Thursday, October 31, 2019

Reader's Review: "Blood Debt" by E. A. Copen

Synopsis from Amazon:
Judah Black’s been assigned a new partner just in time to solve a grisly double homicide. Trying to navigate suddenly being the junior agent is bad enough. Figuring out who—or what—crushed a vampire and his prey to death before freezing them solid in the back room of a fae-owned nightclub might as well be impossible.

When one of the victims is identified as vampire royalty, vampire prince Crux Continelli declares a blood debt, vowing to punish the killer himself. But Crux’s brand of justice could spark violence between the fae and vampires.
Caught up in a struggle between two vampire factions, Judah races against time to bring a killer to justice before war breaks out. With her friends in the crosshairs, the stakes are even higher. If she fails this time, more than her job is on the line. Paint Rock and everyone she’s come to know and love could be next.

My Review:

I'll admit, it's been far too long since I read a Judah Black novel.

Of course, before this, I only read the one, Guilty By Association--but I did read another E. A. Copen tale (Beasts of Babylon) and it was brilliant and spooky and marvelous... but it wasn't Judah Black, and it only took cracking the cover on this one and diving into the first couple chapters to remind me how much I missed this enjoyable take on the whole "paranormal investigator" (more like "defender of the supernatural", actually!) type of novel.

The beauty of sequels is that the really good ones can make you feel like you're picking up right where the last one left off, can give you a whole new set of scenarios and challenges--and also take the time to dive deeper into the characters to which you were only just getting introduced the first time around. In the first book, we were seeing a new person in crisis mode, a new environment with its fresh set of rules, so there was a lot to take in, and even Judah herself and her own past and her struggles might have gotten lost in the allure of the new and exciting thrill ride that is those particular scenarios at Paint Rock.
Now that we've moved on into a second adventure, we are treated to more and more of Judah's past--her pain, her regrets, the things that stick with her through it all, the choices she made that led to the circumstances under which we met her the first time around... Copen presents it beautifully, with a raw vulnerability that has us coming alongside Judah, rooting for her, empathizing with her in a very real way. Some of it is obvious--especially when a past choice comes back to haunt her and ties directly into the thing she's dealing with now--but there are subtle moments, too... references to earlier experiences that Judah carries with her, that extend far beyond the bounds of the actual series itself. Paint Rock isn't just a convenient fabricated backdrop for an exciting story featuring werewolves, zombies, Fae, and vampires--it really feels more and more like a real community, with its own unique rules, rhythms, and overall vibe. It might not seem like much because it's not an entire planet or nation like some fantasy concepts are wont to imagine--but at the same time, Copen builds it well, so that it fits within the real world, while becoming an honest-to-goodness location in its own right.

Copen's sequel does exactly what a sequel should do: build upon things that were set out in the first novel, while also presenting a unique story in its own right. It's because there are things we already know about the characters that we can delve deeper and understand them more without a whole lot of extra explaining, or taking things at face value--and the changes we see as the characters have matured and evolved that lead us to be more thoroughly invested in their struggles, and emotionally impacted when they start to deteriorate. The sequel, too, paves the way for even more possibilities of conflicts and struggles with adding in more involvement with the Fae characters, namely an Irish-"sounding" (at least, the way the lines are written kind of gives a certain "lilt" to the mental voice I had running!) Elf character who shows promise of being a recurring character in future books!

BLOOD DEBT does it all: hits the high marks, carries a well-rounded story, introduces new characters to love and hate and everything-in-between, and contributes to the ever-growing list of "What Makes Judah Black So Freaking Awesome." I had my suspicions about the outcome early on in the book--but that just means she played her cards and laid out her clues just right, to lead us to the "correct" conclusion, doesn't it? I still found the "twist" ending immensely satisfying. Plus there's a sword duel between vampires at one point, and that is definitely not to be missed!
I give the book a solid *****5 STARS***** and the series maintains its Upstream Writer Certified Recommended endorsement. The world of literature needs more vulnerable, insightful, loyal, and stalwart heroines like Judah Black!

Further Reading: (Paranormal Investigations/Urban Fantasy Mysteries/Crime)
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings 
        -Grave Measures 
        -Grave Dealings
Stories of Togas, Daggers And Magic--Assaph Mehr
       -Murder in Absentia
The Runespells Series--Sarah Buhrman
       -Too Wyrd 
Alexi Sokolsky: Hound of Eden--James Osiris Baldwin
        -Burn Artist 
        -Blood Hound
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -A Drop of Dream 
     -A Dash of Fiend 
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed 
        -Angel Tormented
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part 5

Part 5

Red blinked awake, well aware that she currently lay in a large pool of mud. She could feel it sticking to her skin, coating her side. For a moment, she couldn't recall why she had chosen to lay down and rest in the middle of the forest instead of finding somewhere safe and protected, nor what exactly happened to her just before she passed out. Her muscles ached from laying against the unyielding, rocky surface for so long, and from her fight with the burly shepherd, Marc. How she wanted so badly to stand and stretch!

A whining yelp reached her ears, and Red raised her head as a wolf with white fur traipsed into view--the same one that attacked the sheep! Seeing him now evoked the memories of the villain charging heedless through the streets of Queston, and Red felt the strength she needed building in her limbs to stand and confront him

She only made it halfway to her full height, though. Red looked down at where her hands should have been, seeing only muddy paws in front of her. She could feel the clumps of mud clinging to her wolf's fur--why did she not shift?

