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):
Direct Link (Kindle):

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):
Direct Link (Kindle):

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):
Direct Link (Kindle):

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.

Book Memes · Book Review · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Throwback Thursday

For today’s Throwback Thursday, I’m going to share a quick review of a favorite book from my childhood. 🙂

Once Upon a Time in the Meadow by Rose Selarose

From GoodReads: Six little girls who live by themselves without any grownups enjoy a lovely day highlighted by a picnic and a parade.

My Thoughts: This was one of my favorite books as a little girl, and even now I still think the story holds up. Being a picture book, the tale is a simple one but not simple in terms of being intellectually insulting. Six young girls, who live together, decide to dress up and have a tea party. But their adventure is interrupted when they discover a rabbit caught in a bear trap. The girls then band together and nurse the little rabbit back to health and all’s well that ends well. All in all, it’s a solid story that, in terms of teachable moments, advocates love of family, friendship, kindness, and compassion towards animals. The artwork is gorgeous and is not merely pictures but miniature paintings. While some of the faces are a bit overly emotive (though probably for the sake of helping young readers understand the emotions conveyed in a given scene), the artwork as a whole is quite impressive, especially in a book for children. I loved this story back then and I love it now – certainly a classic worth passing on to any young, beginning readers.

Book Memes · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Whatcha Readin’ Wednesday

This week, I decided to share some books I’m currently in the process of perusing. Right now, I’ve just started three novels that I recently bought in a mini summer book haul, so I don’t have much to say thus far. But that won’t stop me from sharing some preliminary thoughts! 🙂 (I’ve linked the titles out to GoodReads in case you’re interested in checking out these books for yourself.)

Circus Mirandus
by Cassie Beasley
Cover Musings: Personally, I like the hardcover edition better in terms of design, but this one is rather colorful and does a good job of making me wonder how well the images depicted here tie into the actual story.

My Thoughts: I generally enjoy circus-themed books, but sometimes I feel hard-pressed to find something that isn’t dark or trying to sneak in adult content. I thought this middle grade book sounded like a fun read, so I look forward to diving into it.

From GoodReads: Do you believe in magic?  Micah Tuttle does. Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather. The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn’t want to keep his promise. And now it’s up to Micah to get the miracle he came for.

Moon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool
Cover Musings: I really like the muted color scheme here and something about the entire image says “summer” to me. This is one of these simplistic yet pleasant covers, which I enjoy far more than something that is too busy.

My Thoughts: This is yet another middle grade book that has a split POV set in two different time periods, the Great Depression-Era 1930s and the 1910s. I’ve recently been branching out into historical fiction and thought this, too, sounded interesting.

From GoodReads: Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was. Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.” Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Silver On the Road
by Laura Anne Gilman
Cover Musings: This cover was illustrated by my favorite book cover artist, John Jude Palencar. While I don’t enjoy every work of his as some are too dark for my tastes, many of his book covers are stunning and really draw in the eye. This cover is no exception.

My Thoughts: I’ve seen some reviewers dub this a “weird West” tale and its premise, which combines an imagined Wild West setting with magic, really intrigued me. (This is apparently the first book in a trilogy called The Devil’s West.)

From GoodReads: On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel makes the choice to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. But this is not the devil you know. This is a being who deals fairly with immense—but not unlimited—power, who offers opportunities to people who want to make a deal, and makes sure they always get what they deserve. But his land is a wild west that needs a human touch, and that’s where Izzy comes in. Inadvertently trained by him to see the clues in and manipulations of human desire, Izzy is raised to be his left hand and travel the circuitous road through the territory. As we all know, where there is magic there is power and chaos…and death.

book tags

Opposites Book Tag

This book tag comes courtesy of Dreamland Book Blog, and you can view the original post here. The theme for this tag is opposites. I thought it sounded like fun, so let’s get started!

1. First book in your collection/The last book you bought:

First Book: What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry

The first books I ever had were bought by my parents, so while I can’t remember my very first book, What Do People Do All Day is among some of my early favorites. It was one of my most requested as a child, so it holds a special place in my heart. 🙂

Last Book: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
This book was part of a small stash I treated myself to so I could have some new books to read over the summer. This was a light, cute, warm-hearted read and I absolutely love the cover.

2. A cheap book/An expensive book:

Cheap Book: Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle
This book I got really cheap for Kindle – it was free! Not bad for a batch of cute short stories.

Expensive Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
I pre-ordered the final Harry Potter novel months before it was released and decided to splurge and get the deluxe edition. This version, which is no longer in print, comes in its own box and features full chapter artwork in the back and a wrap-around illustration on the dust jacket:

This edition cost well over $40, which is more than I’d normally spend on one book. But seeing as this was the last book, I wanted to have an extra special copy. It was worth every penny – or make that Galleon! 😀

3. A book with a male protagonist/A book with a female protagonist:

Male Protagonist: Edmund Pensieve from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Out of the four Pensieve siblings, I’ve always liked Lucy and Edmund the best. Edmund comes into his own as the series progresses, but I like the rocky start his character is given in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as it makes the best ground in which to depict his eventual transformation.

