Review: Endless Night

When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems that all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores an old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal “accidents” happen.

I have decided to take a break from the fantasy world and delve straight into mystery. Agatha Christie, to be specific. She has been my favorite mystery author for a long time now, and one of the few I have read (aside from Robert Ludlum). I look for her books any time I go into a used bookstore and so, had a stack of six that I haven’t read yet.

So I grabbed the first book off of the stack and started reading.

One of the things that first struck me about Endless Night was that it is not one of her typical mysteries. Agatha Christie has three main detective series: Hercules Poirot, Mrs. Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. I have read more Poirot than the others, but I do enjoy them.

This book falls into neither of these categories. It is told from the perspective of Michael Rogers (Mike), a young man who has bounced from job to job, never really settling down into anything. He gives off this feeling of someone who is looking for something but has no idea what. All he knows is he wants more.

When he first sees Ellie at the sale of Gypsy’s Acre, it is love at first sight. We follow them through their whirlwind romance and their clandestine marriage as Ellie tries to keep her family as out of her affairs as possible, with the help of her best friend and confidante, Greta.

I found the story of their marriage to be rather quaint, even with his lack of understanding when it comes to finances. He has only ever had enough money to get by, naturally. And she is a rich heiress who is well acquainted with the finer things in life. I could understand some of his hesitancy when it comes to immersing himself in that world. It can be a strange and intimidating one for sure.

There is also the strange gypsy woman who pops up every now and then warning Mike and Ellie about the dangers of living on that particular plot of land. She hints to a curse, something about a burial ground, but nothing concrete. It is very unsettling, but not quite threatening.

It took longer than I expected to get to the death, but then I am more used to her detective novels. It definitely snuck up on me though. There was no build-up. It just happened and we were left to deal with the aftermath. That is when things really start getting interesting. But I won’t spoil the ending.

I found this story delightfully different with a very unexpected twist at the end that was executed masterfully.

Next, I am diving into a Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile. One down, five to go.

To Be Titled Excerpt

This is an excerpt from the second draft of a story I am currently working on. I finished the first draft year before last for NaNoWriMo. I’m still working on a title.

This is where the story begins.

“This changes everything!”

“This changes nothing. I am sorry Monica, but we cannot devote resources we don’t have to a lead that we aren’t sure it will pan out. I appreciate your dedication and we understand your desire to make things better. We just don’t see the point. The magi are gone. It is time that we move on and make the best of the life we have now.”

I was trembling, shaking less from nervousness and more from frustration and exhaustion. “This proves that the corruption can be reversed. Someone was able to trace the corruption to where it began years ago. If it can be traced, if the source can be found, then we can find a way to reverse what was done and bring the magi back. We can save everyone.”

“We understand that you are still upset over the loss of your husband, but you must understand. We feel your pain. We have all lost someone…”

“Don’t you dare try that line with me,” I snapped. “I lost everything, you hear me? Everything. And now I am telling you that we can get it all back and you would rather sit here and let those we have lost rot outside these walls.”

“You will remember your place and to whom you are speaking. It is by our generosity that you were permitted to remain within the city. There are those who would have seen you cast out in fear of your magic returning and bringing with it the corruption. You also provide us a valuable service when it comes to your knowledge, but even that value can run out.”

My breaths were growing harsher with each word, fists clenched tight enough to have shattered my pen had I not already thrown it in a vain attempt to stop them from shaking. I could feel their eyes on me. Assessing me. Scrutinizing me. Waiting for any sign, for any excuse to cast me out.

“Now, Monica, we all know you have suffered worst than most of us,” someone else said in what was likely meant to be a soothing tone. “I cannot begin to fathom what you have been through since the evacuation. The amount of work you have done since regaining consciousness is surely commendable. Some of it has even proven invaluable to helping us settle down here. Maybe it is time you took a break and spent some time focusing on yourself. Take some time to heal, to really think about your life and how you want to spend it.”

Even with my outrage, I noticed the attempted olive branch shadowed by his threat. They wanted me to stop questioning, to stop fighting. They wanted me to fade silently into the background so they could continue to rule as they saw fit.

“I apologize, council members, for my outburst,” I said, bowing. “You are right. I have not been well. I will not burden you with my grief any longer.”

