after the anthology launched, at which time I finally figured out what I was going to do with the serialized version, which wrapped up on Saturday. (in fine style, I might add!)

The novella, of course, was the third installment in the A Writer's Tale series, the Wild-West-themed one known as The Sheriff's Showdown. I had hoped to be able to finish that one and write (or at least get a healthy start) on the next one during November... but I can't win them all, so it ended up taking all month long to finish The Sheriff's Showdown (plus all the other side things I was writing, just to make up the word count!), and The Corsair's Deception (pirate ships, people!) remains just-barely-started.

Which brings me to my next Point Of Accomplishment... Blog Hops!

I managed to jump onboard for three month-long blog hops this year, thanks to Jo Linsdell and The Bookish Blog Hops team! One in June, one in September, and this latest one in December is, of course, still ongoing! In fact, it was the last few questions talking about "blogging resolutions" and "blog goals" that prompted me to write this post, in spite of all the other things I should be writing by now... I love the blog hops not only for the boost in viewership I tend to get when these things roll around, but also the neat and unique questions I get to answer. I love the opportunity to plug my favorite books, whether they are mainstream, find-them-at-a-bookstore-or-library types of books, or the more elusive independently published titles--The Upstream Writer recommends great literature, wherever she finds it!

Next up, I had the privilege of seeing TWO anthologies released this year, containing stories written by me!

Forest of The Fearless was only a temporary publication (it's since been pulled... but it was a good run!) that included my story "Serenity's Light", but it was fun to learn that a story that began as a random string of inspirations from random people that had little to nothing to do with each other actually could become a cohesive story that was good enough for publication!

The second anthology, Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes, was produced by the same group that brought you Dreamtime Dragons, and that was the one that inspired me to at least plot out the concept for "Red, The Wolf"--although by the time the submission deadline rolled around, I knew I didn't have a prayer of keeping it within the prescribed word count limit, so I opted for an "abridged" version for the anthology, and I saved the "longer" version for my blog. That anthology (and the others I mentioned earlier!) are still available on Amazon!

Then, my most proudest moment of all: ONE NOVEL BROUGHT TO COMPLETION. I finished The Last Inkweaver, my first full-length fantasy novel, by the middle of September. In January I'd been a bit stymied about the flow of it, I'd been pretty proud of myself for clocking in at 140,000 words (just slightly longer than a Dickens novel) and not even done yet... but I can tell you, what came after, in the next 30,000 words I wrote to the end, kind of revolutionized the story I was trying to tell, a bit, and gave me answers to questions I didn't know still lingered from the first draft! Draft 1 took me roughly 2 years to write 85,000 words... so I was pretty proud when Draft 2 saw me DOUBLING that number, in just UNDER 24 months!

As far as word count is concerned... I did quite poorly this year.
According to this chart, the only months I actually ACHIEVED my word count goals were January and November!

When I started last April, I had thought that my goal of 25,000 words per month was quite modest. I was able to at least achieve 20K every month of 2018. This year, for some reason, I struggled to even amass that much! My average--including winning NaNoWriMo with 50K this year--was just under 22K... So what happened? Hopefully, with all the plans I have for next year, I'll be better equipped to knock out the goal!


All 35 works, as of this year! (With room for more)

This was a good year for Wattpad, for sure! I added several new stories, and updated others. Some of them are short and sweet, like Double Blind and The Prince and The Rose. This year I started out with only the first novella in the A Writer's Tale series, now there are three to choose from: The Dragon's Quest, The Commander's Courage, and The Sheriff's Showdown. I tried out submitting my twisted fairy tale The Dragon's Mark for the Watty's this year, thinking that with the new application system, it might stand a chance--but no dice. I also took the opportunity to add two very old projects to my profile, Clay Heroes and Once Upon Love. The former I finished, but the latter I only got two chapters added in before I was much too mortified by the atrocities of dialogue I committed... That story really needs help! Yeesh!

In case you were somebody who has been through all 35 stories on my profile and is still trying to find something "perfect" to read that I've written... never fear! Next year is a year of "Finishing Things" so I'll be doing my best to see how to finish those in-progress stories I never returned to (here's looking at you Sound of an Echo!) and adding new (finished) things to those "shelves." Stay tuned!


Then also there were the 16 library books I read, bringing the year's total up to 33. Out of those titles, my Top 5 would probably be: Pride by Ibi Zoboi, Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson, The Book of Ti'Ana by Rand Miller, The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz, and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.
Just a sampling of what I bought and downloaded....

