Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: Deadheading by Paul Cristo


Goodreads Summary: A bizarre sickness is infecting the planet, turning its victims into contorted piles of flesh. Lewis barely notices though, rarely looking up from his number-crunching job and voracious appetite for streaming entertainment. But his life changes forever after waking up one morning to find the world's population eradicated. Stranded without food or water, he's forced to use ingenuity to survive, foraging resources from the desolate city around him.
Until he discovers he's not alone.

Lewis's new life is threatened by a violent gang of gun-wielding scavengers. He learns these men are harvesting survivors, inflicting slavery, and torture for a horrifying purpose.

Outmanned and outgunned, Lewis and some newfound friends must band together, employing their collective wit and cunning against a deadly foe to avoid being killed. Or worse... captured.

DEADHEADING is a post-apocalyptic journey of survival, ingenuity, and a dollop of vengeance.
Goodreads Rating: 5.00 stars with 3 ratings
Genre Listing: Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Survival
Goodreads Challenge: 19/60
2020 Reading Challenge: #29 An Author's Debut Novel (Find the full challenge here)


Book Review:

Time to get the legal stuff out of the way: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Deadheading takes place as a strange sickness wipes out most of the earth's population. Our unlikely hero, Lewis, survives it by hunkering down in his apartment and living off of frozen TV dinners until he runs out and is forced to go out into the new world. Teaching himself new skills, he survives on what he can find in the city.  

I think the thing I like most about Deadheading is that Lewis isn't presented with some ingrained idea on how to survive. I don't think most people actually know what they would do in the event of an apocalypse. Lewis sets out and scavengers what he can to survive, but ultimately ends up relying on the library and books he finds for information. From the scavenged knowledge, he learns to garden, learns a bit about chemistry, and learns how to become a pilot. I think that based on how this story was written that Paul either has the knowledge in real life or did a lot of research. It felt realistic and not like he was just making things up for the sake of the story. If he was, well, then good job for making it seem believable.

In case you're wondering, this is not a zombie story. This is just pure survival after the world ends. The biggest enemies are the lack of resources and the remaining people who exploit the weaker survivors. The villain in this kind of reminded me of Penguin from Batman Returns. Other than how the appearance is described, I don't know that there's an actual correlation. If you read my reviews on The Wheel of Time series, you'll know my brain goes to weird places when I read (find it here).

Anyways, back to Lewis. I like him as a character a lot. He's smart and a bit snarky. Even his inner thoughts had a sort of sarcastic tone to them, which I found humorous and enjoyable. Mostly, he just seems like a regular guy in a terrible situation, trying to make the best out of it. Eventually, he realizes he's not the only one left in the world, and we get introduced to Frankie. I liked her, as well. She's tough as nails and feels like a good compliment to Lewis. They work well as a team. 

I felt like there was quite a bit of satire in Deadheading. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The book was released at the end of March and plays into what's currently going on in the world now. I don't want to go much further into details on this, because I feel like it could trigger debates on my blog, that I'd just rather stay away for. But I'll leave it at that I love the satire, intentional or not.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book a lot. It's not terribly long, only 350 pages. It has a good pace and moves quickly. I was honestly hooked in the first couple of pages. It's got just enough gore and is peppered with humor and satire. I'd definitely read more from Paul Cristo. My highlights didn't sync on Goodreads, so, for this, I'll bring back some of my favorite quotes in the blog post. Also, my commentary on the quotes is in parentheses. 




Quotes from the book:

"Talking heads delivered constant assurances that the sickness hadn't breached our borders. But the idea that we could stay free and clear of the epidemic became more absurd by the hour." (Hmm...No comment from this peanut gallery.) 

"Regardless, I liked peanut butter cups, so even the slight possibility of a temporary shortage would be disproportionately traumatic for me." (Same, Lewis. Same. Peanut butter cups are my fav. Especially when chilled.)

"Mildred, you saucy minx." (This just made me giggle.)

"Then she said I was a revolting sloth who had a shitty haircut and flamingo legs." (I want to start calling people this.)

"Like most of my plans, I instantly regretted the execution." (Same.)

"It's incredible what can be accomplished with the right person saying the right words." (It's also incredible what the wrong words can do, but I digress.)

"When we failed, we learned. When we succeeded, we celebrated." (Words to live by!) 


Friday, May 22, 2020

Short Story Series: Episode Two Aurora


Happy Friday, Readers! A couple of years ago, I posted a short story and said that it was going to be a series. At the time, I already had this one in the works, but I just hadn’t had a chance to finish it. A lot of my writing time was being dedicated to trying to finish up what I’m lovingly calling “the book” that I’m trying to self-publish. Now that it is out of the writing stage, I was finally able to focus some creativity on Aurora’s story.

Background: The Morbid stories I create are all going to go into a book once I get them done. Obviously, they’ll go through a formatting and editing process before that happens. These are essentially just rough drafts ran through Grammarly. I more just wanted to get the content out there for people to enjoy. As always, don’t steal other people’s work.


If you’d like to read the first episode, which gives a little background to the Morbid world, you can find it here.


Aurora:



Aurora Green paced up and down the dusty self-help section of Page Turners. The old bookstore was a favorite of hers. There was something special about the shop. It was ancient, mysterious, and dusty, with a book collection that spanned over centuries. At times, the shelves had a mind of their own and would suggest a book to the browser by popping a book out of place. The ancient store was located in the heart of Morbid, a spooky supernatural town hidden from mortal eyes. The human stores just couldn’t touch the history found on Page Turners’ shelves. Aurora was lucky to be able to explore both worlds as a witch.

There were so many books on what to do once you found your magic. Aurora read many of these when her powers first began to surface. Introductory Spells by Magnus Albertson had been particularly useful in the beginning. She was on her third copy of Earth Magic Simplified by world-renowned Pamela Constantine. She had read it so frequently the ink had faded on the first two copies. These were great and informative books, but they weren’t what she needed. The resources in this section were all for young witches who were new to magic. What she needed was a book detailing what to do if you lost your magic. 