Female Protagonist: Kendra Sorenson from Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull
Much like Edmund, I also love Kendra’s character as she evolves throughout the Fablehaven series. But if I had to pick a pivotal moment for her, it would be in Grip of the Shadow Plague where she lets her fairy-granted gifts shine (pun intended!).

4. A book you read fast/A book that took you a long time to read:

Fast Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I read this novel for the very first time during a car ride (as an adult) and I finished it in around five hours of nearly non-stop reading.

Slow Read: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
I’ve read Tolstoy’s masterpiece at least three times and it usually takes me two months or so to finish. However, this long read is worth it.

5. Pretty cover/Ugly cover:

Pretty Cover: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
This cover is one of the more stunning ones I own. I love the jewel-bright, saturated colors as well as the lifelike crown. A picture doesn’t do it justice as it deserves to be seen in person.

Ugly Cover: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
To be fair, I wouldn’t label the hardcover edition’s cover ugly but it’s visually annoying. At first glance, it seems as if the image of the model can be seen in full if you remove the dust jacket. However, the jacket’s cutouts are actually imprinted into the paper itself. That’s a shame because I think the cover would have been more effective either showcasing the model or having the cutout design alone. But to have the central image obstructed from view struck me as a weak design decision.

6. A national book/An international book:

National Book: Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
These books combine aspects of Wilder’s childhood and teen/young adult years with fictional spins. I adored them as a child and have always loved them, perusing them to this day. To me, they are a staple of Americana and give a window into the life of America’s courageous pioneers.

International Book: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
This French novel is of my favorite classics as well as one of my all-time favorite books.

7. A thin book/A thick book:

Thin Book: Once in the Year by Elizabeth Yates
64 pages. My parents gave this to me as a gift one year when I was a child, and I’ve kept it on my shelf ever since. It’s a lovely story with equally lovely black and white illustrations.

Thick Book: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
1,216 pages. War and Peace would easily belong here but I didn’t want to use it twice. 🙂 When Peter Jackson’s film trilogy came out, I bought the books individually. But after I learned that Tolkien penned this novel as a single book, I decided to purchase and peruse his work as it was originally intended – as a solitary work. Undoubtedly, this is the second largest book I own!

8. A fiction book/A non-fiction book:

Fiction: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
This was my first foray into Montgomery’s works for adults and I fell in love with it. It’s another one of my all-time favorite books and it’s always a joy to read.

Non-fiction: The Red Air Fighter by Manfred von Richthofen
I first became interested in WWI aviation when I played Sierra/Dynamix’s Red Baron PC game as a kid. I got to learn about the various famous aces, including the infamous Red Baron himself, Manfred von Richthofen. I started to read everything I could find about him and, out of all of the books, I’ve enjoyed this one – his autobiography – the most.

9. A way too romantic book/An action book:

Way Too Romantic Book: A Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
I wouldn’t call this book “romantic” so much as it is filled to overflowing with teenage infatuation that eventually leads to…well, yada yada yada. I didn’t mind this trilogy’s paranormal slant, but once a teenage love/lust triangle got thrown into the mix and became the driving force behind the plot, I quickly lost interest.

Action Book: Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston
Aside from seeing Grand Admiral Thrawn make his appearance in Star Wars Rebels, my second favorite character was Ahsoka, the disgraced Jedi. I have yet to watch Clone Wars but it’s on my list of things to do. This novel is a fun, fast read that I think does her character justice.

10. A book that made you happy/A book that made you sad:

Happy Book: The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce
I’ve sung the praises of this series before than once I’ll sing them again. I absolutely love it! It’s full of whimsical adaptations of famous figures from folklore, weaving them into a magical original story. These books never fail to put a smile on my face. 🙂

Sad Book: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Good grief, was this one messed up family! While it didn’t make me sad in terms of tearing up, it left me feeling depressed. I finished this book in a day and was glad to be done with it.

Book Review · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Book Review – “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

The Story: 
[from GoodReads:]
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

My Take: [Just a quick note before I launch into my review: while I won’t reveal spoilers related to Cursed Child, I may inadvertently drop spoilers from the other Potter books. I assume most folks have read the Harry Potter series in full. But in case you haven’t, please be forewarned – there may be spoilers!]

Early on, I all but swore off reading this story (which is actually a play, not a novel). I assumed it was just a way to cash grab on the Harry Potter series rather than serve as any kind of new addition to the original canon. Reviewers seemed split: some loved it for the nostalgia, others hated it because it didn’t feel like a true Potter tale. I was torn between those two opinions myself and, for a while, I decided to sit it out. However, eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check it out.

And to be honest, it wasn’t the Hogwarts Express train wreck I was expecting. Granted, it’s no where near being as good as the original Harry Potter novels nor does it function as a follow up or an addition to the original canon. Instead, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is elevated fan fiction. Nothing more, nothing less.

Is it terrible? No.
Is it great? No.
For me, it was some parts good, some parts okay, some parts meh, and some parts what-were-they-thinking and not in a good way. So as a whole…

However, it’s worth noting three key differences that set Cursed Child apart from the rest of the Potter canon.