I also added more than a dozen books to the TBR list--books I'd wanted to get for a very long time, and only just now got around to it--and oh boy! By the looks of it, I'll be neck-deep in 2022 before I get to the end of it now! And who knows how many more books I'll still be adding between now and then? 

Of course, I still have a couple titles I've purchased at book sales that I haven't even read! What gives? I blame work stress. I was about halfway through my first year in a new building at the beginning of 2019, and I suppose part of me hoped that Year 2 would be a lot easier--NOPE. So much happening that really affects how I do my job, and it doesn't look like it's going to slack off any time soon, so yay.

My goal of intentionality in writing should also apply to reading, as well--so that means I have new goals for 2020, which I'll get into in that birthday post!

All in all, it's been a pretty moderate year. Several successes, and many... not-quite-up-to-pars. But never fear, I have plans for the next year! Can't wait to share those with you next week!

As always...

Catch You Further Upstream!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Reader's Review: "Red The Wolf Tracker" by Pauline Creeden

Synopsis from Amazon:

Red Ryder has been going to Wonderland Guardian Academy since middle school, but she still doesn't belong. At 16 years old, she doesn't have any magical talents to speak of, and the rest of her peers know it. She may as well be a typical, mundane human, and the witch sisters make her school life miserable. How is she supposed to help humanity as a guardian when she may as well be one of them?

But Red is a wolf tracker. Though she doesn't come into her powers until the death of the current wolf tracker in her family, her grandmother. Her blood carries the wolfsbane gene, the only thing that helps humans build a resistance to the Lycan virus. Her family has been donating blood for ages in the hopes of keeping the virus at bay.

When her grandmother becomes too sick to do her job, the werewolf community wonders why their judge has gone on hiatus. And one pack alpha decides it's time to get rid of the line of wolf trackers once and for all.

My Review:

Well, all I can say is, that was an unexpectedly short book!
Honestly, it felt like more of a "prequel novella" than the actual first installment. It starts out in the middle of everything, with the characters more or less already falling apart, which meant that both Red and Peter had to give their history through flashbacks... Not really a great recipe for emotional connection!
I will say, the way the story treats the source material is really clever: a sidearm called Woodcutter, the fact that Red is a Wolf Tracker, famous for the fact that they will ruthlessly hunt down and slay werewolves (shades of Grimm there!)... the complication of a really close family friend ending up being a werewolf, and part of a pack that wants to end the Wolf Tracker line once and for all...
The trouble is that there were a lot of concepts and ideas that I would have loved to see fleshed out more: the different "storybook" characters who attend the Wonderland Guardian Academy, like the "Oz sisters", which are of course the three witches from The Wizard of Oz are briefly mentioned, but that's all. There was the mysterious doctor who seemed to know the Wolf Trackers and how to spot a werewolf... but not much was said about him, either. For a while I almost wondered if he was even in league with the werewolves, when the story itself wasn't very forthcoming!
A quick check of the other novels in this series proved that they're all full-length novels, instead of short like this one, which made me a little bit miffed... But on the whole, it's a great story, and a good "appetizer" to get me in the mood for the rest of the series!
I like the world she's built, the way she's set things up so that the different fairy tales can coincide and cross in new and inventive ways in this contemporary setting (not unlike a another fairytale-based show, Once Upon A Time), and most of all, I am down for these new characters with their own unique personalities and mannerisms! Creeden does awesome fantasy, and I am definitely looking forward to more of the Wonderland Guardian Academy!

On the whole, "Red The Wolf Tracker" earns a fairly decent *****4.5 STAR***** rating, and an Upstream Writer Certified Heartily Recommended. It wasn't the absolute best re-telling (for the reasons I listed above) it could have been, but it wasn't mediocre at all, and it certainly did the job of whetting my appetite for more! I'm just happy to have a new re-telling to explore and enjoy, from the trusted and supremely capable pen of Pauline Creeden!

Further Reading: (Also By The Author/Fairy Tale Re-Telling/Urban Fantasy/Female Lead)
A Mermaid Tale Series--Pauline Creeden
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland 
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair 
        -Street Fair 
        -A Fair Fight 
        -All's Fair
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -A Drop of Dream 
     -A Dash of Fiend 
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand 
       -Ghost Hold 
       -Ghost Heart 
       -Ghost Hope
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny  
     -A Halloween's Curse 
     -Frost Bitten 
Starstruck Saga--S. E. Anderson
The Children of Dreki--N. R. Tupper

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Bookish Blog Hop: Winter 2019! Day 23--Who Would You Invite To A Literary Dinner Party?

Becki Svare - A Book Lover’s Adventures (www.abookloversadventures.com)

I love this question! It’s really hard to answer, but I love the idea of having a dinner party with all my favorite bookish people there.