Aurora wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she lost her magic. If she had to put a time on it, she would have guessed around two months. She was in denial, especially since it didn’t go all at once. First, it was just simple things like potions not having the expected potency. Then spells kept backfiring. Eventually, nothing happened at all when she tried any form of magic. It was depressing, and she felt as though she lost a piece of her soul. Or would, if witches had souls. Other people’s souls could be especially valuable for some spells.

She adjusted the brim of her pointed witch’s hat to cover her face as someone walked by, praying to some nameless deity she didn’t believe in, that they didn’t see her. She hadn’t told anyone of her predicament, and couldn’t bear to be seen today. She would be an embarrassment to her family if anyone found out that Coven Leader Morgana Green’s daughter lost her powers. Of all people, Aurora especially couldn’t tell her mother. Morgana would try to fix it, and if she couldn’t fix it, it would have been brought to the attention of the Coven Elders. Aurora could not think of anything that would be less enjoyable and more humiliating than being a research project to the Elders. Most of them were relics that had been around for hundreds of years.

The family of the Coven’s High Priestess was expected to be the most powerful family and master a multitude of powers when normal witches usually only specialize in one or two capabilities at most. Aurora had developed her skills before most of her peers and was expected to follow in her mother’s footsteps and take over the coven when the time came. 

She sighed and put a book back on the shelf. This particular section was covered in cobwebs, which was not particularly off-putting to a witch. Some spells required cobwebs as a binding agent due to the stickiness of the fibers. As she moved her hand, it grazed one of the cobwebs. The sticky silk clung to her hand, and she vigorously shook her hand to try and get free. It was times like this she wished she kept extra vials in her bag, to collect such an excellent adhesive. 

 “You won’t find what you’re looking for in the self-help section,” An eerie voice said from the end of the aisle. 

  Beg your pardon, sir?” Aurora asked, wondering how the older man knew she wouldn’t find whatever she was looking for.

 “You don’t have a magic problem. You have a heart problem. There’s no self-help book for that.” Aurora glanced up at the mysterious somebody, but of course, he was gone in true creepy stranger fashion. Morbid is weird; Aurora thought to herself as she headed to another section of the store. She finally picked out a book titled “Creating Your Own Adventures: A Memoir by George S. Skeleton.” Upon looking at the author’s about me section, Aurora had a vague feeling that she had met this George character before, but couldn’t place the introduction.

Feeling defeated, Aurora walked out of the store. She wondered if she should tell her mother about her predicament after all. So far, she had been able to hide her loss of powers. However, Aurora knew she couldn’t keep this secret much longer. The full moon was approaching, which meant there’d be a coven meeting at the Green home. Their powers were usually heightened at the full moon, and under most circumstances, it wouldn’t be a problem. Aurora often sat off to the side while her mother conducted the meeting. This particular full moon, however, was to be a Super Moon. The closer proximity to Earth would supercharge any moon driven magic. 

Making matters even more complicated for Aurora, the super moon would be present on her twenty-first birthday. In numerology, twenty-one represented success and fulfillment. The majority of the coven had been taking it as confirmation that she was meant to become a High Priestess. During the assemblage, she would be expected to go through a magical obstacle course of sorts, proving that she has what it takes to succeed Morgana.

Aurora wasn’t sure of many things in her life. The two most prominent things she wasn’t sure of was if she ever wanted to be a High Priestess and whether she even had a choice in the matter. To the best of her knowledge, no one had ever turned the position down. If they had, it certainly wasn’t public knowledge. There had been six High Priestesses in her bloodline, and based on how highly her relatives had regarded the position, Aurora felt sure that anyone who turned it down would be shunned.

The frustrated witch sulked as she walked into the large colonial house where she and her family resided. Fortunately, no one was home, and she was able to get into her bedroom without being noticed. She needed to escape to her happy place, which was a small rooftop garden that she had started once she first came into her magic. Aurora walked to the small balcony and used a small metal rod to unroll a rope ladder hidden just under the gutter. She installed it shortly after the garden when she discovered that using magic for something so simple was somewhat draining. That was another difference between Aurora and many of the witches she knew. Many were inclined to use magic for even the most menial tasks; Aurora had always chosen to do a lot of things without magic. At least she had before her magic disappeared.

The rooftop garden was coming along nicely, and while small, had a decent variety of plants that Aurora used with her earth magic. While she could accomplish various types of magic, earth magic was her specialty. She had a genuine affinity for plants, specifically nocturnal ones. Aurora walked to each of her babies and said hello. She often felt that talking to the flowers helped to encourage them to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, they had yet to talk back to her, though she supposed if she did, she’d need to be evaluated by a healer.

“Good afternoon, Ipomoea Violacea,” Aurora said to a small gathering of sea moonflowers as she scrutinized the flower buds. She always handled these particular flowers with care as they could cause hallucinations. Aurora was particularly proud of these as she had found that in tiny amounts, the hallucinogenic factors could be useful in a hypnosis potion, which was currently being tested out by an older warlock who specialized in magic in the use of Psychiatry. 

She moved on to greet the varieties of primroses that she kept. They were some of her favorites, and she often sold them to the bakers in Morbid since the flowers were edible. Aurora let out a sigh. If she had been born to an ordinary family of witches, she could choose her profession. Without any hesitation, she would open up a greenhouse. The idea of what all the plants could do, especially when combined with magic, thrilled her. She was always so proud when she learned that something new that a flower she grew could help with. Medicines, foods, cosmetics, potions, the possibilities were endless.

The realization that she probably didn’t have a choice in what she did came back to her with full force. She was going to have to tell her mother about her powers disappearing soon. She didn’t have much time before the coven meeting, and so far, nothing she had found was working. Aurora glanced up at her greenhouse enclosure and let out a silent thanks that it was still working. 

So, far she had still been able to care for her plants. The magic keeping it going was rather impressive and intricate. The greenhouse itself combined with a human-computer system for inventory purposes with Aurora’s earth magic. In the computer, she could catalog all of the plants she had along with their ideal temperature and environment. There were currently twenty stations in her rooftop garden, all equipped with a small touch screen connected to the inventory. If she took a plant out, all she had to do was type in the name of another plant she wanted to replace it with, and the environment for that station would automatically change. 

