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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Book Review · Books & Reading

Book Review – Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”


The Story: A Series of Unfortunate Events, penned by Lemony Snicket (pseudonym for American author Daniel Handler), consists of thirteen novels: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and The End. These books follow the dreadful misadventures of the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. All three children are dealt a horrible blow when, one day, they’re told their parents perished in a mysterious house fire. This lands them in the care of various distant relatives, the most notorious of which being the villainous Count Olaf, who stops at nothing to get his clutches on the Baudelaire fortune. Throughout the course of the series, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny must band their skills, strengths, and wits together if they have any hope of defeating Olaf and his minions. However, as the series’ title is no spoiler, their efforts often come up short against Olaf’s evil schemes.

My Take:
(Just to note, this review focuses only on the book series, not the 2004 theatrical release nor the 2017 Netflix series.)

I will give this independent readers’ series credit for using reverse psychology in its marketing, which goes a little something like this: these books are so full of misery and so beset with woe that you should not read them. So naturally that makes you want to read them and, to be fair, that’s what drew me in, too. Plus the illustrations by Brett Helquist appealed to me and I love his style.

Rather cleverly, A Series of Unfortunate Events contains thirteen volumes, which may or may not be unlucky depending on how willing you are to invest in the series for the long haul. Myself, I was initially devoted to it but, as the books went on, I became less enthusiastic. Admittedly, the series felt overstretched by the time I got to the halfway point. For me, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, and The Austere Academy were the strongest compared to the series’ back half offerings, which seemed to coast down a slippery slope of cyclical, mediocre storytelling though The Hostile Hospital, for me, was the strongest out of the last six novels.

The final book, The End, was honestly the worst final book in a series I’ve ever read to date and it made me want to heave it across the room after finishing it. In short, not only was it not worth reading in and of itself  but it also was not worth reading the previous twelve books to get to it. To keep it spoiler-free, I’ll just say that The End ends – and that’s it. I get that this series was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek depressing but, for me, something has to make up for that. The End most certainly did not accomplish that and made me feel like I had eaten a giant box of mildly tolerable cereal only to discover there was no toy at the bottom. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. But I digress.

Story-wise, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, the chief protagonists, to put it mildly, rarely have a good day. I will admit that even after I became disenchanted with the series, I hung in for the sake of the three leads. I loved Violet, Klaus, and Sunny and I appreciated how they became their own characters with unique personalities and quirks. Violet is the eldest child and possesses an agile, inventive mind, making her the trio’s chief engineer and problem-solver (and I loved how every time she tied her hair back, you knew her awesome brain was going into action!). Klaus is the middle child who loves literature and etymology and is solidly book-smart. Much like Violet’s engineering prowess, Klaus’ skill set enables him to think through problems logically and creatively. Lastly, Sunny starts the series as an infant but ages into a toddler. Her obvious talent is biting but her fighting spirit is also commendable. Aside from liking them as individuals, I also appreciated the siblings’ maturity and realistic dynamic: they don’t always get along but their familial bond and unconditional love for one another overcome all grievances. Overall, I absolutely adored Violet, Klaus, and Sunny and I wished I had equally enjoyed the stories they were placed in. Sadly, this was a case of having three awesome characters housed in thirteen sometimes not-so-awesome stories.

While each novel in the series is relatively short, the plotting and pacing are essentially the same. The three orphans are either placed in a new caretaker’s home or strike out on their own to escape Count Olaf and uncover the mystery behind their parents’ deaths. In time, they run across at least one or two other characters, usually adults, who initially seem sympathetic towards the orphans’ plight. But in the end, such persons are discovered to be in league with Count Olaf, under duress from County Olaf, or not very helpful. Eventually, Olaf and his nefarious pals close in and their dastardly deeds go persistently unawares by other adults in the story. Only Violet, Klaus, and Sunny seem to have any clue to look past his schemes. This can make for many frustrated moments as the Baudelaires rarely receive justice for their mistreatment, hence my first criticism of the series.

Just the first, mind you – there are a few more.

I have nothing against books for children or young adults that don’t paint a sunny picture of the world. But there has to be something to justify a character’s misfortunes, something for them to strive for and eventually gain. In the Baudelaires’ case, they suffer abuse and psychological torture from Count Olaf and his evil theater troupe; so, by all rights, they deserve justice. Instead, the books allow Olaf to repeatedly escape, and it isn’t until The End that he gets what is coming to him but not in the way I was hoping. Thus, the underlying philosophy young readers are subjected to here is that life is always unfair and dreadful. Granted, life isn’t always perfect or fair but it’s not the extreme picture the series paints either. Therefore, by the end of it all, I was frustrated that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny rarely got any long-lived reprieves. I was equally annoyed over how it seemed like most of the adult characters were complete dunderheads when it came to Olaf’s schemes. Usually it wasn’t until the last minute the grownup good guys and gals finally realized what’s going on, but Olaf always fled before he could be stopped. This pattern occurred in nearly every book save for the last few and, by that time, it was beyond infuriating.

