Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Lover's Blog Hop: "Which author would you most want to interview and why?"

Leslie Conzatti (Me!)

I would definitely for sure want to interview either Mark Lawrence or Cornelia Funke. Mark Lawrence because he used to work on like National Security-level stuff (the kind of job, as his bio quotes, where you could actually say, “This isn’t rocket science! Oh wait, yes it is.”) in the scientific field, working with artificial intelligence stuff, but then he quit his job to help his wife care for their daughter who was severely disabled--and he took up writing fantasy--but like, the BEST kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy you will EVER READ. So yeah, definitely want to ask about that!
Cornelia Funke, I would love to talk to because her fantasy work is just so phenomenally above and beyond any kind of fairy-tale fantasy I have ever read, so I want to know what her inspirations were, and how she came up with so many different ways to twist old folk tales into something entirely new and enchanting!

Tabitha Caplinger

Ever since I found out that Keirsten White had been tapped to write the new Buffy spin off I have wanted to meet her, talk to her, ask her all the questions and become best friends with her. Because...Buffy. I know that isn’t very profound but I’m a total fangirl on this one and can’t help it. 

Brandy Potter

For me the clear choice would be Neil Gaiman. The man has such tremendous insight, but also the greatest imagination that I have ever read. I have watched his interviews and I am always taking notes or quoting him. He never has the same answer. He’s sarcastic and witty and just wow! He just seems to be the most amazing teacher for any writer. 

Jo Lindsell

I would love to interview JK Rowling. This woman is so inspiring, and not just as an author. Obviously I’d like to ask her about creating the best selling book series of all time, and a million other questions related to being a novelist, screenwriter, and producer. She’s so much more than that though. From her rags to riches tale to the work she does for charities, I’m sure she’d make for interesting conversation. 

V. L. Jennings

As a writer who has been interviewed multiple times, I can’t quite think of any GOOD questions to ask any of my favorite authors. I don’t really think I would like to interview them really. I’d much rather have dinner with them, or just sit and talk about their world and their characters. Brian Jacques is the author that really inspired me to write, but he is unfortunately gone from this earth. I would have loved to spend a day with him!  J.K. Rowling is my next choice.

The only issue with J.K. is that I’m sure she’s already been asked every question under the sun 15 times over. Could her and I just go to the Harry Potter Theme Park for a day and just geek out maybe?

Jebraun Clifford

I would love to sit down with Marissa Meyer and chat about the Lunar Chronicles. Such imagination! Such fun! Such a great fairy-tale retelling. I’d love to know how she came up with the idea, and where her mind might go next.

Skye Hegyes

 There are so many authors I’d love to interview, but I think I’d most like to interview Mercedes Lackey and her husband, who’s also her cover artist, Larry Dixon. They are a brilliant team and know how to bring so many fantastical worlds to life that I feel like a conversation with the two of them would be wonderful and that I might also learn a thing or two.

Kessie Carroll

I’ve wanted to have Jim Butcher over for dinner for ages. Ever since I saw him at a convention panel, I’ve wished we could just sit down and chat about crazy fantasy topics. He’s written high fantasy, urban fantasy, and he’s just started a new, amazing steampunk series. He’s also what I call “a high-functioning introvert”--he’s clearly not comfortable in crowds and would be so fun one-on-one.

How about you? What author would YOU most want to interview? Let us know in the comments! Don't forget, you can always go back to my Introductory Post to check out any questions you may have missed, and feel free to comment with your own answer!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter K

The List:
Kennia (Kenya)
Kiss, kelpie, kick, Knowledge, Knights, keg, kiwi, kumquat, kale, kingpin, klaxon, kerfuffle, kibosh

The Result:

"Kenzi and the Kelp Kerfuffle"
*(Sequel to "Humanity")
In a kilosecond, Denevar had crossed the river, the cave, and now stood beside Kenzi. His gleaming eyes swept over her uniform as he picked up her right hand. 
"Ah, First Officer, I see. Is this your first assignment?"
Kenzi sneered and pulled her hand away. "No, I have had other assignments."
Denevar slipped between Kenzi and waved with a frown at Latisha. The young mermaid slipped back under the water as if he had pushed her.
"You'll have to forgive the little fish-girl for frightening you. She was just kidding about everything. I am not a wizard; I am only a hermit. Latisha just likes to frighten new guests." He gestured to a well-lit hallway leading back further into the mountain. "Shall we retire into the kitchen?"
Kenzi took one last glance at the terrified mermaid in the pool, and followed her host.
"So," Denevar continued casually, "What brings you to Kennia, First Officer..."
"Kenzi," she answered automatically. "And I didn't mean to land here. The navigation globe on my ship got damaged, and I have to wait seventy-two hours for the repair cycle." She checked her chrono; there were thirty hours left.  She looked around as they entered a cavern full of the same multicolored quartz casting a kaleidoscope of colors over the dark stone. "Where did you say this was?"
Denevar sat with a sigh at a small table. With a wave of his hand, he invited Kenzi to join him. "The Ancient People called it Kennia, or somesuch. Apparently in their day it was nothing but a bare desert place," he gestured toward the outside access, where Kenzi remembered seeing large trees and verdant undergrowth.
"Hang on," she waved a hand. "Ancient People?"
Denevar nodded. "Yes; you know, our ancestors?"
Kenzi blinked. She recalled the lessons on ancient history mentioning something about the first Settlers who made their home among the stars, having traveled across the galaxy to escape their polluted home planet.
"This is Earth?" She asked incredulously, looking back the way they had come.
"Of course it is," Denevar nodded, reaching for a bowl where strange green and yellow bits peeked out from among small, deep-green shreds. "May I offer you a salad? It's kale, kumquats, and kiwi."
Kenzi frowned at the jumble of strange foods, but if it was from Earth, like the whole human population of the Galactic Settlement, then it couldn't actually be harmful, could it?
She tried a bite, letting the intense flavor and the sharp tang envelope her tastebuds. 
"This is amazing!" She scarfed down more salad. "We don't have anything like this back on the Settlement!"
Denevar chuckled. "Tell you what, in return for spending time with me while you wait for the chrono to mend, I'd like to send you back with cargo your kin will appreciate." He paused, "That is, if you have room in your hull."
Kenzi tensed. What was he getting at? "That depends on what it is," she hedged.
Denevar chuckled. "Oh, it's nothing dangerous, trust me! Let me show you."
He reached toward the counter beside the ice box and selected a small box. Kenzi watched him lift the lid carefully, then wrinkled her nose at the musty, tangy kind of smell she almost didn't recognize. 
"What is that?" She choked, waving her hand to activate her armor's built-in air filter.
"It's called kelp." Denevar selected a flat, semi-transparent leaf and took a deep whiff. "You might recognize the scent if you've ever been anywhere around the smoking clubs, if the GPF still allows those."
Now that the heavy aroma had subsided, Kenzi tried to place that smell in her memory and nodded. "Now that you mention it, I do remember something like it got into the air ducts once, and caused no end of trouble till we could get it out, find the leak, and keep that terrible odor in its own closed filtration system." She eyed the box dubiously as the hermit slid it toward her. "Kelp, you say?" She grimaced. "To be perfectly honest, I would rather bring back some of the other things, the ones in your salad."
Denevar nodded. "That's fair. I'll have them delivered to your ship in a few hours." He gave the box a little nudge. "Just do me a favor and take at least this little sample of kelp back with you. I have a friend in the Settlement who would very much appreciate such kindness."
Kenzi shrugged and accepted the box. "Very well, but how will I find this friend of yours?"
Denevar waved his hand. "Don't worry about that; he'll find you."