The entire system was all run on her magic, and fortunately, it was not a constant thing that she had to pour her powers into. She had her best friend Jericho to thank for that. Jerry was a talented warlock who had a fascination with human machines and technology. He had procured the computer system and touch screens for her. He also helped her create a generator system to power it all. The generator stored her magic and ran it through the entire greenhouse via wires, cables, and an amplifier. Once it returned to the generator, it’d recharge and start the process all over again. It was sort of like an electronic familiar, and because it was entirely self-contained, she rarely had to refill the power source.

Even though she could go a while without refilling the generator, it wasn’t infinite. To make the process easier, she was pouring a little power each day into a spare metal canister. One container would last about four to six months, but she hadn’t been able to refill the extra cartridge much. She had one month of power left on the generator, and maybe a week or two in the backup. The gardening itself was simple. She chose to do that the human way. There was something therapeutic about having your hands in the dirt and coaxing something to grow. Without the generator, the plants could survive, but they’d be fragile, and there was a chance they wouldn’t make it. She very suddenly realized what a tight deadline she was to get her powers back. 

Aurora heard doors opening and closing from inside the house. It sounded like her mother was home. She let out a sigh and looked back at her plants when she heard her name being called. The greenhouse had taken off this past year, and she was starting to bring in enough money from it to where she was considering looking for some property of her own to where she could expand. Maybe build a small cabin on the property and start living on her own. Everything she worked hard for was going to all go away if she lost her magic for good. At least if she were forced into a High Priestess role, it wouldn’t be for some time, and she could still garden and sell everything on the side. There were no rules against that, but training to be a High Priestess was intense and time-consuming. All the greenhouse would ever be then was a hobby.

She signed just as Morgana was climbing up the rope ladder. So much for being alone in her thoughts.

“I thought I’d find you up here, sweetie,” Morgana chirped. 

“Hi, Mom,” Aurora said as she pretended to busy herself with a cactus.

“I’m glad I found you. We need to discuss the ceremony. The full moon is just a couple of days away, and lately, I haven’t seen you practice any complex spells.”

“Oh. Um yeah. Sorry. I’ve been practicing. I’ve just been busy with the greenhouse.” 

“Perhaps this greenhouse is taking up too much of your time. It’s a great hobby, dear, but you need to start focusing on mastering multiple magics when you become High Priestess. It won’t be me forever, you know. While not every witch in the Green family has become a High Priestess, we have one of the longest standing lines of women who have. Six, you know. You’ll be the seventh, which tells me you’ll be very powerful,” Morgana continued. 
Aurora rolled her eyes while her mother wasn’t looking. She had been prepared to say something to Morgana about her powers, but the rant her mother provided deterred her. So instead, she just pretended to be busy herself in the flowers.

“Mom, I get it. Me being High Priestess is important to you. It’s tradition and all of that. I assure you, I am taking it seriously, but my work in the greenhouse is also important. I’m helping the community with it.” 

“Yes, dear, I understand you’ve got people coming to you to purchase plants, which gives you a sense of purpose. Once you are in your training, you’ll realize just how many more people you’ll be helping as the High Priestess. Average witches and warlocks specialize, dear, because they don’t have other abilities. As a leader in the coven, you’ll be looked to for guidance in all magics. Why don’t you finish up here and come downstairs? We’ll work on ley line magic,” Morgana said as she started to make her way back down from the rooftop.

Aurora didn’t reply, only nodded and sunk to the ground when she was sure her mother couldn’t see her. She sat with her forehead and arms on her knees and sobbed uncontrollably. All the earth witch wanted to do was continue her work on her garden and advance it, but her mother was determined to make her the next High Priestess. She no longer even had days to figure out her magic. She had ten minutes at most before her mother came back up to find her. Slowly Aurora tried to summon her magic and find the nearest ley line. There was one that ran through her backyard she knew, but the buzz and pulsing she usually felt when she reached for it was gone. She tried once more and still nothing. 

Aurora got up with nothing left to do and started to head downstairs to the kitchen, where Morgana was likely waiting for her. She was going to have to face her fears and admit to losing her powers. She had been dreading this so much, and after the speech about how important it was to be the High Priestess, Aurora felt like it was going to be a very unpleasant conversation. 

When she reached the kitchen, she found Morgana at the kitchen island sipping a cup of tea and reading the Morbid Times, the local newspaper for the city. Aurora cleared her throat as she walked towards the island and took the seat across from Morgana. The other woman sweetly smiled as she folded up her newspaper. 

“Are you ready to begin?” Morgana asked her daughter.

“No, I’m not,” Aurora said sharply.

“No? Do you need a minute?” 

“Mom... I’m going to need longer than a minute I...” 

“What’s wrong?”

“Mom... I can’t do magic anymore. I haven’t been able to for at least a month. It started fading two months ago.” 

“I know. I’d been wondering when you were going to tell me.”

“You knew? How? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Aurora, I’m the High Priestess. Did you not think I wouldn’t detect less magic being used in the house, especially when it involved my daughter? I didn’t say anything because I thought you were embarrassed and would eventually. Though I do wish you would have come to me sooner.” 

“Oh. I didn’t know that you could sense other people’s magic. Mom, has anyone ever turned down being the leader of the coven?” 

“Well, honestly, not that I know of. I’d have to ask the elders. In our family, the only person who has been skipped for High Priestess was your great-grandmother Lillith. That was only because she died in childbirth with her third child. It went to Rosemary Moongold, who held the position for several years until your grandmother came of age. I’m sure we’ll get your powers back in time if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Mom, I don’t think I want to be a High Priestess. I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell you, but then my magic disappeared, and I panicked. I don’t want to let you down, but It’s just not that important to me.” 

“I see... I can’t say that I’m not disappointed, but I suppose I have been pressuring you about it since your magic first showed up. Though, if we can’t get your magic back, it won’t matter what either of us wants. I’m guessing what you want to do is continue with your greenhouse and earth magic. How is that doing without your magic?”