My other complaint is how far Count Olaf goes to get what he wants. While he makes for a frightening bad guy, he’s an overly-vile villain without any good reason as to why he’s bad other than there being some history between him and the Baudelaires. Personally, I love a complex villain, someone who might truly be “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” but who also has some positive traits (even if those are used in negative ways), does good he or she doesn’t intend, and/or a sympathetic thread so the villain is fleshed out as a person, not merely a fill-in for an empty villain slot. Olaf has a small sympathy factor rooted in his past that counts as a spoiler; however, for the most part he is twisted and disturbed without a clear reason why other than that’s just how he is, and some of his actions were surprising to find in a series for younger readers. Granted, there are books for the same age range that are dark (Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a good example), but these may still depict happy endings where the villains get what they deserve. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Olaf’s torments are rarely avenged as he engages in numerous acts of neglect, abuse, cruelty, murder, deceit, manipulation, greed, attempted physical mutilation, and implied incest, the last two of which involve Violet with whom he seems to harbor a strange fascination.


Again, I stress the word implied. But I still dislike books that feel like they have to go there in any way, shape, or form.

This matter of latent incest crops up in The Bad Beginning where Olaf attempts to marry Violet to gain access to the orphans’ fortune. While this sham marriage is driven purely out of greed, some of the ways he speaks to and treats Violet (such as modest touching and indicating that after the “ceremony” he wishes to enjoy his wedding night) stick a large toe over the line of being inappropriate. While I didn’t think anything incestuous was actually going on (because I don’t think Violet would have stood for it), I was uncomfortable with these scenes. Thankfully, Olaf doesn’t pull similar stunts in the rest of the books, but that by no means softens the other sins he commits. I would even go so far as to caution readers that if you’re sensitive to scenes or circumstances involving physical, emotional, and/or psychological abuse/neglect, especially towards children, then this series might not be for you. There is a great deal of abuse/neglect in all thirteen books that the poor Baudelaire’s endure though it’s not on every page. To their credit, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny strive to persevere and rise above their circumstances, but all too often they are beaten back down in defeat.

My last complaint deals with the novels’ structure, which is episodic to the point of simplistic predictability. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it might appeal to the chief middle grade audience for whom these books are intended. But to sustain the same escape-entrapment-escape-entrapment pattern throughout all thirteen novels does wax tiresome. Writing-wise, the series flows by at a decent pace thanks to its books’ relatively small sizes, excluding some of the final novels. One aspect of the narrative I found myself skimming over though is when the narrator or another character gave the definition of a word younger readers probably wouldn’t know. (For example: “The word ‘standoffish’ is a wonderful one….It means ‘reluctant to associate with others,’ and it might describe somebody who, during a party, would stand in a corner and not talk to anyone.”) Granted, this is a great tool with which to teach kids vocabulary, but for adults it’s a chance to skim the page (unless, of course, you’re in the market to pick up some new vocab, too!).

All of this isn’t to say this is a terrible, unreadable series as it can be strangely charming and darkly humorous at times. The three young leads are incredibly intelligent and admirable, especially considering the horrible treatment they endure and the dreadful circumstances they find themselves in. However, if I can sum up my chief complaint with this series it would be this: A Series of Unfortunate Events paints the world as a cold, uncaring place and depicts adults as dimwitted, incompetent, unhelpful, or malicious. Again, not all stories need to be full of light-hearted whimsy, but I believe there’s a fine line between depicting realistic truths and offering harsh, stark realism. Regarding A Series of Unfortunate Events, it puts both feet over the latter line, presenting a dismal world populated by apathetic, unhelpful, or nefarious people. This was what frustrated me the most because, as a reader, I wanted the story’s heroes to win and know there is still light, goodness, and kindness in the world. But just when the series starts to present such truths, it whips them right out from under you akin to pulling a rug out from under your feet.

This article from Speculative Faith regarding A Series of Unfortunate Events says it best:

Stories that are at their core cynical about the world present two different visions. The first is a vision of a world without heroes. The second is a vision of a world that doesn’t deserve heroes. These visions may easily be combined and sometimes are, but each can and does go alone, too. Together or alone, they weave an inescapable cynicism into the fabric of their stories. [Regarding ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’] [o]nce doomed to unfortunate events by the malignancy and incompetence of individuals, the Baudelaires are now doomed to unfortunate events by the malignancy and incompetence of institutions. Every pillar of society crumbles when the children try to lean on it: the school, the law, the government, the free press.