Kenzi stood stiffly, as a soft klaxon from her ship alerted her that she needed to report in. "I need to return to my ship," she explained to Denevar. "I'll await your delivery."
The hermit nodded. "I shall send it out directly. I only ask," he continued as the officer turned to take her leave, "that you avoid the pool with the mermaid. She seems very agitated by your presence, and I don't want to stress her further by continued interaction."
Kenzi glanced over to regard his face, but she found no guile. "I will do so," she assured him.

She could hear Latisha calling after her as she made her way out of the crystal cavern, but Kenzi ignored the mermaid's cries. If Denevar had said she was crazy—well, so much of what Kenzi had been told contrasted so much with what she had experienced that she found it easier to believe that Latisha lied, or at least embellished the truth.

Kenzi followed the rippling creek back toward her ship. A large splash and a silent alarm from her armor alerted her to an unexpected approach behind her. She stopped and faced the water.
A massive body took shape out of the water, similar to the holographic projections she interacted with on the settlement—except that this shape bore tactile responsiveness, much like touching Latisha's hand had almost convinced Kenzi that she was actually real. This shape, though, wasn't human. Her visual scanner identified it as a horse, with the exception of the fins and tail at the lower half of its body. This creature was just as much a horse as Latisha was human—so had they both been other creatures before some horrible experiment changed them into water creatures?
Kenzi shook her head. She shouldn't believe things she couldn't prove! The horse-fish creature seemed very adamant about something on her person; it took Kenzi a few minutes to realize that it was the box of kelp that offended the animal so. She snorted and turned her back on it. She would report in, wait for Denevar's delivery, and she would leave Kennia forever.

Kenzi slid the heavy keg into place and wiped the sweat off her brow. Three down, two to go. She clomped down the plank to get another barrel, but an alarming sight gave her pause. She arrived on the ground just in time to see the horse-fish creature kick one of her precious kegs into the water!

"No, you stupid animal!" Kenzi roared, running toward the river and diving after the irreplaceable cargo. 
A furious keening in her ears and a heavy weight on one side soon alerted her to what a mistake that was. Her armor was not water-resistant, and the systems were shutting down, still attached to her body. Without the use of her right side, Kenzi began to sink and drown.

A flash of movement above her, and the press of a body against her side, and Kenzi felt something soft press against her mouth, opening an air pocket just in front of her. She welcomed the rush of breath, and saw the large, worried eyes just inches from her. Latisha gripped her in a tight embrace, swimming upward with powerful strokes of her tail, while giving Kenzi breath from her own lungs.
Their heads broke the surface, and Kenzi turned aside with a spluttering gasp, tucking her knees up toward her chest to push Latisha away. Her left hand flailed until her fingers gripped the bank, and she hauled herself out of the water.
"What was that?" She spluttered, wiping her mouth. 
The mermaid pursed her lips in a frown. "I saw Wenmar causing trouble and I rushed over to save you," she retorted.
"By kissing me?" Kenzi shot back. She tried to move her right side, but all the servos in her armor had seized, and she still couldn't move it.
"I could have just as easily let you drown," Latisha stated primly, crossing her arms. 
Wenmar keened beside her, flopping and splashing. Kenzi snorted. "What, is that thing like your horse or something?"
Latisha wrapped one arm over the animal's neck. "Wenmar was my horse, before Denevar changed him into a kelpie, just like he changed me into a mermaid."
Kenzi shook her head. "You're delusional. Denevar's not a wizard; he doesn't even have any magical powers."
"And what about you?" Latisha challenged, swimming forward. "Some would say that armor gives you magical powers, or that your ship that takes you far away to other worlds is magic!"
"That's not magic, it's science!"
"Well, so is Denevar!" The mermaid swirled in the river. "He used his knowledge of science to change my form and that of my horse, to keep us here—and he's even tricked you into doing his bidding!"
Kenzi staggered to her feet, leaning against the keg to keep from keeling over. "What, this? There is nothing tricky about it. It's just food—"
"What about the kelp?" Latisha cut in. "Do you have any idea what it is? Did he tell you who his friends are?"
Kenzi scowled. "As if you knew!"
"I do!" She stated. "I know because my kingdom struggled against their influence as well!"
"All right then," Kenzi glared at the mermaid. "Who are they?"
Latisha calmed, and her eyes took on a keen glow. "Have you heard of the Knights Unknown?"
Cold realization courses through Kenzi's system. "The drug cartel? You're kidding! The GPF has been trying to put the kibosh on that ever since the Settlement was founded!"
"I'm not," Latisha affirmed. "Denevar's so-called friend is the kingpin of the whole operation. He's their dealer, and he's made you his errand boy."
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D     

