Author: A book a day keeps the reality blues away!

(WP) Hellfire and The Orchid Mantis

(WP) Hellfire and The Orchid Mantis

               She’d
felt she’d earned her retirement, the former supervillain thought to herself as
she put the kettle on to boil. And she was glad; being one of the world’s most
evil supervillains was not easy. That was part of the reason that she’d risen
to the challenge; being good, heroic, just seemed so boring. Anyone could be the friendly hero, the schmuck next door
who averted everyday crises. Yes, it took someone with true fortitude to be
wicked.

               But
thankfully, that was all behind her now. She’d married, had children, had gone
on to be a productive member of society after her stint in prison. From her
place in the kitchen, she heard the television, currently on one of the
national news channels. She could faintly hear a female news anchor, reporting
on how a gang of villains were currently holding the patrons of a bank hostage
until it would fork over a million dollars in cash.

               She
smiled faintly, but she could admit to herself that she didn’t miss that life.

               Ava
suddenly found herself uneasy, as if she were being watched.

               When
the kettle screamed, she jumped, and swore quietly.

               What
was the matter with her? Pouring herself a cup of hot, steaming tea, Earl Gray,
she took the mug and walked back into the living room. Thanks to her powers,
she didn’t have to wait for it to cool. She made herself comfortable in the
armchair in front of the fireplace, turning off the TV.

Even after she’d made herself comfortable
with a worn, dog-eared book, she could not shake off that uncomfortable feeling
that she wasn’t alone. Putting down her book and mug, she stood up, feeling her
fists become enveloped with bright blue flames.

“Who’s there? If you don’t come out
and tell me who you are, I’ll barbeque you!”

She hadn’t become one of the world’s
worst supervillains by cowering in a corner, and her voice was cold,
threatening. She hoped it was only her imagination, but her instincts were much
to sharp not to heed. She gritted her teeth, forcing herself to wait, and her
patience was soon rewarded.

Of all people she’d expected, it
wasn’t one of the world’s most beloved superheroes. But the young woman stepped
out, her invisibility melting away once she was caught. The Orchid Mantis,
named for her ability to blend in, as well as her hair, as bright pink as the
flower she was named after.

“What do you want?” Ava demanded;
as far as she was concerned, the threat hadn’t been averted. “How dare you,
breaking into my house! And you’re a hero! Aren’t you and your ilk supposed to
have manners?” She bit off the rest of her diatribe and her flames extinguished.

Once she got a good look at the kid,
her defenses lowered somewhat. The teenager was pale, her bright hazel eyes
ringed with violet circles, her costume rumpled and stained. Her hair was lank
and greasy, and Ava noticed that the girl couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“I need your help.”

Ava barked out a laugh, high and
derisive. “Why would someone like Orchid Mantis need my help?”

“Let’s just say that I don’t want
to be a hero anymore. I want to become a supervillain. And you’re one of the
best, so…”

“You broke into my house!” Ava squawked
indignantly, shaking her head at the audacity of this child.

“Please, Hellfire. I’m so tired of
pretending to be something I’m not.”

**

Fairest of All: A Tale of The Wicked Queen by …

Title: Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen

Author: Serena Valentino

Age Group: Teen/Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Villains, book one

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

               I
borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

               I was
reading an article a few weeks ago and discovered that Serena Valentino’s
series of retellings of Disney villains’ origins is becoming a TV series, so I
decided to start it. It’s been sitting in my library stack for a while now, but
I couldn’t renew it anymore, so I pushed it to the top of my stack as soon as I
was finished with The Guest Book. I adored this adaptation of Disney’s first
villain; it really gave a new perspective on how Grimhilde became The Wicked
Queen. It humanized her, and I very much enjoyed it. I can’t wait to read the
rest of this book series, especially since it’s officially concluding in July!