It’s not that the institutions are broken. It’s that people are so stupid and savage [and even as a series] devoted to satire and absurdity, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ went too far, made too many people too stupid, too many people wicked, too many institutions worthless. […] When stories take us into such worlds, the stay is unpleasant. I think authors forget what a demoralizing effect the bleakness of their worlds has over their stories. Even genuine heroes can’t always counterbalance it. Curiously enough, the cynicism of the worthless-world stories doesn’t always seem intended. In these stories, the heroes are truly heroic and a sense of morality prevails. But it’s not enough to have heroes who save the world. We need a world worth saving, too.

Hence, as the world in this series isn’t worth saving, and even less so the characters (aside from Violet, Klaus, and Sunny), it’s hard to emotionally connect with any of the stories, especially as they progress. In the end, they present a collective, cyclical dismal tale that, ultimately, can never be redeemed.

Content:
Language – A few minor, PG-style profanities throughout the series (chiefly uttered by adults) but nothing pervasive.

Violence – Olaf and his henchmen often, but not perpetually, inflict psychological, emotional, and physical harm on one or more of the orphans. There is nothing graphic in terms of blood, gore, or outright torture, but the nature of Olaf’s abuse might upset sensitive readers, especially as some instances involve him putting Violet, Klaus, and/or Sunny in life-threatening situations, from threatening to drop one sibling from a great height to causing another character to suffer a near-fatal allergic reaction. Likewise, other characters, usually the nicer grownups, are not immune to his callous ways as such people are often killed off in an attempt for Olaf to keep the orphans in his clutches. Characters are also put in perilous situations though these are more suspenseful as opposed to violent.

Sexual Material – None, save for Olaf’s attempt at a sham marriage to Violet, which includes modest, nonsexual touching and leads to a comment by Olaf regarding the wedding night. While it will go over the heads of young readers, adults will be able to read between the lines and know exactly what he’s referring to. (Nothing happens between Olaf and Violet, of course, but it’s worth mentioning anyway.) One of the members of Olaf’s troupe is androgynous but nothing is made regarding the character’s actual sexual orientation. Similarly, Olaf disguises himself as a woman in one of the books, but the purpose is just to hide his true identity so he can’t be recognized, not to be transgender.

The Run-Down:

Overall, A Series of Unfortunate Events starts off with an interesting, albeit dismal, premise and features a trio of strong, smart, noble protagonists who are easy to cheer for. Furthermore, the illustrations are tastefully done and the hardcover editions of the books are eye-catching. But while the episodic plotting works in the earlier books, it waxes predictable later on. The final novel is easily the most disappointing of the lot as many of the series’ mysteries are still left unsolved. Thus, if you’re looking for some reads with which to pass the time, these books are decent speedy picks and will probably satisfy. But due to their depictions of abuse and focus on depressing circumstances, they’re not for everyone. Hence, I will impart an advisory: discretion and serious consideration need to be employed if deciding to give these books to a child (or to anyone) who is prone to depression or may have experienced or witnessed abuse or neglect as such tones and themes are employed and depicted in all thirteen novels. Thus, A Series of Unfortunate Events might not be everyone’s cup of reading tea.

Publications · Story & Characters

Writing News: “The Alien and the Fatherless” Update

I have more writing news to share this week!

I just finished a rough draft of my sci-fi new adult novel (another standalone) entitled The Alien and the Fatherless. Plotwise, this novel is about Esmeralda (Esme) Brennan, a red-headed gypsy and star of the interstellar racing circuit, and Sakatulla (Saka), a naval officer whose service is secretly for the benefit his people, who have been subjugated, as he is the son of their fallen leader. In time, Esme and Saka’s paths cross and they discover that perhaps it was more than mere fate that brought them together as Esme has been gifted with the ability to speak Saka’s obscure language, and Saka has had lifelong visions of a woman with fire for hair. This novel takes a break from my usual fantasy fare and, instead, places it in its own universe complete with diverse planets, interstellar travel, starships, and alien races.

I actually came up with an outline for this idea in general over a decade ago and composed a handwritten draft from beginning to end. Initially, it was about a Human woman (on Earth) 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 (Martians) 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 over the years (though the basic premise has remained the same). Last summer, I scrapped the old outlines and started anew, setting the story in its own universe and having the two lead characters come from their own unique cultures – Esme, a space gypsy, and Saka, who is from an aloof alien race.