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter J (Part 2)

The List:

-Jade, Juros, Jasper
-Justicia, Jungle, jail, jurisdiction
-Judgment Day
-Jaybird, Job, jackal, jackrabbit, juniper, Jack, Justify

The Result:

"The Justification of Jade" (Part 2)
 [Previously, in Part 1]
Jade’s concentration wavered, and her right wing picked up a stray wind that nearly jerked her off course. “You jacked her?"

Troy spoke as if he didn’t notice the worry lacing her voice. “I needed to, Jade. This girl, she’s destined for greatness and she wasn’t going to get it, not where we left her—“
Jade broke off and scanned the city till she sensed the girl by her Gift. As they neared, she sensed something else: tragedy.
“Troy…” she murmured to her brother as they approached the house. “What have you done?”

Even from that height, she could see the effect of Troy’s jack. Crowds lined the streets, all converging on one location. As Jade watched, it became clear that some of the people weren’t moving at all. These were carried out of the way by their neighbors.
“I WANT IT!” screamed a high-pitched voice. “GIVE IT TO ME!”
A small explosion rocked the building, and the surrounding people jumped into action. Several of them went inside, and very soon emerged, carrying a young girl on what seemed to be a litter. The building teetered on the verge of collapse, but the girl still writhed. “I NEED IT!” she squealed. “BRING ME ANOTHER!”
Jade watched the people carrying the litter set it down on the ground, as a Gifted young boy raced forward and threw himself on the ground at her feet. The young girl bent down and grasped the boy’s arms. His Gift became apparent as a flurry of vines seemed to wrap themselves around the girl, completely covering her in greenery till she looked like a living plant in the shape of a small person. The boy collapsed on the ground, and the girl gave a little quiver, and the vines receded.
Jade ignored Troy’s warning and flew down to peek into the window of the small room recently vacated. He found her staring at a scene of utter devastation.
“Her family,” she murmured. “They’re all dead…”
“Hm,” Troy sighed. “Guess it was an unforeseen side effect of the jack.”
Jade turned on her brother in that moment. “Unforeseen side effect?” She cried. “Is that what you think this is? Troy, this is a direct consequence of your meddling, and you know that Juros isn’t going to stand for it much longer—“

Jade and Troy! Come out!”

They knew better than to ignore Juros when he decided to enter the Realm. Angel and Shadow meekly exited the building. Juros had supplied a pocket dimension for them to converse in, shielding all of them from detection by the surrounding crowd. The juvenile victim of an untempered jack lay unconscious at his feet.

Juros folded his arms and frowned at Troy. “You would toy with these Gifted, turn the abilities we provide into godlike powers to be worshiped? You would twist and warp the good things we intend for your own perverse pleasure?”
Troy only shrugged. “I can’t help what these humans do with the powers we give them, nor how people respond—“
You are out of line, Shadow!” Juros roared. “I cannot allow you to jeopardize the Realm further by your interference. As punishment—“ Juros extended his hand.
Troy gave a jerk, and Jade watched as his body seemed to divide, or fade into the shadows surrounding him.
“What are you doing?” Troy cried, but Juros was stronger. In one powerful twist, he separated Troy from the shadows he used, and two Angels came forward to catch the limp physical form. Jade stared at the body sagging between them. It looked like Troy, but not quite; it was a smaller, more delicate-looking thing. The Angels flew with it back to Justicia, leaving Jade hovering next to a pool of dark shadow.

“Umm, what just happened?” Troy’s voice emanated from the darkness beside her.
Jade flinched, but the shadow itself coalesced into a form she recognized, though this one seemed less corporeal, more like a copy of the brother she once knew.
“I have delivered your sentence,” Juros said. “Your physical body has been remanded to a cell in Justicia. The sum total of your existence in the Realm is now no more than the shadows that were once your vehicle.”
Troy coughed. “You mean… I’m not real?” He looked down and waved his hands, wafting forward without moving his legs at all.
Juros shook his head. “As for the poor young girl you have blighted in your foolishness…” He bent down and laid a hand on her head. “I cannot undo what has been done, but I can perhaps salvage the person she should have become. I will erase her memory of all that has transpired today, and Jade?”
The Angel broke off from staring at her brother’s new form and focused on her mentor. “Yes?”
“You will take the child to the castle, and see that she is taken in by the royal medical staff there. Perhaps they will be able to find a cure for her.”
Jade nodded. “There is one with the Gift of Healing, and another with the Gift of Magic there—I believe she will be well taken care of.”
Juros glanced down at the small form as Jade lifted the child in her arms. “See that it is done.”
Jade departed about her business, alone for possibly the first time since Juros allowed her and Troy to begin Gifting the Realm. She tried not to think of what would happen to Troy now; he had to face the consequences for his own choices.
She laid the child on the steps of the castle, calling forth the governess she knew lived there. Jade waited around the corner as she heard two people approach.
“Oh gracious!”
“What is it, Peraven?”
“Why… it’s a child! I wonder where she came from?”
“Hmm, we must bring her to the Infirmary immediately!”
She nodded and flew back to Justicia, satisfied that she had completed her mission.

