The Hopeful Wanderer.012 – Artificial Illumination

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Between one town and the next, I spied in the distance twin lanterns casting steady, white light into the night, throwing tree limbs and grass blades into sharp, black relief. One lamp hung above the other, appearing like the eyes in a face cocked sideways. Perhaps in curiosity, perhaps madness. No matter how close my steps drew me to them, I never quite reached the house I thought the beacons must illuminate. No turnoff marked the way to them. Eventually, I passed by, expecting to plunge back into utter darkness.

Yet the path ahead of me remained bright, like the cast of an LED flashlight. My own shadow wandered before me, lengthy and alone. Even the furthest reaches of light should have faded by now.

Two sounds reached me at once: water gurgling against rocks, and a strange, electric hum. I dared not look back, knowing I would see those lamps, one cockeyed above the other, following behind, homing in on me like spotlights. Heat radiated against the back of my neck where they stared. That humming grew louder and louder until it buzzed in my ears and down to my bones.

I broke into a run. With little chance of stumbling on that daylight-bright path, I stretched my legs as far as they would go. Satchel thumping against my back. Metal jangling behind, the hot scent of burning filament in my nose. Closer, closer.

The path dipped and then I was splashing into cool water up to my knees. Mossy rocks rolled beneath my feet and I fell headlong into the shallow river. When I resurfaced, however, gasping and bruised, the lanterns had vanished, replaced with natural moonlight and the hum with the throaty croak of nearby frogs.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story.

The Hopeful Wanderer.011 – Unrooted

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An ornate greenhouse existed not only far from civilization, but smack in the middle of an already existing forest. Enormous, though in height rather than breadth. Craning my head back to gaze upward at its towering, clear walls, I wondered what must grow within.

So I went inside.

Warmth blanketed my face like an unpleasant breath, filling my lungs with dew. The warring scents of growth and rot assailed me. Lush green plants grew in clay pots set upon plastic bench tops, rows and rows lined up neat from the door to the back wall. Some small enough to fit in my palm, others taller than me. None of them explained the reason for such a tall building.

But there, in the center. Looking like a shaggy Christmas tree, an enormous Douglas fir rose toward the glass ceiling, roots knotting deep into the dirt. I saw no one else, so I approached the fir. The only sound was the crunch of gravel beneath my shoes.

When I stopped before the  fir, a deep, timber creak rumbled over me, shaking leaves and rattling pots. “Are you a plant?” the tree asked me.

“Not at all,” I replied. “I’m the opposite.”

“A wanderer, then,” the fir sighed. “You have arrived at last.”

My eyebrows rose. “Where is here?”

“Your last stop,” said the fir. “All in my greenhouse once wandered, but they took root here, and now they’re safe.”

With new eyes, I took in the plants around. So many wanderers. All trapped in pots, unable to even touch true earth. A shudder rushed through me. “I’m not staying.”

All the way to the exit, roots followed me, breaking the earth threateningly behind my feet. Fir needles rustled in hissing laughter at my back. “When you weary of wandering, you will return.”


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story.

Book Review: Nightstruck

I dust my hands of this nonsense.

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Nightstruck by Jenna Black

Synopsis

It starts with a cry in the night.

Becket, walking her dog one winter evening, fears it’s an abandoned baby left out in the cold. But it is something else—something evil—and it tricks Becket into opening a doorway to another realm, letting a darkness into our world, a corruption that begins transforming Philadelphia into a sinister and menacing version of itself…but only at night.

The changes are subtle at first, causing Becket to doubt her senses and her sanity. But soon the nightmarish truth is impossible to deny: By day, the city is just a city, but at night it literally comes alive with malevolent purpose. Brick and steel become bone, streetlights turn into gallows, and hungry alleys wait to snare mortal victims. Terrified citizens huddle indoors after dusk, as others succumb to the siren song of the night, letting their darker sides run wild.