I started on this brand new first draft in early June 2017 and finished in late March 2018. While I don’t keep to a rigid daily writing schedule, I did try to work on it five days a week, whether it was several pages or just a few paragraphs as sometimes I suffered from writer’s block. But now I finally finished a full-length manuscript, though it is far from being a finalized, fully polished story.

I’m intrigued with Esme and Saka’s journey, both as individuals and as a couple (because, yes, there is clean romance in this story!). So after I set this aside for a few months in order to look at it anew with fresh eyes, it will be fun to return to their world and polish their stories. They’re great characters and I have fun writing for both of them as they come from two very different backgrounds.

My next step is to read through The Alien and the Fatherless as is and make notes as I already know that there definitely 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!

Book Review · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Book Review – “Fate of Flames”


The Story:
[From GoodReads:]
Years ago, everything changed. Phantoms, massive beasts of nightmare, began terrorizing the world. At the same time four girls, the Effigies, appeared, each with the unique power to control a classical element. Since then, they have protected the world from the Phantoms. At the death of one Effigy, another is chosen, pulled from her normal life into the never-ending battle.When Maia unexpectedly becomes the next Fire Effigy, she resists her new calling. A quiet girl with few friends and almost no family, she was much happier to admire the Effigies from afar. Never did she imagine having to master her ability to control fire, to protect innocent citizens from the Phantoms, or to try bringing together the other three Effigies.But with the arrival of the mysterious Saul—a man who seems to be able to control the Phantoms using the same cosmic power previously only granted to four girls at a time—Maia and the other Effigies must learn to work together in a world where their celebrity is more important than their heroism.But the secrets Saul has, and the power he possesses, might be more than even they can handle.

My Take: Fate of Flames certainly has its share of action and fun characters, but it essentially strives to be an entertaining read and nothing else. That can be either a positive or a negative, depending on whether you like your novels to carry a little more proverbial meat on their bones or you just want something with which to pass the time. Either preference is fine, but, for me, I would have liked to have seen this novel break out of its YA trope shell. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.

In short, Fate of Flames plunges readers head-first into a modern world plagued by dark, massive beings called Phantoms (and, no, we’re never really told where they came from, much to the story’s detriment). Most major cities are outfitted with beacons to keep these creatures away, but unfortunately this system has failed one too many times and now the world is under constant threat.

Oh, if only there could be someone (or someones) who could save humanity?
But never fear! Underdog…uh…I mean, the Effigies are here!

(Sidebar: I wish this novel was about Underdog!)

And that’s the basis for the plot: four women, known as Effigies, with the ability to harness the four elements (air, earth, water, and fire) are relied upon to save the day. However, rather than live in secrecy, Effigies are global superstars who are loved, adored, and even idolized by legions of fans. The downside is that Effigies exist for only a short period of time before they expire. Likewise, when one Effigy dies, her abilities and memories are somehow passed on to another candidate (and, again, the novel never really explains how or why this happens). This is where Maia comes in: she’s a typical teenage girl who, lo and behold, learns that she is the next fire Effigy.

Please excuse my sarcasm because I don’t mean to cast ill-will upon this novel as it’s not bad enough to deserve a good roasting. However, while there were elements (no pun intended) that I liked, so much of it feels recycled from other stories, comics, graphic novels, movies, and TV shows. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes the comparisons were a little too obvious. Off the top of my head, there’s no question that Fate of Flames was inspired by old school Japanese monster films (a la Godzilla), Pacific Rim, X-Men, The Avengers, Captain Planet, The Wicked + the Divine, and even Sailor Moon along with the usual YA cliches, tropes, and stereotypes. Hence, it feels more like a mashup than an homage.

Speaking of stereotypes, this novel is so littered with them that the only thing memorable about the characters after a while are their one-sided traits: the unflappable ice queen, the smart-mouthed rebel chick, the bad boy with a mysterious past, the super-special snowflake, the drama queen, etc. While I believe it’s okay to use stereotyped characters, there has to be something flipped or altered about the stereotype so it feels like it’s being given a twist for the sake of subtle commentary or originality. Instead, Fate of Flames doesn’t flesh its characters out beyond their basic, core characteristics.