Unbeknownst to the Angel, a small, dark shadow flitted around the windows of the Laboratory tower, where the royal scientists gathered, speaking in hushed whispers about the growing threat they were beginning to see in the Realm: mysterious powers and superhuman abilities distributed seemingly at random. When a young stranger arrived in the Infirmary whose blood contained evidence of yet another one of these “anomalies”, it stood to reason, said one of the scientists—a dark-haired fellow whose face no one could quite remember—that she should be the one they experimented on, since no one knew who she was or where she came from. Everyone agreed, though no one could quite identify this man, either—and no one seemed to notice or care when he suddenly vanished from their midst as they conducted their experiments.


Being an Angel without a Shadow was difficult, but Jade managed it as she always had: doing the best she could by the people of the Realm. Since becoming fully Shadow, Troy had ceased to work alongside her—and indeed, it felt, sometimes, like perhaps he might be working against her, using his jack to cause division between Gifted and UnGifted, or pitting the Gifted against one another. Jade countered it as best she could, but she knew from her time with Mother that building and cultivating something was naturally a slower, more arduous process than simply destroying it.

Some time later, Juros called her into his jungle.
“Sir?” She landed amid the foliage and waited for him to speak.
“Jade, what was the extent of the task I gave you regarding the Realm, the first time you approached me about your brother’s misdemeanors?”
Jade swallowed. “You instructed me to influence King Balwyn to integrate the Gifted, to call for more acceptance, and to keep the Seramis line on the throne.”
Juros lifted his head, but he still did not turn to face Jade. “And how has that fared?”
Jade felt her heart sink. “Not well, sir.” She didn’t need to say more; Juros already knew. He knew that the merchant she had Gifted with Charisma had been motivated to use it to warp the Gifts of his twin children; he knew that one twin in particular would be the one to used the twisted Charisma to remove the Crown Prince from the Realm entirely, thus exposing the younger brother to the insatiable power-addiction of the innocent jacked girl, now risen to be the Council-appointed queen of the now-derelict Realm.
“You know what this means, don’t you, Jade?” Juros asked quietly.
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Finally, Juros stood and faced her. “I cannot dismiss these allegations, that an Angel continues to fail in the tasks I give to her, that the more Jade is allowed to Gift the Realm, the more fragmented it becomes—not with Judgment Day drawing ever closer.” He sighed and pronounced those fateful words: “Here now is my justice.”

Jade stumbled, sprawling forward on her hands and knees as the Angel escorts tossed her into the jail cell. Her resolve crumbled, and she lay on the ground, weeping for all that she could have done.
“Don’t be scared,” said a familiar voice, one that she used to love—one that now sent chills down her spine. “Literally nothing happens down here. I should know.”
Jade looked up, and her eyes went immediately toward the limp, pale form sprawled on the floor of the next cell.
“Nope, not over there,” the voice came from the other side. Shadow-Troy materialized on the ground outside her cell. He sneered at his own body locked in the cage. “Don’t know why Juros assumed this would be any sort of punishment; I’m freer now than I ever was.”  To illustrate, he walked right through the bars of her cell to join her.
“Troy…” Jade shrank back from him. “What are you doing here?”
He smiled and winked at her from under the dark locks of hair hanging in his face. “I’ve come to jailbreak you, sister.”
Jade watched her brother carefully. “Why me, though? Why couldn’t you just…” she faltered and gestured to his body next door.
Troy sneered. “And risk Juros destroying me completely? No thanks! He thinks he has leverage as long as he holds my body…” Troy stepped out of the cell and laughed. “Why should I care what Juros thinks?” He turned back to face his sister. “As for why I chose you—well, you do want to get back into Juros’ good graces, don’t you? I know you, Jade; it burns you to leave a job undone.”
The Angel leaned forward and grasped the bars of her cell. “I do!” She cried. “I can do it! I know I can! All I need is just one more chance!”
Troy steepled his fingers. “And if I help you,” he continued slowly, “You’ll let Juros know, and I won’t be persona non grata anymore?”
Jade blinked at the request. “I thought you didn’t mind being separated from your body.”
“I don’t, it’s just…” Troy waved a hand. “I don’t want anything to happen to it, you know? I don’t like this sneaking around business—but in my current position, I don’t have a choice. I’d at least like that back!” He folded his arms and regarded her. “So, I help you out, you’ll help me?”
Jade didn’t even need to think twice. “I’ll do it!” she declared, holding out her hand to shake on the deal.
Troy slipped his ethereal hand into a leather glove, grasping Jade’s hand with it and covering her hand with the ungloved Shadow. Jade felt her head begin to spin, spiraling down until she came to rest on a massive black surface. Troy’s face loomed large over her as he drew his hand out from between the bars of the giant cell.
“What happened to me?” Jade cried, hearing her own voice jingling in the high-pitched knell of many bells. “What have you done?”
Troy snorted as he lifted the Angel—now no bigger than a fairy—before his face. “Well, I couldn’t very well get you out when you were your normal size!” He scoffed. “I mean, really!
Jade folded her arms. She even glowed like a fairy when she fluttered her wings. “Well?” she challenged him. “I’m out now. Change me back!”
Troy threw back his head and laughed. “Not so fast!” He dropped his gloved hand, forcing Jade to take flight to stay in the air. “I’m not going to let you fly about as an Angel, winning people over like you always do. No, I’m making this fair!”
Fair!?” Jade squealed.
“Yes,” declared Troy. “I had to deal with a new form, so now you will, also.” He turned and began walking out of the cell. “Here’s how it’s going to be, dear sister: I got Prince Beren out of the Realm—if you want to be an Angel again, you’ve got to find him, convince him to return, and get him onto the throne like Juros wants. If you can manage that, the change I’ve made will wear off and you’ll be an Angel again. If not, I win, and Juros will probably crush you under his so-called ‘justice.’” They reached the entrance to the dungeons, at the very edge of Justicia. All the Realm lay spread before them.
Troy paused to wink at Jade one last time. “Let the games begin, little Jaybird!” he said, and disappeared into the darkness.
Jade felt the burden of her mission weigh heavy on her, but she squared her delicate shoulders resolutely. She would bring Prince Beren back to the White Castle, and Troy would answer for all that he’d done. There would be no more mistakes this time.

