Books & Reading · Story & Characters · Writing Insight

The Complete “Guardian” Trilogy


About The Guardian Trilogy:
The Guardian Trilogy delves into the harrowing trials of Alexander Croft, a security guard and seemingly average 30-something-year-old man, whose life is forever changed in a violent instant. After being accused of a series of heinous crimes he didn’t commit, Alex is sentenced to life in a hellish prison.

Or so his fate seems.

Because unbeknownst to him, Alex is no ordinary man. He is a Voror, a magically-gifted being commissioned with the protection of the Realms – and nothing can keep him from his true destiny.

In The Guardian Trilogy, follow Alex’s life-changing and life-challenging journey, from his training at the Voror Council in the least-admired Task of all, to a chance at love and romance with a woman whose people have wronged him, to his encounters with an enemy who has stalked him since birth, to his personal mission to clear his family name and protect the Realms from encroaching darkness. As evil rises, Alex must stand to meet it or watch everyone he has grown to love be destroyed.

Books in The Guardian Trilogy:

Book One: The Guardian

Description: Ever since Alex Croft was little, robed beings have shadowed his every move. But after he is wrongfully incarcerated, the robed strangers have apparently abandoned him. Or so it seems. When Alex’s true identity is revealed, he enters a world he has always seen but never really known. A realm where he learns how to protect the innocent from an evil that desires to control everything in its path. Especially Alex. As he trains as an apprentice within the Voror Council, Alex uncovers a sinister secret seeking to destroy him. To save himself and others, he will have to endure the same darkness he sought to escape. In this first installment of The Guardian Trilogy, Alex Croft will not only learn magic-infused Words and make strange, new allies but also discover the truth about himself and his past. A truth that will become either his destiny or his downfall.

Direct Link (Paperback): http://goo.gl/ORdSCm
Direct Link (Kindle): http://goo.gl/NjdoXq

Book Two: The Guardian Prophecy

Description: Handler Apprentice Alex Croft is invited by Sunniva, the Council’s Head Healer, to accompany her on a journey across the Realms as she seeks out an exiled Voror. Along the way, Alex encounters old friends, new enemies, and discovers a growing attraction to the hauntingly beautiful Niobe of Ryncheon. Yet the threat of Belial of Rastaban’s forces shadows their every move as they race to uncover a truth that many have desired to conceal – a truth Rastaban has killed for in order to obtain. Past grievances come to seek vengeance as Rastaban’s rebels seek to set up their own regime. And the only way Alex can hope to stop them is to make the ultimate sacrifice. In this second installment of The Guardian Trilogy, Alex Croft learns what it means to fulfill his destiny as a Guardian, which may cost him everything.

Direct Link (Paperback): http://goo.gl/5fzUU2
Direct Link (Kindle): http://goo.gl/ktwiWG


Book Three:
The Guardian Wars

Description: After miraculously surviving torture at Rastaban’s hands, Handler Alex of Croft knows the hour grows short as war among the Realms draws closer. Mustering his friends and unexpected allies, Alex assumes the role of the prophesied Halcyon and decides to cut off his enemy at the place where it all began, the infamous prison Erebus and home to the Gates of the Dead. The Guardian Wars concludes Alex of Croft’s  journey as a man of divided bloods.  But can he be a shining light in a dark place or will the darkness finally consume him?

Direct Link (Paperback): goo.gl/Ofv4Vn
Direct Link (Kindle): goo.gl/rkbsFD

Background on The Guardian Trilogy
The Guardian Trilogy is project over a decade in the making and started with a rather odd mash-up of ideas. As the author puts it, One summer, I was reading the “Harry Potter” novels and watching reruns of the Fox drama series “Prison Break.” The two stories merged in my mind as I thought, “What if Michael Scofield [chief protagonist on “Prison Break”] was a wizard?” That sparked a mental chain reaction and I had to write it out. Eventually, it evolved into The Guardian Trilogy.

Thus, The Guardian Trilogy is a fantasy series that hopes to pay respects to classic hero quest epics while remaining an entirely original piece, chiefly through the introduction of the Vorors, a magically-gifted race charged with protecting the Realms, and the Sangres, a vampiric people who are siblings to the Vorors. Both worlds collide with Alex Croft caught in the middle.

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Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Anticipated Reads for 2018

Here are my anticipated reads of 2018 (please note that covers, release dates, and other data are subject to change without notice). Be aware: there may be spoilers below in the synopses as some of these titles are sequels to other books.

If you want to check out these books for yourself, just click on the highlighted titles which link out to the books’ respective GoodReads pages:


Shadow Weaver
by MarcyKate Connolly
Release Date: January 2, 2018
My Thoughts: I loved Connolly’s debut novel Monstrous, so this book immediately went on my mental to-read shelf.

Synopsis: Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar. Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away. With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.


Wires and Nerve, Volume 2
by Marissa Meyer
Release Date: January 30, 2018
My Thoughts: Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 was great fun, so I’m eager to see how the story gets wrapped up as this is slated to be the last of the Lunar Chronicles graphic novels.

Synopsis: Iko – an audacious android and best friend to the Lunar Queen Cinder – has been tasked with hunting down Alpha Lysander Steele, the leader of a rogue band of bioengineered wolf-soldiers who threaten to undo the tenuous peace agreement between Earth and Luna. Unless Cinder can reverse the mutations that were forced on them years before, Steele and his soldiers plan to satisfy their monstrous appetites with a massacre of the innocent people of Earth. And to show he’s serious, Steele is taking hostages. Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf, Cress and Thorne, and Winter and Jacin all feature in this epic new battle. But it is Iko who must face her deepest fears when she uncovers the truth about her own unusual programming.


Thrawn #1
by Jody Houser
Release Date: February 2018
My Thoughts: I’m not a comic book person, but when news broke that Marvel was going to adapt Timothy Zahn’s 2017 novel Thrawn, I knew I had to check it out. I hope this version does the novel justice.

Synopsis: [Nothing official yet.]