Review: The Glass Spare

Wilhelmina Heidle, the fourth child and only daughter of the king of the world’s wealthiest nation, has grown up in the shadows. Kept hidden from the world in order to serve as a spy for her father—whose obsession with building his empire is causing a war—Wil wants nothing more than to explore the world beyond her kingdom, if only her father would give her the chance.

Until one night Wil is attacked, and she discovers a dangerous secret. Her touch turns people into gemstone. At first, Wil is horrified—but as she tests its limits, she’s drawn more and more to the strange and volatile ability. When it leads to tragedy, though, Wil is forced to face the destructive power within her and finally leave her home to seek the truth and a cure.

But finding the key to her redemption puts her in the path of a cursed prince who has his own ideas for what to do with Wil’s power.

With a world on the brink of war and a power of ultimate destruction, can Wil find a way to help the kingdom that’s turned its back on her, or will she betray her past and her family forever?

Fun fact: when I found this book, it was in the business section. Obviously, it was in the wrong section but it definitely caught my attention. So I read the back.

Me reading the back of a book is actually a pretty dangerous thing. It leads to me buying said book and adding yet another to my shelf. I just can’t help it sometimes. A girl who was basically raised to act as a spy who can suddenly turn people to gemstones through touch? I had to have it.

The king, Wil’s father, is a tyrant dead set on maintaining the old ways while the world around them embraces technology. He is also rather paranoid and power-hungry, determined to take over the world through war. He pressures the youngest and smartest of his sons to create weapons of unfathomable destruction. The oldest son is in training to be king. And the middle child is angry and jealous. 

When it comes to his daughter, she is nothing but a tool for him. A way for him to accomplish things that he doesn’t want people to know he is doing. We mostly see her going on missions to find specialized ingredients to help her youngest brother with his experiments, but there are hints of countless other missions. 

The relationship between Wil and Gertie (the youngest son) was something I very much enjoyed reading. It was so pure and so strong that it made me want to have a brother like that. Well, I have a guy friend who is like a brother, but my point still stands. I have always enjoyed stories that play with various family relationships, whether it is biological or adopted. This story plays around with these dynamics in a way that I very much enjoy.

I also really enjoyed the magic system. The world has an air of mysticism to it that I found to be a refreshing step away from the magic laden worlds I am used to. Those born with magic are few and they mostly deal in curses or blessings. Well, I assume there are blessings. We haven’t seen much of that yet as far as I can tell, but the two do tend to go hand in hand. Either way, these curses can only be given by incredibly powerful beings and cannot be broken unless by the one who gave it. 

Two of the characters we meet are cursed. We know where one came from, but not the other. This just adds to the feeling that there is more going on in this world that we have seen so far. There are mysteries yet to be solved, worlds left to be explored, and a war looming on the horizon. So many things that could go horribly wrong. 

The Glass Spare ends with the promise of more to come in The Cursed Sea. This is a fantasy duet that is worth reading. 

Review: American Royals

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.

Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.

This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

It was the title that grabbed my attention. American Royals. A look at what the world would look like had George Washington said yes to the crown. I couldn’t help it. I had to know where Katherine McGee was going with this. She has had a few other titles that caught my attention but this was the one I could not ignore.

Normally I get books out of the science fiction and fantasy section, but this is straight YA. And I loved every second of it.

It took longer than I expected to get my brain to accept the words ‘America’ and ‘monarchy’ being in the same sentence (probably because I never in my life expected to read them in the same sentence). Thankfully, it got a little less weird in time.

If you want to see what America would look like today if it had a monarchy, this book is pretty spot on. It doesn’t go as political as I expected it too, though there are some mentions of how most of the world’s countries have their own monarchy and nobility. I giggled a little when one of the characters had a snarky thought about how chaotic having a democracy would be, with all of the people fighting to have their party’s beliefs upheld. 

Most of the politics in the story involve the family maintaining their public appearances and keeping the goodwill of the people. They are essentially all celebrities, but celebrities who were born and raised in the lifestyle. They work hard to make sure they are living in such a way that they will not lose the trust of their people. It is actually really interesting to watch.

That isn’t to say there isn’t drama, though. Because there is quite a bit of drama going on behind the scenes. One person is fighting to earn their place among the royals. One is struggling to find their place in a world where they feel like they are the spare, the backup plan. One is suffocating under the weight of the burden placed upon them by their birth (thanks to a law changed years before then). And yet another is trying to figure who they are and how to stand for themself. 