This story (and next week's installment) is a continuation of my previous series, "The Clan of Outcasts". If you've been following the series, you may have recognized some of the characters referenced here--did you? Follow the hyperlinked text earlier to read more of the series!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D     

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Lover's Blog Hop: "Who is Your Favorite Author?"

Question: "Who is Your favorite Author?"

Leslie Conzatti (Me!)

Can I say “too many to count”? Particularly since I started featuring/curating indie book reviews on my blog, it only increased the number of authors I adore, tenfold! I love J. K. Rowling for her quaint and colorful descriptions. I love Mark Lawrence for his mind-meltingly AWESOME prose, David Baldacci writes amazing thrillers with characters that are easy to adore; R. R. Virdi writes paranormal crime novels that are absolutely hilarious and definitely on par with Jim Butcher (another favorite!); Jeffrey Cook writes amazing steampunk and urban fantasy; I love the books by Cornelia Funke, Marissa Meyer, and Kerstin Gier. I could go on, but I’ll just leave it at that.

Jo Lindsell

There are so many authors that I love. It’s hard to pick just one. For children’s picture books I’d say Julia Donaldson. For older children’s books JK Rowling and CS Lewis. For romance Susan Hatler, Sophie Kinsella, and Freya North. For thrillers Ethan Cross. It really depends on the genre. 

Tabitha Caplinger

Hands Down it’s C.S. Lewis. I love that his writing covers multiple genres, from The Chronicles of Narnia to Mere Christianity, and the way he can not only be direct with his faith journey when it’s called for but can also weave it so subtly but beautifully between the lines of his stories. 

 Just B. Jordan

Brandon Sanderson. Most of his books are in the genre I love, but even his YA trilogy… He adds a depth to his stories that I just adore.

Skye Hegyes

Hands down, my favorite author is Mercedes Lackey, although there are a lot of authors getting on up there in the favorites category nowadays. I love her worldbuilding and the characters. They are so many types of people in her worlds, it’s amazing. (Can I be here when I grow up?) 

Belinda Bekkers

How do you pick just one author? That’s like trying to pick a favourite cake flavour. It depends on which day of the week it is, the weather, and what stage of the cycle the moon is in. For fiction, I enjoy John Steinbeck, Rainbow Rowell, Larry Watson, Russell Andrews, Andy Weir, John Green, and Bae Suah. Poetry is Pablo Neruda and Dylan Thomas. Elizabeth Gilbert, Rebecca Solnit, Leslie Jamison, and Alexis Coe.

Brian Jacques has always been my absolute favorite author. I love his descriptions and how he makes you forget where you are and drops you right into his fantasy world. I’ve read almost all of his Redwall books and MADE my children sit with me to watch the animated series. I still struggle to find a sci fi author that I really enjoy, though, as I said earlier this month- Karina Fabian’s Mind Over series was awesome. Most of the sci-fi series I have dived into have multiple authors so it is sorta hard to develop favorites.

Jebraun Clifford

Madeleine L’Engle hands down! I devoured her books as a child and teenager, and still enjoy her work today. Such an imagination, and she covers so many themes!

Jas T. Ward.

How about you? Who is YOUR favorite author? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Reader's Review: "The Longest Night Watch, Volume 1" by Lacey D. Sutton (Editor), ft. Joshua L. Cejka, R. R. Virdi, Andrew Barber, Janet Gershen-Siegel, et al.

Synopsis from Amazon:
On March 12th, 2015, the writing world lost one of its greatest contemporary heroes - Sir Terrence "Terry" Pratchett. To honor his life, a group of writers decided to publish an anthology of stories that showcased his influence on their writing, and also would help bring awareness of the disease that contributed to his end, Alzheimer's Disease.
Found in this volume are eleven stories and poems by nine authors, most of which are humorous and fantastical, but threaded among those are tales of the loss and confusion unique to Alzheimer's, dementia, and those who must watch their loved ones disappear before their eyes. Contributing writers include Amanda Parker Adams, Andrew Barber, Joshua L. Cejka, Connie Cockrell, Janet Gershen-Siegel, D.R. Perry, R.R. Virdi, Michael Walton and Lacey D. Sutton.
All proceeds from sales of this book will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association, in the hope of one day finding a cure.


My Review:

Now that I think about it, I believe this book was among the first books I won in a giveaway a few years ago, and it's been sitting in the queue ever since. 

I am so glad I finally got around to reading it!
I confess, I haven't read much Pratchett, but what I read, I liked, and I do believe this group of authors has done great homage to that legendary author. 

Lying in Wait by Connie Cockerell was a fun start to the novel, and a good foretaste of the shenanigans yet to come! The deadpan delivery of bizarre twists on the story it appears to be on the surface is exactly the same sort of art that I found in Pratchett's own short stories. 

Joshua L. Cejka had two stories in this anthology, and they could not be more different. Out of Time, I found eclectic and silly at first glance, yet poignant and thought-provoking at the second look, in true Pratchett form. Cuhlyn's Tale, on the other hand, I felt was the most disturbing of them all. Quite frankly, I kind of felt that I couldn't get through it fast enough. 

Props by Janet Gershen-Siegel was another tale firmly rooted in the poignant and intriguing category. It presents as a record from an unreliable narrator—but the twist ending is not one to be missed!