Hour Glass
by Michelle Rene
Release Date: February 20, 2017
My Thoughts: After reading and loving News of the World, I’ve kept my eyes out for more Westerns that aren’t technically Westerns (if that makes sense). This book popped up in my GoodReads recommendations and it caught my interest, so I placed it on my mental future release shelf to check it out.

Synopsis: Set in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota, Hour Glass shares an intimate look at the woman behind the legend of Calamity Jane told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Jimmy Glass. After their pa falls deathly ill with smallpox, Jimmy and his sister, Hour, travel into Deadwood to seek help. While their pa is in quarantine, the two form unbreakable bonds with the surrogate family that emerges from the tragedy of loss.  In a place where life is fragile and families are ripped apart by disease, death, and desperation, a surprising collection of Deadwood’s inhabitants surround Jimmy, Hour, and Jane. There, in the most unexpected of places, they find a family protecting them from the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds them all.


Olivia Twist
by Lorie Langdon
Release Date: March 6, 2018
My Thoughts: Oliver Twist is one of my favorite Dickens novels, so I’m curious to see how it gets retold. Based on this book’s synopsis, it certainly sounds intriguing.

Synopsis: Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

Olivia Twist is an innovative reimagining of Charles Dickens’ classic tale Oliver Twist, in which Olivia was forced to live as a boy for her own safety until she was rescued from the streets. Now eighteen, Olivia finds herself at a crossroads: revealed secrets threaten to destroy the “proper” life she has built for her herself, while newfound feelings for an arrogant young man she shouldn’t like could derail her carefully laid plans for the future.


Rainbirds
by Clarissa Goenawan
Release Date: March 6, 2018
My Thoughts: I admit that the colorful, simple cover drew my eye first, which is what led me to check out what the actual book was about. After reading an excerpt, I’m definitely intrigued as, though I normally don’t get into contemporary murder mysteries or minimalist prose, there was enough here to spark my interest.

Synopsis: Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago. But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife. As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.


I Was Anastasia
by Ariel Lawhon
Release Date: March 27, 2018
My Thoughts: I enjoyed reading about Russian history and was intrigued by this book’s synopsis. Granted, many novels and movies have tackled the Princess-Anastasia-may-still-be-alive plot concept, but I’m interested in this nevertheless.

Synopsis: Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia, where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian grand duchess.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a narrative that is equal parts The Talented Mr. Ripley and Memento, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory: the nature of identity itself. The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling saga is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.


Varina
by Charles Frazier
Release Date: April 3, 2018
My Thoughts: I loved Cold Mountain and I enjoy Frazier’s writing style, complex characters, and historical renderings, so I’m always willing to give any book of his a chance.

Synopsis: With her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects a life of security as a Mississippi landowner. He instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history—culpable regardless of her intentions. The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with “bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit.”


Trouble the Water
by Jacqueline Friedland
Release Date: May 8, 2018
My Thoughts: I have a soft spot for historical fiction provided it offers a good story, compelling characters, and a unique take on its subject matter. The blurb to this novel reminds me of a Civil War Era Jane Eyre, so I’m curious to check it out.

Synopsis: Abigail Milton was born into the British middle class, but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen, Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her. To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess, leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with little interference. But just as she begins to grow comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor planning the escape of a local slave—and suddenly, everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is turned on its head.  Abby’s attempts to learn more about Douglas and his involvement in abolition initiate a circuitous dance of secrets and trust. As Abby and Douglas each attempt to manage their complicated interior lives, readers can’t help but hope that their meandering will lead them straight to each other.


Legendary
by Stephanie Garber
Release Date: May 29, 2018
My Thoughts: Caraval was one of my favorite reads in 2017, so I’m eager to dive back into its story world and characters. I hope this sequel is just as fun and intriguing as its predecessor.

Synopsis: This year’s Caraval has concluded. Tella is alive—and safe, to her older sister’s relief. But Tella has secrets she has been keeping from Scarlett. Secrets like what Tella promised in exchange for the sisters’ invitations to Caraval in the first place. Secrets about the person to whom these promises were made. And secrets about Julian, the Caraval player who won Scarlett’s heart. Afraid of revealing the truth to the person who loves her most, Tella runs away to Valenda, the capital of the Empire, to find the mysterious correspondent whom Tella owes. But in the nights leading up to Elantine’s Day, a cross between a masquerade ball, a jubilee, and Caraval, no one is to be trusted.


Smoke in the Sun
by Renee Ahdieh
Release Date: June 5, 2018
My Thoughts: Flame in the Mist was yet another favorite read from 2017, so I was hoping it would be given a sequel. I’m happy to see there will be a second novel and I hope it is just as good as the first book.

Synopsis: After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice–to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor’s ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead. With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.


Eden Conquered
by Joelle Charbonneau
Release Date: June 12
My Thoughts: Eden Divided was yet another favorite read for me from 2017 (pardon me for sounding like a broken record!). I thought it was one of the more interesting YA fantasy books I’ve come across in recent years, so I’m eager to read how it wraps up as this is the last book in a duology.

Synopsis: Carys and Andreus, betrayed by everyone they believed to be allies, continue to fight to determine who will reign over the kingdom—but now, one sibling has changed the game.


The Long-Lost Home
by Maryrose Wood
Release Date: June 19, 2018
My Thoughts: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series is adorable and I love its intermingling of comedy, mystery, and fantasy. I’ve been waiting over a year to finish this series, so I’m eager to get my hands on this last book.

Synopsis: Unhappy Penelope Lumley is trapped in unhappy Plinkst! Even the beets for which Plinkst is inexplicably famous fail to grow in this utterly miserable Russian village. Penelope anxiously counts the days and wonders how she will ever get back to England in time to save all the Ashtons—who, she now knows, include herself and the Incorrigible children, although their precise location on the family tree is still a mystery—from their accursèd fate. Her daring scheme to escape sends her on a wildly unexpected journey. But time is running out, and the not-really-dead Edward Ashton is still on the loose. His mad obsession with the wolfish curse on the Ashtons puts Penelope and the Incorrigibles in dire peril. As Penelope fights her way back to her beloved pupils, the three brave Incorrigibles endure their gloomy new tutor and worriedly prepare for the arrival of Lady Constance’s baby. Little do they know the danger they’re in!