The four female leads have powers that harness each of the traditional four elements: Lake, the pop star, is the air Effigy; Chae Rin, the circus performer, is the earth Effigy; Belle, the fashion plate, is the water Effigy; and Maia, the quiet, low-key teenage girl, is the newly-christened fire Effigy. Granted, having characters utilize the four elements as powers is nothing new, but because it’s a fun concept, I kind of give it a pass. But these lead characters suffer from being stereotypes. For me, it would have been fun to see how each girl’s personality contributed to the element she controlled, such as making the fire Effigy hot-tempered; making the air Effigy a bit of an airhead; turning the earth Effigy into a grounded, rational person; or crafting the water Effigy to be a mercurial character. Probably none of these ideas are groundbreaking, but they still would have added a little more color to the four Effigy leads. Otherwise, they’re easy characters to read about, but they don’t exactly burst to life due to their stereotypical restraints.

This became my my biggest issue with this novel. As stated, sometimes tropes and cliches can be okay provided something unique to done to twist or subvert expectations, but Fate of Flames doesn’t even make an attempt to do this. Maia, especially, suffers from special snowflake syndrome and her development, especially as an Effigy, raised several questions with me. First, she has received no special training, something Effigies are required to do. Yet somehow she’s able to use her abilities and even summon her special Effigy weapon without ever having been shown. Why was this possible? What made her different? Sadly, the novel never tells us, so we’re left to accept Maia as simply another born-special-just-because-type of character.

Granted, I liked the fact that Effigies didn’t live in the shadows. They are front and center in their story’s world, so much so that they each have their own dedicated fan base. All of this kind of reminded me of the Black Widow novels by Margaret Stohl where non-superhero characters don t-shirts and host fan clubs for their favorite Avenger. It adds a level of realism that I like because if we had comic book superheroes exist in real life, I could easily envision people wanting to fangirl/fanboy over them.

However, in terms of writing and overall flow, the novel reads very much like the script to a superhero film, which isn’t necessarily bad provided you have enjoyed the 10+ years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I, for one, find the whole rash of superhero-itis to be….

Ehh, okay, I guess.

I’m not big into superhero comics, movies, TV shows or the like as, for me, they can turn very formulaic, so I’m not a fan of the whole superhero fad. I don’t think it’s a bad fad – it’s just not my cup of tea. Thus, while I was willing to go along with Fate of Flames‘ save-the-world plot, it was nothing truly unique. If I can compare sentiments, I felt the same way about this novel as I did about The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. I didn’t hate those movies but I didn’t grasp why they were such massive hits. I enjoyed the characters but, plot-wise, it was nothing I hadn’t seen a dozen times before and then some.

Such were my feelings towards Fate of Flames: the characters, despite being one-dimensional, were still fun to read about, but the principle plot and the action scenes could have easily been transplanted into any Marvel or DC film. Thus, I sense Fate of Flames will appeal strongly to a young audience who devours anything superhero-oriented. And for the rest of us who think it’s just okay or are borderline meh, I sense this novel won’t hold much appeal.

That being said, there were parts that I enjoyed purely as entertainment. The action scenes are fun and well-written and, to the author’s credit, avoid becoming gory. However, my favorite moments were when Maia meets her fellow Effigies, most of whom aren’t exactly eager to accept her into their circle. There is some drama and history here that I won’t go into because they count as spoilers, but it definitely felt realistic. I’m glad Maia didn’t fit in right from the start because that would have felt too dismissive. But I confess I had a hard time mentally picturing these ladies because I’m not sure how old they were supposed to be. Maia is a teenager, but as far as the rest of the Effigies are concerned, I wasn’t sure if they were teens, too, or young adults (early 20s). I might have missed some details here, but I can feel a sense of disconnect when I’m not able to mentally pin down the age of the main characters, especially as the Effigies (and, honestly, all of the main characters) seem to talk to and relate to each other in juvenile ways sometimes. Likewise, most of the plot twists I could spot a mile away, especially the set up of the chief villain. And, of course, we have a love triangle (of sorts) that is even easier to spot.

If there was anything of substance that could be mined here, it would be that the novel makes some subtle commentary about how the public tends to project a certain image unto persons it considers to be celebrities. Some of the Effigies lap up the limelight while others have learned to merely cope with it. Maia is thrust headfirst into this world and, as expected, doesn’t know how to handle the attention or criticism, especially on social media forums. To her credit, she’s been an Effigy fangirl, so she knows the other side of the proverbial coin, but that still doesn’t prepare her for becoming an instant celebrity. In her mind, she would love to be just like these ladies, but when she finally gets the chance, she starts to see that the life of an Effigy isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Hence, there’s a lesson here, not only about being careful with what you wish for, but also about the dark side of fame.

As a whole, Fate of Flames was okay. It’s entertaining in spots but its plot waxes familiar with even more familiar character types. While it makes for a quick read, it doesn’t offer much in the realm of surprising plot developments or multi-faceted characters and relies too heavily upon the typical crutches of YA cliches.