The white wolf had picked up the bundle of cloth she had seen him carrying earlier--and now he dropped it at her feet, laying his ears back and giving a subservient whine. She noted how he kept his head below hers, not quite showing abject submission, but at least acknowledging her superiority, in spite of the fact that he did have the advantage of size over her.

Red turned the thing over with her paw, and saw a face amid the scraps. A doll! Not just any doll; Red bent down and sniffed. It matched the girl's scent from earlier--had it been that day? Or had she lain there all night? She lifted her head to scent the time of day. Early morning--so it was the following day, after the celebration at Queston, after discovering Henny and her errant shepherd... Red sensed the white wolf inching too close to her and jerked back with a snarl. She attempted to place a paw on the doll--she could still bring it back to the village, after dispatching the wolf--but he had already hooked the fabric with his teeth and now doubled back with the doll dangling from his mouth. Red swung her ears forward and flattened her tail, growling sharply to let him know that she wanted it back, but the white wolf simply shook his head back and forth, sending the doll flapping and flailing as he gave a playful grunt. He leaned forward with his forepaws outstretched, his tail curled upward in a curious plume. This time, he wanted to be chased.

Red geared up to give him what he needed, but the moment she stepped with her left forepaw, it gave way and sent her stumbling awkwardly sideways. Searing pain radiated from the joint all the way up to her shoulder, and Red knew she had a problem. While it wasn't anything that a bit of Mrs. Garrity's ointment couldn't solve, she wouldn't be able to retrieve the jar while in her wolf form.

A shrill whistle caught her ear.

"Rascal!" Called a voice. "Where'd you get to?"

The white wolf turned his head and inclined his ears toward the sound.
Red fell absolutely still and did her best to try and melt into the undergrowth as the crunch of human footsteps grew closer. This wolf was a tame beast? The white wolf made a wide arc to sweep past Red and head straight toward something in the distance. Red smelled woodsmoke on the air. Rascal let out a small yelp, and she heard the person respond.

"Here, boy! What took you so long?"

Rascal trotted toward a break in the bushes, but once again, he came back around to Red. She watched him approach, his head held low, ears pressed back against his head. He padded slowly, almost melting into the dirt at her feet. She growled a warning at him, curling her lip to show her teeth, to which the white wolf responded by rolling over and leaning his head up to expose his neck. There would be no more fighting between him. He was ready to give in to her.

Too late, Red's attention returned to the man who seemed to be Rascal's master. He had already approached the rise just ahead of them, and he spotted Rascal at once, sprawled as he was in the dark dirt, his clean white underbelly exposed.

"Rascal! Are you hurt, boy?"

The white wolf scrambled to his feet with a small yip, trotting over to the figure whose shape looked familiar to Red. She hadn't even known there was a camp this far out of Queston--where could she have seen this man?

The man reached out and rubbed the top of Rascal's fluffy head. Red didn't so much as twitch a muscle. She still clung to the belief that there might be a chance he hadn't actually spotted her.

"No," he murmured, "it looks like you're all right. Well then, who did--"

Rascal left off rubbing against the man's legs to gaze in Red's direction and whine. She never wanted to just melt into the shadows so much!

"Who's that?" he murmured. "A friend?" He crouched down in a non-threatening posture. "Don't be afraid; I'm not going to hurt you."

That voice! She knew that voice! Red staggered forward, itching to get a clearer view of the dark man in the cloak. He smelled familiar--she detected hints of bread flour, sugar, and of the crimson hoods that only grew in the crags around Queston. The question became: who from Queston would be camping out in the mountains, so far from town?

His hands reached her side, and Red shrank away with a snarl at the sudden pain. He backed up.
"I'm sorry," he murmured softly. "Something messed you up good, darling." He turned and regarded the white pup at her side. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you, Rascal?"

Rascal dipped his head and trotted away toward the man's camp, like he didn't understand the things this human said to him.

Red watched as the hand dipped below her face, letting her get more of his scent--she smelled a whole host of spices, and still a natural scent below it all that she recognized as well as she had known his voice. Who was he?

"Come here, lovely," he crooned. "We'll have you fixed up in no time. I have food, too. Come on, there's no need to fear."

Slowly, struggling to keep her balance, Red limped after the man, puzzled at knowing him but not being able to identify him, even in the dark.

They arrived at the camp just over the rise, where a cheery fire crackled and hissed. Just beyond the dancing golden light, Red could distinguish a massive shape looming in the shadows, but her bleary eyes refused to focus on it. There were other things attracting her senses. Resting on a spit over the flame was a small, quadruped body, neatly flayed.

The man sat before the fire and took out his knife, carving off a piece of the roasted animal. "Now, then," he said, "how would you like a nice piece of roasted lamb?"

Red stood at the edge of the fire, feeling its heat on her face. Hearing the word "lamb" reminded her of the fight where she had received most of her injuries: the morning she had to chase away the white wolf from among Queston's flock. A lamb had gone missing, and Rascal had torn the bellwether ram to shreds. Seeing it now, offered to her at the end of a stick, Red felt all that fury return, and she looked up into the face of the man who offered her food and protection.