Thrawn: Alliances
by Timothy Zahn
Release Date: June 26, 2018
My Thoughts: Thrawn earned the top spot in my favorite reads from 2017, but at the time I didn’t know Zahn had any more plans to pen further novels books (though I had my hopes). So I was excited to see we’ll be getting another Thrawn novel – with the awesome blue Grand Admiral himself again serving as the star – so this book sits proudly at the top of my to-read list.

Synopsis: [Nothing official yet.]


The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness
by Robert Kondo
Release Date: July 10, 2018
My Thoughts: I read The Dam Keeper and watched the short film that inspired it (and, just to note, both are quite different). I assumed The Dam Keeper was a self-contained book but, alas, I was left with a cliffhanger. Luckily, this is slated to be its follow up and I couldn’t be happier!

Synopsis: Beyond the dam lies certain death—this is something every citizen of Sunrise Valley knows well. Yet, when a poisonous black tidal wave carries Pig, Fox, and Hippo over the dam and into the wastelands, they don’t find death. Instead they find bustling cities, each with their own dams. Pig can’t help but wonder, who is the mysterious dam keeper behind it all? But he doesn’t have time to unravel this mystery. The wave of deadly black fog will return to Sunrise Valley in four days, and its dam can’t withstand another assault. In a stolen truck and with a deranged lizard leading the way, Pig and his friends are in a race against the clock. but can they reach home in time?


Sea Witch
by Sarah Henning
Release Date: July 31, 2018
My Thoughts: The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Hans Christian Andersen tales (with The Snow Queen being number one), so when I heard about this prequel/retelling, I was immediately interested. If this book can focus more on the fantasy aspect and less on what sounds like a potential YA love story (something I’m really tired of), then this might be a fun read. Fingers – and mermaid tails – crossed! 😀

Synopsis: Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.  A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after. But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain. The rise of Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic villainess is a heart-wrenching story of friendship, betrayal, and a girl pushed beyond her limits—to become a monster.


Jack Frost
by William Joyce
Release Date: October 2, 2018 (???)
My Thoughts: I adore William Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood series and have long awaited its conclusion. This chapter book is intended to be the final novel, but it has been long overdue. It’s been hinted at being released for the past few years now but to no avail, so I truly hope 2018 marks its arrival at last!

Synopsis: The Guardians came together to protect the childhoods of all who dream, and they are a formidable team: Nicholas St. North, E. Aster Bunnymund, Toothiana, the Sandman, Nightlight, and Katherine have thus far prevented Pitch from fulfilling his nightmarish plans. But Pitch and his nightmare men lurk on the fringes, gathering strength, stewing in hate, and the Guardians know their guard needs one more member if they are going to vanquish Pitch for all eternity. And once they find the last in their band, they’ll travel to the secret realm of the Man in the Moon, encounter armies of Moonbots, and face the greatest battle since the Golden Age; and that is just the beginning of this grand conclusion to a series most grand.

Books & Reading · Commentary · Writing Insight

2017 Year in Review Ramblings

Allow me to start off with some BIG NEWS!

This year, I finished The Guardian trilogy with publication of the third and final novel, The Guardian Wars! You can view more details on The Guardian trilogy by accessing the Books tab above or by clicking here.


I also had a chapter published in A Critical Companion to Tim Burton (edited by Adam Barkman and Antonio Sanna) entitled, “Mars Attacks! as Fractured Fairy Tale under Tolkien’s Principles of Recovery, Escape, and Consolation.” It was a fun piece to write and I’m glad to finally see it in print. You can view an excerpt of the book here.

In other news, I finished a full rough draft of Kingdom of Ravens, a (for now) standalone fantasy novel. In brief, the plot focuses on the relationship between a princess of a frozen kingdom and a low-level criminal underworld errand boy from a neighboring city (it’s set in modern times with some advanced technology). While I’m excited to have a completed draft, the story itself has taken a lot of detours, twists, and turns from the original outline, so I will eventually start piecing it all together again.

Also this year I started work on another (for now) standalone novel called The Alien and the Fatherless. I actually came up with an outline for this more than a decade ago and composed a handwritten draft of the story from beginning to end. Initially, it was about a Human woman who has dreams where she hears an alien language and ends up learning it over time though she doesn’t know why. Later, she falls in with a group of aliens and, as it turns out, the language she has learned is their language. She accompanies them and eventually falls in love with their prince who is in disguise. That was the first concept and it’s been revised several times since then. This year, I scrapped this old outline and started anew. While the basic premise is the same, in this version the female lead is (for now) an interstellar racing champion and the male lead is an alien prince serving as an officer aboard a starship. I’m still fleshing it out and I like where it’s headed, but it’s definitely a work in progress.

As a closing note, while I intend to maintain this blog for as long as I can, I want to focus more on my various manuscripts and story ideas. So if time passes and it looks like I’ve gone AWOL, please know that I have not. I’ll always try to maintain this site in some fashion because I consider it my “official” author’s website.

cat writing books read
Many thanks, best wishes, and cheers to all of my followers, fans, and readers!

Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Favorite Books and Book Covers of 2017

Snoopy reading book
First, I want to share my favorite books of 2017. (Just to clarify, this list doesn’t represent every book I read in the past year, and placement on this list doesn’t mean these books were published in 2017. Instead, these are simply books I read for the very first time in 2017.) If you want to check out these books for yourself, just click on the highlighted titles which link out to the books’ respective GoodReads pages.

So with that out of the way, on to the list! 🙂


10.The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling and Brooke S. Passey
I’m a big fan of Stirling’s music, so it was a no-brainer for me to check out her autobiography. Mixed with personal insights and funny anecdotes, this is equal parts adorable and inspirational.


9. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
This is the first novel I’ve ever read by Taylor (as her Shadow and Bone trilogy didn’t appeal to me). I love her writing style and the story world she created here was truly unique and fascinating. While some of the romance scenes bordered on being too mushy for me, I was able to look past those as the rest of the story easily redeems them.


8. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
This novel is a unique melding of historical fiction/Western and fantasy-lite and it works! While I’m not interested in reading the follow up, this one was definitely a page-turner and turned out to be a speedy, engaging, adventure-laced summer read.


7. Wires and Nerve, Vol. 1 by Marissa Meyer
I love the Lunar Chronicles series, so I had this graphic novel on my radar as soon as it was announced. I absolutely loved it as it’s a good, fun adventure story and lets Kiko, Cinder’s robot sidekick, take center stage alongside the rest of the series’ fantastic protagonists. Definitely a must for Lunar Chronicles fans!


6. Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

YA fantasy was a huge disappointment for me this year and I’ve essentially sworn off the genre for good in terms of looking for any new books, but this one turned out to be an easy favorite. The tightly-plotted, suspenseful story managed to take two genres I don’t care for (YA fantasy and court intrigue) and make them engaging. Not to mention the focus on a brother-sister relationship, as opposed to an obligatory, bland love triangle, was a huge plus.


5. Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn, Ahdieh’s debut novel, left a lot to be desired for me, but Flame In the Mist was a vast improvement, especially in terms of storytelling and setting. It utilizes aspects of Asian mythology and Asian culture while taking its own spin on them. Likewise, the hidden identity plot – while it has been done before – worked nicely here as the main character is easy to root for. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’d love to check out any sequels set in this world.


4. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
I teetered between wanting to check this one out and wanting to avoid it due to some split reviews. But in the end, I’m glad I read it. This is everything I wanted The Night Circus to be, from this novel’s mercurial environments, to its colorful yet mysterious characters, to its fun plot twists. Overall, I really enjoyed it! And if I may side step into aesthetics for a moment, Cover-wise this is stunning! Not only do I love the hardcover’s suede-like texture and jewel-toned colors, but the central star image has a holographic shimmer (which can only be seen in person). Altogether, this has to be one of the prettiest book covers I’ve seen in a while.


3. News of the World by Paulette Jiles

I think this is a first to have a Western on my year-end favorites list! But this novel definitely deserves it. This was everything I look and hope for in a story: engaging leads, an exciting journey, adventure, wonderfully rendered scenery, and a heart-warming ending. This was easily one of my favorites of the year as well as one of my all-time favorite books.


2. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery
I’ve read Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series years ago but I had no idea she penned stories for adults until I spied this selection. The blurb appealed to me, so I decided to give it a go. In the end, this is a classic (and classy!), delightful story that was a joy to read. I literally hugged this book upon finishing it! 🙂


1. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Honestly, I would lump together all of Zahn’s Thrawn-related novels as I read them for the very first time this year (shame on me, I know). But if I had to choose, I’d go with this work, which is Thrawn’s origin story. Grand Admiral Thrawn is an outstanding character, and I was so impressed by him that he has now become my all-time favorite book villain.


Now as an added bonus, below are my favorite book covers from this past year. (Again, just to note, these are covers of books I read for the very first time this year, but the books themselves might not have been published this year.)

12. News of the World by Paulette Jiles
11. Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau
10. Almost Home by Joan Bauer
9. Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
8. A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
7. Strange the Dreamer
by Laini Taylor
6. Heartless by Marissa Meyer
5. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
4. Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
3. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
2. Roar by Cora Carmack
1. Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Media · Music

Movie Review – “Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top”


Introduction:
Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top was hyped when it was released straight to video back in 1996, being heavily promoted in CCM Magazine and in Christian bookstores. I was in my teens at the time and predominantly listened to CCM (contemporary Christian music), so the Australian-based Newsboys were a musical staple for me. I loved their albums Going Public and Take Me to Your Leader and appreciated their sense of humor that was often injected into their songs. (And, for the record, I still enjoy these albums today.) My youth group eventually saw this flick as part of World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine, a world hunger awareness event (and, evidently, this was included in the program packet distributed to churches). I found it to be comically kooky back then, but recently I was feeling nostalgic and decided to check it out on YouTube. But is Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top still a big deal or a big flop? Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.

The Story: When a beloved uncle dies, members of the Christian band the Newsboys (John James, Peter Furler, Phil Joel, Jody David, Duncan Phillips, and Jeff Frankenstein) find themselves struggling to carry out his last wish of managing a faltering circus teetering on the cusp of bankruptcy. In the end, they do their best to give it one final sendoff and, along the way, a prodigal son who ran away to join the circus discovers it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

My Take:
By show of hands, who else has seen this flick?

Anybody? Nobody? Okay, I kind of figured.

So allow me to be one the few persons on the Internet to review this zany, long forgotten nugget of CCM history.

In a nutshell, Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top gives fans an unconventional look at the [titular] Christian band” and I concur. It truly is a weird little movie that, on the surface, seems worthy of derision. However, it really depends on the angle from which you want to critique it. From an artistic standpoint, the movie is cheap and the editing and cinematography are at times sloppy. Acting-wise, the performances are weak and it’s clear the Newsboys are better musicians than actors. To be fair, John James and Phil Joel make the hardest attempt of the lot but it’s obvious that they’re uncomfortable. Only Joel is the more convincing of the two, so I will give him credit for trying. Overall, from a cinematic standpoint, Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top seems more fitting as a freshman film school student’s low budget class project than anything worthy of tremendous buzz.


Yet if one assumes the perspective that this is only intended to serve as an extended musical video project, then this strange little flick actually works – not as a great or even a good movie, mind you, but more in the vein of “it is what it is.” This movie is actually very much akin to 1997’s theatrical release Spice World, which starred the Spice Girls as themselves, featured an essentially non-existent plot, and served chiefly as a vehicle to promote the Spice Girls’ music. And that’s exactly what Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top does: it stars the band members as themselves; has no real story but features loosely connected plot points, most of which are never resolved; and serves to showcase the Newsboys’ music, chiefly from their 1996 album Take Me to Your Leader. Thus, if watched with the understanding that this is all the movie aspires to be, then it can’t be faulted too much for fulfilling these aims.