               Snow
White and the Seven Dwarves. A beautiful girl, a jealous queen, an apple, and a
happy ending. We think we know the story. But what about The Wicked Queen’s
side of things? How did she become so evil? Fairest of All imagines an origin
for Grimhilde, the only daughter of a renowned mirror maker. Plucked from obscurity
when her father passes away, she marries the King and becomes Snow White’s
stepmother. Fairest of All documents the queen’s decline from a loving wife and
mother to a monster capable of killing her own child. I really liked this book;
I love retellings, but one of my favorite things is one told from the point of
the view of the villain. The writing was simple but gorgeous, and the pacing
was really nice. I liked how it took the Disney movie and expanded on it. This
book really made me sympathize with The Wicked Queen, and I loved watching her
descent into the darkness. The ending, too, really redeemed this book; I loved
the continuity of it. One thing I can’t help wondering about, though, is the
mysterious Odd Sisters. If it hadn’t been for them, would Grimhilde have stayed
good? Or would her envy and insecurities have gotten the better of her anyway?
A thought-provoking novel about beauty, envy, insecurity, and society’s heavy
and unrealistic expectations for women, I never imagined that before now, I
would ever feel sorry for The Wicked Queen! I can’t wait for the next books in
this deliciously dark new series! The bottom line: Beautifully written, dark
and seductive, I loved Fairest of All, and I can’t wait to read more from
Serena Valentino! Next on deck: America Was Hard to Find by Kathleen Alcott!

https://literatureobsessed.blogspot.com/2019/05/fairest-of-all-tale-of-wicked-queen-by.html

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake Review

Title: The Guest Book

Author: Sarah Blake

Age Group: Adult

Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: Standalone

Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

               I received an advanced readers’ copy of this book from the publisher, Flatiron Books. Thank you so much!

               I received The Guest book in the mail a few months ago, and since I’ve been alternating between library books and ARCs, I recently made the decision to sort them by month so I could make my reviews line up as the books were officially published. As soon as I was finished with a comic book I’d borrowed from the library, I started The Guest Book. At first, I wasn’t sure about it; I’d never read any of Sarah Blake’s work before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It took me a bit to get into the book, but once I did, I was spellbound. The Guest Book is one of the most anticipated books of 2019, and I can see why it has so much hype. A family saga reminiscent of Downton Abbey, only American. I absolutely adored The Guest Book, and it has become one of my favorite novels of the year. I feel so lucky to have received an early copy. Rich, dynamic, and thoughtful, The Guest Book takes a harsh, unflinching look at American culture, its oppression of marginalized peoples, but especially Jews and black people. This book should be required reading for all.

               The Guest Book goes back and forth in time, between different members of the affluent Milton family. But the main focus is on one of the granddaughters of Kitty and Ogden Milton, Evelyn. A historian with a passion for piecing together the past, she is brought to an emotional crossroads when an offer for the island her grandparents bought comes to light. Haunted by the secrets lurking just beneath the shiny veneer of her family’s past, she is determined to uncover the truth. Even if shatters what remains of her family…

               This book was a surprising gem! It really snuck up on me and gripped me by the throat, long after I’d closed it. It took me a little bit to get into it, mostly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was a little worried I wouldn’t enjoy it. But once I got into it, I was spellbound. The prose was both spare and gorgeous, and I loved the way that the point of view jumped between each member of the family, as well as Len Levy and Reg Pauling, a Jew and a black man invited to Crockett Island for the summer. I also really enjoyed the way the book went back and forth between the past and the present; it provided a much deeper scope on the characters and events that were happening. But my favorite thing about The Guest Book was its timeliness: it took a good, hard and unflinching look at the American cultural system, and how white people, especially the rich, have contributed to the oppression of other people, especially black people and the Jews. Len and Reg made a compelling, painful foil to the Miltons, who are so blinded by their own privilege that Kitty, its matriarch, issues a refusal that haunts her until her dying day. Evelyn has always loved Crockett Island, and treasures the memories of her summers she spent there as a girl. When her family begins to look into selling it, she bucks against it at first, not wanting to lose such a valuable piece of her family’s legacy. But she starts to dig deep into the secrets her family has long kept hidden, and finds that her family’s wealth comes from an association with an awful organization. (I won’t say what, because I don’t want to spoil the book for people who haven’t yet read it.) I loved that Evie was a historian, and how she dug deep into what her family’s secrets were, even as it upended everything, she thought she knew. I loved the way it ended; it was bittersweet and very real to life. I will never forget the Milton family, Reg, Len, or Evie; these characters will forever have a place in my heart. Sarah Blake has penned a masterful sophomore novel, full of heart and social commentary in equal measure, and I will never forget it! The bottom line: Beautiful, rich, hard-hitting and thought-provoking, I loved The Guest Book! It was one of my favorite books of 2019, and I can’t wait for more from Sarah Blake! Next on deck: Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen by Serena Valentino!

https://literatureobsessed.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-guest-book-by-sarah-blake-review.html

(WP) Ironclad Hearts

(WP) Ironclad Hearts

              Once upon a time, there was a young prince who longed for love. He had everything he ever desired, except for a loving partner. Rumors had begun to swirl about the prince, about how he abducted young maids in the night to be held as prisoners in his castle.