Merry eyes twinkled back at her. Every hair along Red's spine stood straight up. She knew every crack and crevice of this face, every wrinkle, every hair from the crown of his head to the carefully-manicured mustaches on his lip and chin. She knew it because this same person visited Queston every time the roads cleared, as often as he could. Rascal's master was none other than Justin the Peddler!


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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Upstream Updates: October 2019!

Life Stuff

Happy Birthday To Me!!
Yes, it happened to be my birthday last week, and I found lots of ways to celebrate: hanging out with friends, meeting my sisters for coffee and breakfast, taking a long, luxurious bath with a real bath bomb (now that was fun!), and of course, reading and writing a whole lot!

ALSO... You might notice that The Upstream Writer has had a bit of a facelift! Yeah, I decided to change the fonts a little--what do you think? You like these, or should I choose something else? Let me know!

I have a lot to update you on, so sit tight and enjoy all the fun things I have in store!


The Last Inkweaver

YUSS I am officially finished! I know I celebrated this very thing once already, several years ago--but there's just something infinitely more satisfying about this time around. Maybe it's the fact that I changed things around and made it work (as far as I can tell) so much better than it did before--now I just need to hear from beta readers who would be able to tell me whether or not the new plot actually holds water. I'm not sure if it still needs a third total rewrite, or if I am good with what I have, just needs some tweaking here and there. It is by no means immaculate, I know there were some parts I wasn't shy about slamming more words than necessary into the scene--I just need to know if it still works, or how else I could say what needs to be said and cut out the extra stuff that's not needed. Who knows? Might not happen before next spring, but I'm definitely going to do my best to get this out there! (I just hope it doesn't take me another two or three years to write each of the next three books in the series!) If you're interested in becoming a beta reader, just leave me a post on my Facebook Author Page!

Anthology Release

At the end of September, the Dreamtime Fantasy Authors (the same group who brought you Dreamtime Dragons... and yes, I'm still a part of it!) released a second anthology, this one called Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes. The theme was, of course, strong women who "save themselves", and it was for this theme that I cooked up the story that has now become a series on my blog, "Red, The Wolf." It became apparent when I was first writing it to submit that the full plot line was going to be far too long for the short story, not like my story "Arthur and The Egg", written for Dreamtime Dragons, where I started it on the blog and then finished it for the anthology... no. It was a big plan, and not even just cutting it off at the beginning and promising the rest later was going to cut it. I ended up writing a slightly altered and "abridged" version, if you will, for the anthology... So you'll have to read there if you're curious how it might have ended, after reading what all I have in store for poor Red here on the blog! I would also highly recommend the anthology for the sake of the other stories involved... If you're the least bit curious, and this is the first you've heard about this production, feel free to check out all the >SNEAK PEEKS< and >FUN FACTS LISTS< I posted over the month of September.

New Anthology Submission

Boy, I just never stop, do I? No, writing short stories is just too much fun, and yet another anthology group I've been published with, The Tapestry Group (my story "Heartsong" was included in their anthology Cracks in The Tapestry), is also looking to publish a second volume of stories, this one more of a sci-fi theme. For once, I didn't actually have a story ready and in-hand to offer, so I took one of the Flashes of Inspiration series (specifically the one called "The Legacy of Heroes") and tweaked it and rewrote it--actually made it longer, instead of having to cut it down--and ended up with a truly smashing piece that was well within the word count limit! A first! I called my story "Finding Her Niche." Not sure if this one is going to be a winter release, or a spring one... but as more details develop, I will be sure to pass them onto you, my readers!

Blog Serials Return!

Next up on my list of "current projects" is the return of not just one but two blog series that I started earlier and didn't get very far on!

The first is, of course, "Red, The Wolf" that I mentioned before. I tweaked a few parts, and as of last Saturday, we've officially entered the part of the story that's completely different than the "abridged anthology version"! Instead of driving the peddler off the mountain, Red ends up giving chase to the white wolf who has repeatedly terrorized the small village--she can't help noticing that it "attacks" at regular intervals, and doesn't seem threatened by the humans... Certainly this wolf doesn't consider Queston his "territory", as Red has claimed it for several years now. When will it end?

The second series that made a return, now that I'm supposed to be getting ready for NaNoWriMo, is "The Prince and The Rose", my re-telling of "Beauty and The Beast."
Not yet the thumbnail for the serial,
I just put it together for this post!
 For those who hadn't heard of it yet, I started the short story on a whim, after seeing a pretty inspiring picture, as a means of providing a new "backstory" for the original Disney film, filling in the gaping plot hole that wasn't wholly addressed--namely that the prince might have actually been very young when "cursed"... 
Then after I'd written just that one scene, I thought: Wouldn't it be fun to write a version of Beauty and the Beast where the Beast Prince actually learns his lesson and is actually quite penitent and gentle--while the "beauty" who is supposed to fall in love with him ends up being more of an "ugly stepsister" type, vain, selfish, arrogant, and absolutely disinterested in having anything to do with her monstrous host? I got about halfway through the story a while ago, and put it on hold to focus on other things... but it's my goal to at least finish it in the next week or so. (or else I might have that as a secondary project, working on it into the beginning of NaNo!)