So, here’s my list of who I’d invite and why:

Jane Austen - she seems like she’d be a fun, witty person to have at a dinner party. She’s sassy enough to be interesting, but polite enough to put you in your place without being offended.

Severus Snape - Loathed potions teacher from the Harry Potter series, Professor Snape seems like he’d keep things snarky and real at a dinner party.

Brenee Brown - Author of several self-help books and social scientist, Brown seems like she would be extremely interesting to talk to and would give a completely different view of things.

Clive Cussler - I’ve actually met Cussler before. He’s a salty old sailor with a fantastic imagination, so I think he would be fun to throw into the mix.

Leslie Conzatti-- (Me!)

I’m not good with arranging dinner parties--far too introverted! It took me a really long time to decide which characters and authors and writerly people I’d invite… But I think I have a pretty decent collection!

The first person I thought of was the main character of Amy HopkinsTalented series, Emma Beaumarchais. She’s a friendly, down-to-earth, energetic and thoughtful character--and somebody I’d dearly love to be friends with! (She can even bring along Gibble, Lenny, and Barg, if she wants!)

Then of course I’d invite all the March sisters from Lousia May Alcott’s Little Women. I have always loved that novel, the sisters kind of felt like my own--I think they’d like to come to a party like this one, particularly Jo!

I’d invite Baran and Raina from Kimberly RogersTherian Way series--a tiger shifter and a leopard shifter, respectively, these characters I quickly became OBSESSED with--I loved the series so much! Such vivid scenes, and the personalities of the characters (especially these two) just shined out of every page! Definitely inviting them.

I’d also have Sally and Xander (maybe also Xander’s sister Blayde, just to keep an eye on things!) from S. E. Anderson’s Starstruck. This was a recent read, a new author for me--but I was instantly smitten! If I had the power to bring them into existence by inviting them to my party, I wouldn’t hesitate, because I’m intensely curious what they would “really” look like!

I’d invite both Lord Peter Whimsey and Hercule Poirot, as soon as I would attempt to get Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie in the same room (can you imagine??), just to see what might happen. (How long one would take to annoy the bejeezus out of the other, perhaps?)

I’d invite more authors, too, just to pick their brains and nerd out about the books I’ve read and loved that they’ve written: David Baldacci and Anthony Horowitz; Jim Butcher and R. R. Virdi (I actually almost considered inviting their characters… but maybe I don’t trust either Harry Dresden or Vince Graves enough to reach out to them! Maybe I’d consider Tatiana and Cassie from Virdi’s Dangerous Ways… but that might be as far as I’ll go for the sake of this party!); oh, and I'm totally inviting the "Angel Squad" from C. L. Coffey's LouisiAngel series! Just to get Angel, Kurt, Veronica, and Joshua in the same room again! Oh, and Trinity and Bobby from Cyn Mackley's Goode-Grace Mystery series. I’d invite Cornelia Funke, Marissa Meyer, Naomi Novik, Maggie Stiefvater, and C. S. Lewis, since I loved the fantasy novels from each of them, and I’d really want to express my appreciation!

At this point, I realize that my party invite list now contains over thirty people… So I’ll just stop there and call it good, before I run out of table space!

Kim www.writersideoflife.com

I think a small, intimate group of bookish people would be ideal.

So I’d invite Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, because she knows a lot about everything and always has interesting anecdotes. Neil Gaiman would be another fab guest because his mind does weird and wonderful things. I’m sure I would have fascinating conversations with Daphne du Maurier too.
In terms of fictional characters, I’d ask Lizzie from Pride and Prejudice (and I suppose Darcy can come along) and also Neville and Lupin from the Harry Potter series because, well, they are awesome.


How about you? Who would you invite (authors and characters alike!) to a dinner party? Comment below and join the discussion!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part FINAL

Part 12

Red surveyed her handiwork with a grim smirk. She'd taken the lead from around the now-human Rascal's neck and used it to tie her cloak closed around his waist, concealing his nakedness for the time being. She kept the cowl over his face, because the poor soul wouldn't stop staggering and looking around, and he most definitely needed to pass for her servant in order for her plan to work.

"Come with me," she ordered, and grabbed Rascal's hand, leading him across the street to the dressmaker's shop.

One very terse conversation and a promise of a deferred charge later, and Red emerged from the shop outfitted in regal attire befitting someone of high social class. She had reclaimed her cloak from Rascal, outfitting him in a simple tunic and trousers instead. She swept down the road with the air of a woman accustomed to being obeyed, with Rascal trotting along behind her. He persisted in making strange noises with his mouth, but that only served to encourage the people they passed by to avoid him all the more. Red only hoped that Greta's potion would last long enough for them to accomplish her objective.