              Of course, that wasn’t true, but truth does not matter one way or another to wagging tongues.

              The truth was, he’d fallen in love with a childhood friend, and he’d begged his parents to match him with her. He could not live without her. The prince was so distraught that his parents granted their permission for the two to wed.

              But it was not to be. The princess was engaged to another, and worse, he’d been told that the suit had been rejected with laughter.

              From that day on, the prince grew bitter and jaded and had all but given up on love. As the days passed, the castle grew into a twisted iron prison, a mirror of what lay inside of his heart.

              Eventually, he was forgotten by time and his subjects, and his lands grew thick with trees and bushes and overgrown grasses and flowers.

              But he hadn’t been entirely forgotten. The princess’s little sister, Amelie, had been unable to think of little else since her sister’s rejection of the prince. She, too, had been released from a troth of marriage, due to her disability: she had a club foot and had to use a wooden stick to walk properly.

              And this headstrong, determined princess was hellbent on getting to the prince and showing him that he could be loved as he so wished. Amelie set out on horseback with a sword, her staff, and a magical book. Accompanying her was her faithful familiar, a crow with bright green eyes and a sharp, wicked beak.

              The journey led her across mountain ranges, rivers, and hills, past fields and plains. Soon, she lost track of just how many days had passed. But she had started this, and she would see it through, even though she didn’t know the outcome.

              Finally, she rode through the forests, hacking her way through it with her blade, exhausted but undaunted.

              Amelie put her horse at the castle gates, then ascended the stairs, the only sound her wooden cane on the steep marble steps. If she hadn’t already made it this far, she would’ve been unnerved.

              But there was a reason she’d lived this long, and she’d be damned if a long quest broke her. What was that, in comparison to the expectations of her own family?

              The doors were barred shut, but the sword sliced through the bars as though they were mere paper.

              Amelia limped through the silent, gray rooms of the castle.

              Where was the prince? She’d come all this way to save him.

              Finally, she found him in the library in front of a roaring fire, hearing the pages of his book turn.

              “Your Highness,” Amelie whispered. “I’ve come to end your loneliness.”

              **

(IP) Mental Health Day

(IP) Mental Health Day

               The
four girls sat on the train, forming a little group on the right side of the
car. The early morning sun streamed bars of golden light, dappling their skin.
Despite their plain clothes and bored faces, something about them seemed otherworldly,
strange. Even wrong.

               One of
the girls stretched her feet out into the aisle, arms folded across her stomach.

               Her
three companions were seated in a cluster next to her, rocking with the motion
of the train as it roared through the city.

               A pair
of blondes sat in front of the windows, the sunshine making the girls sport a
halo of sorts. One had a cigarette tucked behind her ear, and the other stifled
a yawn, pulling her feet into her chest.

               But
these girls were far from angelic; they’d come into the city for a ‘mental
health day’. And everyone knew that Mondays just sucked.

               The
only brunette of the group sat next to the blondes, smiling distantly to
herself.

               “Is it
just me, or have we been on this train forever?” One of the blondes, Julie,
said, tilting her head toward her double.

               “It
hasn’t been that long, Jules,” The other blonde, Annabeth, replied, grinning
sleepily. “Besides, we’re almost there.”

               “Coffee.
I need coffee.  I feel like a zombie.”
The brown-haired girl, Ava, murmured. Of all of the girls, she was having the
most trouble staying still. Normally, this wasn’t like her, but she just didn’t
feel like dealing with school. Lately, she’d felt like a pressure cooker that
had been left on too long: stifled but about to blow. Driving herself to be the
best, constant studying of facts and figures, all to graduate pursue a degree
she wasn’t even sure she wanted. Yes, it was just easier to blow it off.