Content:
Language – There is some language, ranging from PG to PG-13, with a few sporadic f-words though language isn’t pervasive.

Violence – There are scenes of peril and action very much akin a typical Marvel or DC superhero movie; therefore, while there isn’t much (if any) blood or gore, there are intense fights with dangerous creatures known as Phantoms along with showdowns with the antagonist that sometimes put innocent people in harm’s way.

Sexual Content – None, to the best of my memory, though some characters do make sporadic innuendos, and there is obvious chesmitry among some of the characters.

The Run-Down:

Overall, Fate of Flames seems tailor-made for a teen girl audience who loves all things superhero and the cliches that go along with that, from special powers, to big bads, to knock down/drag out fights with said big bads. While this novel offers a good deal of action, it provides little else in terms of a unique story, unique characters, or even unique takes on common YA tropes. In short, this is a fun read – nothing more, nothing else – and probably won’t wow readers who have an expansive bookshelf. It’s relatively harmless entertainment but still leaves a lot to be desired.

Publications · Story & Characters

Writing News: “Kingdom of Ravens” Editing Update

Hello, everyone! Today, I have some writing news to share!

Back in October 2017, I happily reported that I had finished the first rough draft of my new adult novel Kingdom of Ravens. I sat the manuscript aside throughout November and December, but at the start of 2018, picked it back up to begin the editing process. I read through the draft as is, not making any changes to characters or plot (but fixing typos if I saw any). I made extensive notes, including a detailed summary of each chapter; breakdown of each scene; and lengthy comments and notes on any technicalities, continuity errors, and suggested changes.

As of today, I have finished reviewing the draft and now have 113 pages of notes! 🙂

In short, I love this story and its two leads, Sebastian and Rosalyn, especially as each of them deals with his and her own personal demons (but will they be confronted by the story’s end?!?). At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to split this book into two, thus making it a duology. But after reading it all the way through, I think it’s better if it remains a standalone (with the possibility of future stories involving these characters and/or their world because it’s a fun place and culture to explore).

Plotwise, Kingdom of Ravens is about Sebastian Murdoch, a low-level thug and nephew of an organized crime boss, who meets and falls in love with Rosalyn Everard, princess of a neighboring kingdom. While it’s set in present day, it does have some vestiges of fantasy (chiefly shapeshifting magic) and science fiction. I’m also thinking about giving the urban setting a quasi-1920s feel, but I’ll see how that shapes up when I dive into making actual edits to the text.

As expected, there is a lot of work to be done before I even consider publishing this or send it off to be considered for publication. But I will be setting my notes and the manuscript aside for a month or two so I can return to it later with fresh eyes. I have a lot of work ahead of me as far as rewrites go, but I look forward to polishing Sebastian and Rosalyn’s story.

So stay tuned for more Kingdom of Ravens updates!

book tags

20 Questions Book Tag

I saw this fun book tag on Modern Witch’s Bookshelf and decided to give it a go – enjoy!


1. How many books is too many books in a series?
I think that however many books it takes to tell a complete arc for the main characters is the “right” amount. While I’m not sure there is a “proper” limit to how many books are necessary to accomplish this, I do feel it’s best to take the less complicated route. For this reason, I tend to favor trilogies because I think three books provide the perfect amount of space to set up and resolve a complete character arc. In contrast, I shy away from series that push past ten books or so as I’ve found that over-drawn series wear out their welcome with me. For instance, while I felt that seven books in the Harry Potter series was more than enough to close out its overall story, the thirteen books in the Series of Unfortunate Events became too cyclical for me to enjoy.


2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?
I can like, love, or hate them, depending on how invested I am in the story and how tight the story arc is in the book in question. For instance, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, the fourth and next-to-last novel in the Fablehaven series, ends with a cliffhanger I actually liked because that book’s story arc had a clear beginning-middle-end structure, thus it was completed by the time it reached the cliffhanger. So in that case, I didn’t mind the ending. But when a novel pulls a cliffhanger ending without wrapping up its own story (so it’s just a cheap way to rope in readers to buy the next book), I don’t care for that as much because it’s less about suspense for the story’s sake and more about a cheap marketing ploy.


3. Hardcover or paperback?
I can go either way. Hardcovers usually have the best cover art and I like being able to use the inside flaps as page markers. Not to mention they are sturdier and less apt to suffer from broken spines than their paperback counterparts. However, hardcovers do take up more space on the bookshelf and tend to be pricey, so in some cases I might favor a paperback edition. Though I have been known to make exceptions if I think the cover art for a hardcover copy is too lovely or awesome to pass up, regardless of the price tag (within reason, of course).