Story-wise, Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top is supposed to be a retelling of the band’s song “Reality,” which was the first single from Take Me to Your Leader. The song itself is a re-imagining of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son as it tells the story of a young man who ran away to the circus but is now disillusioned and destitute. However, the chorus and bridges serve to remind the fictional prodigal – as well as listeners – that God lovingly welcomes back wayward souls. In the movie, the story begins by featuring Phil Joel as the prodigal son who has joined Circus Luigi and who is both disheartened by his plight and strapped for cash. In principle, an idea like this could have worked if the movie stuck more firmly to this plot thread.

The second plot that tries to keep its balance has John James and his musical cohorts try to honor his late Uncle Luigi’s dying wish that James give Circus Luigi the send off it deserves. Feeling more comfortable being a front man than a ringmaster, James reluctantly agrees and tries to rally the support and assistance of the circus’ motley crew of performers such as clown pairing Sack (played by musician Phil Maderia) and Hack, a set of identical twin sisters, a strongman, and Phil Joel, who serves as the circus’ jack-of-all-trades. Again, this is an idea that could have worked provided the movie kept its focus.

Sadly, the plot dissolves into quasi-vignettes that involve various members of the Newsboys learning the ins and outs of the circus business, promoting the circus’ final show, and contending with a mafioso who oversees a “little people” union who threatens to back out as a creditor and accuses Sack of purporting to be a person of small stature (even though he isn’t). Again, it reminds me very much of Spice World, which had the Spice Girls dealing with everything from consoling a pregnant friend, to performing, to aliens (yes, you read that correctly). While Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top is slightly more focused thanks to an isolated setting, it’s still a chaotic mess of a story.


As stated, most of the plot lines aren’t fully resolved. Joel has a spiritual awakening but there’s no true homecoming, and Circus Luigi’s last show is rarely glimpsed save for its penultimate performance while the rest of it is imagined in various characters’ heads of how the night might go. The villain who is trying to get back at Sack for insert-random/cliched-reason-here is only glimpsed twice and that arc is never sufficiently resolved. Likewise, the movie basically just ends to make room for the rest of the Newsboys’ performance of “Reality” and the full-length music video for “Shine” from their album Going Public.

Along the same lines, the movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Though it’s obviously a comedy, many of the jokes fall flat though a few do warrant some honest chuckles. At times the movie cuts away for “interviews” with various persons in a quasi-documentary style, but these moments do nothing to add to the story, what little there is. The same goes for the musical numbers, two of which are performances and two are music videos. The performed songs, “Reality,” which bookends the movie, and “Breathe” are good songs by themselves but their incorporation is a bit stretched. “Reality” works to set up the prodigal son story but doesn’t get the justice it deserves thanks to a directionless plot.

Even more perplexing is “Breathe,” which the band performs while filming a promo video for the circus, as nothing about its inclusion makes any sense. The lyrics don’t tie into anything we’re seeing through the quasi-montage sequence and it’s shot like a makeshift music video where the circus performers and band members stand in a line and sing/lip sync the chorus. However, while “Reality” at least makes some sense in terms of its inclusion, “Breathe” does not as, lyrically, it’s a confessional song that pleads, “Breathe on me/Breathe oh Breath of God/Breathe on me/’til my heart is new.” I like this song and its message, but it has nothing to do with the scene it’s inserted into and nothing much to do with the story as a whole.

The music videos’ inclusion is even more puzzling as, again, it seems so random, not to mention they both come at the end of the movie so the final few minutes feels top-heavy. The video for “Take Me to Your Leader” at least has some sort of set up with director Steve Taylor being “interviewed,” describing how he wanted to include the video as a dream sequence. Afterwards, we see the actual music video (which, honestly, is fun and straight-up 90s kookiness), only to learn that Phil Joel dreamed the whole thing in a closing scene redolent of one similar in The Wizard of OZ. Granted this whole “it was all a dream” technique has been done before, but it at least sort of works here. But the final video, “Shine,” is randomly inserted and bears no weight on the movie as a whole other than to act as a prelude to the credits. Hence, collectively, Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top is a disconnected, discombobulated musical comedy complete with random fourth wall breaks and an overall chaotic, unresolved plot.

But all of that being said…I’d still say check it out.
Nicki Minaj Seriously GIF
Yes, seriously. Because I think it’s worth watching for its strange little merits.

Is it terrible from a cinematic perspective? Absolutely. Does it have storytelling issues? Without question. However, it possesses an awkward, oddball charm that is kind of fun. It’s as if the flick knows it’s not very good and pokes fun at itself by not taking itself too seriously. The music showcases some of the Newsboys’ best tunes from the late 90s even if it isn’t seamlessly woven in. And the Newsboys themselves seem to know they’re not actors, so they just go with the movie’s  quirky flow. The same holds true for two guest stars, singer Gary Chapman and comedian Mark Lowery, both of whom have minor roles as a clergyman and a video director, respectively. Neither of them are actors, that much is clear, but like the Newsboys, they resign themselves to the ridiculousness of it all.

I’d trust that probably none of the Newsboys involved in this project would care to remember this flick, but it’s supposed to be kitschy and the movie itself seems to accept that. Even its confusing awkwardness possesses a strange sense of cheesy charm – from John James (who is Australian) having an Italian-speaking uncle, to Gary Chapman’s clearly not Italian character being fluent in Italian, to Sack’s strange beef with the “little people” union seeing as he’s clearly not a “little person” himself, to Hack the Clown’s unexplained fascination with flies, to the Newsboys’ in-depth discussion about how bagels get made, among other head-scratching, what-the-heck moments. And in a strange way, it’s all kind of refreshing.