As if that wasn't enough... I had a week where I was absolutely stalled on both the fantasy stories I wanted to finish... And guess what made a miraculous comeback after being "dead" for OVER A YEAR?? Yep! "Priscilla Sum" is coming to The Upstream Writer once "Red, The Wolf" is done! I had been stymied on it back in the day, and disappointed by the lack of interest, but it came to me pretty easily and I finished out the scene that I'd been working on. What is more, there was one plot aspect I hadn't been very clear on, and that was a certain character with a terminal disease. I hadn't been entirely sure what kind of disease to use, and so when the time came to mention it in a conversation, I randomly specified that it was a "blood disease" that required regular transfusions, infusions of medication, and taking of pills, but that it would still be almost certainly fatal. Of course, that meant that I would actually need to have a specific disease now, since the story was rapidly approaching the part where there would be a hospital scene and my main character Pris would be so desperate to save him that she would actually attempt to use an ancient "healing crystal", even though she doesn't believe in the supernatural. This leads to the release of the demon trapped inside the crystal.... But anyway, one Google search of "terminal blood diseases" yielded quite a few, and I found one that exactly fit the parameters I needed: it's treated with infusions and medication, closely monitored by doctors, but it's so rare that there is no cure, and though the treatments might keep it at bay for a time, it is definitely fatal. The only detail that doesn't work is that it affects men and women over 50, and this particular character has supposedly had it for "most of his life" and he's a college student... but I think it is fudge-able, don't you? Anyway, so I have that to work on, too!

Coming Soon: NaNoWriMo

Speaking of NaNoWriMo.... November is upon us! Now that I've completed The Last Inkweaver, I am looking to finish up the A Writer's Tale series. The first two novellas, The Dragon's Quest and The Commander's Courage, are complete and posted on Wattpad, and I'm about halfway through book 3, The Sheriff's Showdown.
I'll be finishing that one, and (hopefully) writing the majority of Book 4, The Corsair's Deception, over the month of November. I'm still writing out the plan, but the benefit of using these projects is that the basic plot is already written, I'm just expanding and strengthening it, enriching it with more thorough details about how it connects with the main character Laura, both in her past (the original stories she wrote and abandoned that gave rise to these various worlds) and what it means for her future (in the lessons she learns about writing and storytelling while living through these different adventures).
Laura is currently in a Wild Western town, facing the prospect of a coup staged by the gang of bandits who live in the bluff and make a sport out of defying the town's sheriffs and running them out of town. In the next book, she'll be making the transition from Wild West to a pirate ship, where she becomes the galley maid for a crew led by a woman captain, and there will be some very narrow scrapes and important lessons she'll learn there too. I think it's going to be fun!


Just to update you on where my Wattpad stories are at:

I've added a never-before-seen installment to the Flashes of Inspiration collection on there, so if you liked it when I did that series here on the blog, I highly suggest you hop over and check out "The Traveler", a story I ended up splitting into two parts. The origins were kind of unconventional: it started out as a prompt from a friend asking "If you could spend a month inside any book, which would you choose?" And in my twisted little head, that turned into "But what if you couldn't choose to travel into the book? What if you were cursed or something to enter a book every so often, or else you would be randomly drawn into any book being read by someone else? So you choose a book you know by heart, and you deliberately choose parts of the book where nothing much happens, so you can be in and out without risking your life or disrupting the continuity of the book. AND THEN, what if you ended up getting trapped in the book while you were in there?" And so I wrote a few scenes of what that might look like, mostly from the perspective of the fictional characters, actually. I hope you do read it, and I hope you like it!

The second thing I did was I started posting my absolute beginner's attempt at creating a modern adaptation of Edmund Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac, which I titled "Once Upon Love." I always loved the witty character, and the scrapes and escapades of thwarted love and vicarious wooing--I just didn't like the tragedy part that means one of the main characters dies at the end... and so I had a whole bevvy of twists and ties and references to the original. THE PROBLEM IS.... I was reading over it as I was preparing to post it... and the dialogue is awful. I don't know what I was thinking. I know it was early in my attempts at writing seriously--but I think I wasn't altogether sure how to turn a theater play script into a narrative novel. So the dialogue turned into something like "pretty much the same as the archaic English of the original, with some haphazard attempt at a CliffsNotes "translation"--so much "halfway between" that I'm reading these lines thinking "THAT IS NOT HOW PEOPLE TALK." Much less modern people! The trouble with that is that, looking back at it now, I'm not entirely sure how to fix it. I tried putting tweaks on the first chapter, but I couldn't change much without disrupting the whole "flow" of the conversations, which were flowery and overblown to begin with! Grr... It's frustrating, but at least the story has a few followers, from what I can tell, so I keep updating it in spite of my best judgment... (*le sigh*)


Well!! I've managed to read a bit more over the last couple months than I ever expected to! Especially with how full my days are now that school is back in session (remember I work in an elementary school? No worries; I didn't expect you to...) but I managed!
Since the last update, I've finished The Lost World by Michael Crichton--not quite as thrilling and novel as Jurassic Park, but definitely building on the quasi-scientific principles laid out in the first one!) and Pride by Ibi Zoboi--absolutely everything I hoped it would be. Zoboi definitely did Austen proud! From there I went to the library again and got a whole bunch of very thick books! So... instead of reading the books I actually own (which are still on my nightstand, don't worry!) I plowed through Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson (who'd have thunk it? Definitely didn't see that one coming--but I enjoyed it very much!), Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (yay! Miss Peregrine's Peculiars! But.... oh heck, there's NEW problems???), and Into The Water by Paula Hawkins. (Not quite as screwy as The Girl on The Train, but every bit as twisted and mystifying!). I also acquired and panned through A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I got it because a) it was cheap, and b) I had quite enjoyed the movie, in spite of bawling at a lot of the scenes.... I wondered often whether the book was going to have the same effect.
Answer: Yep. Very much yes. I barely grazed the scene in question and I started choking up in less than a minute. So yeah, words are very powerful when you have adequate visuals to go along with them!