She arrived at the prison, relieved to see that a different man guarded the front gate. Arching her brows haughtily, she approached the guard's post and declared, "Lady Agnetta, here to procure the prisoner by the name of Justin, at the behest of Lord Brennan."

The guard's eyes bulged out of his head, and he immediately gestured to the scribe at his side to write all that down.

Red raised her hand. "Lord Brennan desires that this transaction be kept... discreet." She dropped her voice down to a near-whisper and murmured, "I'm not sure what he intends to do to the prisoner, but I've heard rumors that said prisoner might have caused much embarrassment to His Lordship, so it could be that His Lordship desires to repay the offense in kind--if you get my meaning." She winked at the guard.

A smile broke over his face, and he nodded and winked back, giving a small chuckle.

Behind Red, Rascal's head came up at the noise and he opened his mouth to vocalize a haphazard mimic of the guard's laugh.

Red saw the soldier's expression change, as he perceived this idiot servant mocking him, and she cast a mean glare over her shoulder. "Be still!" she snapped.

Rascal ducked his head and cowered with a small whimper.

The guard grabbed a ring of keys from somewhere nearby, and trudged over to the gate, waving Red up behind him.

"This way, Milady. Lord Brennan may have whatever he wishes."

Red picked her way carefully down the narrow, putrid halls. Rascal immediately wrapped his hands around his face, a frantic look in his eye like he was going to be sick.

The guard stopped at a cell and gestured to it. "He's in there--rather a decent-looking fellow, if y'ask me."

"Nobody is asking," Red retorted, and she leaned close to the bars. "Hello, Justin."

The erstwhile peddler sat curled up in the filthy straw piled at the back of the cell. Hearing his name, he lifted his head, and when he saw who it was standing on the other side of the door, his features widened in horror. He immediately began to tremble.

"Ah, the R-r-r-Red L-lady, is it?" he stammered. "Why have you come--"

"It's time you received justice for your actions," she informed him. Turning to the guard, Red ordered, "Release him for me... but leave the chains on."

The keys clanked in the lock and the old door creaked open as Justin babbled protests. "B-but... you can't do this! I've done nothing! You're not even--"

"SILENCE!" Red gave his shackles a tremendous jerk, sending the suave peddler tumbling to the floor. "You will not speak unless I bid you to!" She glanced at the guard to see how much of what Justin said had caught his interest, but the moment he met her gaze, the old soldier ducked his head and turned around to lead them back out of the prison.

Justin, meanwhile, had recovered some of his composure in time to notice the other person following along behind Red, who seemed much more elated to see him than she had been. Justin had to duck and squirm to avoid this pale-haired young man wrapping his arms around him and enthusiastically nuzzling his neck.

"What are you--Argh! Get off me! Who are--"

They reached the bright outdoors, and Justin was able to see the man properly. His eyes bulged as recognition dawned.

"What the... RASCAL?" he spluttered.

Red jerked his chains again. "I said be silent!" She turned to the guard and smiled. "His Lordship will reward you handsomely," she promised the guard.

He clicked his heels and saluted to her. "Thank you, Milady!"

Red left them all behind, heading for the main thoroughfare out of Callica. The guards at the main gate were more than a little suspicious at seeing their wanted criminal headed out of the city, chains notwithstanding, but all Red had to say was "Official business in the name of Lord Brennan!" and they let her pass.

She kept walking, dragging Justin along while Rascal kept pace beside her, until they were deep in the forest, far out of sight of anyone within Callica's walls.

At last, she turned to Justin.

"Well, peddler," she spat the word with a grimace, "where's that wagon you hid out here?"

Justin scrunched his face in confusion. "How did you know about that? And what have you done to my wolf?"

Rascal yelped happily at being recognized by his old master, but when he tried to lean in close to Justin, the peddler recoiled with a disgusted frown.

"Rascal! Sit!" Red commanded, and the young man immediately plopped down in the grass.

To Justin, she said, "I merely used a potion from the thaumaturge to change his form." She grinned slyly. "Don't worry, it's not very permanent--I don't think."

Justin was still trying to make sense of things. "Thaumaturge? Then you found--but what did... How..." His eyes unfolded very wide and all the color drained from his face. "Beauty?" He rasped hoarsely.