First, knowing this was only based on a story by J.K. Rowling and seeing that it had different authors lessens the blow so to speak and readjusts reader expectations. If you approach this as if it is some long-lost Potter manuscript penned by Rowling herself, you’re going to be disappointed because it contains none of her hallmarks. But if you view Cursed Child as a work of Rowling-blessed elevated fan fiction, then you’re approaching it with the right mindset.

Also, Cursed Child isn’t a novel but a script for a stage play of the same name. Thus, not only is it written by different authors, it also lacks the flow and description of the novels, and this is simply because it’s a script. I have some experience reading scripts, so I know they essentially are dialogue-driven and lack detailed descriptions or backstories. In short, scripts are skeletons that require a visual element; however, they aren’t unreadable on their own. The format is worth pointing out because it might not be to everyone’s tastes. Myself, I don’t seek out scripts to read because they are sparse, but I didn’t mind perusing this and it is easy to read. So if you prefer stories that are fully fleshed out when it comes to setting, tone, and characters, be aware that Cursed Child significantly lacks these things by default.

Lastly, the play’s events occur chiefly after the epilogue in Deathly Hallows; therefore, Harry, Hermione, Ron, and a few other original characters are adults in Cursed Child. Some reviewers have claimed the characters here lack the same chemistry they had in the original novels, and while that’s certainly true, it’s not entirely problematic. While I’ll discuss more about what I enjoyed and what I took issue with later on, I do want to note that Harry and his old school chums are in their late 30s-early 40s, so they aren’t going to act or talk like teens anymore. Likewise, their relationship with each other has mellowed out and matured not only due to age but also distance. In the original novels, Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent a lot of time together at school and essentially lived together. But in Cursed Child, they have families and homes of their own, so this separation is going to cause their chemistry to cool a bit but not entirely. In short, the characters we see in Cursed Child are older and wiser, so their interactions and conversations naturally reflect this.

With those notes out of the way, I want to spend the rest of my review discussing the play itself minus any major spoilers. While there were things I didn’t care for, much to my surprise there were some things I actually liked and even enjoyed.

First and foremost, I really liked seeing Harry do his best to navigate the waters of fatherhood. Though Ginny, his wife, is supportive, and he seemingly has no issue with eldest son James and young daughter Lily, it’s his middle child, Albus, who provides him with the biggest struggle. One plotline that Cursed Child would be expected to traverse is how Harry’s children live up to his legacy. While James and Lily seem excused from this fate, it falls, instead, to young Albus. Thus, one major thread this play unravels and explores with all sincerity is whether or not Albus will be a carbon copy of his famous father or chart a new course for his life. As expected, Albus’ path is decidedly different and I enjoyed this.

To turn Albus into a Harry Potter 2.0 would have been a mistake namely because we already have a Harry Potter, so to create a clone would have been hackneyed. Instead, Albus is not like his father, neither in temperament nor magic. For starters, Albus breaks Potter tradition when he arrives at Hogwarts, from his Sorting to his magical skills or lack thereof. In brief, Albus is an average young wizard and doesn’t seemed destined for greatness at all. However, the temptation to compare him to his father and his namesake is too great for some characters, and Albus begins to feel the pressure. In time, he lashes out at those closest to him, particularly his father.

I’ll admit that seeing Albus speak to and treat his father so coldly, despite Harry’s best efforts to love and support his son, are hard to read. Harry really does give it his best try to encourage Albus and be a kind, loving dad, but Albus won’t have any of it. He despises being Harry’s son, not because, deep down, he hates Harry, but because he dislikes having to live out a legacy that he’s clearly not equipped to carry on. This doesn’t excuse Albus and his angst but it at least puts it into some perspective.

The same applies to Harry, who now has to juggle being a family man and a Ministry of Magic employee. We do see him donning both proverbial hats though I enjoyed reading the acts where Harry interacts with his children more so than the workplace scenes. Some reviewers have claimed that this version of Harry isn’t the Harry we knew and loved from the novels and they would be partially correct. The Harry Potter in Cursed Child is nearing his 40s, has been married to Ginny for years, and is the father of three children, one of whom tries his patience at nearly every turn. It can’t be expected that this older, wiser, and, in some cases, more harried Harry is going to have much semblance to his younger counterpart in the original novels, which end when he is 17 and only gives a brief glimpse of him nearly 20 years later. Seeing Harry in Cursed Child behave and talk like a teenager would not only be unrealistic but also insulting as it would mean he never grew up. However, I can see some reviewers’ point, especially as Harry fires back at Albus for his behavior, even at times wishing Albus wasn’t his son.

Yes, that’s harsh and hard to read, but I believe it, much like Albus’ behavior, is somewhat justified in context as Albus kind of brings it on himself. Harry tries to connect with Albus and guide him just as a good father should, but Albus rebels. A parent will only take so much pushing and shoving from a rebellious child until the parent begins to push and shove back. It’s not right and it’s not pretty but it does make sense and shows Harry as a relatable individual rather than a larger-than-life figure. Hence, when Albus pushes Harry, admitting he hates being his son, Harry pushes back and admits he wishes he wasn’t Albus’ father. I really liked this intense family conflict because it allows both characters to make their own choices and deal with the consequences, wising up to what is more important in life, the past or the present.