“Starbucks once we get to our stop?”
The brunette, Cat, asked hopefully, snapped out of whatever daydream was
playing in her head.

“We need to get some food, too,”
Julie said, shaking her head so her bangs fell to the side, uncovering her
bright green eyes. “I’m starving.” As if on cue, her stomach grumbled, and the
friends laughed.

Finally, the train ground to a
stop, causing all four girls to rock forward with the motion. Since they were
seated in the middle of the train car, they hurried to get to the front, all of
them holding hands, so as not to get lost in the crush.

Their giggles echoed in the station
as they exited, now single file, but all staying close, marching through the
crowd in search of food and frivolous distraction. Ava was leading, and when
they finally found a Starbucks on a street corner, they all clambered inside. She
found herself instantly calmed by the homey scent of coffee beans roasting and
sugary treats being baked.

The place was packed, but she didn’t
mind. All of the noise and controlled chaos, combined with the chatter of her
friends, distracted her from her own anxious thoughts.

They each ordered a giant coffee
drink, with the exception of Cat, who ordered a green tea latte. Ava also
ordered an array of different snacks; it wasn’t as if she didn’t have the money
to burn.

Soon enough, they were all seated
in a booth at the back of the shop, crammed together like sardines.

“You said you’d spill once we got
here,” Annabeth said, after taking a dainty bite of a muffin, licking her lips.
“Why the sudden need to ditch?”

Ava grimaced; she’d known this was
coming, but she still didn’t like it. Even with her closest friends, she didn’t
like talking about her problems. Especially when it sounded so ridiculous, in
her own head.

“I’m just… Stressed.” She said,
looking down into the swirling, dark depths of her huge macchiato.

To their credit, her friends did
not laugh, nor try to interrupt. They were just waiting through her silence,
knowing that she wasn’t finished.

“I don’t know what I want anymore,”
Ava admitted, at last, feeling a flush starting to climb up her neck. “And my
parents would freak out if I told them. They’ve got my whole life mapped out
for me. Graduate at the top of my class in high school and college, get married
to a nice guy and give them grandkids. But I feel like… I never got a choice in
the matter. School’s so stressful anymore.”

Cat reached across the table and
took Ava’s hand, her touch surprisingly warm.

“You should talk to them. I’m sure
they’ll understand. And even if they don’t, well. You’ll be eighteen in a little
less than six months. You’ll be an adult, and able to make your own decisions.”

**  

(WP) Strange Newcomers

(WP) Strange Newcomers

               The
town of Sapphire Moon was a peaceful one, a tiny hamlet on the coast of a crumbling
island. Surrounded by the ocean, it supplied the surrounding countries with a
bounty of seafood: fish, prawns, squid, octopus, and crabs.

               It was
monotonous for some, but there was something comforting in the routine.

               The
mayor loved the island. All of his ancestors had watched over it since its
conception. Yes, it was his calling, and one that he took gladly. His cottage
was hidden in the thick jungle foliage, the better for privacy.

               But his
thoughts were interrupted by a rush of footsteps, and a knock at the door.

               “Come
in!” He called, and he could hear his wife in the kitchen, preparing the
evening meal.

               A young
woman, named Callie, walked inside of the hut and bowed her head in deference.

               “Excuse
the interruption, Mister Mayor,” She said, her long, fiery braid gleaming in
the firelight.

               “Oh,
nonsense, Callie. You know I welcome anyone from the village into my home,”
Matthias replied, smiling at her. “Would you like to stay for dinner? Mrs.
Ellery is making paella.” He winked at the mention of his wife.

               “I
would love to, sir, but unfortunately, I’m not exactly here for a social call.
You see… The island has a visitor.”

               Matthias
blinked, her words taking him by surprise.

               “What
did you say?”

               “There’s
a visitor. And he refuses to speak with anyone but you. He says that you’ve
been expecting him.”

               Matthias
went back into the kitchen, where a cloud of steam and the scents of garlic and
saffron greeted him like old friends. “Kira, my love, I have to go.”

               Kira
looked up from the pan she was stirring, brow knitting. “I’m assuming one of
the townspeople needs you?”