“I do, mom. I’m really proud of the work I’ve been doing, and I was going to start saving my money from it and buy a space for a bigger greenhouse. Maybe find a place of my own. I’m worried about the garden. It’s okay for now, but I’ve got a little over a month left. If I cut the power to the less sensitive plants, maybe two.” 

“If it comes down to it, I’ll fill a couple of canisters for you to keep it running on one condition. You at least consider still going through the training to be a High Priestess. I’m not saying you have to become the High Priestess, but consider the training, if nothing else, to expand your magical knowledge. If you decide you don’t want to after the training, I’ll let the elders know, and we’ll figure it out from there. Speaking of which, I’m going to summon them. While I do that, will you order a couple of pizzas from Garlic Goblins?”

Aurora mumbled her agreement and went off to order pizzas. While she was grateful her secret was out, this conversation was precisely why she had waited so long to tell her mother. Morgana went straight into problem-solving mode, and Aurora felt as though she was now a science project. With the elders coming over, it was sure to be a long night. 

Minutes after the food was ordered, the first of the elders showed up. There were six ancient witches and warlocks. Morgana being the coven leader, was an honorary elder, making it a nice magical seven. The High Priestess opened the door to find an old crone named Gretel at the door. Her age was a bit of a mystery as she was, being the oldest of the coven’s council. In her time, birthdates weren’t often recorded anywhere, seeing as most people back then couldn’t read or write. Aurora thought she was at least 350 years old. Gretel didn’t say a whole lot, but when she did, people usually listened. She had an uncanny ability to predict minor details of the future and liked to call people Gooseberry. Like most things involving the old witch, no one understood why.

Gretel entered the greenhouse without exchanging pleasantries with Morgana. The older witch only stopped to tell her that she suspected Ester to be the next to arrive. Without another word, there was a faint “Come along, Gooseberry” as the witch headed towards the kitchen with her familiar following her closely. Being as old as she was, she had gone through more than a few familiars. The current one being a hideous hairless cat named Winky. 

Sure enough, a few minutes after Gretel made herself at home in the Green’s kitchen, Ester showed up at the door. She was a great deal more social than the other witch and made idle chit chat with Morgana before heading to the kitchen as well. Aurora had always liked Ester. She was a jovial woman who had been a professor at the witch’s academy for several decades. She was skilled in a few types of magic but specialized in magical baking. Not only did she have many spellbooks that taught how to use magic for baking, but she often came to Aurora for various plants to use in her herbal cupcakes and candies. The earth witch made a mental note to let Ester know her order of lavender would be ready in a couple of days.

Aurora made small talk with Ester as Gretel sat nearby observing. Winky glared from a distance, clearly thinking he was above anything the witches were doing. They were eventually joined by the three warlocks on the council, Rupert, Marty, and John. All three were grandfatherly types who mostly deferred to their witchy counterparts on the committee. If they had some ideas, they’d voice them, but otherwise, they’d sit and listen. 

The final elder was Aurora’s grandmother, Maven, who she loved dearly but lacked time-management skills. The sassy older witch did things in her own way and didn’t much care if anyone minded or not. Maven even joked that when the time came, she’d be late for her funeral. 

“Hello, Grandmama,” Aurora said as she kissed the older witch’s cheek and pulled out a chair for her. 

“Oh, hello there, Dearie. You’ve sure got your mother worked up into a hissy fit,” Maven announced as she took her seat with the other elders. “Don’t worry so much about it. I’m sure it’s payback for all of the times she worked me into one. Will get you fixed right as rain.” 

Morgana entered with the food that had arrived shortly after Maven and Aurora set out plates and napkins for everyone to use. There wasn’t much talk over dinner beyond small talk, but once the kitchen island had been cleared, it was down to business. Morgana spared Aurora the trouble of answering questions all over again and gave a brief recap of what the young witch had been experiencing.

“Gooseberry, has any of the magic come back at various times?” Gretel asked as she consulted an old Grimoire.

“No, Ma’am. It faded gradually. I haven’t been able to do anything since it completely faded.” Aurora replied. 

“I see. Well. It’s not completely gone. I can still sense a small spark. It’s just faint and blocked,” Gretel replied as she turned the page in her book.

“Is it possible she siphoned too much power into her plant gizmo?” Rupert asked as he shuffled a deck of Tarot cards. Aurora never put much stock into the fortune-telling tool but had to admit her curiosity peaked when the old warlock flipped over the Ace of Cups, and it was upside down. Each card had a reverse meaning when in this position. This particular one represented emotional loss, blocked creative energy, and emptiness.

Hours passed as the ancient witches and warlocks took turns asking Aurora ridiculous questions based on information they found relevant in their spellbooks. So far, nothing had proved to be fruitful in figuring out what was going on other than that there was a blockage. Rupert’s suggestion was dismissed since magic never really seemed like a quantitative thing. 

“Oh, you foul beastie,” Ester screeched as Winky ran across the counter, spilling the old witch’s drink. Aurora got up to find a towel to clean up the mess as another question was fired at her. “Have you consumed any eye of newt, lately?”

“Why on earth would mustard seed block her magic, you absolute Gooseberry!” Gretel retorted. The old crone was lively when she wanted to be. Her favorite pet name was interchangeable as an endearment or an insult, depending on how she used it. This usage of Gooseberry was the latter.

“Well, I don’t know. She gardens. It was plausible,” Ester responded dismissively.

Maven tapped her fingers on the table thoughtfully. Morgana had been unusually quiet while Aurora answered questions, and hadn’t even offered up her suggestions. This was unlike the High Priestess, who typically put her two cents in about any subject. It could be just a mother’s worry, but Maven thought there was something her daughter and granddaughter were hiding. Especially Morgana.

“Aurora, what were you doing when you lost your powers?”

“Grandmama, I told you it was gradual... I don’t know.”

“That’s not what I mean, dear. After they gradually disappeared, when you finally noticed they were gone, what were you doing, or what were you thinking about?”

“I was preparing for my birthday examination.”

“Earth magic in your garden?” 

“No, just some basic spells.”

“I see, and at that point had your Earth magic failed you?”

“No, but it did after that. When the spells sputtered out, I went up to the rooftop and tried to pour some magic into a canister, and there was nothing.”