All that I have left on my nightstand are The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz (the sequel to his "self-insertion extravaganza" The Word is Murder--Loved it very much, and I have high hopes for this one) and Long Road To Mercy by David Baldacci (new series, this time with a female protagonist at the center--dear David please do not screw this up! He's done good with female side characters before, but his main focus was always still the male main character--this is going to be different, and I hope in a good way!

As for ebooks, I completed the Firebird Fairy Tales trilogy by Amy Kuivalainen with the rousing finish of Rise of The Firebird--epic and wonderful with every page! I moved on to Desert Runner by Dawn Chapman, my first real dip into the wonderful and wacky world of GameLit in a very long time--and I enjoyed it! My only caveat was that the novella-length felt too short, ended too soon... I might keep a weather eye out for the "boxset" of the trilogy, and nab that as soon as I could, just so I can feel like I've seen an entire story arc and not just one "campaign" of the whole "game," if you get my drift.

I also read Starstruck by S. E. Anderson, a book I've been curious about ever since I started following her page and saw little tidbits about it... Then some of the other writerly people whose opinions I trust were gushing about it, and I raised my hopes even higher. Friends, it exceeded my expectations. The story was everything I wanted it to be. Go back and read my review (click on the hyperlinked title) and if any part of it sounds interesting, definitely pick it up because you won't be sorry!


Whew! I told you it was a lot... If you're still reading, I'd like to say Thanks for supporting me and reading all of this and coming back to my blog--it's people like you that make doing all of this on my free time (outside of a full-time job) worthwhile! As always....

Catch You Further Upstream!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reader's Review: "Starstruck" by S. E. Anderson

Synopsis from Amazon

She could barely look after herself. Now, she's looking after the entire planet.

After an incident with a hot-air balloon causes college-dropout Sally Webber to lose her job, she sets off to find direction in her life. Crashing into a teleporting alien, however, is not on her to-do list.

Now she’s on the run from TV-drama-loving aliens, and things are just getting started. Zander won’t stop reeling her into life-or-death situations to save her planet, as he waits for his laser-wielding sister to search the universe for him. Though Sally isn’t quite sure if he wants to save Earth from annihilation, or just quell his curiosity of all things human.

Now she’s got to find lost alien emissaries, as well as a job, and stop the planet from getting incinerated in the process. But with Zander as her roommate, what could possibly go wrong?
My Review: 

Hoo boy! What a thrill!

I remember when I first heard of this book, it sounded equal parts fascinating and funky: an alien? An "average Jane" saving the universe? Things like this have been done before. The whole "I'm in love with a hot, hunky dude who is secretly an alien from a distant galaxy" is a trope that's been done over and over again. A lot of times, though, the female character manages to get so obsessed with her feelings for the alien that she hardly plays an active role in the story at all, except getting into these "impossible" or embarrassing situations that he has to rescue her from time and again with his suave coolness and superior pan-galactic knowledge, at which point they finally succeed in being able to confess their feelings with one another and she convinces him to settle down with her and they live happily ever after.

This is not that.

Anderson does a stellar job creating a REAL character in Sally--she's distracted by past trauma and a general sense of apathy, but she also seizes every opportunity to actively assess and rationalize everything that happens to her--even the irrational stuff. Yes, unexpected things do fall into her lap--or, as in the case of the mysterious hot-air balloon, land on top of her apartment building--but in the midst of those circumstances, she still fights to keep her wits about her and decide on a course of action with whatever she has in front of her.
But Sally isn't the only free and independent character with decisions to face here. Zander also faces choices and decisions, and sometimes we see his logic--but most of the time, Sally just gets treated to the outcome of whatever choice he's already made. Then there are characters like Marcy, Dany, Blayde, Matt, and several others who are named, described, and given lives and personalities all their own. There's awkward situations and unexpected "impossibilities" aplenty, but Sally is bound and determined to make sense of it all and give every ounce of her intellect to whatever changes happen, whether it's masquerading as an alien ambassador's infamous sister or finding out that, Men-In-Black style, a lot of the world's population are transient aliens masquerading as humans.

I loved the pacing and the thrilling plot twists throughout! Some parts I kind of expected what was coming because the blurb gave a warning, but there was a lot that happened that I definitely didn't see coming, and I nevertheless enjoyed it! I loved what Anderson did with the time-travel aspect, the way Zander could jump through both time and space, and the little ways it sort of "messed with" Sally a bit, when she had to come along with him in jumping through space--and the time she witnessed a bit of actual time travel.
I loved all the characters, especially Blayde, the character Sally has to impersonate at one point. Her absence is keenly felt, and she could have very well come off as this macho, "untouchable" kind of character, just over-arching everything and the "best of the best" in every way--and yet Sally gets only a few sentences summing up Blayde's character, and it kind of gave me the sense that perhaps Blayde, for all her bravado, and Sally, in spite of her own insecurities, are more similar that either of them realizes--which speaks volume for the character development of both ladies!