Likewise, Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top steers clear from being a cliched Christian movie, meaning it doesn’t seek to sermonize but organically inserts some teachable moments. Prayer is shown to be a vital component to the band’s new undertaking, and the Newsboys even host chapel services for the circus performers. As stated, one of the plots is a very loose retelling of the parable of the prodigal son, and John James eventually chats with Phil Joel about his life’s choices, giving Joel a “Gideon’s guide” (a Bible) and encouraging him to check it out for himself. Joel does so and later tells James that he felt he could relate to the prodigal son and begins to see some hope for himself. Lastly, James asserts the challenge of giving Circus Luigi one last send off might be a chance for him and his band mates to learn more about hope, faith, and love (as opposed to just making money). While ultimately this flick is as spiritually deep as the shallow end of a kiddie pool, it does showcase teamwork, perseverance, and a willingness to step out in faith to tackle challenges along with a respectful, non-preachy appreciation for the life-changing influence of the Gospel.

So in the end, Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top, for all its glaring flaws, still accomplishes what it set out to do: be a kitschy but clean musical comedy and serve as a vehicle to promote the Newsboys’ music. And if you don’t expect it to be anything more than that, then this is one zany flick you just might want to see to believe.

Content Breakdown: Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top is unrated; however, I’d probably award it a G due to its lack of any significant content issues. Hence, my assessment of its content is as follows:

Language – None. One circus member asks John James during a chapel service if he thinks the financially strapped circus is going straight to “H-e-double L,” but the word isn’t actually meant as a curse word.

Violence – Essentially none. There are some moments of slapstick, such as when Sack teaches the Newsboys the art of clownish comedy, which involves various band members being “hurt” Three Stooges-style (such getting hit on the head or smacked in the face with a pie), but it’s played for comedic effect and no one ever comes to any real harm (though one band member spits out fake teeth and another spits fake blood after being “hurt,” but Sack advises him to lose the blood because it’s too scary). Likewise, a circus worker inadvertently causes an accident that lands two persons in the hospital (we never see the actual accident on-screen) but, again, this is slapstick and played for laughs. Lastly,  James’ uncle passes away in a peaceful manner as he is surrounded by friends and family who openly mourn him.

Sexual Material – None. A set of identical twin sisters who work at the circus think one of the Newsboys called them “darlin'” (he actually addresses one of the girls by name, which is Darlene, but his Australian accent affects his pronunciation). This misinterpretation becomes a semi-running gag but it’s completely innocent and has no sexual or sensual connotations behind it.

Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):

Children – Not recommended as there isn’t much here of interest to young children.

Older Children & Teens – Somewhat recommended, especially if younger viewers are fans of the band (though the Newsboys’ newest members, such as former dc Talk alum Michael Tait, aren’t in the movie) or they enjoy oddball humor that, to its credit, keeps it clean.

Young Adults & Adults – Somewhat recommended, especially for fans of the 1990s’ line up of the Newsboys (specifically during the Going Public and Take Me to Your Leader years); for casual viewers who enjoy awkward, oddball humor; and for fans of kitschy music-centric movies akin to Spice World.

The Run-Down:

Overall, Newsboys: Down Under the Big Top is a strange little flick that kind of needs to be seen to be believed. Is it good? No, provided you’re looking for a deeply moving artistic experience or even good, clever cinematic amusement. But its offbeat, oddball, flagrantly awkward charm does hold its own and, for that, it’s worth checking out on YouTube or VHS to see it for yourself.

Final Verdict:
happy star movies rating
(One Star out of Five)

Books & Reading · Commentary

How (Not) to Haul and How to Avoid Hype


Hauls – gotta love ’em…or not.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with making large purchases, it can be tempting to go overboard and purchase books you wouldn’t ordinarily buy or spend beyond what is considered prudent. It can also be tempting to join in, especially when you see reviewers on social media platforms show off their new reading materials. Within social media in general there is the prevailing philosophy of FOMO or the “fear of missing out” where the perception, at least regarding books (as that’s the topic of discussion here), is that if you aren’t keeping up with all of the latest releases, then you’re not hip to the current book scene.

I confess that on occasion I have felt I wasn’t keeping up by failing to acquire all of the hottest releases, especially within the speculative fiction genres. For a time, my GoodReads update was chocked full of excited reviewers, gushing over all of the hot new releases, and it seemed like all of my “friends” were reading the same books except me. Granted, I’m old enough not to be swayed by peer pressure, but I’ll admit that, for a time, I caught myself purchasing books that, ordinarily, I wouldn’t have were it not for the hype generated by reviewers. In some cases, these books turned out to be enjoyable (such as Caravel by Stephanie Garber), but others were wastes of time and money (such as Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake). Over time, I noticed my book buying habits were sometimes influenced by what I saw other reviewers reading, so in order to distance myself from the hype, I took some steps to ensure I only bought books I was genuinely interested in. Granted, this wasn’t a huge struggle for me because I’m not prone to giving in to trends. But it was eye-opening to see how some of my book shopping habits changed when I started distancing myself from new release hype and ignoring reviewers who loved showcasing frequent book hauls.

Recently, I read this article on Temptalia, a makeup review site, and I found it very informative. While it gives advice on how to avoid going overboard with cosmetic purchases, I think its underlying principles apply to managing book buying habits, too. (Note: Text in italics are direct quotes from the original article.)

To start, the article states that, there’s usually some reason why one consciously changes how and what they’re purchasing. When you created your guidelines, you may have set goals, or you may have a goal in mind that has set off the need for reducing your…purchases. This could range from shifting your money to something different…to feeling overwhelmed by what you own to curbing impulse buys to simply wanting to spend less……Whatever your goal may be, when you’re tempted, think about the goal you’re trying to achieve, look at the progress you’ve made, and reaffirm why that goal is a priority for you.

It goes on to say that, to be successful at reducing purchases…think more critically about your purchasing habits and what purchases you actually make and why. We don’t want to buy things on a whim any more, it encourages, so instead we aspire to be smart consumers, making purchases that fit within our personal shopping guidelines and ultimately will be things we use and enjoy. In relation to books, while it can be tempting to buy every new release under the sun, can we honestly say that we’re going to read all of those books? And if so, will we re-read them or will they eventually collect dust on the shelf?