“Mhm. And what were you thinking?” 

“I.. I don’t really know. It was a while ago,” Aurora said, dodging the question. She looked at Morgana, whose face was unreadable as she took a sip of tea.

“Uh-huh,” Maven said knowingly. “I’m sure the fact that your magic you use for greenhouse being the last to go and it being right before your trials are just coincidence. Try again, dear. The six of us weren’t born yesterday, and your mother’s barely said a peep.”

Aurora let out a sigh before she began, “I was thinking about how I don’t want to be the next High Priestess. I was trying to figure out if anyone had chosen not to be before and how to get out of it. The idea had been on my mind a lot.” 

“Well, I think we have our answer. Now let’s test it out. Go up to your garden and grab a few things that you can clip off the main plant. I want to see a white flower, one with a bud, and a large leaf. Morgana, if we could have two vases,” Maven requested.

Aurora did as she was told and went up to the rooftop. She felt relieved and mildly terrified to have the council know that she doesn’t want the Priestesshood. They didn’t seem to feel one way or another as far as she could tell but recognized that the collective centuries of experience probably helped them hide their thoughts from showing on their faces. For the first time in months, there seemed to be hope, and she quickly snipped a white carnation, a tulip bud, and the leaf off of a lilac plant before returning to the kitchen.

The young witch came back to several patient, old eyes watching her. She sat the flowers in the respective faces that were sitting on the counter and placed the leaf on a small plate. She waited hesitantly, sure that she was about to embarrass herself in front of the council.

 “Ready to begin, child?” Maven asked her granddaughter. “I want you to close your eyes and clear your mind. Inhale and think only of being able to follow the path you want to follow. Exhale. Good. Inhale. Exhale. Now keep your eyes closed and focus on the lilac leaf. Picture it on the plate in your mind. When you’ve got a clear image of it, I want you to picture it dried out and brown, like after a chilly fall day.”

  You want me to kill it? Isn’t that dark magic?” Aurora asked with her eyes closed.”

“Focus, Aurora,” Maven chided. “And no, it’s not dark magic. The leaf was going to die anyway since it’s separated from the root. You can use it in compost to help grow other plants, creating life. It’s all about balance. Now, after you picture the leaf being as I told you and keep your eyes closed. If you’re picturing it tell me what you feel.”

 “I feel silly,” Aurora said sarcastically.

  Oh, hush. What do you feel?” the old witch asked again.

 “My fingers are tingly.”

 “Good. That’s your magic trying to work it’s way through and follow your focus. Keep the eyes closed and breathe again. Inhale. Count to five. Exhale. Count to five. On your next inhale picture, the tulip bud. Think about it opening up and blooming. Alright. Last exercise. Keep the eyes closed and remember your breathing. Now picture the carnation in your head and change its color.”

 Aurora followed the instructions each time. She could feel the magic pulsing through her veins. It was faint, but after months of not having it at all, it was an improvement that she cherished. When it came time to focus on the carnation, she wanted it to be bright and colorful, but she couldn’t settle on one color. Red? No. Blue? No. Pink? No, not that either. She kept shifting colors in her mind until her grandmother spoke again.

 “I think that’s enough for now, Aurora. Open your eyes,” Maven said sweetly.

  She did as the old witch instructed, the others in the council looked at her, thoughts masked yet again. It took some time before she realized that anything had changed. When she looked at the leaf, it was on the plate, crumpled and brown. The tulip was no longer a bulb but a big bright, beautiful yellow flower. The carnation was the most impressive of the three. It was no longer the pure white color it had been. Instead, it was a vibrant rainbow with red, blue, and pink. 

  Aurora stared in disbelief. Surely the elderly coven members were playing a trick on her, though she didn’t peg any of them for practical jokers. She looked at her grandmother, who sat there with a proud smirk on her face.

 “Was that me, or did any of you do it to make me feel better?” Aurora asked.

  That was all you, dearie. I won’t say that your magic is back at full force, but it’s not as subdued as it was. I think you’ll need to exercise it slowly before it’s back to what it was. It’s getting late, so we should all go, but don’t think this is over. I’ll be back over in the morning to discuss you not wanting to be the next High Priestess.” Maven said as she got up from her chair. The others followed and said they’d return as well.

 Aurora said goodnight to Morgana and went to her room. Her mother had continued to be silent throughout the whole process. Aurora wondered what was going through her mother’s head, but was too tired to ask. Instead, she tried a few simple magic spells to see if she could still do them. The first spell Aurora tried was to turn off the lights, which took a few minutes longer than it should but eventually worked. After that, she decided to create a small orb of light in her palm. Aurora was able to get the ball the size of a golf ball, but the light was dim and flickered out quickly. 

 The next morning she woke surprisingly well-rested. After going through her regular morning ritual, she went down to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Morgana was already waiting for Aurora and handed her a mug on her arrival. Mmm caffeine. Magic in its own right, and probably the best thing from the human world to come to Morbid.

 “Thanks, Mom. You were pretty quiet during the Morbid Inquisition yesterday. You okay?” Aurora asked as she stirred a little creamer into her cheeky mug that had a cartoon witch winking on the side with the words’ Witch’s Brew’. 

 “Mhm. I suppose so. I can’t help but thinking that this is my fault and that I pushed you too far. I’m incredibly sorry, Aurora,” Morgana said weakly.

 “I don’t think it’s your fault, mom. I think you just really wanted me to follow in your footsteps, which I appreciate that you think I’m capable of doing, but I think we need to accept the fact that it just may not be meant to happen.” 

 “Well, the council will be over again shortly. I don’t know what else their plans are. They’re kind of leaving me out of it since I’m your mother. I guess that could interfere in the process.”

“Oh. Well, okay. Have they dealt with something like this before?”

“I don’t think so. I think it was just a trial and error of trying to figure out why it was happening. Maven may have used some special grandmother sixth sense, however. You two always did have an exceptional bond.”