It’s the characters that really won me over, with their intertwining plot lines and complicated history. Normally I am not that into celebrity drama, but the way this was all portrayed was so captivating. It felt so totally and completely human while also appealing to the part of me that secretly enjoys that kind of emotional/political drama. I had to keep reading to see who was going to win the day and in the end, I was left absolutely floored.

This was an impulse purchase that left me with no regrets (aside from the fact I now have to wait for the sequel to see what happens next). It would make a great vacation read, or if you are looking for something a little different to spice things up. I honestly cannot wait to see what happens next. Katharine McGee did a fantastic job of setting up different plot threads tied to different characters who are all complex in their own right. It leaves you not sure who to root for, while also hoping that everyone gets their own different happy ending. Then the story ends with a jaw-dropper that throws all of those endings into jeopardy.

Needless to say, I am counting down days until we get a sequel.

A Star Wars Theory

With the new movie out, everyone is talking about Star Wars. I myself have seen the newest movie twice. Between this and watching the entirety of The Mandalorian in a single sitting, I have been on a bit of a Star Wars kick.

As is tradition in our household (and others), Mom and I watched our way through the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. Because between the both of us, we needed a refresh. It proved to be quite the nostalgia trip. 

It got me thinking too.

No matter how many times I watched the prequel trilogy, I never understood how Padme fell in love with Anakin. In the firsts movie, she is portrayed as more of a mother figure to him, or at least an older sister. She is strong and very independent, remaining level headed as her life is in danger. There is no hint of any sort of romance there, but you can tell she does care about him. 

Fast forward to the second movie. Anakin has grown exponentially in power and he is absolutely obsessed with Padme. Unhealthily obsessed. The older I get the more it makes my skin crawl, the way he looks at her. It’s almost predatory. As a woman, it would absolutely make me run the other way. 

She even makes it clear she does not return his affections in the beginning. But then she spends more time with him, and the more time they spend alone together, the more she softens. The more she begins to return his affections. He drops some RIDICULOUSLY creepy lines that would send anyone running for the hills, but she doesn’t. It makes no sense.

It’s like the longer he has her to himself, the more she falls under his spell. Literally.

It got me thinking. We have already seen in the newer movies and the Clone Wars and Rebels tv shows, the Force is capable of more than moving things and mind tricks. It can forge bonds between living things. At that time, Anakin had more raw power when it comes to the Force than anyone else in the order. This means there is a good chance he was capable of doing things he didn’t even realize he could do. 

What if he was able to influence other people’s feelings without realizing it? What if his intense obsession with her played on her friendly care for him and, over time, turned it into something else? 

The first time they kiss, you see her kissing him back for a second, but as he starts to lose himself she pulls back. It’s like he lost focus for a second and he is disappointed as she leaves. A few days later, she professes her undying love for him. To hell with the long list of reasons she gave him earlier about why it wouldn’t work. 

This could be off base and I am not arguing that this is what the writers and producers planned. This is something I came up with based on what I know about the franchise to explain something that never seemed right to me. It’s more of a headcanon than anything. And I felt like sharing it. 

Next week we will be back to book blogging. Until then, go live your story. 

Looking Back and Looking Forward

I am going to do us all a favor and see how long I can go without making a vision pun. Because it is 2020 and the puns have been going strong since July.

I do, however, have a lot of things I have been thinking about recently.

It’s difficult not to get introspective whenever a thing ends. Especially when it is a year. A decade.

I can’t even begin to process how much my life has changed in the past ten years. I moved halfway across the country, for one. A lot of good came out of that, but I was also halfway through highschool. Not something I recommend. I lost a lot of friends in that move. I made some new ones too.

I graduated from college two years ago. I built a company’s social media presence from the ground up while managing all of their projects and planning their events. I was the managing editor for a publication for a short period of time. That’s not even counting the various internships I had in college.

I also started producing two podcasts and the beginnings of a potential production company, Pseudonym Social. This is something I never thought I would do. But I have done it, and one of them is doing pretty well. I am mostly self-taught when it comes to audio editing, and I have to say I have gotten pretty good at it. That said, I still have a lot to learn.