Once, Becket’s biggest problems were living up to her police commissioner father’s high expectations and a secret crush on her best friend’s boyfriend. Now she must find a way to survive and protect her loved ones…before the darkness takes her as well.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Jenna Black is your typical writer. Which means she’s an “experience junkie.” She got her BA in physical anthropology and French from Duke University.

Once upon a time, she dreamed she would be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making fabulous discoveries about primate behavior. Then, during her senior year at Duke, she did some actual research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend something like 80% of their time doing such exciting things as sleeping and eating.

Concluding that this discovery was her life’s work in the field of primatology, she then moved on to such varied pastimes as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

Picked Nightstruck up by accident. I was shooting for another Holly Black book and took this one home, thinking a concept like a city filled with monsters at night would be spun gold in Black’s capable hands. But I missed again and only realized I’d picked up Jenna Black after I left the library.

Oh well, might as well give it a shot, right?

Interesting concept, boring execution. The main character, Beckett, has almost zero impact on the events of the plot, spends most of her time pining after a boy who has all the personality of a piece of paper, and precedes far too many sentences of her internal monologues with the phrase “as the police commissioner’s daughter…” The narrative itself involves so much exposition that it almost physically hurts to read as the tension drops over and over, often culminating in Beckett deciding to do nothing for the 37th time. Things don’t even begin to get interesting until the end, but by then I was so exasperated with Beckett that I didn’t care. It ends on a cliffhanger; I won’t be picking up the sequel.

I dust my hands of this nonsense.

Next!

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Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black and Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

The Hopeful Wanderer.010 – The Scribbler

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From Pexels

The room was a disaster of notes pinned to cork boards, diagrams on white boards, stacks of notebooks, piles of crumpled paper, pens scattered everywhere. Every time I walked into the home of the Scribbler, I wondered if she would have begun plotting on the ceiling itself. A glance upward confirmed things hadn’t quite progressed that far. Yet.

At the sound of my entrance, the owner of this isolated house poked her head out of another room. Short brown hair stuck up every which way and a brilliant smile lit her face. “You came back.” She would be awake in the middle of the night.

I set my satchel down next to my favorite spot, a gray, sagging armchair. I had to relocate a leaning bunch of books from the cushion to an over-encumbered table, its surface more dirty dishes than wood. “I always do,” I said, dropping into the seat, closing my eyes.

“Someday you won’t, I think.” Soon, the warm scent of coffee reached me. When I looked, she was holding out a mug bearing the phrase don’t piss off the writer and nothing more, while with her other hand, she rummaged through precarious piles. Spiral notebooks slithered away from her touch like living, shrinking things.

Even accepting the mug weighed on me. Time for me to release the burdens of my recent experiences. Well past, really.

With a triumphant noise, she yanked out a much-abused flip notebook–the same one she had been using to record my wanderings last time–and took a seat on a squishy ottoman. Poising her pen, she turned her full attention to me. “Let’s pick up where we left off,” said the Scribbler. “Now tell me, how did you manage to get an ancient deity to sing to you?”


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story.

The Hopeful Wanderer.009 – Sparkler

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Photo by Viktoria from Pexels

On some hot summer nights, gunpowder creatures came out to play in the sky. Pops and cracks split the air as they soared and dove, collided and exploded. Trailing sparks cascaded toward the ground, only to gather and rise again in bursts of white magnesium, blue copper, red strontium, and green barium. Their fiery wings drew ember patterns on the undersides of passing clouds and afterimages on the backs of my eyelids.

I stood below them, surrounded by forest and empty countryside, chin tipped back, mouth open in awe. These beauties tended to flock around cities, consuming the glow of streetlights. Never had I seen them in such a dark place as this, where without the competition of light pollution, their colors burned bright and true.

Despite the spectacle, fizzing near my ear drew my attention. Next to my face hovered an inquisitive little sparkler, too small to join the adults cavorting in the sky. It was shapeless as a star, no more than a palm-sized cluster of pale combusting chemicals centered around a white fire. I jerked my head back when it hovered closer, as if inspecting me. Heat licked at my cheeks, forcing my retreat.