In order to initially develop personalized shopping guidelines, the article gives the acronym READY, which I have tailored to pertain to books:
R = Research: Read reviews about a book – don’t buy it “just because.”

E = Explain: Why do you want the book? Will you actually read it? Will you re-read it? Why do you want to buy it now?

A = Apply: How does this book fit into your personal shopping plan? Will it derail your progress? How does it fit in with your existing bookshelf? How soon will you read it or even re-read it?

D = Dupes: Do you have similar books? If so, how often do you read those? Do you like them? If not, why do you think you’ll like the book you want to buy?

Y = You: Will buying this book make you feel happy or guilty? Will happiness come from simply buying the book or from reading and enjoying the story? Will you feel guilty for making the purchase?

Therefore, here are twelve ways to better manage your book purchases:

1. Unsubscribe from blogs, vlogs, and/or social media accounts that emphasize book hauls or hype around new releases. For example, if watching a YA fantasy YouTube channel makes you feel bad that you’re not keeping up with all the latest YA fantasy releases, it might be a good idea to unsubscribe for a time. Or if following a certain GoodReads “friend” who rhapsodizes over every new release makes you feel like you’re missing out, consider unfollowing the person’s reviews.

2. Keep in mind that most haul/hype reviewers intentionally make time to post their plethora of reviews, which is something most folks can’t do. This could be for any number of reasons, but it’s been my observation that most such haul/hype reviewers tend to be college age persons who have more flexible schedules. Secondly, many such reviewers receive free ARCs (advanced reading copies) from publishers in the hopes of garnering reviews as a means of promotion. But in the end, it all comes down to time management. While it might be fun to get new books all of the time, it’s not practical for the majority of readers; so don’t feel pressured to compete when your life situation is probably vastly different from the life of your favorite book blogger.

3. Inventory the books you currently own and make note of which ones you re-read and which ones you haven’t read in a while. This is helpful in seeing not only what books you currently own in general but also which ones you gravitate towards and which ones you don’t seem overly fond of. Determining how often you read certain books, as well as how many books you own, can help you set spending limits.

4. De-clutter your shelves by identifying which books you love, which ones you like, and which ones you don’t read anymore or may never read again. You’ve already spent money on them (excluding those given as gifts) and might have already spent time reading them; so why let books you don’t plan on re-reading take up shelf space? Instead, gather them up and give them to a friend, donate them, or sell them using a merchant platform like eBay or Amazon Marketplace. This way, you can give the gift of reading to someone who might better appreciate books you didn’t care for, and if you sell them, you can make some extra money, too.

5. Save a prospective purchase for later. Keep a list of titles you’re interested in but let them sit for a bit to see if you really want them, if you’re only mildly interested in them, or you want them simply because “everybody else” is reading them. Books you want simply because they’re popular are likely to wane in interest as time passes. As hype dies down, so does the desire to want to keep up with the proverbial Joneses.

6.
Avoid emotional shopping as, like the article states, you aren’t in the right headspace to do so thoughtfully. The rush of buying a new book only lasts until you bring it home, so looking for happiness from buying books – or anything else – is a temporary fix and will only instigate a cycle that, if not curbed, will be harder to break the longer it continues. When you’re feeling down and you know you tend to buy books to pick yourself up, stay away from the bookstore or online retailers. You’ll be surprised at how much less you spend when your head is making purchasing decisions rather than your heart.

7. Read reviews to consider if a book sounds like something you’re going to enjoy in the long run. Personally, I seek out reviews that try to examine a book’s strong and weak points in equal measure. Reviews that regurgitate hype gloss over issues that might be present, and ranting negative reviews usually omit any positive points. So reviews that assume a more balanced approach are usually the most informative for me. This is also a good way to sift through hype reviews that gush and squeal (OH MY GOSH – MUST READ!!!) and reviews that are more even-tempered and honest about a book.

8. Accept your weaknesses and don’t be embarrassed to take steps to curb your habits. If this means staying away from the bookstore until you can crack down on impulse buying, then do so. If online shopping is a temptation, then give book retailer sites a break for a while. One thing I like to do while shopping online (as I don’t live near a bookstore) is to put books in a save-for-later cart or wish list rather than a shopping cart, then go back a few weeks later and decide whether I really want those books or not. Many times I end up not buying them because my interest has cooled off or I no longer have the time to read them.

9. Read excerpts of books you’re interested in and try to read more than just a few pages (though sometimes that can’t be helped). Likewise, at least for me personally, regardless how much hype a book is getting, if it’s not something I’m interested in reading before, I’m not going to show interest in it now. For instance, I don’t care for Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter novels; so regardless how much hype a new book of hers might muster, I have never cared for any previous books, so I’m not going to invest time, money, or interest into a new book.

10. Set guidelines for yourself in terms of how many books you’ll buy in a single shopping outing. Some of these can be:
Replacement: If and when you give away, donate, sell, or discard one book, then you can purchase another book. This helps you de-clutter and keep tabs on what you currently read or don’t read.

– One-in, one-out: If and when you finish a new book, then you can purchase another one. However, don’t simply acquire new books for the sake of buying new books – read what you have first.

– Fill in the Blanks: Regarding book series, when you finish one book in a series, then purchase the next book. Try to avoid buying an entire series from the start because you may only like a few books. This cuts down on clutter as you’re not acquiring books you don’t really want for the sake of owning a compete series. Remember, there’s no rule that says you must own every book in a series – it’s okay to only own the first two books or so and nothing more.

– Set budget: Determine the amount of money you will spend within a given time frame (per week, month, and/or year) and whether or not you decide to roll over unused money. When you go to the bookstore, leave the credit card or debit card behind and bring cash. By paying with cash, you force yourself to limit how much you spend; so if, for example, you only take $30, then $30 is all you can spend. For online shopping, have a credit card with a low credit limit that is designated specifically for online shopping. This cuts down on wasteful spending and makes it easier to pay off purchases in full and on time.