Red sighed. "You tended my wounds and treated me with kindness while I was a wolf, so for that, I got you out of jail." Her face darkened. "But you also stole wantonly from the good people of Queston, so for that, I must leave you in chains, and turn your clever pet wolf into a..." she glanced down at Rascal, who was busy itching himself all over and humming with delight at the sensation, "slightly-less-clever human," she finished. "Furthermore," she went on, turning her full attention on the man in irons, "you must tell me where you've hidden your wagon, so that I can bring everything back to Queston with me."

The old calculating gleam returned to his eye, as Justin responded, "And if indeed you're dealing fairly with me," he mused, "what will you give me in return for showing you the wagon?" He held up his manacled hands. "You'll let me loose, perhaps?"

Red met his cunning gaze with fire in her own. "I'll let you live," she seethed. "Unscathed, with all your limbs and body parts. That is my bargain, you filthy thief." She folded her arms when he remained stubbornly silent. "And if you will not, I'll march you back into the city and let you rot, while I convince Rascal to show me the way to the wagon." She nodded to the white-haired young man currently engaged in visually identifying the source of every smell he sniffed. "He certainly seems the suggestible type." And if his behavior toward me as a wolf was any indication, I'm sure he'd willingly do anything I asked! Red thought in her mind, but she didn't want to give Justin the satisfaction of hearing her admit as much aloud.

Justin scowled at her. "All right! I'll do it!" He pointed (with both hands, as it were) down a side path. "It's this way."

Red followed the captive peddler over a winding path through the forest--everything looked much different as a human than it had when she came all this way as a wolf. She knew they were getting close as Rascal began to flail his arms and dance about with excitement at the familiar smell.

When they had wandered far into the forest, and into a small copse, he stopped. Shrugging his shoulders, he gestured right in front of him.

"It's right here," he said.

Red strode ahead of him, picking up the skirts of her grand dress (now rendered dreadfully impractical in the woodsy setting) and squinting hard to distinguish the lines of the camouflage from the actual undergrowth. She found a slight edge just within her reach, and pulled it. The whole screen came away like the tarp in the wagon, and she saw the pile of stolen goods winking at her from the depths of the wagon. Further searching revealed the lonely horse, happily munching his nosebag as if he hadn't even noticed they were gone for any length of time.

Red uncovered it fully, and she prepared to climb up into the wagon seat.

"Wait!" Justin called after her, raising his shackled hands. "Aren't you forgetting something?" He shook his arms to jangle the chains.

Red sauntered back in his direction, her face hard and very keen. "Oh, I am not forgetting anything--you see," she raised her arms and shrugged. "I was never in possession of a key to those chains. Maybe you can find your way back to Callica and one of those nice guards will help you out."

Justin blinked three times, and his eyes bulged out of his head as his whole face flushed bright red.

"You! You--You..." He spluttered. "You can't do this!"

Red lifted her chin and stared right back into his face. "Oh, but I can! You stole from Queston--and by extension, you stole from me, so I am entirely within my right to deal with you however I wish!"

Justin scowled. "This is madness! You are too cruel!"

Red folded her arms and laughed. "Cruel? No, letting you go is a mercy. Make no mistake, you double-dealing snake--If I ever see you, hear you, or smell you on the mountain ever again, rest assured I will hunt you down and you will face the full wrath of the Red Wolf!" She lunged a step forward, with such a terrible glare in her eyes that Justin blanched and stumbled backward a few paces.

"Why--It... You--savage! This isn't justice! It's not proper!" Justin whined, as his lips began to tremble and his breath came in choked gasps. "It's not becoming for a lady to have such violent tendencies!"

Red bared her teeth in a fiendish grin. "Didn't your friend Desiree already try to tell you? I may be Red, The Lady, capable of gentle decency and poise as befits my gender... but I am also Red, the Wolf--the forest-born Guardian of Queston. I defend the mountain against any who would seek to harm innocent lives--something that you and those of your ilk would do well to remember!"

She took her place at the front of the wagon and picked up the reins. One short jerk, and the horse ended its meal and trotted back up the forest path toward the mountain. Red didn't even look back over her shoulder at the pathetic form of Justin, the once-renown peddler and two-timing swindler, bound hands dangling before him, and the white-haired man-wolf fawning at his feet.

Red smiled as the path curved upward. She had dealt with the white wolf once and for all, she had recovered all the stolen heirlooms and possessions--and most of all, she was heading home to Queston.


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Monday, December 16, 2019

A Bookish Blog Hop: Winter Hop 2019! Day 16--A Book You'd Like To Get Gifted For Christmas

"All I want for Christmas is a few great books,
a few great books, 
a few great books...
Gee if I could only have a few great books,
Then I could have a Merry Christmas!"