That is one of my goals for the new year. I want to learn more about audio editing and sound design. I also plan on producing an audio drama this year. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, but I am going to start with something simple. Something that will be easy to do mostly on my own, that can either be short-run or continue on indefinitely. 

I have other plans as well, but they are a little less certain. Like many other people my age, I am still working on finding my way. I’ve got a metaphorical list of contingencies when it comes to which path my career could take. Some plans are more detailed, some are still in the early stages. 

Every day is a new day, a new beginning. A new chance to start something new and take another step towards the life you want. There is no one right way to do things. Which I personally find to be a huge relief. 

It’s like that saying goes. Where there is a will, there is a way. I have always been one of those people who will find their own way to make what they want a reality. So I keep going. I keep making new plans and new contingencies and new connections. 

The only way to go is forward. I have 362 more days to keep building something I am proud of and keep moving towards the life I want. Because this is my life and I will find a way to get it to where I want it.

What about you? What are your dreams for the year?

Review: Dorothy Must Die

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a road of yellow brick—but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission:

Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart. 

Steal the Scarecrow’s brain. 

Take the Lion’s courage.

 And—Dorothy must die.

Moment of truth: I have been working on a Wizard of Oz retelling for a few months now. It will likely end up being a five-book crime series, so lots of room for references. I promise to share more details later, but that is not what this blog post is about. 

This book is about another Wizard of Oz retelling. Or, more accurately, a tale of what happened when Dorothy came back to stay. It follows Amy Gumm, a girl from a broken home with an addict for a mother. Her life is definitely not pretty and she would do almost anything to escape. 

Then a tornado comes through and takes her to a very different Oz than the ones in the stories. The land is dying, the people are trapped under the thumb of a dictator, and the Wicked have banded together to return balance to Oz.

I did not expect this book to revolve so much around addiction and neglect, but I can appreciate the way it was handled. My parents divorced when I was little, and my dad was very much an addict when I was going over to his house every other weekend. I experience some of that loneliness that Amy was dealing with on a regular basis. Thankfully, I had my mom and my grandmother. She has no one. 

The world-building is rather bleak, which makes sense in context. Oz, an inherently magical place, is being drained of its magic and so is being drained of life. There are a few places left that retain their magic, mostly because they are harder to access, and that is where the Wicked hide. 

The real beauty of this story is found in the characters. The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked is led by some dynamic, powerful women, all with their own stories. They all have secrets to hide and are not afraid to resort to turning victims into weapons when necessary. War is a messy thing, especially when it is between Wicked and Good.

Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion have all changed drastically as well. Their descriptions feel so artificial that it is uncanny. These are not the same people as you met in the original story. They have grown drastically, not only in their power but in their corruption.

This story blurs the lines between good and evil in a way that I really enjoyed. Things aren’t as straightforward as you might think. The stakes are high. Actions have consequences. Both sides are not afraid to do things that would normally be considered unthinkable. 

There is also a lot more going on behind the scenes than anyone person realizes. Even the most powerful beings do not have the full picture. They only have guesses, assumptions as to what the underlying causes might be. It leaves for a lot of questions, especially as Amy takes up a new quest in the last few pages. It is the same quest mentioned on the back cover.

To remove the tin woodman’s heart, steal the scarecrow’s brain, and take the lion’s courage.

Then, and only then, she can kill Dorothy and save Oz. 

Or so they think.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in ArnesRed Londonand officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I’ve been following V.E. Schwab on Twitter for some time now. Her life revolves around writing and being an author, and I enjoy the peeks she gives us into that world. I also, if you haven’t guessed by now, really enjoy fantasy. 

Picking this book up, I was first intrigued by the idea of multiple Londons. I have seen multiple worlds done before (this isn’t quite a multiverse) but something about this particular iteration caught my attention. There is a finite number of worlds, each with its own level of magic. 

One world has none. One world is teaming with it. One world is tearing itself apart to find more of it. And a fourth that fell to a fate that no one wants to talk about, but you know it had to do with magic. 

I also don’t think I have ever had a book start off talking about the main character’s interesting jacket. Yet the whole thing is the perfect introduction for the main character, Kell. You quickly realize how and why he is different as he takes the reader on a literal journey through the three Londons. A great example of showing versus telling. It also does a great job of establishing the main cast of characters.