The two witches enjoyed their coffee amicably for a few more minutes until the doorbell chimed. Surprisingly all of the other council members showed up together, including the always fashionably late, Maven. Aurora answered the door and ushered them into the sitting room while Morgana brought in refreshments. The three warlocks sat awkwardly on the old floral print couch, while the three older women each picked out a chair. Aurora and her mother brought in a couple of chairs from the dining room to sit on.

Gretel wasted no time before getting down to business. “Gooseberry, what’s this about you not wanting to be High Priestess?” The old witch asked. 

“There’s not much more to it than that, Ma’am. I’ve been working on my greenhouse and building a business with it. One I’m very proud of, might I add. I’ve been partnering with all kinds of Morbidians and feel like it can become a staple in the community. If I’m even a High Priestess in training, I’d have to give that up. While I’d like to expand my magical knowledge further, I don’t want to lead and don’t want to be on the council.”

“I see. Why didn’t you just say so instead of letting us schedule the examination in front of all of the coven? You don’t have to be in High Priestess training to learn more magic if you have the aptitude. You could be a generalist; most just don’t have the aptitude for multiple forms of magic.”

“I’m afraid that’s my fault, Gretel. I didn’t give Aurora much of a chance to decide for herself. When she started to show her abilities in various magics, I just assumed she would follow in the family business and do it. I’ve put a lot of pressure on her,” Morgana explained, surprising Aurora a great deal.

“Yes, and a lot of good that did her, Morgana. Now she can barely use her powers at all, and we have to coax what’s still there out from behind a wall. Gooseberry,” Gretel chided. She was never one to mince words, and Morgana nodded as she sulked in her chair. Aurora felt remorse for her mother and passed her what she hoped was a sympathetic smile.

“Am I going to be tested in a few days in front of the coven?” Aurora asked reluctantly. She did promise her mother she would, if possible.

“You’re a strong witch, but magic is like a muscle. You have to strengthen it over time, but if you push it too far, you’ll just do more harm than good. The trials aren’t a bound contract, just an intent. When your magic returns to you fully, if it is your desire, you can complete your trials during another full moon. But it must be your desire, no one else’s. If it is not your wish, this could happen again, and the effect could be permanent,” Maven revealed.

Most of the elders didn’t stay long. Aurora was given specific instructions to go back to the basics. Simple spells and potions and only a little at a time. They would check on her periodically to see how she was progressing. Maven stayed behind seeing her peers out on the Green’s behalf. Morgana fiddled with her teacup. Aurora stared at her hands like they weren’t her own. Neither realized with the matronly witch reentered until she spoke.

“Out with it, you two. What’s the full story? You may have the other council members fooled, but I’m not. There’s more you’re not telling us,” Maven demanded, standing up against the kitchen door frame with her arms crossed.

“I made Morgana promise that if she got her magic back that she’d still consider doing the trials and do the High Priestess training,” Morgana said guiltily.

“It’s amazing that as my daughter and the Coven Leader, you can still be an absolute fool, Morgana. Release her from her promise to you.”

“No, Grandmama. It’s fine. I’ll do the trial when I get my strength back up,” Aurora said, trying to defend her mother.

“Aurora, listen to me. I love that you honor your promises, but your mother needs to release you from this. It’s too much pressure; you could lose your magic completely. The only thing you need to do is listen to your heart and follow your dreams, child.”

“I.. I... I release you from your promise, Aurora. You don’t have to do the trials or follow in my footsteps as High Priestess. I just want you to be whole and happy. I see now that I was wrong and was acting in my own best interests and not yours. I’m so sorry,” Morgana said with a defeated tone to her voice.

 The young witch thanked her mother as her grandmother spoke, “Good. Now that that’s taken care of, we get you on the path of following your dreams. I assume that is your greenhouse. I will come over every day to work with you on your magic. We’ll start small to build your strength. It’s good that you learned to garden the mortal way because you’ll need those skills until your powers are fully restored. In the meantime, start drawing up a business plan. You aren’t going to be able to continue operating on your mother’s roof. Once your powers are restored, I will loan you whatever you need to purchase the land. You can pay me half of it back. The other half will be your birthday present.” 

 “Grandmama, that’s so generous of you. Having the greenhouse is my dream, but that’s so much money. What if I don’t succeed, or I can’t pay you back?” Aurora asked.

“I have faith that you will find a way to succeed. One of the benefits of being old as the hills is that you have a lot of time to acquire a bit of wealth,” Maven said lovely as she patted her granddaughter on the hand.

“Mother, if you don’t mind me piggybacking off your offer, I’d like to contribute as well. I’ve put Aurora through enough. I’ll pay back the other half of the loan. Then she can start on the right foot without the added worry of getting you your investment back.”

“A fine idea, Morgana. If Aurora accepts, then I do as well. Though, I must put in a stipulation that neither of us controls any of the business. It’s just a gift. What do you say, granddaughter?” 

Aurora mulled the idea over in her head and ultimately accepted. She felt hopeful for the first time in months. The three witches shook on it, and Maven helped her granddaughter practice a few basic magic exercises as promised. After the elder witch left for the day, Morgana helped Aurora fill a canister with magic to power the generator.

The young witch’s twenty-first birthday came and went. Maven and the elders came over as promised and checked on her frequently. Aurora’s magic gained strength as the months went on, and after a year, she felt back to her former self. She no longer needed her mother to help power the greenhouse, and her spells held their usual potency level.

As promised, Maven and Morgana helped her secure some property in town. It was accessible to the busiest parts of Morbid, but still had a secluded feel to it. The best part was it had a small move-in ready cottage. The new space was perfect, and soon her gardening business, aptly named Dream Greenhouse, was up and running. It was early, but it was already proving to be very successful. Aurora frequently pinched herself when she looked at what she achieved. It had been a hard year with losing her powers and getting them back. In the end, taking Maven’s advice of following your dreams had been the best decision the young witch had made. 



Saturday, May 16, 2020

Book Review: Togwotee Passage by L.G. Cullens


Goodreads Summary: Togwotee (toe'-ga-tee) is the name of a challenging mountain pass in the Absaroka Mountains of northwest Wyoming. In the title of this fictive tale, it's a metaphor for the main character's physical and cognitive Passage through the seasons of life's chaotic landscape.
The story begins with a dysfunctional family life in the 1940s that stains Calan's outlook. When the abuse escalates to life-threatening, an intervention introduces him to wilderness on a grand scale, as well as a Shoshone friend with a differing perspective of life. This but fledgling steps in a life of unexpected twists and turns.

