“I do love this house,” Giles told the agent. “Such a large yard and private too. But I’m afraid it’s out of my budget. I’m on a fixed income, you know.”
Samantha nodded. “Yes. They want a retiree. Someone to appreciate the books and art. And to agree not to change anything in the library. They’ll slash the price in half for you.”
“In half!” Giles grabbed the contract from her hand. “Do you have a pen?”
A month after moving into his new home, Giles felt restless. Insomnia had never plagued him before, but now he found himself wide awake several times a night, unable to sleep properly. He prowled the rooms, abiding by his promise not to touch anything. Except for the kitchen and master suite, which he’d been allowed to fix up to his own tastes, this was becoming a burden.
Faces in old photos on the walls stared at him, some quite hauntingly familiar. He dared not turn them over to check for info, for he had signed in writing he wouldn’t. But surely he could read a book from the study and put it right back in the same spot afterwards? Giles opened the door.
It was so musty in here, due to the lack of cleaning no doubt. He really shouldn’t have agreed to such ridiculous terms. The place needed a thorough mopping and airing out. Giles spied a frayed book on the history of witchcraft sitting on top of a shelf, not even tucked away. He picked it up.
Samantha let the widow peek inside the library. “The seller is willing to reduce the price substantially if you will agree in writing not to touch any of the books and art. He fancies that he lives on in them.”
“Oh, I understand,” Carol smiled. “Artists are so quirky.”
For seven years, Kiara had toiled at Wolf Castle. She’d been grateful they took her in of course, that night she’d arrived, sick and bloody, with a broken hand. They had fixed her. Then they’d put her to work.
“Don’t think you’re here to learn secrets for petty revenge,” Lady Wolf had warned her repeatedly. “We have important tasks to fulfill. You’ll do as you’re told.”
But Kiara had learned the secrets and spells. She burned for revenge against the cruel man who had hurt her back at the pretty cottage by the sea, where she’d felt safe surrounded by flowers and lovely things, until that night. Here, all was dark and cold and ugly, but no one hurt her. Not in that way, not like her stepfather had.
Now, seven years later, Kiara was ready to return. Quietly, she packed a small bag with poisons she’d concocted from ancient books and a sharp knife she’d pilfered. She crept down the stairs and went around to the back door, the one they used to exit to the graveyard.
As she began walking past the crumbling stones, Kiara heard a noise, a breath. She stopped. Something brushed past her and she half-screamed.
“Quiet!” he hissed, moving his hood back so she could see his face. “They’ll find us.”
Kiara recognized Thorn, Lady Wolf’s strange son, who up until now seemed to communicate only with animals. His eyes glinted in the moonlight like a cat’s, and she shivered. “Why are you here?”
“I’ve been watching you,” he said. “I know you’re going back to the sea.”
Kiara couldn’t deny it. “I need to settle with someone.”
“I’ll help you.”
Kiara’s fury rose up. “He’s mine!”
“I want to watch.” Thorn smiled and white teeth glittered like jewels. “Take me with you.”
Icefire the dragon heard the soft clop of the horseshoes through the snow and knew a knight approached his bridge. His sensitive nose sniffed out that this was a rider from the East, one of the King’s men. Under normal circumstances, Icefire would come out from under the bridge and burn up the knight, which would indeed be a pleasure. But these were extraordinary times.
Last summer, Icefire had met a princess in the forest. Not just any princess, but the fairest maiden ever born. Instead of being afraid of him, the little princess had given him a bouquet of flowers. Icefire had fallen in love! He’d given her his pledge of honor. Anything in the world that she wanted, he would do for her.
She’d asked only one thing: please don’t kill her father’s knights when they crossed the bridge.
Hmph. It certainly went against a dragon’s nature not to set fire to a knight, but Icefire had his bouquet of dried flowers to remind him of his promise.
