Saturday, December 31, 2011

Month in Review: December 2011


What did I do?
  • I didn't reach my goal for the Christmas in July, in December challenge. I wanted to read at least 3 Christmas books and get my reviews posted by the end of the month. Obviously that did not happen. I did read one Christmas book though!
  • I signed up for the Contentment Reading Challenge hosted by Katie from Legacy of a Writer.
  • I had an unspoken goal of having at least 100 followers by the end of 2011 and I am SO happy to be able to say that I have reached that goal, times two! Thank you to all my new followers! I appreciate you and I will definitely be having a special giveaway in January to celebrate =D
Blogger Interviews
Books Read
  • Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson
  • Solitary by Travis Thrasher
  • Catching Fire(reread) by Suzanne Collins*
Favorite of the month*

Reviews Posted (title, author, rating)
Giveaway Winners
  • Katie, winner of Tandem by Tracey Bateman
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Photobucket
Books Read: 43 - Seeing that number embarrasses me! I'm going to try my best to read at least twice that many in 2012.

Pages Read: Around 15,000 - I don't know the exact amount, but the average pages per book was 350.

Books Re-read: 9 - I didn't include the number of re-reads in my books or pages read this year.

Reviews Posted: 30 -

Favorite Books of 2011:
The River of Time Series by Lisa T. Bergren

Future Savior Series Book 1 & 2 by Jennifer Hartz


Goals for 2012

One of my main goals for the new year is to post more reviews and be more active in blogging. I'll probably start doing one or two memes regularly. At this point I'm not too sure. We'll see!

I want to get more reading done too. I have so many books that I want to get to, but life sometimes gets in the way and I can't find time to start them. I'm thinking that the reading challenges I signed up for will help me pick up the pace and read, read, read! :)

I want to interact more with other bloggers. I don't know why I get so chicken when it comes to meeting and talking to new bloggers. I need to get over that shyness and just have fun! I also want to comment more on other people's posts. I know I LOVE it when I get a comment, so I'm sure others would like more comment love too. :)
____________________________________________________________

I hope you're all having a wonderful New Year's Eve! God Bless and see you in 2012!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Resurrection (Future Savior Book 2)


Resurrection (Future Savior Book Two)
by Jennifer Hartz
Desert Breeze Publishing (June 1, 2011)
Source: Bought
Amazon | Goodreads

Time matters very little when you're dead. I discovered this intriguing fact after being tortured and stabbed to a tree in the strange land of Meric, a place where I discovered my unbelievable powers and experienced an adventure far more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

Now that I'm dead, I find myself stuck in my past, 1991 to be exact… or am I actually dead? Perhaps my adventure to Meric had just been a dream. My unbelievable destiny, all of the friends I made, and even Shaw, the man I fell in love with… just a dream?

..My Thoughts..

Resurrection picks up closely where Conception left off. After dying, Christina finds herself back in her 17 year old body. She doesn't understand how this happened or why. All she wants is to return to Meric and find out exactly what's going on. But was Meric and everything she experienced there real or was it all just a dream?

Any words that I come up with won't do this book justice. I loved everything about Book 1 and was curious to see how Jennifer could top it. With an incredible story and a surprising ending like the one found in this book, it has definitely taken the title as my favorite in the series so far.

I loved returning to Meric. In my review of Book 1, I mentioned the vivid details and descriptions of the land. When reading, I can just imagine how beautiful Meric looks and I easily get lost in this amazing place that I never want to leave.

There are so many fantastic characters, both old and new. It was hard not to like some of them and oh so easy to hate others. One character I'm still waiting to get a good "look" at is Leticia. She makes more appearances this time, but she's still kind of mystery to me. I can't really envision how she looks in my head. I'm hoping she shows up more in Book 3.

With action, romance, mythical creatures, unexpected surprises and so much more,  Resurrection has it all. This was a great fantasy read that pulls you in from the start with a firm grip and doesn't let up until the very last page. I am now eagerly waiting for the March 1st release of Book 3: Evacuation. If you haven't read any of these books, I'd suggest you read them in order to fully understand the story.