Lords, Ladies, and the Dracomorph by Andrew Barber, I found rather curious. I've only read one of his Cybermancer series, and, well—this one had dragons. I like dragons.

Remember Me by Amanda Parker Adams was definitely touching to the quick! I think it served as a very tangible reminder of the cause that motivated this anthology: all proceeds go to research into Alzheimer's, finding better treatment methods or even possibly a cure. It's a beautiful story, and very well-written.

Chance Fortunes by R. R. Virdi was, true to form, a rollicking good time! I am already a huge fan of his work, and this felt like a fitting tribute to Pratchett's flair for bungling, endearing wizards thrust into circumstances out of their control. 

Blame it on The Moonlight by Michael Walton was unexpectedly fun! It did a good job remaining demure and unassuming at first, rapidly diving into the strange "when the lights go out," as the saying goes. I liked it! 

Bedtime Stories by Lacey D. Sutton was a neat twist on old legends! What starts as a decent story with a rather morbid-minded nanny turns into a spooky-sweet discovery. It definitely harkened back to the Puritain days of cautionary tales being popular because adults were convinced that scaring the pants off their kids was an effective way of controlling their behavior... but how do you scare someone who knows the Bogeyman as a friend?

Lastly, the two poems by Andrew Barber and D. R. Perry book-ending the anthology were sweet and touching. 

The anthology, as a whole, earns ****4 STARS**** from the Upstream Writer, and I believe would make Sir Terry proud, if he could have read it. The fact that all proceeds are going directly into Alzheimer's research—absolutely a worthy cause, if there ever was one—serves as extra motivation to get yourself a book that not only benefits you with a host of wonderful stories, but benefits others as well!
Further Reading: Charity Anthologies/Books by authors in this group/Short Story Collections
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings
        -Grave Measures  
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter J (Part 1)

The List:
-Jade, Juros, Jasper
-Justicia, Jungle, jail, jurisdiction
-Judgment Day
-Jaybird, Job, jackal, jackrabbit, juniper, Jack, Justify

The Result:
"The Justification of Jade", Part 1

"Jade Angelica, what in the Realm you doing?"
The common housewife stood with her hands on her hips as she nailed her foster daughter with a particularly vicious death glare.

Jade, for her part, tried to ignore the woman she called Mother as she persisted in hopping about atop the tall thatch roof, spreading her wings to catch the sunlight.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" She called back. "I'm just spreading my wings for a bit!"
Mother wagged her head. "My dear, we talked about this. You get up on the roof, people will see! Come down, silly child! Why don't you content yourself with the arbor Father built you?" She gestured to a small shelter, close to the ground, with plenty of room for the girl's growing wingspan, but completely walled off from prying eyes.

Jade wrinkled her nose, but she glided down to join Mother on the ground.
"It's so stuffy in there!" She complained.

Mother opened her arms, and Jade willingly accepted the warm embrace. "Yes, but it is also safe. Remember, you're not like other children in the Realm."

Jade had to acknowledge she was right, even if Mother couldn't possibly know how right she was. She wasn't even from the Realm—in fact (though he would never confirm it directly) she was pretty sure she knew the being who had made the Realm. But she didn't need to burden Mother with theories and speculation.

"Now," Mother continued, walking with Jade to a grassy corner of the courtyard. "Help me decide what to grow for supper."

Jade felt the warmth unfolding within her. Mother always knew how to make her feel better—and nothing made Jade feel as good as when she could use her abilities to give Gifts to Realm-dwellers. For Mother, she had given the gift of Planting, so that she wouldn't have to struggle with crouching in the dirt, pulling weeds, handling seeds, or suffer through a bad harvest.
"Oh, how about jicama?" Jade suggested. "And jofra-beans, and jelly-berries!"

Mother laughed and ruffled Jade's hair. "That sounds like an excellent meal to have along with the roasted jackrabbits Father will bring home from the Forest." She turned to the bare little corner and waved her hand. Immediately, tiny green sprouts pushed through the turf, curling and winding their way toward the sky. In a matter of minutes, leaves unfolded, blossoms transformed into fruit, which expanded and ripened till Mother nodded.

"I think that's enough," she said, and picked the ripest fruits to use for their supper. Jade offered her the basket and she piled them inside.
Jade moved to follow her, but at that moment, a breeze ruffled her wingfeathers. She stopped and turned back. One of the shadows under the juniper tree wobbled, and seemed to wave invisibly at her.
Mother already stood in the doorway of their small house. “Are you coming, Jade?” she called over her shoulder.

Jade sighed. “Not tonight,” she replied reluctantly. “I need to go. I’ll be back as soon as I can!”

She could see the disappointment on Mother’s face, but she covered it with a jovial smile. “All right then,” she nodded tossed Jade a sprig of jelly-berries. “Be on your way! Send my goodwill to your brother.”
“Thank you, Mother!” Jade cried, and sprang into the air to catch the wind that blew.

The shadow from the juniper followed her as she ascended toward the clouds.

“Don’t suppose I could get some of those berries?” A voice joked beside her.
Jade glanced over at the grinning boy riding the jet stream beside her.
“Of course, Troy,” she said. “Mother sends her goodwill.” She paused in her climb to offer him a few of the small, juicy morsels.
Troy—his dark hair hanging over his eyes as he seemed to rest on the air itself—munched on the fruits happily enough, but he snorted at Jade’s words. “Don’t know why you keep calling her that; she’s not really our Mother.”
Jade kept her wings wavering at a steady beat to keep her aloft. “But she is a mother, and technically, we don’t have one—so I chose my own!”
Troy finished his berries and tested the shadows surrounding him for one he could ride upon. He raised a dubious eyebrow at his sister. “Would it kill you to act like an Abnormal, Jade?” He found the perfect shadow and took off ahead of her.
“Well, excuse me!” she retorted, zipping after him. “I don’t know if it occurred to you, but I happen to be flying just now, so I don’t know how much more Abnormal you want me to be!”
Troy led the way across the white expanse, headed for the dip where the clouds parted, giving them access to the Realm below. “Just remember that you have a job, Jade—and no part of that involves becoming one of them.”
Jade sighed. “I know,” she said. “I just—“ Her voice broke off as the sensation overwhelmed her. Someone was ready to receive a Gift! She flew to where the feeling pulled strongest, and pointed to a young woman just in the act of drawing water at the well. “There!” she said.
Troy moved in behind her, keeping a prudent distance. “Don’t get caught,” he warned.