– Planned Purchases: Make a list of books ahead of time that you wish to buy either in person or online and stick to your list, thereby curbing impulse buys. While browsing is fine and a good way to check out new books, just make note of any titles that interest you, take it home and research them, then plan on buying them later provided your interest remains.

11. Keep yourself on track by retaining a running total of how much you spent on books prior to starting your spending plan (if possible) and what you’ve spent or even saved after adopting your plan. Doing so enables you to, as the articles states, reflect on the progress made toward a goal [as it] is useful and can make a goal seem a lot more tangible and doable. Likewise, tell friends and/or family about your goals and ask for their support, especially if you’re having a hard time kicking certain habits. Having like-minded people you can be held accountable to makes a big difference.

12. Lastly, forgive yourself: If you purchase something that wasn’t part of your plan, don’t give up….Be kind to yourself by thinking about what happened, what you can learn from it, whether there should be adjustments made to your guidelines/plan/goals, and how to do better in the future. You want to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again, so the focus should be on how to improve and move forward.

 

Book Review · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Book Review – “Angus and Sadie”

*This review is in memory of my Border Collie mix, Chloe, who passed away on May 21, 2016, at the age of 16, and my other mixed breed, Nadine, who passed away on November 7, 2017, at the age of 11. Both girls will always be deeply missed by my family and me. They were both adorable, smart dogs and lovable sweethearts.*

Angus and Sadie
The Story:
[From GoodReads]:
Angus is black and white and strong.

Sadie is reddish brown and white and small.

“They don’t look much alike,” says Missus.

“They don’t act much alike,” says Mister.

Angus and Sadie are brother and sister. Angus is bigger. He is a good, brave, and clever dog — and he likes that. Sadie isn’t as quick to learn — or to obey. When cats jump at her, she yelps and runs away. Angus thinks that means she’s scared of everything. But Sadie isn’t so sure that’s true.

Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt’s story of border collie puppies growing up on a farm in Maine is for animal lovers of all ages, and for anyone who’s ever had — or wondered what it would be like to have — a brother or sister just like themselves, but very, very different.

My Take: I have a special place in my heart for Border Collies as they’re very intelligent, energetic, and warm-hearted dogs. Naturally, when I spied this book in my GoodReads Recommendations, I decided to check it out as it was an inexpensive Kindle book.

This is a simple story about two humans, known as Mister and Missues, who adopt two Border Collie pups and take them home to their farm. However, this story is told from the dogs’ point of view, which, for me, made it more interesting than if it had been told using a more detached third person voice. In the same way, I enjoyed the contrasting personalities of the two dogs, Angus and Sadie, who are siblings. Angus is a quick study and eager to please, but Sadie is a slow learner and generally disinterested. Her stubbornness eventually becomes a stumbling block for her and we see, through her eyes, how she can’t understand why her refusal to learn makes her family frustrated at her – Angus included.

Through the story, Angus and Sadie have adventures and befriend the animals on the farm. But as they age, they begin to see their respective personality differences, so the underlying tension in the story becomes two-fold: 1). will Sadie ever learn what’s required of her and 2). can Sadie and Angus ever truly get along. Obviously, as a children’s story the situations and dilemmas here aren’t desperate or stark and, in the end, this is a happy story.

There are also little chapter and heading illustrations that are simply adorable. Below are cropped samples taken from my Kindle copy (but no worries – there are no spoilers!):
Angus and Sadie pic 1

Angus and Sadie pic 2

While I’m definitely not the targeted audience for this book, I can say that I enjoyed it and appreciated it for its canine-focused narrative. In the end, this is a cute little story and I would be curious to read any subsequent novels to see what Angus and Sadie get into next.

Content: This is a G-rated children’s tale with no profanity, violence, or sexual content. It’s worth noting though that there are some scenes of mild peril when animals are left on their own but no animals ever come to harm or fall into any real danger. Similarly, this is not one of those books where a beloved pet dies at the end. So for parents or guardians concerned about animal deaths, rest assured: Angus and Sadie live to see the last page!

The Run-Down:
Aw So Cute sweet
Overall, Angus and Sadie is a cute story that will certainly appeal to older children who love dogs. (I shelved this on GoodReads as a middle grade read but that’s not entirely correct. This is a better fit for the 6 to 10 years old crowd albeit there is nothing that would turn off anyone older.) The choice to tell this story from the dogs’ points of view was a smart and creative decision and there are enough canine adventures – and cheeky misadventures – to keep readers of any age entertained.

Publications · Story & Characters

Writing News: “Kingdom of Ravens” Update


I have some writing news to share!

I just finished a rough draft of my new adult novel (a standalone for now) entitled Kingdom of Ravens. Plotwise, this novel is about Sebastian Murdoch, a low-level thug and nephew of an Usher Falls organized crime boss, who meets and falls in love with Rosalyn Everard, crown princess of the neighboring kingdom of Sardonia. While it’s set in present day, it does have some vestiges of fantasy (chiefly shapeshifting magic) and science fiction (with the incorporation of some advanced tech).

I penned some random chapter drafts (that I ended up not using, at least for the time being) in September 2014, but I didn’t formally start piecing anything together until later that year and into 2015. I then tried to write a little bit everyday since 2015, and today I finally finished a full-length manuscript, though it is far from being a finalized, finished story.

I’m fascinated by Sebastian and Rosalyn’s journey, both as a couple and as individuals, so it will be fun to delve in deeper and polish their stories. They’re great characters and I have fun writing for both of them as they come from two very different walks of life: Sebastian has lived in the urban squalor of Usher Falls and under his uncle’s murderous thumb all his life, and Rosalyn is a princess with a relatively comfortable life though she harbors a challenging inner demon.

My next step is to read through the manuscript as is and make notes as I already know where there needs to be changes, expansions, additions, and reductions. However, it feels wonderful to be able to say I have a rough draft completed. 🙂

Stay tuned for more updates in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future!