Needless to say, STARSTRUCK lives up to the hype, it's everything I hoped it would be, and I give this a full *****5 STAR***** rating, coupled with an Upstream Writer Certified TOTALLY RECOMMENDED endorsement. If you're looking for a space-alien adventure full of wacky fun, unique twists, and fresh ideas, look no further... and then prepare to be obsessed!

Further Reading: (Space Adventures/Strong Characters/Splendid Heroines)
-The Secret King: Letháo--Dawn Chapman
-The Arena--Santana Young
-Dissolution--Lee S. Hawke
-Countless As The Stars--Steve Trower
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge

The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie
The Children of Dreki--N. R. Tupper

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 Firebird Fairy Tales--Amy Kuivalainen
       -The Cry of the Firebird 
       -Ashes of the Firebird 
       -Rise of the Firebird 

Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -A Drop of Dream 
     -A Dash of Fiend 

The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
       -Who Can You Trust?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part 4

Part 4

Only when she stood alone in the alley did Red allow her face to display the grimace of pain that had remained just below the surface. Her shoulder screamed at her, while her back threatened to seize up, with the strain she put on the still-fresh wounds. She limped over to her discarded cloak and picked it up to grab the jar secreted within. She applied a small daub of Mrs. Garrity's ointment to the wound, and tore a small strip of her own tunic to bind it. She would need to return to her cave right away to bind it better, but at least this would hold long enough for her to get there.

A familiar scent tickled her nose. Red forgot her shoulder and lifted her head, sniffing harder as a breeze blew past her. It smelled of flowers, and oatmeal--the girl! The one missing a doll! Red tilted her head curiously. The scent came from somewhere beyond the town. Maybe the girl had dropped it higher in the crags without realizing it. No doubt Red could pick it up and place it somewhere obvious for the girl to find, along with a couple crimson hoods so she would know whom to credit. Red returned the jar to its pocket and fastened her cloak again. She turned her head a couple times to gain the direction of the scent, and followed it.

Up in the cliffs above the Town Square, she sniffed again, and another scent pervaded that made her lip curl.
Wolf; but not just any wolf. It was the same wolf she had taken down this morning. The same wolf that had worried the flock a half-dozen times before. It would always disappear too quickly for her to get after it, so Red would merely chase it until she felt confident that it would not try attacking them anytime soon--but just a few weeks later, there he would be again, spotted in the crags over Queston or crossing the paths of a hunting party.
"No more," Red muttered to herself, shifting into a wolf. 
It hurt a lot more than usual, with the wounds she still carried--but once the white wolf had been taken care of, Red planned on doing a lot of resting and recovery. She lifted her snout and caught the pungent scent, following its clear trail into the forest. As much as her animal instincts prompted her to turn away when she smelled another animal's scent, Red's human sensibilities knew that though the white wolf had left his scent everywhere, it by no means meant that he owned the mountain. If anything, he infringed on her territory, therefore he must be eradicated.
She followed the smell getting stronger and stronger... At last, a flash of white and the crackle of pine needles and twigs, and Red had caught up with her quarry. The insolent pup carried something colorful in his mouth as he trotted on his merry way through the trees. Red crouched low and stepped carefully as she tracked the wolf. He pranced and dawdled, trotting over roots and down pathways, until a slight breeze caught Red's fur and carried her scent forward. She ducked into the undergrowth and attempted to use the shadows to her advantage--but it was too late.
The white wolf's ears perked up, and he stopped and stiffened. The colored bundle dropped from his mouth, and he twisted his head around, sniffing the air until he located her. Red raised her hackles and marched into the open on full assault mode. She bared her fangs and let loose a low growl, letting the interloper know that he was most definitely not welcome in these parts.

The saucy creature yipped and sauntered, clearly not presenting himself in any kind of submission, but waving his tail at her like he was definitely interested in... Fire erupted in Red's thoughts; was the white wolf trying to seduce her into letting him go? She elevated her growl and darted forward, showing him that his efforts were producing the opposite effect.
The white wolf turned around to face her, frustrated at her rebuttal. He began growling back, almost like a child who dares to talk back to their parent. And like a child, Red decided this cub needed to be put in his place. She tucked her back legs and flattened her tail, pulling her ears back in a clearly-telegraphed message: Leave now or suffer the consequences.

The white wolf matched her posture, sending a reply: Bring it on.

So Red brought it. Furiously, she launched herself through the air, teeth bared and claws outstretched. The white wolf met her, and the two beasts collided. She clipped his snout with her fang, but he managed to twist his head in such a way to catch her shoulder in his jaws--the same shoulder that already bore a knife wound. Red twisted and lunged to plant her forepaws as she stretched forward with a back leg, scoring deep on his flank. The white wolf yelped and twisted away, leaving most of his body vulnerable--and Red took full advantage. With a roaring snarl she leaped upon him, so eager to sink her teeth into his back that when he suddenly pivoted to present his teeth, she overcommitted in the air and wobbled when her paws hit the ground again, throwing her wildly off-balance.
The white wolf took off like a shot, speeding in the opposite direction, and Red could only follow just behind him, intent on gaining control once more. They were no longer climbing, but descending a bit and heading across the mountainside.
Red was close enough to nip at his tail when her nose caught a scent that stopped her in her tracks.
The bakery! The white wolf, in his frantic attempt to escape her, was headed right back into Queston!