We see a similar dilemma arise between Draco Malfoy and his son, Scorpius. Draco, while no longer a Death Eater, is still painted in that light by others who dredge up his past. Just as Albus is viewed under the mantle of his father’s past deeds, so Scorpius is covered by his father’s past shadow. While Draco and Scorpius don’t have the same falling out that Harry and Albus have, the two father-son pairings contain a similar thread – should one live in the past or live in the present but remember the past and plan for the future. It’s a theme that runs the entire length of the play and I enjoyed the depth at which it’s explored. And just in case some readers are concerned over whether the Potter vs. Potter feud ever comes to a head, Albus and Harry do eventually make amends and it’s a touching, appropriate scene that caps the entire story.

Speaking of Albus and Scorpius, I really enjoyed their pairing. Just as Albus is unlike his father, so Scorpius not a carbon copy of Draco. He brings a breath of fresh air through his nerdy, comedic, adventure-loving ways but he isn’t a comic foil. Scorpius dislikes being cast under his father’s shadow but he doesn’t seem to let that bother him as he knows he has his own life to live. In time, I think some of this ideology rubs off on Albus, who begins to see himself and his father differently. Together, the boys are a delight and hearken back to the fun times and adventures of a young Harry and Ron. It does bear noting that while some readers assert there is a “romance” between them, I never picked up on anything like that. I think this is a case of if you want to read homosexual themes into this, then you’ll find them only because you’re intentionally looking for them – not because they’re actually present – so everything you read will be interpreted through that lens. I don’t look for those sorts of themes (nor do I care about them), so nothing ever struck me as such. In truth, Albus and Scorpius’ relationship is a pleasant friendship between two heterosexual boys and nothing more. Scorpius slightly edges Albus out as my favorite  character thanks to his colorful personality, which is in contrast to Albus’ wallowing in angst and self-doubt.

Lastly, it was nice to see nods to other characters from the canon novels, such as Madam Hooch (who only had a single appearance in Sorcerer’s Stone); the Hogwarts Express trolley witch (and her “secret” here is kind of fun); and even Severus Snape, whose inclusion was well-done (though I’m a big Snape fan so of course I’ll be biased about that!).

However, there were elements Cursed Child that kept me from fully enjoying myself. One issue is some obvious contradictions and missteps from the original canon. For starters, Ron is reduced to a comic foil as he is seemingly sidelined and portrayed as a bit of a dunderhead. Hermione here has moments when she seems a little too harsh and snappish. And I will include some of Harry’s verbal lashings at Albus as, though they make sense within the context of given scenes, they do seem out of place coming from a person who never knew his own father and who remarked in Deathly Hallows that parents and children should stay together. Lastly, we learn what Harry’s biggest regret was, which involves the death of an innocent person. However, I would venture to guess that while Harry probably regretted many of the deaths that occurred during the war with Lord Voldemort, I would have assumed he would have felt more regret over someone closer to him, such as his godfather Sirius Black or Remus Lupin, as opposed to the character we learn about in Cursed Child.

Speaking of contradictions, one massive issue for me was the main villain. Not only is this character easy to spot from the beginning, lacking the are-they-or-aren’t-they misdirection that Rowling was so expert at executing, this person isn’t exactly compelling. In order to avoid spoilers, I’ll just refer to this person as Character Z. Character Z is introduced early in the play and eventually makes contact with two of the main characters. From the very beginning, we learn there is a rumor circulating in the Wizarding community about a child of Voldemort, an heir of the Dark Lord himself. At first, this is a workable idea; however, the way it’s executed leaves a lot to be desired, not to mention it raises a lot of questions. As in a LOT of questions!

Initially, I thought this person, who ends up being Character Z, was going to be a villain akin to Star Wars‘ Kylo Ren, someone who is inspired to continue the deeds of a villainous relative (but not a parent) who laid the groundwork before them. Or perhaps Character Z was going to be a figurehead baddie, someone who wasn’t related to Voldemort at all but who wanted to continue his legacy of evil and finish what he started. Either way could have worked. Instead, Character Z is an illegitimate child, a physical heir of Voldemort himself. And not during his original incarnation as the handsome Tom Riddle, by the way. No, the play makes it very plain that Character Z was physically conceived after Riddle had transformed into Voldemort.

Let that sink in for just a moment….

Uh huh. That’s not a pretty picture.