Erica Robyn www.ericarobynreads.com

Oh boy! I’ve texted my husband photos of so many books I’d love to get for Christmas! I think one at the top of my list is The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, the pop up version. This is one of my all time favorite books, so when I saw someone posting about a pop up version, it immediately jumped to the top of my wishlist!

Jo Linsdell www.JoLinsdell.com

This is a tough question because I want all the books… literally ALL of them. High up on my list is box sets though. I have a bit of a thing for box sets. I love it when I have a full collection for a series. I also hate it when I buy books from a series separately and end up with different covers or trim sizes. I’d love to get the Harry Potter box set as I’ve yet to read all the books in the series and that’s just not good enough. I’d also like some more series by Rick Riordan. Anyone that knows me knows I’m obsessed with the Percy Jackson series. My box set for that gets pride of place of my shelves. I’d love to read his other series too so the box set of one of those would be awesome.

Leslie Conzatti www.upstreamwriter.blogspot.com

I’m with Jo! I’d love to get all the books. My family was a little bit miffed that my birthday wish list was 90% books… Mostly the remaining books in series where I’d picked up the first book… So of course, the presents I received were the very few NON-BOOK ITEMS on that list…

But chief among them was the complete series of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. The covers are just too dang gorgeous, and I freaking loved the first book, haven’t yet read any of the others, but that’s definitely something I’d be overjoyed to find under the tree come Christmas day!

Eline - LovelyAudiobooks.info

I couldn’t quite convince my family what a fantastic gift Audible gift cards are, so I usually just buy my own books. But this year, I’ve added print editions of my absolute favorite Urban Fantasy series, The Imp by Debra Dunbar, to my wishlist. I love these books so very much and it would be great to see them on my bookshelves. There haven’t been many new additions to my shelves in the last couple of years since I have completely embraced digital reading. But I want to change that now and get print copies of my favorites, to support the authors and for the nice feeling of looking at the books I love.

The last couple of months have been really busy for me so I haven’t read as much as I’d like! For that reason, I would love to get a book for Christmas - a beautiful hardcover that I could put on my shelf and stare at… I mean, read. I would love to read The Testaments by Margaret Atwood or Exhalation, the new collection of short stories by Ted Chiang. Either of these would be really meaty books I could sink my teeth into over the summer here in New Zealand.

Becki Svare-A Book Lover’s Adventures (www.abookloversadventures.com)

I feel like I always have a book or two sitting in my Amazon cart just in case anyone wants to buy me a book, lol. So far, no one has magically come in and bought my cart for me, but one can always hope!
Right now the book in my cart is Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen by Rachel Dodge. Another blogger that I follow posted about this book last month, and it drew me in. Not only do I enjoy Jane Austen immensely, but I’ve been wanting a new devotional to read. So, this one seems to fit the bill nicely.


What about you? What book would you most like to unwrap on Christmas? Comment and let us know what book you're wishing for!
Follow the Blog Hop via any of the links above for more bookish shenanigans!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part 11

Part 11

Night descended over Queston, yet the Garrity household remained brightly lit.

"Deborah," Burch urged, "Come to bed."

The silver-haired woman sat by the fire, rocking back and forth with anxious energy, her eyes fixed on the front door. "But what if she's been killed? What if that wolf got her at last? It's been three days, Burch--she's never away that long!"

Henny lay curled on the sleeping mat behind the curtain that separated the "bedrooms" from the rest of the house. She had "gone to bed" a while ago, but sleep had eluded her ever since the encounter with Red in the alley, and the fight she'd had against Marc. He'd almost killed her--and it was all Henny's fault! How had she not seen his volatile temper before? How had he convinced her to trust him so blindly? Had Red, in her pursuit of the white wolf, accidentally encountered Marc in the mountains, and he'd taken his revenge?

The candles were lit, but no Wolf came... Where was the Guardian, and what would Queston do without her?

Red slowly regained consciousness, still breathing deeply--though she smelled the scents of normal air--herbs, fresh dirt, morning dew, and the woody smell of rafters and floors and furniture.

She opened her eyes and saw Greta standing over her, as she lay on her side. Red shifted her gaze to her limbs extended before her--and saw, as she had for the past three mornings, a pair of wolf paws. She lifted her head and whined in confusion. Why had the potion not worked? Would she be a wolf forever?

Greta's eyes watched Red closely, as she gently stroked the wolf's side. "You are wounded," she remarked.

Red didn't flinch as the woman actually extended a finger toward the section of unmarked fur, touching what appeared to be a perfectly healthy limb. "Right there," she said.

What should have been a light touch was so precise that Red felt the thrust of a knife-blade right underneath it, clear to the bone. It felt like getting stabbed by Marc all over again--but why? Had his blade carried some kind of poison she didn't know about?