I’d imagined this moment so many times, but I never expected it to happen so dramatically. My book Ghosted came to the attention of a big influencer who gushed over it to all her fans. What a lucky break! Suddenly, I was on the best-seller list and money came pouring into my account every month. Next thing I knew, I was flying all expenses paid first-class to NYC for a signing tour and interviews. But not only that! I was also hosting Saturday Night Live, a dream come true. As my plane headed east, I composed a brilliantly funny sketch for my monologue. The flight attendants were awed by my presence, kept fluffing my pillows, and served me endless pots of delicious vanilla tea and buttery little cookies with rainbow sprinkles. My SNL gig was a big success, Brad Pitt kissed me at the after-party, and everyone everywhere kept saying how hilarious I was. A fabulous writer and a fantastic comedian! I was over the moon.
But then he contacted me, demanding to know if Ghosted was about him and threatening to sue if I didn’t split my profits with him. He began saying online that the novel was totally based on our relationship, and I had to clarify to the media that we didn’t even have a relationship, which I guess made me sound kind of cold. He went on a talk show and cried, so everyone began feeling sorry for him. Soon, people started grumbling that I was a bad person and had no regard for this poor, sad man. My sales plummeted and I began getting hate mail. Other exes read my older books and announced that those were also based on actual people. My doorbell rang this morning, but instead of the usual fan mail, flowers, cupcakes, etc., it was a process server handing me 25 summons to appear in court. All the exes were suing me for libel! It was going to cost millions!
I slammed the door and it fell off its hinges. The process server grinned like a maniac as it began to rain. I realized that he was my high school creative writing teacher. Lightning flashed across the sky and struck him. I laughed like the demon I am as he crumpled to the ground, but then a tiger appeared behind him, growling and snarling at me. I backed into my house, which now had no roof, and the tiger followed me, chasing me from room to room as my house turned into a maze with no escape. The tiger grew larger and larger leaping over the hedges in the maze, cornering me in a garden where the flower petals were made of bad reviews of my books. My chest grew heavy with despair as the tiger pounced.
Welcome to my quick reviews ~ a mix of short takes on movies and books I’ve recently watched or read. Note that I don’t have a problem blabbing spoilers, so if that bothers you, skip this post.
1. Scoop, 2006. OK, so I am right there with all y’all in believing that Woody Allen is a disgusting creep. No argument there. I don’t need to make a legal judgment on this, since I don’t know the facts ~ I can react purely to how he’s used younger women in his earlier films (gross). I never was a huge fan of his in the first place, though there were a few films I loved, such as Midnight in Paris and Café Society. However, I am sick of shitty movies on Prime and I am especially sick of clicking on descriptions of dreck ~ I spend more time searching for a fun flick than actually watching anything. So when this came up in my list, I gave it a shot. That’s my disclaimer, excuse, whatever.
Scoop was effing hysterical. I loved it! I knew in the first five minutes this was a gem and I would not be abandoning it in the middle as is my SOP lately. Scarlett Johansson was adorably ditzy as the reporter, and Woody himself was perfect as the old nervous magician. I can’t bear any love story with him as the protagonist, but this was not about that. Scarlett naturally had a love interest, in the delicious form of Hugh Jackman. Is he the “tarot card killer” or not? It was a beautifully screwball comedy and I need more of these on my screen and fewer garbage romcoms and dumb, pointless dramas. Highly recommend!
2. Broken In is a well-written book by our very own blogger Jadi Campbell. I’ve always enjoyed Jadi’s blog writing, so I was thrilled to purchase one of her books. This work is written in one of my favorite formats too ~ long short stories that can stand alone but are also interconnected so they create a whole tapestry when finished. She did a great job! The characters are meticulously described and interesting. Jadi spends a lot of time inside their heads, exploring why they are the way they are and how their past motivates each nuance of their behavior. The plots are quirky and unpredictable too, with an entire universe unfolding from one creepy guy’s grin in a restaurant. Here is my favorite section from Broken In:
“Pain relents a little because it has to in order for us to survive. It turns into a permanent parasite that never kills the host but just lives on inside us, feeding off of us.” ~ Jadi Campbell
3. Bacchanal by Veronica Henry flipped me out of my usual book genres. This 2021 novel is a weird mix of supernatural horror, voodoo, and shape-shifting fantasy elements… and it was also a love story. It reminds me a little of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep with the crazy cast of characters and the demons’ need to consume souls to survive. But Bacchanal focuses primarily on Black characters and African spirits, which is at times confusing with their unusual names, but overall it kept me hooked throughout.