 
* * * * *

A Giveaway!
Author Jennifer Hartz is giving away an ebook copy of Future Savior Book One: Conception. The Giveaway ends tomorrow so {go here} to see how you can enter!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best of 2011 Giveaway Hop


Welcome to my stop in the Best of 2011 Giveaway Hop! This hop runs from Dec. 27th - 31st and is hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer. All participating blogs(over 100!) are giving away one of their favorite reads of 2011!

I read a lot of great books this year, but my top 3 are from Lisa T. Bergren's River of Time Series.

 Waterfall, Cascade, and Torrent were all AMAZING and one lucky winner will get to choose one of these fabulous books! 

This giveaway is open internationally. Before entering, please make sure The Book Depository ships to you! Go here to check.

Entering is easy, just fill out the form with your name and email. For extra entries, you can follow via GFC or Twitter.

*Closed*

Go here to check out the other blogs in the Best of 2011 Giveaway Hop!

Monday, December 19, 2011

2012 Contentment Reading Challenge


I wasn't planning on joining anymore reading challenges, but today I did! I signed up for the 2012 Contentment Reading Challenge hosted by Katie from Legacy of a Writer. To find out more go here.

This challenge is perfect for me and exactly what I've been looking for! I'm pretty confident I can reach my goal of re-reading 10 books that I already own. We'll see!

I'll be posting all my progress here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Giveaway Winner

I'm so sorry I forgot to announce the winner last week! The winner of the From my shelf to yours giveaway is..
Katie(agirlslegacy@...)
She won Tandem by Tracey Bateman. Congrats!

Thank you to everyone who entered. You'll have another chance to win next week!

End of the Year Giveaway!!


It's time for another giveaway! Since it's the end of the year, I've decided to do a special book of your choice giveaway. I'm really excited about this one because there will be two winners! Here are the details..


Two people will win the book(s) of their choice, up to $10, from The Book Depository. This giveaway is open internationally. Before entering, please make sure TBD ships to your country. You can go here to check if they do.

All you have to do to enter is fill out the form and answer the question. Following is not required to enter, but I'd really appreciate it if you did! Giveaway ends Dec. 31 at midnight.

How does that sound?? Good? Good!

Closed

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blogger Interview ~ Legacy of a Writer

 Getting to know the blogger behind the reviews!

Here's another fun interview for you all. Joining us today is Katie from Legacy of a Writer!

Tell us a little bit about your blog. 
Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, Crystal! My blog? Well, Legacy of a Writer first started out as a place where I could talk about my own writing journey. Over time, it started to grow and now, today, it's a place where I talk about everything and anything having to do with books. :-) I post book reviews, host author interviews, giveaway books, and occasionally share a few things about my personal life as the third eldest in a family of 10 kids. :-) 

What got you started in blogging your book reviews? 
A few different things. One of the main reasons was because as a teenager, I LOVED to read. Seriously, I wore out my library with how frequently I visited--and I always left with ten or more books! But for me, as a teen, not all of those books were always suitable. So, as I began getting introduced to wonderful, clean, Christian authors through my blog, I just wanted to share with other teens that there really ARE books out there that are safe to read. 

How long have you been blogging? 
The middle of January will be two years. :-)  

Congrats on almost two years of blogging! =) 

How much time do you put into your blog? 
Hmm...I've never really stopped to think of that. Quite a bit, I suppose. Usually my mornings (and sometimes afternoons) are entirely spent on my blog, either writing up a post or planning for future posts. But it's so much fun, I don't really notice the hours! :-) 

What genre is your favorite and why? 
 That's an easy one! I love, love, LOVE suspense! Anything that will scare my socks off (but not in a ghost, vampire, paranormal way) or keep me on the edge of my seat is sure to thrill me. I just love it when I am reading a book that I can NOT, for the life of me, put down. It's such an awesome thrill!

Ooh, I love suspense! And for the same reasons as you!  

What is/are your favorite book(s) of all time?  
How can I only pick a few??? Well, how 'bout this--I give you three of my top favorite series and three of my top favorite singles. 1) River of Time by Lisa Bergren 2) Discarded Heroes by Ronie Kendig 3) Women of Justice by Lynette Eason. And for singles, I love 1) The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund 2) Deadly Pursuit by Irene Hannon 3) Bathsheba by Jill Eileen Smith. 