Character Z, thus, embodies the play’s biggest contradiction. The question is not so much when Voldemort would have made time to produce an heir but why. In the novels, we’re told time and again that Voldemort knows nothing about love, doesn’t care about love, sees love as a mark of weakness, holds no affections for anyone, and doesn’t have any true friends. And even those whom he considered his closest followers he holds at arm’s length. So in order to even have a child, that means Voldemort would have had to let down this guard, to put it politely. But the truth is, would he have been capable of even thinking he wanted to get close enough to someone to have a child? If he was that anti-love and anti-relationships, why would the thought even cross his mind? Therefore, it’s easy to assume that the idea of any form of intimacy – physical or otherwise – would be as far removed from Voldemort’s mind as Snape would be from a shampoo factory. Not to mention Voldemort clearly planned to be the one and only Dark Lord, hence why he created the horcruxes in the first place to secure his mortality. But if he desired to have an heir from his own family line, that would also mean he would have to be open to the idea of passing his legacy on, giving up his reigns of control. Again, is that something Voldemort conceivably could have done? Again, I seriously doubt it.

This put the biggest damper on Cursed Child for me because it makes no sense in light of who we know Voldemort is and how he operates, thus the play essentially tries to tack something onto the canon that doesn’t mesh with Voldemort’s inner character as it were. I can see making Harry, Ron, and Hermione act and talk like adults because that makes sense. I can see having Albus struggle with a legacy that isn’t his own – that, too, makes sense. I can see Scorpius contending with the deeds his father did in the past. But making the chief villain to be Lord Voldemort’s own physical offspring?

Like, no way. No…way…at…all.

Aside from this massive hiccup, another aspect in Cursed Child that didn’t sit well with me was some of its magical elements and the way they’re incorporated. Too much of it feels too convenient and borders on being a deus ex machina at times. It’s like saying to yourself while standing in front of a vending machine, “I’m hungry. I wish I had a dollar so I could buy something.” And then, lo and behold, you look down and spy a dollar stuck on the bottom of your shoe. Yes, the magic here is sometimes that convenient and that obvious.

While I won’t divulge spoilers, I will say that time turners have a heavy presence in this story and I’m not exactly their biggest fan. I wasn’t a fan of them in Prisoner of Azkaban and I’m still not a fan here. My reasoning is simply because they’re just too convenient. And the way they’re introduced in the play, while not quite with the same out-of-thin-air (“Look, I have a time turner!”) approach that Prisoner of Azkaban took, it’s still set up with so much foreshadowing that it’s like being clubbed over the head. Granted, what the time turners are used for here is interesting and adds to the adventure some of the characters have later on. But it still seemed too easy and the conclusions some characters come to regarding how the time turners get used are just as convenient.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is, first and foremost, an attempt to adapt Harry Potter for the stage rather than the silver screen. It’s an ambitious effort that, to its credit, injects some genuine heart into its story. But knowing this is essentially glorified fan fiction means it lacks the warmth, whimsy, and depth that Rowling’s original novels contained. Therefore, I sense it won’t entirely win the hearts of or appeal to long-time fans. But it’s one of these stories that each reader has to digest for himself and reach his own conclusions.

Language – There are minimal, PG-level profanities though they’re sporadically used.

Violence – Violence falls chiefly into the fantasy violence category where magic is used as opposed to weapons. But because this is written as a play, it leaves a lot of such moments up to the imagination due to sparse descriptions. Elsewhere, one character magically transforms into a frightening creature but, again, most of the details are left up to the imagination.

Sexual Content – None. One character is revealed to be the product of an off-stage illegitimate affair but no further details are given.

The Run-Down:

Overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a passable read. I’ll confess that I probably would have liked this more if it was in novel form, but even that wouldn’t have erased the elements that detracted from my enjoyment of it. As stated, this is fan fiction but it at least elevates itself through its attempt to present a worthy theme and recreate Rowling’s world and characters. Though it’s a far cry from Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, it by no means falls on its proverbial face as it offers up a touching tale of a father and son at odds. As a whole, Cursed Child, for me, was an interesting experiment in not only adaptation but also in using new writers for an established series. And while it doesn’t exactly flounder, it doesn’t exactly capture the magic of the original novels.



“Reflections on a ‘Miracurl'” – New Article on Rivulet Collective

I recently penned an article for Rivulet Collective, an online Christian “magazine.” Below is a brief excerpt followed by a link to the full article:

Most people love an underdog story, and one such story emerged recently from a rather unassuming event during the 2018 Winter Olympics. Curling, which tends to be unfairly mocked in the American public eye, actually made headlines as the USA men’s team won gold for the very first time, marking only the second time the United States has ever medaled in the sport. Seeing as the men’s team defeated some highly favored teams, namely Canada (not once but twice) and Sweden by a large, nearly impossible margin in the gold medal game, the USA men’s victory became widely known as the “miracurl on ice.”

Avid curling fan that I am, I followed the USA men’s team from their rocky start during the round robin games all the way to their golden finish. Aside from making for some very exciting television (and, yes, curling can be exciting!), I found myself gleaning a few life lessons along the way—namely the importance of perseverance, proper handling of criticism, and the quiet strength of humility.