He’d heard the stories of the shapeshifters, but no one could actually say they’d seen one. Their existence was embedded in the culture, whispered into malleable minds by fearful grandmothers. Everyone knew the shifters would seduce a man and then kill him; everyone had been warned to stay out of the forest at night. Perhaps that would be common wisdom regardless, but knowing the creatures lurked in the shadows gave the caution an extra dose of urgency.
Yet he’d gone away to school, one of the few who had left and returned, and he had studied science and history. He realized there was no such thing as a woman who could change form into a jungle cat. A more believable legend about the forest however was that it contained a cache of buried treasure from back when pirates abounded. It also made sense that someone didn’t want anyone to find it. Could that be the basis of the “warning” regarding shapeshifters? He thought it was likely.
One night when the moon was full, he went into the forest, fearless because he was armed with education and logic. He had a compass and an old map he’d found in his grandfather’s chest. The map was yellowed and torn, but he followed it best as he could, hacking his way through the bramble until he found the clearing. A pool gleamed silver in the moonlight, with lilies floating on top. He walked to the north side where there waited a huge boulder, as depicted on the map. He began to dig, hour after hour, until dawn’s light yellowed the sky. Then his shovel hit something solid, metal clanging against metal, and he grinned.
As he wiped his sweaty face, a soft hand landed on his shoulder.
Witch, they named her, shamed her, and banished her from the kingdom. It was the King’s plot, so he could wed another.
From the forest people she learned of the wicked plague that would soon strike down all in the land, servant and noble child alike. The fairies saw the disgraced queen crying and gave her the magic antidote, hidden in an apple.
She disguised herself as a beggar and traveled back to the castle, where she enticed her darling daughter to bite. The little healers took the girl away and kept her safe until the plague had passed.
When she was a child, she played in a magic garden with a snowy white unicorn and a rainbow of butterflies. One day, she jumped in a glittering pool and was pulled out by rough hands. Scared, she stared into an unfamiliar face.
“Foolish girl,” the old man said. “That river is dirty. Don’t go in there again.”
“But my unicorn has got lost!” she cried.
He laughed but not unkindly and returned her to the orphanage, where they punished her for escaping again. A few years later, they sent her out to work for a wealthy family to earn her keep. She cleaned their floors and sometimes was allowed to help in the kitchen, where she might stir a pot of sauce or cut up vegetables.
One day, she was in the driveway helping the chauffeur wax the white limo when the old man appeared, the one who pulled her from the river. He didn’t seem to recognize her.
But when he walked past he commented, “When you’re eighteen you can get your license and learn to drive my car. Maybe it can replace the unicorn lost in the river and you can create a new life for yourself.”
Welcome to my quick reviews ~ a mix of short takes on movies and books I’ve recently watched or read. Note that I don’t have a problem blabbing spoilers, so if that bothers you, skip this post. Also, if you’re wondering why I am formatting my list like this, it’s because every time I allow the block editor to create an automagic list, it’s a complete disaster.