Ebook or Print? 
Print, all the way!!!! While eBook is nice in that it's cheaper and easier to transport....there isn't anything like actually holding the book in your hands!!! And if everything's on a little electronic device...there's nothing to display on your bookshelf! *gasp of horror* My bookshelf is my FAVORITE spot in my room! 

Who are your 3 favorite authors?  
Just 3??? Hmm, okay. I'd suppose I would say Lisa Bergren, Jody Hedlund, and Ronie Kendig. There writing is so strong, vivid, bold, and transports the readers RIGHT into the action! 

Do you enjoy doing memes? If so, which ones can be found on your blog? 
I enjoy doing them, even though I only participate in one on my blog. It's the Book Beginnings and every Friday I post the first few lines of a book, and talk about what gripped me the most. :-) 

If you had to pick one, what's the best book you've read in the past year? 
Ugh, that's a tough question. Hmm....Probably either Torrent or Wolfsbane. Both of those were really awesome. 

If you had the chance to invite some book characters over for dinner, who would you choose? 
 Let's see: Lord Greco from Torrent (OH YEAH!) and since he would be coming, having the rest of the River of Time series cast would be cool. Dani, Canyon, and the rest of the Nightshade team from Wolfsbane. Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games. Tahn and Netta from Tahn. Priscilla and Eli from The Doctor's Lady. And...well, that's enough to get the dinner going. :-) 

Those are some pretty awesome characters on the invite list! 

Is there a particular movie or TV series that you preferred over the book version?  
Hmm...none comes to mind. 

Have you read a book that you would like to rewrite the ending of? 
Yes, I have. One book that comes to mind is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. After such an awesome adventure, I didn't like what happened in the last chapter between Katniss and Peeta. It kinda made for a disappointing and unsatisfied ending.

Favorite book character? 
Oh dear, just one?!?!?! Well, how 'bout I pick a favorite girl character and a favorite guy character? For girls...I'd pick Dani from Wolfsbane. She was such a strong character, even after all she'd been through. And I loved how she kept fighting, no matter what. As for guys...I'd pick Lord Rodolfo Greco, OF COURSE!!! I completely fell for his dark good-bad-guy character. And he had such a complex personality, that he always kept me guessing. (Haha, have you noticed how those two books have kept coming up in today's interview, Crystal?? Yeah, both of them are pretty awesome! ;-) 

A character you love to hate?  
Ohh, that'd probably be Lord Paratore in the River of Time series. That guy was, to use one of Gabi's terms, "Major Creeporama"! 

How many books do you read in a month - roughly? 
Around 18-ish a month. Sometimes I hit 20. 

What do you like to do when you aren't blogging? 
Write. As soon as I finish my blogging responsibilities for the day, I open up my WIP and WRITE!! :-) 

What advice would you give new book bloggers? 
Just keep blogging and doing the best you can to make your book blog uniquely yours. You won't get 200+ followers overnight. It takes work to get your blog out there and noticed, but it's a lot of fun! :-)
 * * *
That's great advice, Katie! I'll definitely be taking it (even though I'm not a new book blogger =D) Thanks for joining us today, it was a lot of fun interviewing you!

Find Katie

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Waking Hours

Waking Hours (East Salem Trilogy #1)
by Lis Wiehl with Pete Nelson
Thomas Nelson (October 4, 2011)
Amazon | Goodreads

All towns have secrets. Some have demons.

Welcome to East Salem. A sleepy town with a history older than America where things are just a bit off. Where the supernatural bleeds into the everyday.

And where a tragic murder mystery is underway. A high school girl is found dead in the town park. And where forensic psychiatrist Dani Harris wants answers. All the suspects are teenagers who were at the party with her the night before-but who woke up the next morning with no memory of what transpired. Even though evidence confirms they were all at the scene of the crime.

Former pro-football linebacker-and local celebrity-Tommy Gunderson finds himself drawn to the case. And to Dani-who he last spoke with on their one high school date forever ago. Yet his celebrity status opens doors barred to Dani-so they form an awkward alliance.

They soon realize that there's more to the mystery than murder. And more to the evil they are facing than a mere human killer.

..My Thoughts..

When I started reading Waking Hours the only thing I knew was that it would probably be a creepy story. I was so right about that. I'm not usually into books with supernatural elements so I was very surprised that I enjoyed this story as much as I did. I do want to warn you, the descriptions of the murdered teen girl are very graphic and might be too much for some. It didn't bother me, but I know some people wouldn't like to read such gory details.