I found everything about these worlds intriguing and enthralling. When we finally got the story of the fall of Black London, I was in awe. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to read that story as well. A lot of time in fantasy worlds, authors don’t take the time to explain how their magic system works. This means in a lot of fantasy worlds, the magic system doesn’t really make sense. I am looking at you, J.K. Rowling.

Before you start yelling at me I would like to state, for the record, that I basically grew up on Harry Potter. I will always love the series. That said, my point is still valid. 

I will save my magic system rant for another day. Because it is going to be a doozy. 

I really like this one though. It feels natural and makes sense in all of the worlds. It is what is called ‘soft magic’, where magic has an organic feel to it. There are some spells and some rules to the magic, but most of it flows naturally. 

Everything about these worlds and these characters has me hungry for more. I want to see more of Lila and Kell, to learn more about their mysterious past and see their friendship grow. They are so engaging and dynamic. They are complex. They evolve. 

I had a coworker refer to this series as a poor man’s Mistborn. Honestly, I don’t see it. This story is great in its own right. I mean, there is a reason that V.E. Schwab is a best selling author. She knows how to weave a fantastic tale in a world unlike any I have encountered before. 

I am curious to see what happens in the future between the three Londons. I want to see more of Kell and Delilah as they find themselves and their place in this wonderfully strange world. I’m also curious to learn more about Black London. I feel like there is much more to the story than meets the eye. 

I guess we will have to wait and see in A Gathering of Shadows.

Review: Dune

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. 

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

People have been telling me for years now that I need to read Dune. I think it started in response to me sharing one of my story ideas, but I honestly don’t remember which one. I ended up buying it during employee appreciation week (yay extra discount). 

I knew next to nothing about this story when I started reading it, other than a lot of people thought I would like it. I was definitely not expecting the sheer amount of made-up words. Not going to lie, I got so lost in the first two pages that I almost gave up. Half of the words looked like keyboard smashes. 

I kept going though. I decided I would give it until the end of the chapter, and if I still wasn’t following, then I would switch to another book.

Three pages later, I was totally hooked. There were still some things I did not quite get as first, and some that I am a little fuzzy on even now. But the world drew me in and the characters won me over.

The story revolves around the Atreides family. Duke Leto, his concubine Jessica, and their son Paul are preparing, in the beginning, to move from their paradise of a planet to the dangerous desert wasteland of Arrakis. There was far more political intrigue and machinations going on in the background than I expected. That is part of what had me so intrigued by the story. I simply could not put it down.

Considering how thick the book is, I tore through it pretty fast. It probably helped that I had to take my grandmother to the doctor’s office for a minor procedure, so I had 4 hours to sit around and read. Made some good progress too. 

The world-building of Arrakis is far deeper and much more intricate than I have seen in most other sci-fi novels. A prime example is how Herbert portrays the importance of water in this world. The people have designed these specialized suits to help with the preservation of water. The wealthy plant and maintain palm trees on their property to show off how much water they have. The natives view it with a reverence that seems befitting of a desert world.

And that is just on the surface. The further I read the deeper and more complex the world became, both on Arrakis and throughout the universe. There are pieces moving both in the empire and on the planet itself. 

There is also a taste of something that exists in a grey area between science and magic. I could not quite wrap my head around all of the details but I was able to understand the gist of it. It was fascinating, though, to see both the reactions of the characters who did understand what was going on versus those who did not. On my next read through I will definitely be paying more attention to the finer details of how these abilities work. 

If you want a good example of blurring the line between magic and science on a basic, human level, I highly recommend reading Dune. It does a fabulous job of this, as well as world-building. It also provides an interesting look at ecological and environmental issues. I am still fascinated by how the society of those native to Arrakis has evolved to help them not only survive, but thrive in what looks like a desert wasteland. It was very well thought out. 

Basically…

The end of the story had me hungry for more. The world is so rich and the characters have so much going on internally, that I just know there is so much more to come. More machinations. More intrigue. More of that grey area between magic and science to delve into and play around in. 

I know there are five books total in the series written by Frank Herbert, as well as a few more written by his brother Brian. I assume these were created in some sort of ghostwriting fashion. I will do more research on this when I get to them. For now, it is on to a new book. 

If you are looking for a thoughtful, immersive science fiction experience, this is the book for you.