Jade rolled her eyes and slowly drifted down toward the woman. Her head was bent, her eyes fixed on her work, when Jade deftly delivered the Gift of telekinesis, her favorite. No sooner had she done so, than the jug in the woman’s hand slipped and fell, headed for the unfathomable depth of the dark well—if she hadn’t reached at that moment, and her Gift halted its fall. Jade enjoyed the stare of wonder on the woman’s face as the jug returned safely to her hand, still full of water. The wonderment vanished as her hands gripped the handles, and, after glancing around to make sure no one had seen it, the woman trudged on her way, resolved to think no more on the subject.

Jade glanced up to see Troy almost sneering at her.
“What?” she drew herself up defensively.
“You’re too gentle with them,” he stated bluntly, landing on the ground and walking leisurely toward the town.
“Gentle?” Jade followed him, but stayed in the air. He could pass for human, but her wings always prevented that from ever being a luxury she could enjoy. “I gave her what she needed.”
Troy snickered. “No more, no less!” he quoted in a mocking voice.
Jade shook her head. “You’d better hope Juros doesn’t hear you talk like that.”
Troy threw up his spread hands. “Why would I care what Juros thinks? All he’s worried about is making sure us Abnormals do our jobs and get the Gifted ready for Judgment Day.”

Jade felt the weight of responsibility settle on her with just the mention of the word “Judgment.” That was a day most of the Abnormals anticipated eagerly, the day when Juros would call the Gifted of the Realm to give an account for the way in which they had utilized the Gifts that Angels like Jade had given to them.
She frowned at her brother. “I think Juros has to worry so much because Shadows like you worry too little, Troy.”

“Ha! As if there was anything to worry about!” Troy fell silent as they reached the edge of town. Jade could hide in the clouds and still follow him, but it wouldn’t do for him to be seen talking to someone no one else could see. Juros remained adamant that the Abnormals could be better utilized if their interactions were as played-down as possible.

Indeed, many of the Realm were beginning to notice the effects of the Gifts, and acknowledge that some people merely had super-human abilities that made them different from others. Jade liked to be subtle, to give Gifts that aligned naturally with a person’s need or occupation. That way, they wouldn’t all be like her: forced to hide, separated eternally from those around them merely by virtue of the way they looked. In her mind, that wasn’t a Gift, it was a torment.

Jade watched her brother crouch against a wall. He’d spotted someone who might know him. That was the risk they ran every time they visited the Realm together. Every day, there were more Gifts to distribute, but the more people received Gifts, the more chance they had of noticing Troy in the past, and possibly drawing the connection between seeing him and the advent of their strange abilities.
“I just think you are to easy on them,” he whispered into his hand, but Jade heard him as if he spoke right in her ear. “Juros too; it’s as if he can’t make up his mind.” He watched a young girl hold her open hand over the mouth of a jar, filling it with a stream of water issuing from her palm. “He wants Gifted? I can show him Gifted!”
Jade saw his hand drop. “Troy,” she hissed, “don’t!”

The girl with the jar flinched as a sudden torrent of water burst from her hand, shattering the jar and spilling in a huge waterfall from the place where she stood. People cried out and dashed out of the way of the unexpected river, while the poor girl could only hold her hands out before her as the massive overflow gushed in a raging fountain.
“Troy!” Jade reprimanded her brother, but the girl had already cut off her Gift. She stood, drenched and sobbing as the astonished people gathered around her, everyone talking at once. Troy could walk freely across the square and not one of them would even register seeing him, since their attention was fixed fully on the amazing event.

“Admit it,” he muttered softly, “it was a little funny.”
“It was not!” Jade snapped back from her post in the sky. “You’re supposed to justify the Gifts I give for the benefit of the recipient, not your own perverted entertainment!”
“Perverted?” Troy retorted. “Hardly! I am looking out for the person’s best interest. What’s the point of even having a Gift if nobody notices? What do you suppose Juros is trying to achieve?”

“He’s not trying to achieve anything but the betterment of the Realm, and that calls for Gifting!” Jade braced herself as she watched Troy continue on to his next mark, a young boy on the castle grounds she had Gifted at birth with the ability to produce light in his hands. He’d been using it lately to read books late into the night, and she would often fly to his house in secret, to hear him read stories by the light of his own fingers.
“Troy, what are you—“
Jade stopped speaking as the boy came out of the house, glowing fist held aloft like a torch.
“Jasper?” He called into the night. “Jasper!”

As the boy made his way down the dark path leading across the road to a neighboring copse, Jade felt the increasing sense of dread.
“Troy, he’s in danger,” she warned. “He needs more light!”
“I know,” Troy whispered back, waving his hand toward the boy.