Dani and Tommy were interesting characters and I really liked the interaction between the two. Throughout the story their relationship grew and hidden feelings between them were slowly revealed. They worked well together and nothing between them seemed forced. It all felt natural.

I have to admit. I found the beginning scenes pretty disturbing. I really wasn't sure if I was going to be able to finish. But after a while I just couldn't stop reading. One thing I would suggest is that you don't read this before going to bed. I made the mistake of doing that and was beyond creeped out. Ha!

Lis Wiehl and Pete Nelson wrote a great murder mystery/thriller. The cliff hanger ending is so unfair! I wish I could turn the page and find the continuation of the story. I don't like waiting, but unfortunately I have to. I'm looking forward to seeing where the authors take this story. Waking Hours had me on edge and, at times, freaked out, but I still enjoyed it and will definitely be looking out for book 2.


 
(This ebook was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers through Booksneeze.)

FIRST Blog Tour: F.A.I.R.I.E.S: Baptism by Fire

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author & illustrator is:


and the book:


FIRST Wild Card Press (December 5, 2011)
***Special thanks to M. C. Pearson of FIRST Wild Card Press for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


M. C. Pearson graduated from San Jose State University with a B. A. in art, served as a multi-media illustrator in the United States Army, earning the rank of sergeant, and spent four years as a house parent for at-risk youth. Now married over 20 years, she homeschools her two children, volunteers with her church youth group, and runs a book review blog alliance (FIRST Wild Card Tours) while writing and drawing. F.A.I.R.I.E.S.: Baptism by Fire is her first novel.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:




Unwittingly chosen to join an army of fairies, who fight for the Light of the One, a teenaged girl learns about spiritual warfare as she attends a military academy with fantastical beings.






FROM THE BACK COVER:


Here lies a most precious treasure,
Awaiting one Chosen to deliver.

Seek out the red cousins in the East,
For on this your greed mustn't feast.

The wealth of a species now in your hands,
Do with it as the light demands.

Give them your gift to unite,
For it is the darkness we all must fight.

EDITORIAL REVIEWS:

"Imagination runs wild in F.A.I.R.I.E.S. Pearson brings young readers through a looking glass and into a world bursting with adventure, heroism, and fascinating creatures. Readers will be inspired to be true to the One and left with anticipation of more to come."
--Jill Williamson, award-winning author of
By Darkness Hid, and other books

"Sprinkled with delightful illustrations, and brimming with a full bestiary of magical creatures, F.A.I.R.I.E.S. is a fun, clever romp through the alternate landscape of the most magical world of all, our own. Read, and take up the call: 'Defend and Emancipate!'"
-- D. Barkley Briggs, author of
The Book of Names, and other books

"F.A.I.R.I.E.S. will appeal to readers who love the interplay of fantasy and reality. A rich cast of eccentric characters and exotic settings make this a fun addition to the folklore of the battle between good and evil."
--Mike Hamel, author of
YA fantasy series: MATTERHORN THE BRAVE

"F.A.I.R.I.E.S. is one of those rare gems I want to tell everyone about. It's highly imaginative, packed with adventure, and full of hope. A must read for kids and for kids at heart. Even better than Narnia! I was thinking about Pearson's wonderfully memorable characters for days."
--C.J. Darlington, author of
Thicker than Blood

"Ms. Pearson's extravagant and imaginative F.A.I.R.I.E. kingdom will surely delight the young and the young-at-heart in this tale of good and evil, light vs. darkness. The fantasy-loving reader will not be disappointed!"
--Linore Rose Burkard, award winning author of
Before the Season Ends, and other books





Product Details:

List Price: $17.99
Paperback: 482 pages
Publisher: FIRST Wild Card Press (December 5, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615530222
ISBN-13: 978-0615530222


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Four thousand seasons shall pass while our swords grow rusty.

Where once one chose to divide, another shall be chosen to unite.

One changed the past, the other shall change the future.

One must emancipate the other to allow the light its dominion.

The realm, now torn, allows the shadow to abide, as humanity lies blind to its peril.

The bond of friendship must endure, for the army of shadows awaits another tear.