4. Favorite book?
This is a tie between The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I love them both too much to try to choose between them!


5. Least favorite book?
Most books that don’t interest me I usually DNF and leave it at that. But if I had to name a book I didn’t like and that I did end up finishing (or at least skimmed my way to the end), it would be Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which I’ve reviewed here on my blog. In short, I thought the main characters were idiots; the overall tone was cold, humorless, and heartless; and the content was trashy. As far as how this book made me feel by the time I reached the end, I think my .gif here sums it up perfectly.


6. Love triangles, yes or no?
Like with cliffhangers, I can like, love, or hate love triangles. Personally, I do think this trope has been overused, especially in the YA market, and I sense writers employ it simply because it’s an easy way to generate dramatic tension. That being said, I don’t automatically hate love triangles because in some cases I think they can work. In order for a love triangle to work for me, there needs to be two elements: (1). a strong background story that moves the plot and adds tension other than the romance and (2). the love triangle is comprised of characters who are compelling in their own right and avoid becoming tropes (e.g. the girl-next-door, the bad boy, etc.). Likewise, I like to see a triangle where the apex character has a tough choice between the two love interests so it’s tough to tell who he or she might ultimately choose. This is why the love triangle works for me in The Hunger Games trilogy because there’s more to the books than the Katniss-Peeta-Gale triangle, each of these characters are unique individuals with their own personal histories and quirks, and Katniss could have easily picked either gent in the end for different reasons. So love triangles like that are fine. But love triangles like what the Twilight novels possess are a pass from me because the stories ride on little else and none of the triangle’s components are of much interest.


7. The most recent book you just couldn’t finish.
Northanger Abby by Jane Austen. I have tried to get into Jane Austen’s works but I just can’t do it. For some reason, her stories don’t hold my interest, so maybe deep down I’m just not a big Regency fiction fan. I’ve read all of her major works, including this one, and not one has appealed to me. Alas, I think I can safely say that Austen’s books just aren’t my cup of tea – but believe me, it’s not for a lack of trying to like them.


8. A book you’re currently reading.
I’ve just started The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This is a book club selection for April and I hope it’s a good read.


10. Oldest book you’ve read?
The Aneid by Virgil – and in Latin! (That wasn’t by choice, actually!) This was required reading for the last Latin course I took in college. We didn’t get to read the whole book but we went through portions of it and had to not only translate sections for class but also read it in Latin on our own without assistance from a translation and memorize and recite the opening lines as part of our course final. I sense if I would have read it in English, I might have enjoyed it a little more; otherwise, it was a struggle to get through, especially as I wasn’t very good at Latin to begin with.


11. Newest book you’ve read?
For now, that would be Marvel’s adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s novel Thrawn penned by Jody Houser. Even though I’ve read the novel, I was thrilled to see a graphic novel version and it’s just as good. Granted, it pares the novel down to its most crucial scenes and omits the portions from Thrawn’s journal, which are helpful in adding even more color to his character (no pun intended ’cause he’s a Chiss so he’s naturally blue!), but it’s still a good fast-paced read. For now, I’m downloading the individual volumes on my Kindle, but I hope they eventually get published as a single edition. I’d definitely buy it!


12. Favorite author?
That would be J.R.R. Tolkien, hands down and no question.


13. Buying books or borrowing books?
I always buy books (unless I receive them as gifts).


14. A book you dislike that everyone seems to like?
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. In short, I hated this book because I don’t like stories that don’t present good moral takeaways. Hannah was a terrible person, there are no redeemable adult characters, and any parental figures present are either faceless or essentially non-existent. Worst of all, Hannah’s caustic attitude is devoid of any sense of forgiveness, personal responsibility, indication she learned anything from her mistakes, or good ol’ common sense. While I can see how this novel might serve as a conversation starter for teens, I couldn’t immerse myself in it and didn’t find much (if any) good to take away from it.


15. Bookmarks or dogears?
For the most part, I use bookmarks except if it’s a hardcover, then I’ll use the front or back flap. But if I find a particularly moving passage or scene, I’ll keep it indefinitely dogeared and might even underline it. My copy of The Lord of the Rings is marked in multiple places with many passages underlined because I love them so much. 🙂


16. A book you can always reread?
I have several books, most of which I try to read once a year: The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, the Fablehaven series, the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, The Guardians of Childhood series by William Joyce, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton lee Stewart, Repo Men by Eric Garcia, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.