With off-the-beaten-path experiences and intimately relatable characters, this tale is a thought kindling journey of mind and spirit, complemented with expressive illustrations.

Literary Eco-fiction, Adventure, Nature

Goodreads Rating: 5 stars with one review

Genre listing: Literary Eco-fiction, Adventure, Nature

Goodreads Challenge: 18/60

2020 Reading Challenge: #13 a book under 400 pages (see the full challenge here)

Bookreview:

First, some legal stuff: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

It's been a while since I've done an author requested review, probably around a year since the last one. I feel like I should explain my process with the author requested reviews since it's been so long. I tend to approach these a little differently than I do my regular reviews. With reviews of books that I've chosen for myself, I'm not nearly as critical in the reviews. I'm still honest about them, but I don't go into thinking about the author's needs from the review. My audience is mostly just my blog readers who want to know about that book. Whereas with the author requested ones, I feel that I have two audiences, the author and the reader. I'll never intentionally be mean if I don't care for a book, but I do promise to be honest and be constructive with my feedback. This isn't necessarily to foreshadow for this review in specific, but I have a handful of author requested reviews coming up, and I thought it'd be helpful to better explain my process.  Anyways, on with the review! This is going to be a lengthy one.

L.G. Cullens reached out to me asking for a review, and honestly, when he said it was about Native American mythology, I was in. It doesn't take much to pique my interest. He caught me at an interesting time when I was digging through Ancestry.com, trying to figure out where my own Native American roots come into my family's timeline. Beyond history classes, it's not a culture that I read a ton of. Truthfully, I need to make a point to learn about more cultures altogether. 

I'm going to get the negative out of the way that way we can end on a positive note. For what it's worth, I really hate providing negative feedback for any book I read, but if I didn't, it wouldn't be honest. The things I didn't like about the book were mainly technical issues that I had as a reader. Please note, I am not an editor. I have a basic college education and a Grammarly account that I probably don't run as often as I should. When I talk about technical findings, feel free to take it with a grain of salt. 

Togwotee Passage starts in the third-person present tense. The latter is definitely not my preference to read. This problem is with me, not a problem with the book. My brain sees it and shuts down, so it takes me a while to process when reading in the present tense. My issue with the book is somewhere around chapter twelve. It switches to first-person present tense for a couple of chapters before turning back to the original way. I think one of the chapters from the different points of view was in the wife's perspective as well. There may be technically correct reasons for the change; however, as a reader, it took me out of the story. When I read it, I basically stopped and was like 'Wait, did that just change from third-person to first?' and then I had to go back and figure out if it did or if I imagined it. Unfortunately, it took me a little bit to regain interest in the story, and then when it changed back, I had the same reaction. The second time around, it wasn't as strong as a reaction, and I was able to move on pretty quickly. For me, even from the wife's perspective, I think it would have just felt more consistent with sticking with either first person or third. 

That is really my biggest "negative" with the book, so let's move on to the positive parts of the story! Togwotee Passage is very character-driven. It covers a lot of years in only a short amount of pages, luckily we aren't going year to year. It more sums up a decade and sticks to significant moments in Calan's life. L.G. does an excellent job of instantly making you feel for Calan and what he's gone through. When the book starts, Calan is just a boy, and within a few pages, you already begin to feel sorry for the kid and want him to do well. In a lot of ways, I thought the character was really relatable because of that. Honestly, Calan reminded me a lot of my dad. 

I think even if Eco Literature isn't your thing, you will learn a lot. I certainly feel like I did. I wasn't all that interested in science growing up, and Environmental Science was really the only one that piqued my interest in school. The way it is written, you can tell that L.G. Cullens is very knowledgable about the subject. At least for me, it definitely made me evaluate how I approach the environment. I've always had a certain respect for nature. I could be better at practicing it, but my general thought has always been to not upset Mother Nature. There's a certain balance that's represented in this book. If you're hunting or fishing, don't take more than you need. Leave the wild animals alone, and they'll likely leave you alone. There's a lot more to what is taught in this book, and I honestly wouldn't be able to do the educational factor justice if I went into all of it.

There is more than just storytelling in this book. There are also a few poems and artwork as well, which I think the author did himself. I really liked the poetry, and the artwork really helps with picturing the story. I particularly liked the images dealing with some of the wildlife. The pictures of the character's huskies were probably my favorite. I think the artwork is sort of a vector style if I had to guess, but it'd only be a guess. 

I thought that the ending was really appropriate for Calan's beliefs. It made nature and ideologies that Calan learned on the reservation come full circle. It also really tied into the cover artwork and made me go "Aww!" when I realized the connection. Overall, Tugwotee Passage is a short read at under 300 pages. Don't be put off by the same technical things I was and give it a chance. It's an excellent way to learn some things. 


Friday, May 15, 2020

Discussion Post: Podcasts


Happy Friday, Readers! I've been wanting to do this post for a while, but keep forgetting about it. I thought since I actually remembered, I should probably actually get it done. Like most things in life, I am woefully behind on the trends and really just started getting into podcasts in the past two years. I thought I'd switch things up from books for a bit and talk about the podcasts I typically listen to and where I listen to them at.

I typically listen to podcasts while I'm working. Since I've been working from home, I haven't been as good at keeping up with them. I also start from the oldest and work my way up; that way, I can be clued in on any inside jokes or info that might be discussed. Typically, I either listen to podcasts on Google Play or Stitcher, depending on what it is.

There is a distinct trend in what I listen to. It is either about murder or writing. I'm not sure what that says about me as a person. The following info is in no particular order. I've also put a link to the website, if possible. I don't get anything out of it, I just want to share these podcasts.