"That's why the potion didn't work," sighed the thaumaturge. "There is something about that wound you carry upon your human form that would kill you if you were to shift before it is dealt with. In this sense, the blockage is saving your life--but I'll bet you still want to be able to shift into human at some point, don't you?"

Red lay her head back down again and gave a grunt, flopping her tail on the table behind her for good measure. She did indeed wish to be human, by any means necessary.

"As I expected," Greta mused. "I'll have to go deeper to find the source of the injury, and it will hurt--but you can trust me."

Red lay still, and turned her mind to memories of Queston. She felt Greta's magic slicing into her like a handful of the sharpest knives imaginable, but she deliberately detached from that sensation, focusing intently on seeing Burch and Deborah again, feeling Deborah's warm embrace, and Burch's weathered, rough hands rubbing her shoulder proudly. She thought about seeing her old den again, and the pile of mixed furs, the feeling of bathing in the quiet mountain stream and washing Rascal's stench and filth off her body completely.

Rascal... There was still the matter of Justin stealing from Queston that Red wanted him to answer for--but he couldn't do that from the Callica prison, and she couldn't very well call him to account while still a wolf. She needed her human body back, and soon!

"All finished!" Greta announced, moving away to wash her bloody hands. Red looked down to see her side all stitched and bandaged closed, with a blood-soaked shard of metal resting on the table beside her. She sniffed at it. The blood gave off a coppery smell, but there was another scent underneath, one that gave the Red Wolf a sense of real danger.

"It's silver, all right," Greta confirmed, returning to her side. "I'm guessing you were fighting somebody, and a piece of their silver knife must have broken off in your shoulder. You didn't know it, and shifted shortly thereafter, and in the process, the shard slipped into the muscle very close to your heart, where I found it. The way it was situated, any attempt at shifting would have just rammed the shard deeper into your heart and killed you at once. You're lucky you found me when you did--a wound that bad sustained in another form would have slowly weakened you to death, anyway; not to mention the psychological dangers of spending too much time in one form." She stroked the top of Red's head. "Are you ready to try shifting again?"

In answer, Red the Wolf closed her eyes and recalled what it felt like to be human, the shape and balance of her human body, the feel of her clothes... A shiver ran the length of her spine, and she felt her bones twisting and stretching...

When she opened her eyes, Greta smiled.

"Welcome back, Miss Red," she said, reaching out to lift the human hand and support the human shoulder.

Red sighed with relief and spoke her first words in three days: "At last!" Her own voice had a strange timbre to it, after not hearing herself speak for so long.

Greta eyed the bloodstained tear in Red's sleeve, and noted the scar that now marked the skin beneath. "Aye, that looks like just the culprit," she mused.

Red nodded and shifted her cloak to cover it. "You were right, it was a fight," she mused. "But I won, so I don't think the person responsible will ever want to cross paths with me again." She stood on her own two legs, feeling relief at being able to change positions freely once more. She grasped the apothecary's hands. "Thank you so much for helping me. I might have been trapped for the rest of my life if it weren't for you."

Greta nodded. "It was whatever fate brought you to me, that you have to thank. Not many people know of my thaumaturgical skills--and certainly a wolf wouldn't need an apothecary to tend a wound that doesn't exist."

Red chuckled wryly. "It was a long road that brought me here," she replied, "and now I need to be getting back to my home." She pulled out the coin purse still in her pocket, and offered a few gold pieces to Greta. "Thank you for your remedy."

Greta's wrinkled hands pushed her own back. "No need, my dear; the work I have done is free of charge."

Red shrugged and headed for the door, her mind already trying to work out how she would manage to find Justin's wagon again.

"What about your wolf?" Greta's words arrested her.

Red stopped in her tracks, just upon the threshold. Rascal... He might be able to lead her to the wagon... or perhaps she could use him as a bargaining chip to ensure Justin's cooperation. On the other hand, he might prove to be less compliant with her, considering their newly-developed familiarity, as much as it rankled her.

Haven't I had enough dealings with that mangy wolf? her inner voice moaned.

The soft clink of vials and jars behind her triggered an idea. She turned back to Greta, and placed the gold coins back on the counter.

"Tell me this," she mused. "Can you brew a potion that would temporarily turn a wolf into a human, even if they're not a shifter?"

Greta rolled her eyes up in thought for a long moment. "I suppose I could make it work--I don't know just how temporary it might be, if we're dealing with a non-shifter..."

Red nodded, pushing the coins toward her. "That is the potion I would like to buy."