To read the rest of the article, go to

book tags · Books & Reading

TBR Shelf Book Tag

TBR stands for “to be read” and refers to a book stash a reader has yet to dive into. I keep track of my TBR titles on GoodReads using their Want to Read shelf. So today, I decided to share some of my fun TBR factoids. Maybe you might find a title or two to add to your TBR pile, too, because a bookworm can never have enough books! 🙂

1. How many books are currently on your TBR shelf?

At the moment, my Want to Read shelf contains around 110 books, give or take a few. That includes books I own but haven’t yet read and books I’m interested in purchasing.

2. Which book has been left unread the longest?
Victory Conditions by Elizabeth Moon. I’ve enjoyed the Vatta’s War series as it’s a fun mix of light space opera and military sci-fi. But I haven’t read it in years, so I need to do that before I read the final book.

3. Which book is a recent addition to your TBR shelf?
Silver On the Road by Laura Anne Gilman. I’ve seen this christened as a “weird west” story and an excerpt I read intrigued me, so I hope to check it out soon.

4. Which book on your TBR shelf has the best cover?
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson. I’m a bird watcher and a bird lover, so I think this cover is adorable.

5. Name a book on your TBR shelf that’s by an author you’ve read before.
The Gold Son by Carrie Anne Noble. I love The Mermaid’s Sister, so I can’t wait to dive into this latest book.

6. Name a book on your TBR shelf that’s by an author you’ve never read before.
Winnie-the Pooh by A. A. Milne. I have never read any of Milne’s Pooh stories though I’ve seen the movies and TV shows as a kid. Shame, shame on me! 😀

7. Name a book on your TBR shelf that isn’t your usual go-to genre.
The Sultan, the Vampyr, and the Soothsayer by Lucille Turner. Historical fiction isn’t my initial go-to genre but I’ve been branching out my tastes. I haven’t yet read any books set in this novel’s time period, so I’m curious to check it out.

8. What book on your TBR shelf do you currently own that you’re most eager to read?
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. Though I initially swore off reading this, I found myself curious despite myself. My main reason to read it is not because I think it deserves to be Potter canon but to compare it against Rowling’s novels. Basically, I view this as a work of glorified fan fiction, so with that in mind maybe I won’t nitpick it too much. But I’m not promising anything! 😀

9. Name a book on your TBR shelf that’s not yet released that you’re most eager to read.
Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn, which has a late July 2018 release date. I am a Grand Admiral Thrawn fangirl, so I’ll snatch up anything featuring the Chiss officer extraordinaire (sidebar – I want a live action version, please!). Zahn’s Thrawn (2017) solidified Thrawn as my all-time favorite villain and I can’t wait to see where Zahn takes his story next!

10. Which book on your TBR shelf has the longest wait time for its release?
I have been waiting years to get my hands on Jack Frost, the final chapter book in William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood series. That’s not because I haven’t bought it – it’s because the book’s release date gets moved up year after year. Currently, Amazon has it slated for release in November 2018. Hopefully that will be the case.

11. Name a classic book on your TBR shelf.
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. I was inspired to read this after watching the movie Genius, staring two of my favorite acting gents, Jude Law and Colin Firth. The film chronicles the story behind this novel’s road to publication and I really enjoyed it. I’ve never read anything by Wolfe before and his prose sounds fantastic, so I look forward to diving into this.

12. Name a non-fiction book on your TBR shelf.
Maybe You Never Cry Again by the late comedian Bernie Mac. I loved The Bernie Mac Show when it aired on Fox in the early 2000s and I watch reruns of it to this day. Sadly, the Mac Man was taken from us far too soon.

13. Name an anticipated sequel that’s currently on your TBR shelf.
Legendary by Stephanie Garber. I had a lot of fun reading Caraval and thought it was an imaginative ride. Hopefully, the sequel will be just as good.

14. Name a new series that’s on your TBR shelf.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi. I’ve never read manga before, so this should be a different experience. I’ve just started watching the anime series Sailor Moon (the English dub) and I think it’s really cute, so I hope the manga is just as good.

15. Randomly share one title from your TBR shelf you haven’t already mentioned.
The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien. How did I – Tolkien and Middle Earth fanatic – not know this book was coming out in 2018? Shame on me again!



Movie Review – “Cool as Ice”

Even though I grew up during Vanilla Ice’s short-lived heyday, I was never a fan. Kids at my school jammed to “Ice Ice Baby” and “Ninja Rap” on the playground and I jammed, too, but I never got further interested in his music. Naturally, I had never heard of this movie (which was originally released in 1991) until I saw the Nostalgia Critic do a review of it. The flick seemed so ridiculous that I told myself I had to see it just to know that such a thing existed. And exist it does – so you’ve been warned! Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.

The Story: [from Rotten Tomatoes]: The leader of a motorcycle gang (Vanilla Ice) falls in love with a small-town girl (Kristen Minter) and finds out that while her family is involved in the Witness Protection Program, they are being pursued by corrupt cops.

My Take: Let’s just go ahead and clear the air – Cool as Ice is as absurd, outrageous, nonsensical, and any other synonym for ridiculous you care to add, as you think it is. Is it the worst movie I’ve ever seen? No, because I knew it was going to be lame from the start. And as expected, it’s a goofy, bland, predictable vanity project in every sense of the word.