Red redoubled her efforts, taking alternate paths and roundabout ways to try and head him off, but the white wolf evaded her every time--desperation, more than likely. She took one more sliding turn, but by then she could already see some of the dwellings on the cliffside, and the white wolf slipped through the cleft leading right down to the Town Square without stopping.

Red reached an overlook, frantically searching for any sign of the wolf from above.
Then the screams began.

"Get away!"
"Protect the children!"
"Get them inside!"
"Stop the animal!"
"Arm yourselves!"
"Not the tables!"

Red scurried down and slipped between the buildings. This was her fault, her mistake, and she needed to fix it.
She saw the men waving axes and cleavers and various sharp implements like pitchforks and spades. Some of the tables lay on their side, with shards of glass and cups and bowls strewn in the dirt. The white wolf peeled out from under the risers with a blue banner wrapped around his middle. He flailed until it tore and he could escape, and that gave Red the chance to catch up to him.
Her instincts sent her into a sideways scramble to avoid the spade headed for her side. She yelped at the man holding the tool, meeting his gaze and tilting her head.
Recognition dawned over his face, and he stood up straight and turned way to holler, "Red Wolf, Halloo!! The Red Wolf is on the move!"

Red slipped after the white wolf as it charged through tangles of people, all of whom stared after him with fierce determination. By the time they had their weapons at the ready, Red had reached them and she saw them pull back, as if they would rather let the white wolf run amok than risk striking her.
The miscreant zig-zagged around the chairs, upsetting flower arrangements and ripping through more banners until at last Red had steered him to the edge of town, and she could chase him down without fear of him causing any more trouble among the residents of Queston.

Back through the forest and across the mountain they ran. Red felt her limbs stiffen as the adrenaline slackened and her wounds took a greater hold on her body. She gamely trudged on, until at last the white wolf stopped and turned back to face her. Red stopped where she was and focused all her energy on staying upright, while her opponent merely shifted from paw to paw, panting furiously as his tongue lolled from his mouth. The longer she waited, the more her wounds ached and constricted, begging her to lay down and rest. She was so tired from the day's work that she couldn't even growl--the attempt came out as a subtle moan. She ventured to shift her weight from one paw to the other, and in the next moment the stony, muddy ground rose to meet her as her whole body collapsed into darkness.

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part 3

Part 3

Red stared at the two youths struggling to straighten collars, refasten buttons, and restore order to their disheveled clothes. She recalled seeing the burly young man with the curly dark hair up at the pasture with Burch only this morning. What were they doing here--during a celebration, of all things?

"Why don't you watch where you're going?" growled the man. "We'd like a little privacy, if you don't mind! Be on your way!"

Red detected something in the edges of his voice, and she studied him closely. Did he not realize who she was? Just how much "privacy" did they think they would have in an open alleyway where anyone might choose to walk?

"Marc!" Henny murmured, tugging on his sleeve, "Let's just go..."

A warm, heady scent wafted off of the two young people, and Red grew keenly aware of the sheen across their faces. Everything pointed to a highly probable (if very indecent!) reason for their presence here--and one that she'd smelled before. Her hackles rose. She had always avoided that reek when it reached her in previous visits to Queston, but today she decided she would not tolerate it any longer. Privacy, indeed!

Red glared at Henny, who had just finished restoring the last button. "So this is the tailoring business you've been spending all your time at, while your mother, bless her soul, is working herself to the bone so that you might be able to make something of yourself!" Such long hours at the miliners', she said--oh, poor Deborah! If she knew the truth!

Marc's face twisted into a scowl, and he stepped forward. "Now see here--"

"What I do is my own business, thank you!" Henny piped up, lifting her copper-brown eyes defiantly to meet Red's gaze. "You don't know anything about how hard I work, nor how much Marc cares for me!"

"Cares for you?" Red grabbed the man by the arm and shoved him aside, not quite throwing him, but hard enough to separate the two. "If you think that, girl, then you're fooling yourself. I can tell just by looking at him that he means you no goodwill!"

Marc tried to interfere, but Red arrested him with an upraised hand.

Henny, meanwhile, gave a harsh laugh. "Oh my! What sharp eyes you have, to see such horrible flaws in people!"

Red didn't break eye contact with the defiant maiden. "All the better to see through a predator's lies, my dear," she quipped.

"Who are you calling predator?" Marc retorted, reaching for Henny's hand again. "Don't listen to her, Hen. You know me better than anyone, I will always--"

Red grabbed him by the arm, and this time, she didn't bother holding back her strength. He grazed the side of the building and tumbled into the stack of crates. "Spare her the deception, you dog. This is not the first daughter of Queston you've tried on in the last few years, anymore than you're her first 'trim on the side'!"

"How dare you!" Henny squealed, but Red kept going, pointing at the two of them, on either side of her.

"Don't think I don't know everything that goes on in these trees! What would Burch say if he knew--"

Marc arose with clenched fists. "I don't see how it's any of your business!" He planted his feet, crouching into a fighting stance.
Red faced him, folding her arms. "Everything to do with Queston is my business!" She declared, standing aloof before his threatening posture. "So what did you promise her this time? A tiny flock, a quiet home, faraway in some other valley where you will only have yourselves to look after?"