Jade watched the fist catch flame, and the young boy could finally see the area around him. He stared in awe at the fire engulfing his hand without consuming it, and then resumed searching for his pet.
“Jasper! Here, boy!”
The bushes in front of him rustled. The boy took a hesitant step closer. “Jasper?” he queried softly.
“That’s a jackal.” The bright light of the boy’s hand made the shadows deeper, so Troy could conceal himself just behind the bushes right in front of him without fear of being seen. “He’s going to need more.”
Jade floated down and landed in the canopy, drawing the boy’s attention briefly, but still staying out of his sight. “Don’t go too far, Troy,” she responded. “Just a little bit—“

The boy looked back at the growing, expanding fire, and Jade saw him lifting his other hand, watching it ignite and raising it to join the hand already shining. Now he held both hands in front of him like a flaming shield, just in time for the jackal to leap out of the bushes. The boy wheeled backward out of reflex, though the fire would offer reasonable protection from the beast. That slight movement, though, brought the flames too close to a nearby bush—and very soon, the boy’s hands weren’t the only things flaming.
“It’s not going to hurt him, Jade! Watch!”

Alerted by the fire, the boy’s father came running, and very soon, the large brown dog lumbered into the area to save his young master. The boy’s flame extinguished, and he threw his arms around his father, hugging him in relief as he welcomed Jasper’s frantic affections.
“See?” Troy materialized in the tree alongside the Angel. “I told you it would work out.”
Jade frowned and shook her head. “We should head back to Justicia. I think we’ve done enough for today.”

Troy sniffed. “You mean I’ve done enough for today.” The two of them departed together, flying high above the clouds and rising higher, far beyond what the eyes of the people below could possibly see, to the celestial city of Justicia.
“You tell me I don’t do enough,” Jade said. “When everything you do seems to make things so much worse for everyone. Do you want Juros to throw you in jail?”
“You coddle the people, Jade!” Troy reprimanded her. “Our Gifts are special—they are powerful. The people need to recognize that power, and they can’t do that when you insist on distributing the abilities in such pitiful amounts!”

Jade opened her mouth to respond, but Troy vanished into a bank of shadows. She sighed and turned to the small hovel she called home. No one had ever questioned her decorating choices, but Jade had taken not a little pride in furnishing her little corner of the heavens to look exactly like Mother’s house. She curled up between her folded wings and tried to forget about Troy’s juvenility.

Many cycles later, Jade received a summons to appear before Juros. His jurisdiction was modeled after a lush jungle. He stood in an open glade, beside a trickling river and lined with trees.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” Jade asked, folding her wings close behind her.

Juros smiled. It relieved so much of her anxiety to see him so joyful. She couldn’t imagine someone so powerful feeling anything short of the constant burden of duty, but Juros bore it with fantastic strength and a level of joviality that raised the spirits of all the Abnormals.
“I did,” he replied. “Tell me, how is Troy handling his responsibilities?”

Jade felt her stomach tighten again. As supportive as he was, Juros also had the ability to pinpoint exactly what was troubling each of his subjects, and call them to deal with the issue rather than suppressing it.
“He’s not, sir,” Jade knew that her mentor expected nothing less than honesty from her. No need to mince her words. “He continuously tries the bounds of Justification. Many times, it’s jacking the Gift too far and placing those around the Gifted person in danger. Sometimes, he augments it to the point when it evokes a state of euphoria, and the person will keep using their Gift to show off or to keep feeding on that power.”

Juros’ face filled with concern. “Like an addict on a very powerful drug,” he surmised.
Jade nodded. “A drug they only have so much control over,” she agreed.
“But what of his nullifying? Surely if he jacks too far, he should know to correct it.”

Jade shook his head. “I’ve tried to tell him that, but he only tells me that the humans need to learn to live with that much power if they’re going to have any say in Judgment Day! He…” she shivered. “He believes that giving them Gifts within the scope of what is possible is not…” she faltered. Jade hated disrespecting Juros like this, but Troy was rapidly getting out of hand, and she didn’t know what else to do.
“Not what?” Juros prompted, bending down to hold her gaze.

“He says it’s not trusting the people enough. I have only seen him nullify once, when a Gifted I had given Earth-manipulating abilities recognized him and attacked. The jack made him violent, and Troy had to nullify his Gift completely or he would have destroyed the entire village.”
Juros stroked his chin. “Rendering the Gifted impotent, I assume?”

Jade nodded. “When someone would turn his own jack against him, he would rather render them akin to being unGifted than allow them to experience the Gift in any kind of moderation.”
Juros nodded slowly. “I see,” he mused.
Jade gave an uneasy flick of her wing. “What should I do, sir?”
Her mentor gave a heavy sigh. “Perhaps it is time for the people to recognize Gifted. Perhaps if they were more integrated, Troy’s jacks won’t veer so wildly out of control, since there would be others with a similar Gift who can help mitigate the situation.”
Jade tilted her head quizzically. “So… King Balwyn, then?”
Juros nodded. “Let him see the use of his Gifts and those of his subjects. He has been wielding his own Gift well, and I think such judicious restraint will aid in encouraging moderation in the people.”
Jade gave a sweeping bow. “Very well; thank you, Juros.”
He waved to her. “Judgment Day is at hand, young Angel; we must be prepared!”

Jade mulled over the advice Juros had given her as she and Troy set out for the Realm again. She needed to come up with a way to inspire Balwyn to take the opportunity to spread awareness of the Gifted; she knew that he had already been planning such a program, that all he lacked was the assurance that the people would receive his words.

She hardly noticed Troy’s location till he popped up right next to her. “What’s on your mind?” he asked, his dark eyes full of concern—or wariness.
Jade waved aside her musings. “Oh, nothing really. I was just recollecting one of the infant girls I Gifted, the one who needed attraction to receive the amount of care that would ensure her survival.”
Troy’s eyes glinted. “Her? Oh yes; I remember jacking her Gift to boost her confidence when she was a girl.”

Jade’s concentration wavered, and her right wing picked up a stray wind that nearly jerked her off course. “You jacked her?”


 This story (and next week's installment) is a continuation of my previous series, "The Clan of Outcasts". If you've been following the series, you may have recognized some of the characters referenced here--did you? Follow the hyperlinked text earlier to read more of the series!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A       
-Letter B      
-Letter C     
-Letter D