               “I’m
sorry. Yes.”

               “Don’t
worry, Matthias. I’ll just put some away for you. Go on, I’m not going
anywhere.”

               He
kissed the top of his wife’s head and left with Callie.

               “Show
me where he docked.”

               **

               Callie
led Matthias through the hot, humid jungle at a brisk clip. All too soon, the
forest gave way to the black sands of the beach.

               And,
sure enough, there was a tiny ship tied to the dock, a bloodred sail flying
high in the evening twilight.

               Could
it really be, that the old tales his father used to tell were true? Not tales or
myths at all?

               There
was a figure in shining gold armor standing on the shore; he looked like an
illustration from one of the old books his father used to read to him from. He
was leaning on a gigantic broadsword, smiling broadly under the visor of his
helmet.

Villagers of all ages surrounded
the newcomer, their eyes shining with interest.

Matthias could not blame his
townspeople for their curiosity. Visitors and strangers were few and far
between on Sapphire Moon Island.

But Matthias found his interest
tempered by a sudden, red rush of fury, because surrounding the man were the
island’s most treasured relics, the only remnants they had of the time when the
gods had created the land, scattered in so many pieces around him.

He and this stranger would have to
have a talk.

But first, he’d have to get him
alone.

**

Slayer by Kiersten White Review

Title: Slayer

Author: Kiersten White

Age Group: Teen/Young Adult

Genre: Horror

Series: Slayer, book one

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

               I won a signed copy of this book in a contest from Fierce Reads. Thank you so much!

               Shows like Buffy and Angel were things that I was obsessed with as a teenager because they contained all of my favorite things: monsters, magic, darkness, high stakes, and forbidden love. I haven’t seen either of them in years. But I ordered this book from my local library and before I could finish it, I had to take it back. Which was just as well, because a few days later, I received a copy of Slayer from Fierce Reads, and it was signed! I was so excited. It’s been sitting on my ever-growing book stack for a few months now, and once I was finished with The Everlasting Rose, I started Slayer. Taking place in the same universe as Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer but after the events of the comics. Dark, hilarious, heartfelt and scary, I loved this take on the Buffyverse by one of my favorite authors! One of my favorite books of 2019!

               Nina Jamison-Smythe knows her place in the world. She and her twin sister, Artemis, are both in training to become Watchers, the organization of individuals that help guide Slayers.  She is the healer, the medic, the gentler of the two. She lives in her sister’s shadow, something she both takes refuge in and resents. But when Buffy literally breaks magic, The Watchers are rendered obsolete. Consumed by rage and hatred toward Buffy and Slayers in general, whom she blames for her father’s death, Nina is determined to make a difference in the world. But everything changes when she becomes a Slayer. And not just a Slayer, but the very last Slayer in existence. Forced to bear the burden of powers she never wanted; people begin to die around the castle. Enmeshed in the mystery, Nina must use her newfound powers to save the people she loves. But is she meant to save the world? Or to destroy it?

               Kiersten White is one of my favorite authors, and so when I found out that she was writing a novel set in the Buffyverse, I was so excited! And I was lucky enough to receive a free, signed copy! I loved this book; it felt like I was returning to a place that I had dearly missed, without even knowing! Right out of the gate, I loved it so much. It had all of the darkness, humor, and mystery of Buffy. It’s not a requirement to be a Buffy fan to read this book; it can be read without knowing anything about the comics or show. But I loved the little Easter eggs I kept finding. The pacing was breakneck, and I loved the characters, but especially Nina; I really related to her. I loved her character development, her growth from a timid, resentful child to a fiercely powerful and kind young woman who uses her Slayer powers for the good of her loved ones. Artemis, Leo, Honora, and the girls’ mother were also distinctive characters who provoked a strong reaction with me. Dark, terrifying, and full of humor and heart, this book felt like coming home. I very much enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to read Chosen! At times, Nina butting heads with everyone got on my nerves; it kind of took away from the book, but overall, this series starter was strong, and I can’t wait for the next book! Next on deck: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake!

https://literatureobsessed.blogspot.com/2019/05/slayer-by-kiersten-white-review.html

(WP) The Curse of Truth

(WP) The Curse of Truth

               The
princess Verity had been born with the curse of always telling the truth.