Podcasts: 

  1. Small Town Murder- Hosted by James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman, who are both stand-up comics. Each episode they take you on a trip to some small town. They discuss the town and then tell you a murder story. There is swearing, and a lot of rants abound. Truthfully, murder shouldn't be this funny. I really have to watch when I listen to this because I will legitimately crack up laughing while listening to these guys. Bonus, They also have another podcast called Crime in Sports. I haven't listened to this one as much as Small Town Murder, but I'm sure it's great. You can check them out at their website, https://shutupandgivememurder.com.
  2. True Crime Garage- Hosted by Nic and The Captain, who are both based out of Ohio. They take a really deep dive into what the case is about, and usually, the episodes are done in two parts. Not only do they tell the story, but they give their thoughts on the case. Each episode also has a new beer that they are trying in the Garage. Not as hilarious as Small Town Murder, but still pretty comical at times. I listened to this a lot before moving to Minnesota when I had an hour to an hour and a half commute. You can check them out at their website, https://www.truecrimegarage.com.
  3. Crime Junkie-  Hosted by lifelong best friends Ashley and Brit. These ladies are what started me into my Podcast listening. They are based out of Indianapolis, where I am originally from. Ashley does a lot of work for Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana and, once upon a time, was doing a True Crime story each week on one of the local radio stations. Murder Monday was the best!  Anyways, she and Brit started their own podcast. Because Ashley is on the board of directors for Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana, a lot of the stories they cover are unsolved. Find them here at their website, https://crimejunkiepodcast.com/.
  4.  Today in True Crime- This is put on by the Parcast network. This one appeals to the history nerd in me. There is a new episode each day, and they are only about 15 to 20 minutes long. What I really like is that it's not always about a murder. There are other crimes mixed in. It's perfect for binging at work, honestly, and I feel like I'm learning something. You can find out more info on the website, https://www.parcast.com/today-in-true-crime.
  5. Stuff You Missed in History Class- This is hosted by Holly and Tracy. I think It's switched networks a couple of times, so I'm not sure what the correct website for them is. Anyways, as a history nerd, this appeals to me. It covers a little bit of everything, and the hosts are likable.
  6. Writing Excuses- The host list for this includes authors Maurice Broaddus, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Valynne E. Maetani, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. This podcast features all of these writings (a lot of the writers vary from season to season), giving writing tips to other writers. I like it because it is short and to the point. Plus, I feel like I get better at writing by listening to it and practicing some of what they discuss. You can find out more info on their website, https://writingexcuses.com/.
  7. Self Publishing with Dale- This is the most recent podcast I've added to the list of things I've started listening too. I just started this one earlier in the week. So far, it seems like it has a lot of good advice not only from the host, Dale but also other self-published authors that he interviews. I'm hoping this helps me with my own self-publishing efforts because I have no clue what I'm doing. You can find out more info on his website, https://selfpublishingwithdale.com/.

So these are the main podcasts I try to listen to. What kind of podcasts do you listen to? Feel free to comment with your own suggestions!




Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book Review: Darkthirst by Bella Forrest

Goodreads Summary: "Without us, evil will continue to grow. In the end, it will consume everything. Everyone."
Sink deeper into the enthralling world of Darklight...
Goodreads Rating: 4.2 stars with over 1200 ratings
Genre listing: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Vampires
Other Reviews on the series: Darklight by Bella Forrest
Goodreads Challenge: 17/60 (currently 4 books behind)
2020 Reading Challenge: #12 Free Space, pick any book! (Find the full challenge here)

Book Review:

Oh, hey. I used up my first free space. I am pretty sure when Tress and I started including those, we solely put them in so she can do her series rereads and so I can get lost in some kindle unlimited tunnel and never see the light of day again. This year's series that is going to completely derail my challenge progress is Darklight. I burned through the first book and then promptly got the second one immediately after I finished. I'm not even going to pretend like there's hope for me at this point. There isn't. Just let me dig further into the random paranormal KU series I find and let me be. Unless you have snacks. 

Alright, so Darkthirst takes place right about where Darklight left off. If there's any time gap, it might be a week if that. All through Darkthirst, the Vampires and Humans who defected are on the run from the bureau. There's a lot of continued action and fighting, lots of strategy on how to defeat the corrupt bureau. It's kind of nice to read a really action-forward book. After some of the longer books I've read where it's been about quests and day to day activities, it's a good change to have all of this movement and planning. 

I had like four or five hours of sleep last night, mainly because of this book. I had about 100 pages or so, and decided I needed to be up until 2:30 am because of reasons. Hopefully, this post is coherent because of that. I really didn't want to put this book down, if you can tell. It really kept my interest throughout the entire thing. I felt like there were a lot of twists and turns. Some of them I expected, some of them I didn't.

Most of the characters were reoccurring. I don't know if there was a ton of character depth in Darkthirst, but I also don't know if it was needed. I don't really feel like any of the characters really grew a whole lot. I still think Lyra and Dorian are kind of adorable. I also kind of hate myself for liking them as much as I do. Should I be reading better literature than vampire romances? Yes. Am I going to? No. Do I care? No, not really. Read what you want, honestly.

There is a character who gets introduced later in the story that I absolutely adore. Bryce's sister Morag makes an appearance, and she's kind of amazing. I really hope that she's going to be a future addition to later stories.

I really wish that I had a more coherent review for readers on this one. I'm tired but wanted to get this done so I can move on to other things. The short version of it is that Darkthirst is action-packed and unexpectedly enjoyable. Bella Forrest's vampires in the Darklight have a unique premise to them, which I love. Yes, there's paranormal romance, yes it's cheesy and adorable, but there's also interesting characters and a good plot. It's an action-packed quick read that I think a lot of paranormal readers would love.



Housekeeping bits: 


1.) I've got two author requests for reviews in the reading queue. The first of which, I am currently reading and am about halfway done with it. I expect to have a review up for it by this weekend, if not sooner. Once I'm done with that, I'll start on the second request. If you are an author and would like me to read your book, please check out my review request page here.

2.) If you've been to my page recently and have seen political ads, I apologize. I am not an overly political person. I really don't want politics on my blog, and had no idea that those ads were being shown. I've since figured out how to block political ads, so they shouldn't be showing up again. Any ads displayed on my website are not actually indicative of my thoughts or products I use.