1 ~ Trust Fund. This 2016 movie stars a bunch of actors you haven’t heard of. The title is fun because it’s not just about the financial aspect of a trust fund, but also a reservoir of trust that gets depleted and refilled. Reese, the heroine, is a gorgeous young woman who is being supported by her mega-rich father while she “writes a novel.” She has a sister Audrey who works hard every day in their father’s PUBLISHING COMPANY and resents Reese for flitting around and wasting her life. Reese discovers that their deceased mother actually left the sisters a pile of money that her father has been doling out in a plan to make them productive citizens. Eff that, thinks Reese, and steals her half of the money. She immediately jaunts off to Italy and hooks up with a sexy criminal. Predictability ensues, and Reese ends up returning home with nothing. But because this is a silly romcom (sort of), it turns out she is actually a fabulous writer, churns out a best-seller that her father’s new wife (also a publisher) publishes, and remembers that she actually loves a cute guy she’s known since childhood. Sort of a sugary meaningless movie, if you feel like watching one of those.
2 ~ Traitor Born by Amy A. Barton. This book is intense! It’s total fantasy sci-fi, which I don’t always like, except when I do. I read the first book in the series a while back and received a notification that the next two were available. This is the second one. It’s fabulous! Every chapter is filled with exciting action, roiling emotions, and stunning descriptions of life in the fictional universe. It’s completely unpredictable, which makes for an interesting read. Amy goes into great detail regarding people’s looks, clothing, housing, weapons, social status, etc., and all that grounds the reader in this bizarre world as fantastical things occur. I have the third one in my queue to read as well. Five stars!
3 ~ Rebel Born by Amy A. Barton. Welp, I couldn’t resist diving right into the last book of the Secondborn trilogy as soon as I finished the previous one. It did not disappoint. Full of action and unexpected twists, this final story delivered the reading goods for me. And as an extra treat, this book veered into the philosophical realm, which pleased me even more. First-rate fantasy sci-fi right here folks, not to mention a love story as well. Five stars. Highly, HIGHLY recommend the three books (begin with Secondborn). What I’d really like to do is gobble up more of Amy’s books, but I’m trying to pace myself and read the other books in order in my Kindle queue.
4 ~ Zack & Miri Make a Porno. This 2008 romcom stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. It kept coming up on my Prime list, so finally I said OK and clicked. It’s so predictable and stupid. Maybe I’m old now, but all the crude sexual stuff just makes me cringe. I did enjoy the “love story” last quarter of the film however. There were a few other parts I liked… when they riff over what to name their porno and when Zach comes up with the Star Wars spoof script and funny names for the characters. Amusing wordplay. But mostly? Barf. It was a struggle not to turn it off during the first fifteen minutes.
5 ~ The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins. This 2020 movie is so good. It’s not a “fun” movie, nor an exciting one; it’s very sad and very profound. We experience daily life through the eyes of a man afflicted with dementia, and the film is shot in such a way that makes us feel as disoriented as he does. Why are the chairs in different places today? What happened to the picture over the fireplace? Who is that man sitting in my living room? Why hasn’t my youngest child visited me in so long? Time passes differently. What happened 10 years ago might be yesterday and vice versa. We don’t remember what someone told us a half hour ago. This movie brought back vivid memories of my father. He suffered from dementia for many years and ultimately had to go into an assisted living home. Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for this film, and it was well deserved.
“Hello,” said a friendly voice. “How are you doing?”
The old man turned on the crumbling stone steps and stared at the teenager who was interrupting his journey. “I am fine,” he said. “But you are naughty for startling me.”
“Sorry, Grandpa,” the boy said. “But I’ve been so worried about you. I thought you were asleepin your bed, but then you went missing.“
“I am not missing,” Grandpa said. “I’m right here. Please do not deprive me of my quest to climb the tower of the gods.”
“But Grandpa, this is a Wendy’s.” The boy took the old man’s arm. “Let’s go home, OK?”
The old man blinked and looked around. Gone was the misty forest and decaying castle. In its place was a parking lot and a fast food restaurant. His face hot with shame, he allowed his grandson to help him hobble down the sidewalk.
“Don’t worry, Grandpa,” the boy said. “I’ll just tell everyone we went for an early morning walk.”
“Thank you.” The old man smiled as a silver dragon disappeared into the clouds.