               Never
mind that her parents were both beautiful, silver-tongued liars, able to
persuade, charm, and seduce as easily as breathing.

               To
punish the monarchs, the Goddess of Honesty, Virtue, and Justice, Kiara, visited
the infant’s room in the night and enchanted the baby’s tongue to resist lies
and only tell the truth.

               Of
course, no one knew of this until the child grew older and was able to speak.

               The
kitchen cook and her assistant brought the child to her parents. Verity’s face
was sticky and streaked with stripes of icing and honey.

               “Darling,
did you eat a cake when the cook wasn’t looking?” The queen mother laughed, her
bright gray eyes warm with affection.

               Verity
could not lie to her mother; trying to resist the truth was like having something
uncomfortably spicy on her tongue. Her eyes watered and her tongue stung, her
throat closing in desperate need of water. Still, the words fought to be said.

               “Yes,
Mother,” Verity said at last, and the pressure inside of her yielded. She took
a deep, greedy gulp of air as if she’d been forced underwater for a long time.

               “Verity,”
The king said, shaking his head, but his smile revealed that he wasn’t truly
scolding her. “You should know better than that. You are a princess. You are to
be well-mannered and gracious. Now, say you’re sorry to the cook and her
assistant, my love.”

               “I’m
sorry, ma’am,” Verity murmured, bowing her head in contrition. “I won’t do it
again.”

               The cook
smiled, shaking her head. “That’s all right, little lass. Next time, let
someone know you have a craving for sweets, won’t you?”

               **

               As the
years went on, Verity grew from a precocious little girl to an accomplished
young woman. Her parents gave her everything she could’ve possibly desired,
including the best education in the entire kingdom. When she reached the age of
seventeen, her father began making arrangements for her to be married.

               Never
mind that that wasn’t actually what Verity desired.

               Eventually,
a prince came to the castle in order to actually meet his new intended: he was
old, widowed, and had no children. Immediately, Verity knew that this was not what
she wanted, or if she even wanted a partner.

               It
seemed that Kiara, her patron goddess, had a rather twisted sense of humor.

               Verity’s
engagement to Sir Reginald Fairfeather was celebrated with a feast, and all of
the common people and gentry were invited to attend. Though she was dressed in
finery and sported a large sapphire ring on her left hand (a keepsake from his
late wife, he’d told her with a wink), she was not happy. And she knew if she
were asked, she’d have little choice but to reveal how she truly felt.

Verity was positively miserable. Where was the good in being
a paragon or all that was good, virtuous, and honest if she could not be honest
with herself?

**

(WP) The Golden Years

(WP) The Golden Years

               She was
awoken by the phone ringing shrilly.

               Normally,
she and Henry were in bed by 9:00 PM, at the latest. But the night before had
been long and strenuous. She wondered if they were getting too old for this
gig.

She refused to get a cell phone;
she nor her husband, Henry, could figure out how the darn things worked. No, they
were perfectly fine with a landline, thank you very much.

Eleanor was greeted by a mad cacophony
of voices, and she found herself smiling.

“Happy 75th birthday, Mom!” Her
daughter, Tessa, chirped into the phone. She could hear her grandchildren in
the background, squabbling. “We have a surprise for you and Daddy later. Is it
okay if we bring the kids?”

“Of course, you can bring them!”
Eleanor replied, laughing. “You know your father and I, the more the merrier.”

Henry was already out of bed, and
Eleanor finished up the conversation with her daughter.

“Timothy and his kids are coming also.
We’ll see you later, Mom! We love you!”

Eleanor put the phone back into its
cradle, putting her feet in a pair of baby blue slippers.

“Henry! The children are coming
over later to see us! What are you up to?”

She found her husband in the kitchen,
preparing breakfast. There was a bowl of oatmeal already sitting on the table,
studded with raisins and bananas. Sitting beside it on a saucer was a cupcake,
frosted with the number 75 in the icing.

“I was making breakfast for my
favorite person,” Henry told her, smiling so widely his dark eyes crinkled up
at the corners. “Everyone deserves to be made breakfast on their birthday.
Especially their 75th!”

Eleanor found herself blushing.
Really, she was too old for all of this fuss. But she couldn’t deny she was
secretly pleased.