Greta accepted the payment with the air of an experienced businesswoman. "Then we have a deal."

By the time the sun reached midday, Red departed from Greta's shop with a vial of fresh potion in her pocket and Rascal on a leash trotting beside her.

He whimpered when she came out to retrieve him, and pulled a lot on the leash, but Red used her wolfish sensibilities to establish her dominance over him, and for the most part, he didn't cause too much trouble. Every so often, he whimpered and pulled, but one subtle growl and a yank on the leash brought him back to heel.

"We need to see about breaking your master out of jail," she muttered under her breath. "And if we can do that while you're still a wolf, so much the better--but if I need another pair of hands to pull this off, I won't hesitate to use this potion on you!"

Her words seemed to have no effect. Rascal seemed only to understand that her tone and inflection meant business, without comprehending her exact words.

Red made her way to the squat stone structure that housed the city's prisoners. Tiny windows lined the top, and she was fairly certain, by the amount of debris lining the openings, that they had been deliberately placed to allow light into the otherwise dark space, but remain inaccessible as points of escape. She could hear the clanking of chains within. Red squared her shoulders, marched to the gate that was the only point of entry, and declared to the guard, "There was a prisoner just arrested this morning, and I require that he be released into my custody."

The guard raised his head a little and let his eyes wander up to her face. "You and whose authority?"

Red thought back to the name Justin had mentioned. "Lord Brennan wishes to make an example of him." She leaned in. "You will be rewarded handsomely," she murmured, with a wink.

The man's eyes glinted, but in that moment, Rascal tried to take advantage of Red's distraction and pull back again. This attracted the attention of the guard, who screwed up his face to squint at the white wolf.

"Say..." he drawled slowly, "I know that animal--" He scowled up at Red. "What did you say your name was?" Behind him, the other guards were beginning to straighten and take interest.

Alarm bells went off in Red's mind. Her instinct told her that the situation was no longer in her favor. She pulled her cloak close around her and hoped that the onlookers hadn't gotten a very clear view of her face. "That is not your concern. Good day, sir!" She turned heel and marched out of sight.

Ducking into an alleyway some distance down the road, Red leaned against the wall with a groan.

"Great," she grunted, as Rascal started pulling on the leash again. "My best chance of finding that wagon and getting the things back to Queston, ruined because you had to be so blasted unforgettable!"

Rascal, indeed! The white wolf sensed her anger, but his response was to fawn and cower at her feet.

Red stood there and watched the people of Callica walk by. The poorer classes tended to walk with their heads down, reserving acknowledgement for only the upper-class people walking by with their entourage of servants. She watched a high-bred lady pass by a string of market stalls. The people who saw her immediately bowed, while she indicated her wishes to her servant with a mere motion, and he paid out monies from her purse and carried the items she wanted. No one gave him a second glance.

She looked down at the wolf beside her.

"Rascal," she said, watching him pick up his head and tilt his ears forward at the sound of his name, "I think it's time I gave Justin a taste of his own medicine." If he wanted to use shapeshifting to control her--perhaps he needed to learn what would happen when someone used shape-shifting to exert control over him.

Red used wood scraps and a couple of discarded stones to start a small fire, upon which she placed the vial of potion. As before, the potion began to simmer and steam, and when she saw the smoke change color (as Greta had instructed her), she took it off the flame and pressed the mouth of the vial against the muzzle directly in front of Rascal's nose.

The white wolf reacted with fear and distaste, whimpering and pulling, flailing his paws to get away from the heavy smell, but Red held onto his collar, snarling at him just the way she might do as a wolf. Finally, the vial's contents finished evaporating, and Red could use both hands to hold Rascal in place as the wolf still thrashed and whined. As suddenly as the fit had begun, Rascal came to a dead stop, gave one long and terrible howl, and as he stretched his head back, Red could see patches of human skin appearing from under his fur. He howled again, and she saw his limbs stretching into arms and legs, fingers and toes forming at the ends of his paws. 
By this time, she also realized that, without being a shifter, Rascal wouldn't necessarily be clothed when he transformed, as she was. Quickly, Red removed her cloak and threw it over him, using the wide swath of fabric to hide his form from prying eyes attracted by the noise, and also to keep him under her control. At last, the thrashing stopped, and she could feel his human form under the cloak. She pulled back the hood to survey her work.

A man stood in her grasp, a bit younger than Marc, bare-faced, with bright-golden eyes, and a shock of hair as white as his fur had been. The collar still hung around his neck, if a bit looser, but the muzzle had fallen of completely.

"Um--um--um!" the man whimpered, pawing at her with his hands as his new human body quivered under the cloak.


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