The story (what little there is) focuses on Johnny (Vanilla Ice) and his musical posse. En route to who-knows-where, one of their motorcycles breaks down, so they’re stuck in a small slice of suburbia until the bike can be fixed. In the meantime, Johnny takes a fancy to a neighborhood girl, Kathy, who is a clean-nosed honor student with college on her mind and an annoying beau on her arm. Johnny and Kathy couldn’t be any more different yet sparks fly and insta-love blooms. In a side plot, we learn that Kathy’s father is evading corrupt cops he turned in years ago. These cops eventually catch up with him and, unfortunately, Johnny is thought to be in their company. The movie then throws in some predicable curve balls – along with ludicrous motorcycle stunts that defy the laws of gravity, physics, and basic common sense – and ends exactly as you probably imagine it does.

Naturally, the most interesting thing about this movie is not its plot. In fact, the story itself is the blandest element as Cool as Ice tries too hard to be a 90s hip-hop James Dean-esque teen rebel story mixed with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and unsurprisingly fails on both fronts. Everything is predicable thanks to a lack of any creativity in storytelling as well as a heavy use of foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a good way of subtly introducing future elements, scenes, or characters into a story. But therein lies the key – it has to be subtle.

The foreshadowing here is as subtle as getting hit in the face with a shovel.

Correction – getting hit in the face with a shovel is over in a matter of seconds. Cool as Ice endures for 90 minutes that become 90 minutes too long.

By way of example, early in the movie, Kathy’s brother, Tommy, pesters Nick, her boyfriend, for a ride in his Corvette. Nick has evidently promised Tommy a ride but hasn’t yet made good on that. My first thought was, “I bet Johnny is going to promise to do something for Tommy, then make good on his word so he can be held up as a better man than Nick.” So what happens later? Johnny promises to give Tommy a ride on his motorcycle and eventually makes good on his promise.

Surprise, surprise.

Story-wise, Cool as Ice is as engaging and predicable as reading the cooking instructions on a bag of microwave popcorn. To be honest, the Nostalgia Critic’s review tells you everything you need to know and highlights all of the movie’s major scenes, so I’d recommend watching that instead. Not to mention it’s nearly 70 minutes shorter.

Even though the story here is as limp as a wet blanket, sometimes fun, colorful characters can make up for a weak story. But that’s not the case here. It’s obvious from the first actual scene (as the initial five minutes are a musical number) that Vanilla Ice is not an actor. In fact, I didn’t know he even had a character name until the end credits – I just assumed he was playing himself and he essentially is. We know nothing about Johnny’s background or his motivations. Oddly enough, in one scene he remarks to another character, “You don’t know me. You don’t know me at all!” And he’s absolutely right – we don’t know anything about him because we’re never told much about him.

For instance, Johnny seems genuinely interested in knowing what it’s like having a family. Kathy tells him it’s nice having two parents and a brother and, for a second, I wondered if Johnny might share something about his life. Maybe he came from a broken home or had an absent parent. Anything like that would have turned him more into a character rather than a caricature. Instead, we’re never told anything about who Johnny is neither as a person nor a performer. We don’t know why he hangs out with his particular group of friends, why they’re on the road, where they’re going, or why he is essentially a drifter. None of this would have improved the overall plot, mind you, but it at least would have been something of minimal substance. Instead, the movie doesn’t create an original character but just lets Vanilla Ice be Vanilla Ice.

Kathy (Kristin Minter), to her credit, is likable. She falls for Johnny quickly and their “romance” is the epitome of insta-love, but I still liked her as a person and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself. The only other characters of note are the eccentric couple, Roscoe (Sydney Lassick) and Mae (Dody Goodman), who live in a house with a wacky design theme. These two are an absolute hoot! Their banter cracked me up and their house is super-funky. However, we never get to know them. Why do they live in such a strange house? Who did Roscoe initial confuse Johnny and his pals for in their first scene together? Why are he and Mae mechanics? None of these questions get answered and we never see them interact much with anyone, not even their neighbors; hence, the two most colorful characters (if you exclude Vanilla Ice’s neon pants) are eventually forgotten about.

If there was anything I liked about this movie, it would be that I honestly did enjoy the natural scenery. This especially comes into play when Johnny and Kathy go for a bike ride and drive past some open fields and desert scenes. One scene that occurs at a construction site I really liked due to the natural lighting and attempt to bring in the surrounding environment. Some of the music is also fun and the soundtrack is a passable mix of early 90s R&B and hip-hop. Two standout tracks for me were the soulfully groovy “Gonna Catch You” by Lonnie Gordon and “Faith” by Rozalla, which mixes R&B vibes with a fun dance beat. These are minor elements in light of the movie as a whole, but I enjoyed them nevertheless.