“You can’t land on me, little one,” I told it, dusting glowing orange flecks from my arms.

For a moment, the sparkler’s light dimmed. Then it shot upward, spinning around my head in a dizzying whirl, shedding sparks into my hair. Resisting the urge to swat the delicate thing away, I patted the hot embers out, catching the metallic scent of singed hair.

“Go on,” I growled, “before I dump my water bottle on you.”

Flashing in panic, the sparkler zipped away. I couldn’t feel bad; no doubt I had patches of missing hair now.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. 

Book Review: Nyxia

A swift, fun read with plenty of twists and surprises, cunning strategic moves, and touching moments between characters.

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Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

Synopsis

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Scott Reintgen was always a back-row dreamer. As early as kindergarten, teachers noticed his tendency to stare out of classroom windows and disappear to more interesting elsewheres. In high school, he began laboring away on the opening chapter of his first fantasy novel. One of his favorite English teachers agreed to read the pages and the very next day she switched him (illegally) out of Spanish and into a Creative Writing class. The story got tossed eventually, but he never lost the confidence he was given by that single act of empowering faith.

Convinced he would one day be a writer, Scott spent most of college and graduate school investing in the world of literature. This eventually led to a career teaching English and Creative Writing in North Carolina. He strongly believes that every student who steps into his classroom has the right to see themselves, vibrant and victorious and on the page. It’s his hope to encourage a future full of diverse writers. As he’s fond of reminding his students, “You have a story to tell and you’re the only one who can tell it.”

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

At the same time that I picked up Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince (my review about which you can read here), I also picked up Scott Reintgen’s Nyxia, which happened to be displayed on a nearby shelf and had lovely dark cover art. The blurb was just The Hunger Games enough to catch my attention, but Emmett, the main character, sold me on the first page. He has attitude, sharp perception, and a unique perspective. He bears the burden of an atypical (and personally familiar) dysfunction, which he must learn to overcome as he battles for even a chance at success. Plus, he listens to music constantly and, honestly, can relate.

What a clever little tale Nyxia turned out to be. Reintgen’s science fiction involves three things: a new planet capable of supporting life, a new species with particulars about alien ages, and a new substance called nyxia. With those three elements, he creates an experience removed from contaminating outside variables, and boils down the narrative to pure competition. Not precisely for life itself, but for money, which might as well be the same thing. Yet within that competition and within the expectations of science fiction, the perspective of Emmett has the focus on the characters more than on the particulars of the genre. His attention explores the evolution of each character as they struggle toward the whisper of something beyond mere fiscal sustainability: meaningfulness.

I appreciated the even gender representation as well as the platonic nature of the relationships Emmett developed with (most of) the female characters. Curiously, the love interest doesn’t appear until halfway through the book, implying that Reintgen means to develop their romance slowly over the course of what I assume will culminate in a trilogy. The story itself was a swift, fun read with plenty of twists and surprises, cunning strategic moves, and touching moments between characters. I’m genuinely curious about how things will progress in the next book, because Nyxia ends not only on a satisfying overarching cliffhanger, it also leaves the fate of one of the more beloved side characters in question. I expect I’ll be picking up the next book to find out.

I recommend Nyxia for fans of The Hunger Games and competition-style stories, as well as for those who enjoy light and creative aspects of the science fiction genre.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.11 stars


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The Hopeful Wanderer.008 – Glimmering Glitter

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Photo by 3Motional Studio from Pexels

Within a drab buffet restaurant where the aging came to dine, I met a glimmering hostess. Pink glitter twinkled across her skin from head to foot; climbing her cheeks, creeping down her neck bellow the collar of her sensible black blouse, and reappearing from beneath her sleeves to adorn her arms. Microscopic flakes flashed beneath the fluorescent overhead lights, winking at me like tiny secrets as she returned my change to me.

Such a fabulous display of unconventional self-love sparked marvel in me. Moved, I said to her, “Your glitter is wonderful.”

As if just noticing me, she responded only with a polite smile. Because she didn’t need me to tell her so–she already knew.


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story.