The events of that morning returned to her mind in perfect detail: the specks she found on the wool of some lambs, but not others--most likely paint or ink, and not a coincidence. In fact, now that she thought of it, the herd did seem to shrink every time the white wolf struck, even when there was no sign of an attack at all. "How many of the village lambs have you already marked for yourself, poacher? Too bad that wolf killed the bellwether this morning, or you would have been able to abscond with half the flock before anyone no--"

The heavy fist launched toward her face while she was still talking. Red ducked a little to late, so the blow aiming for the center of her head caught her in the cheek, knocking her backward.

Henny screamed, "Don't hurt her!"

"That's enough, meddling shrew!" Marc snarled, standing over the red-caped woman. "You might have the whole of Queston eating out of your flea-bitten hands, but I'm nobody's fool! I'm getting what the old man owes me!"

Red braced herself with her hand and pushed back onto her feet. She wiped the trickle of blood off her lip with the back of her palm. "If you think that, then you're the biggest fool of them all!"

Outside, in the square, the band struck up and people raised a cheer for the long-awaited arrival of Schoolmaster Remani. The noise out there covered the sounds of the scuffle from the alley.

Red pushed off with her legs and launched her body right at Marc's center of gravity, slamming him into the building. He threw another punch, but she dodged it and sent him a blow of her own, catching him full in the side. He grabbed her hood and yanked it off her head, but that only exposed her infuriated face. She pivoted back, reaching along his arm with hers and yanking forward while Marc's hand was still caught in the hood. He tripped and stumbled as his shoulder wrenched back with the momentum. Roaring in frustration, he came back around to charge at her. Back and forth they wrestled, Marc having the advantage of height and weight, but Red able to evade him thanks to wolf-like reflexes and a cunning knowledge of the most vulnerable areas to hit.

Henny crouched behind a large crate, shaking and blubbering. Red had shed her cloak, for the sake of the valuable jar in her pocket. She focused on evading Marc's blows and wearing him down with small, close hits while he flailed angrily. After one stiff jab to the face, he went down into a crouch. Red's instincts fired just before she saw the short silver blade in his hand as he stood again. No longer able to focus on his movements, Red followed the blade instead, dodging away from a feint she interpreted as a lunge. This mistake left her shoulder exposed to the blade.
Red roared with the pain as blood spread from under the knife, staining the tear in her sleeve. She wrenched Marc's forearm again. He released the weapon with a cry, but it had done its job already. She couldn't shove him hard enough to throw him off-balance.

Ha!” Marc grunted. “The fabled super-wolf bleeds like an animal, too! Guess you aren’t as all-powerful as--”

With a snarl, Red reached over and pulled the blade out with her opposite hand, gritting her teeth and grabbing the hilt in her injured hand. She howled with rage as she sprang toward the man, slamming her good arm against his throat. In two quick movements she slashed the side of his leg, and shoved the silver blade straight in, perilously close to his side--but it only caught his shirt and bit deep into the wooden siding behind him. He squirmed and gurgled as she pressed on his windpipe, but he couldn't move.

Red scowled at him and spoke slowly, through bared teeth. "Get. Off. My. Mountain. If I ever see your tracks around here again, if I so much as smell your stench on a westerly wind, I will personally hunt you down and then we will see how you stand against a real wolf!" She stepped back and picked up her cloak, tying it around her shoulders with one hand as she let her wounded arm hang still by her side.

Marc gasped and coughed as he recovered from the chokehold, and it took most of his strength to rip his shirt away from the blade--and yet the knife itself remained, sticking there with a piece of his shirt hanging from it. He nearly turned back to Henny, but the furious Wolf still stood there, staring at him with murder on a hair-trigger in her eyes. He thought better of it and backed away, the cool breeze whispering like fear against his exposed side. 

Red didn't tear her eyes away as Marc stumbled off into the hills, away from Queston. Her shoulder felt like it was on fire, but Red knew there was one more matter of business to attend to.
She turned to the quivering, sniveling girl still huddled behind the crate. "And as for you, Hepsibah Moriah Garrity--"

Henny sprang out of hiding at the sound of her full name. She couldn't even stand upright, but she groveled at Red's feet, reaching for her hand.
She pled, with tears running down her face, "Oh, please don't hurt me! And don't tell mother--I'll do anything you want me to!"

Red put her good hand on her hip and snorted. "Seems to me you are entirely too eager to do things for other people, when they don't require too much effort from you!" She shook her head and held out her hand, helping the young girl to her feet. "As a matter of fact, Henny," she continued, "this is what I want you to do: you will walk straight back into the dressmaker's shop. You will apologize to Bethany, and you will do everything she asks. When you are finished there, you will go straight home and apologize also to your mother--and you will do whatever she asks of you, and give her the rest she deserves. This will be your life for the rest of the year, and I had better not see you anywhere but exactly where you ought to be..."

Henny's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open as Red listed the requirements. She cringed as Red delivered her ultimatum. "Or what? Are you going to hunt me down like you threatened to do to Marc?"

Red gave a thin, firm smile. "No; I'll simply tell your mother and your employer exactly what kind of 'tailoring' business you've been running behind their backs this whole time."

Henny gasped and clapped both hands to her cheeks. "You wouldn't--you cannot--Oh!" She pulled a pouting frown and stamped her foot. "What big teeth you have, you savage wolf!"

Red grinned, showing all her teeth, adding special weight to her words as she replied, "All the better to deal with anything and anyone that would threaten the safety of this village... my dear." She said this last in a deep, rumbling growl.

Henny scurried out of the alley as fast as she could go.

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