Likewise, some of the film’s messages are commendable but nothing to write home about. Johnny proves he’s a good guy who tries to do the right thing, even putting himself in harm’s way to save someone. Kathy believes, “People can be who they want to be, as long as they’re willing to work,” meaning we can achieve our dreams but we have to put in some effort and not wait for success to fall into our lap. Johnny remarks, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at,” as we shouldn’t dwell on the past but live in the present. During the construction site heart-to-heart, Kathy asks Johnny what is most important to him. He tells her, “If you ain’t true to yourself, then you ain’t true to nobody. Live your life for someone else, you ain’t living.” In other words, we need to carve out our lives as uniquely gifted individuals rather than pretend to be someone we’re not.

As a whole, Cool as Ice is a vanity project through and through. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a vehicle for Vanilla Ice to capitalize on his fame at the time. For that, I guess I can’t fault it too much because at least it doesn’t try to hide what it’s doing. Like most vanity projects, it lacks any sense of true artistry, creativity, or even care. It was just a cash grab attempt albeit it didn’t grab much – only $1.2 million dollars compared to its $6 million dollar budget.

There will always be a market for vanity projects thanks to our celebrity-obsessed culture. Vanilla Ice’s contemporary, MC Hammer, fronted the short-lived Saturday morning kid’s cartoon show Hammerman. Comedian and actor Eddie Murphy made three music albums from the mid-80s through the early 90s and scored a number two hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts with the universally panned “Party All the Time” (1985). Actor Robert Downey, Jr. released a music album in 2004 called The Futurist (which is surprisingly good!). AFI/Blaqk Audio/Dreamcar front man Davey Havok penned 2013’s denunciated novel Pop Kids (sidenote: he should really stick to songwriting). The Spice Girls made the disastrous flick Spice World (1997), and I reviewed the Newsboys’ odd yet oddly entertaining Down Under the Big Top (1996). And the list goes on.

Does that mean these types of celebrity offerings are always of poor quality? Not necessarily. But the general consensus is that vanity projects aren’t the best sources for great or even good art. The same rule applies to Cool as Ice. Does it deserve to be christened as one of the worst movies ever made? Yes and no. Much like I remarked in my review for Down Under the Big Top, if you go into these sorts of movies expecting them to be good art, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you approach them from the angle that these are vehicles strictly intended to promote a musician and his music, then you’ll probably forgive their shortcomings to an extent. And that’s what I did: I forgave Cool as Ice for being a cheesy, boring, cash grabbing vanity project because that’s all it openly aspires to be and nothing more.

Content Breakdown: Cool as Ice was given a PG rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – Profanity usage is infrequent and minor, employing PG-level words. Tommy gives the finger to Nick while riding on a motorcycle.

Violence – Johnny gets into a bloodless fight when he catches some neighborhood guys intentionally damaging his and his friend’s motorcycles. Two corrupt cops threaten and intimidate Kathy’s family. One character is kidnapped but is eventually rescued. When Johnny and Kathy first meet, he accidentally scares the horse she’s riding on and she’s thrown off, unharmed. She punches him in retaliation but he isn’t hurt. Lastly, Nick treats Kathy roughly after escorting her from a club. Though he doesn’t strike or abuse her, he keeps a firm grip on her, forces a kiss (she pulls away), and demands she get into his car (she refuses and stalks off, and he lets her go).

Sexual Material – Some of the lyrics to Johnny’s/Vanilla Ice’s raps contain random, mild suggestive comments but nothing pervasive. Johnny’s jacket sports random words and phrases, one of which is “Sex Me Up.” Johnny sneaks into Kathy’s bedroom and wakes her up by dripping a melting ice cube into her mouth. He reclines next to her but the two only chat. Kathy eventually tells him to leave because she has to get dressed, but Johnny teases her about changing in front of him. She starts to unbutton her nightshirt, but Tommy walks in and she stops (nothing is seen). Tommy asks her to let him know when they’re done “making sex,” but Johnny leaves shortly after, so nothing happens. Later, Kathy and Johnny spend the day together in various locations, frolicking and sharing several kisses/embraces but nothing more occurs (Johnny is also shirtless in some of these scenes). Kathy’s boyfriend, Nick, is called Dick by some characters. Lastly, some dancers in a club wear revealing clothes, mainly low-cut dresses and tops, and one dancer essentially wears a bra as a top. A few dance moves are suggestive but not too raunchy.

Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe Cool as Ice 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 due to the film’s story and content.

Older Children & Teens – Not recommended unless teens are fans of Vanilla Ice. For the most part, this is a harmless PG flick that showcases cheesy 90s rap; however, for teen fans of 90s movies in general, there are better picks than this.

Young Adults & Adults – Not recommended, unless you’re a fan of Vanilla Ice or want to see a corny, forgotten 90s flick/vanity project. Otherwise, I can’t see this having much appeal to casual viewers.

The Run-Down:

Overall, Cool as Ice is a vanity project, plain and simple. If you loved Vanilla Ice back in the day and want to watch this for some 90s nostalgia, then I think you’ll enjoy it for its awkward novelty factor. I wasn’t a Vanilla Ice fan and I didn’t enjoy it, but I knew what I was getting into beforehand, so it didn’t shatter any expectations. As a whole, Cool as Ice is a figment of the 90s’ imagination. Whether it deserves to be remembered is up to you.

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