She sat down and ate the cupcake
first, relishing the sweetness. Normally, she ate healthy, all the time, but
she figured that since it was her birthday, she would make an exception.

“I asked for the day off,” Henry
told her, sitting across from her and eating his cereal. “I don’t know if we’ll
actually get it, but it was worth a shot.” He shrugged. At a year younger than
Eleanor, he was still spry and fit. After all, their job demanded it. And
family or not, there were very few breaks.

They both enjoyed their jobs, especially
in their prime, but she found herself wondering, once again, if they should’ve
hung up their capes a few years ago. What about their retirement?

“Thank you, Henry,” Eleanor said,
and he beamed in reply. “I love you, Ellie.”

**

Soon, the house was abuzz with the
sounds of shrieking children, crying, and laughter. Eleanor didn’t mind. With
her and Henry, it was too quiet, even for her.

Tessa and Timothy were in the
kitchen, putting several wrapped gifts on the table. Tessa was sipping a cup of
tea, and Tim was nursing a beer. They were talking, while their spouses focused
on wrangling the children.

Everyone insisted that Eleanor not
lift a finger; her children had even brought her lunch from her favorite café.
She sat at the table with her food, eating contentedly, lulled by the
controlled chaos around her.

Then the phone rang, and Henry
answered it. Immediately, Eleanor could tell it wasn’t good news.

“Yes. Yes, sir. Okay, sir, we’ll be
right there.”

He hung up, and looked at Eleanor.

“We’ve got a problem at work.”

She had a feeling he’d been about
to say that. But saving the world never stopped, not even for an old woman’s
birthday.

**

(WP) Blood, Bonds and Fire

(WP) Blood, Bonds and Fire

               The
battle had raged for what felt like days, though truly, it was only minutes.

               Fire had
raged throughout the castle, gathering speed and oxygen as it did.

               It was
slowly creeping toward the throne room, and if they didn’t get out soon, it
would devour them both.

               But she
might have been willing to die in the fire if it meant the eradication of the
evil she’d spent her whole life fighting.

               The
monster was on the floor, taking labored breaths. But she was wearing a
victorious smirk, her teeth bloody. Or perhaps that was the fire, a trick of
light.

               “Come,
child. You cannot be so blind that you see the world in shades of black and
white.” She said, raising her honeyed voice to be heard over the roar of the
flames.

               “I’m
tired of your waxing philosophical!” Amara snarled, and she lifted her blade, eager
for the kill.

She didn’t have time for this. She
was so tired. Tired of fighting, of running, of her quest. Noble though it was,
she just wanted it all to be over. What was a little more blood on her hands?

“Amara,” Artemis rasped, laying prostrate
on the stone floor. “Wait. Please.”

Did her sister really believe she
would stop, just because she’d asked nicely?

Not likely.

But against her will, she lowered
her arm, and her grip on the sword went slack.

“We don’t exactly have time for a
debate,” Amara said. “The castle is on fire.”

“So, we’ll keep it quick,” Artemis
said, her voice raspy. “Before you kill me…”

Amara waited, her throat aching and
her body fatigued. It was so tempting to lay down beside her sister and rest.
If they were just going to die anyway, what was the point of fighting at all?

“Do you have any idea about the lengths that humans will go to, to save the life
of one of their own? Or to even avenge another human?”

The words stopped Amara cold, and
she gritted her teeth. She was sick to death of games.

“What’s your point?” She asked
through clenched teeth.

“Humans are always eager to shed
blood, especially if one of their own is threatened. I’m not evil; I’m merely
practical. I do what you and the Council are too weak to even attempt. Evil is
just a name given to anyone who doesn’t agree with the laws, the old, outdated
tenets of the Council. Deviant. Deserter. Warmonger and defiler. We’re not so
different, you and I. I just chose my own path.”

Amara frowned, but she could not
help but reflect on her sister’s words. Perhaps she was right. But now was not
the time for an existential crisis.

“Come, sister. It doesn’t have to
be this way. We can do what we like. Together.”

The fire was close to devouring the
whole castle, but Amara could feel her heart wavering.

Why did it matter, what she did?
What claim did she have to destiny?

Who was to say that her sister wasn’t
right?

**