17. Can you read while hearing music?
Absolutely! In fact, some series I read have their own playlists (yes, I’m serious). Books with playlists include the Harry Potter series, the Fablehaven series, the Lunar Chronicles series, and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Some of the songs in these playlists, lyrically-speaking, seem to fit certain scenes, themes, or characters while others are just tunes I like to listen to while reading. I have found that music can help set a story’s mood and I often employ playlists for the books I write, too.


18. One POV or multiple POVs?
I enjoy both though it depends on how they’re used, why they’re used, and if I can keep track of them all (for multiple POVs). A single POV is easy to keep track of but sometimes can be limiting, and multiple POVs provide several angles to a story but sometimes can be tough to keep track of. Thus, I don’t really have a preference because both can serve their given story well provided they’re used to give readers the best window into the characters and their world.


19. Do you read a book in one sitting or multiple days?
If I’m engrossed in a book, if it isn’t very long, or if I just want to finish it, then I may read a book in a single day or in one sitting. But usually I read one or two books over the course of a few days. During the summer, I have more hours of daylight to read, so that’s when I devour the most books.


20. One book you read because of the cover.
Sometimes a book is as good as its cover and sometimes it’s not. One book I enjoyed that I picked up due in part to its cover was Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi. The colorful, vibrant cover is a perfect match for the delightful story inside! But a cover-based buy that I didn’t like was Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. It was over-long, dark, and nothing I haven’t seen Clare pull off before. If I could have kept the cover and tossed the book, I would have!

Commentary

“Stranger In a Strange Land” – 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:

Being an older Christian single can make one feel like a stranger in a strange land. I wish I could say I can’t relate but, unfortunately, I can.

Comfort can be hard to come by for 30-something single ladies like me—who desire marriage while that dream seems to indefinitely remain out of reach. Yet when despondency gets a bit much to bear, I often turn to Scripture for encouragement from some of the women for whom God did the impossible. Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth all had an impossible dream to become mothers, and Ruth was a foreign widow in a foreign land with no prospects. While each of these women were strangers navigating the strange lands of childlessness and singlehood, respectively, their stories possess a similar thread—God does the impossible when all seems barren and lost.

To read the rest of the article, go to https://www.rivuletcollective.com/rivulet/stranger-in-a-strange-land

Misc. Reviews

Perfume Review Jacinthe Et Rose by E. Coudray

[Note: This review is being cross-posted from Fragrantica – enjoy!]


Design: 5/5 stars – The bottle is made of glass with a frosted glass plant design at the top. Overall, while the design is simple, it’s very elegant and refined, which perfectly complements the fragrance inside.

Longevity: 3/5 stars – On me, this lasted around three hours before fading.

Silage: 2/5 stars – On me, this fragrance’s projection was light as it’s not intended to be a strong perfume.

Review:
I absolutely love hyacinth and rose-dominant perfumes, and I wish they would make a come back as opposed to the rash of gourmand scents (of which I’ve never been a fan) the market has seen over the past ten years or so. There is just something that strikes me as very old fashioned, classy, and elegant about hyacinth and rose notes though they can both turn screechy if not tempered by other florals. Luckily, Jacinthe Et Rose by E. Coudray is a perfect blend of blatant hyacinth and gentle rose, and I really wish it was an easier fragrance to find (alas, it’s not!). Though there are other notes that make up this perfume (such as peach, bitter orange, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and vodka [and I have no idea what that smells like]), the standout notes are the titular hyacinth and rose. And, really, that’s all that’s needed.

Jacinthe Et Rose is one fragrance that doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis or disjointed marketing, from its appropriate, refined, no-frills-necessary packaging to the scent contained within. This is a fragrance that stands on its own two feet (figuratively-speaking) and is a rare treasure to be enjoyed. If I had any negatives to say, it would be about the longevity. When first applied, both the hyacinth and the rose come through loud and clear yet it’s a harmonious pairing where neither one screams for attention. Over time, the hyacinth slightly steps aside to make way for the rose to appear. Sadly, on me, the hyacinth note fades too quickly for my liking (within an hour or so after application) and the rose note becomes so quiet, it’s almost non-existent after about three hours. Hence, this isn’t a long-wearing scent and the silage fades just as quickly though it’s never a silage bomb, not even after initial application.

Overall, Jacinthe Et Rose is a beautiful scent that, sadly, makes a short-lived impact. Despite that, I would still encourage hyacinth lovers to give it a try. While it’s not the longest-lasting hyacinth or rose-based fragrance, it is a concoction of timeless elegance that deserves to not be forgotten.

Recommended For:
Lovers of hyacinth-dominant perfumes (as well as rose-anchored scents) but more so for age 30+ perfume aficionados as the note combination seems a little too mature for anyone younger, save for 20-something ladies who possess a refined perfume palette.