Dust off your swords.

Unite the realm.

Destroy the strongholds.

Foretelling of Didasko Gnome Digdeep


†

PART ONE




MANY ARE CALLED
BUT
FEW ARE CHOSEN


†


CHAPTER ONE

Off and Running


t was an accident!” Mellie yelled, not caring who heard or stared. Tears streaked her face as she fled down the Santa Cruz coastline, away from her family.

You don’t need them, a voice hissed in her ear, Escape. Run away.

Scorching sand burned at her feet and bitterness ate at her heart. Mellie pumped her legs as fast as they would go. Her feet pounded with the rhythm of her emotions, beating a tempo with the crashing waves. Run-a-way. Run-a-way. Run-a-way. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins, quickening her step.

Why did I have to be the youngest? Only 12 years old. Never smart enough. Never athletic enough. I just wish they loved me.

Once, just once, she wanted to do something that would make her sisters see that she wasn’t the stupid, awkward, ugly, little baby sister.

As she ran, she wiped away some tears with the palm of her hand. Her fingers settled on her large nose, a gift from her dad’s Hungarian ancestry.

Chelsea got the ski-slope shaped nose. I had to get Half-Dome. It just isn’t fair.

Her hand dropped to her side and she pinched at her stomach. It still had some of its baby fat.

Ugh, why are my sisters so perfect? What happened to me?

Pushing her short bangs from her forehead in disgust, she mumbled, “Maybe I’ll find treasure. I’ll be the rich one, and then they’ll have to accept me.” But she knew better. California didn’t hold any more undiscovered treasures.

The sand, hot and coarse, cut at her feet. I wish I had remembered my shoes. She wore only a black, one-piece swimsuit and a San Jose Sharks sweatshirt tied tightly around her waist.

Breathing rapidly, she began to tire. She slowed her pace to a walk and looked back across the beach. The sand was so hot that waves of heat rose from it and blurred her view. A lone seagull screeched overhead.

Her sisters were nowhere in sight.

Man, I thought for sure that Chelsea was going to chase me down and kill me.

She had to admit that it was a little gratifying to see the sand fly from her foot, covering Chelsea’s sub-sandwich and freshly oiled stomach. Grinning slightly, the tears stopped flowing. She rubbed her eyes.

Mellie looked in the direction of her sisters. “You guys can never take a joke.” Flipping her golden hair, she turned her head back toward her chosen path. She no longer smiled as she stomped her feet in the cold surf, remembering the hateful words that had been said.

“Oh, waa waa, you stupid cry baby! Go tell mommy! Maybe she’ll feel sorry for her ugly, fat baby. Why don’t you grow up? We don’t want you near us. Can’t you understand English? You are so dumb. Look at her mouth open. Oh wait, here she goes…come on, baby…cry!”

Mellie knew she couldn’t go back. They would only ridicule and torment her further. Her mom would never believe it was Chelsea’s fault. No, the evidence was on Chelsea’s side. Who was the one with the sand all over her oily, coconut-smelling body? Who was the one who had a sandwich full of sand? Mellie walked on.

After her temper finally cooled, it occurred to her that she had never walked so far alone.

How far have I gone?

A shadow passed over her, and she looked up. Nothing was there. A cool breeze from the ocean created a stark contrast to the scalding sand. She shivered but kept walking, lost in her loneliness.

Not until she stubbed her toe on a large broken clamshell did she look at the beach. A chill snaked up her back. Nothing appeared familiar. The sounds of the surf were still there, yet something was decidedly different. She felt dizzy. Looking around, she could not quite pinpoint the change. Then it struck her.

No people.

Where did everybody go?

Even though she could see no one, Mellie could swear that she felt eyes staring at her.

She looked inland across the sand, saw movement near some eucalyptus trees, but decided that the wind must have caused it.

Trees? So close to the beach?

Something shook the trees again, causing goosebumps to stand out on Mellie’s arms. Alarmed, she checked the skyline. The sun was close to setting. She hoped that the police weren’t out looking for her.

Suddenly cold, she pulled at the arms of the sweatshirt still tied around her waist. It fell to the sand. Bending to pick it up, she once again saw a blur of movement, except this time it came from a rocky outcrop by the waves. She shook the sand out of the sweatshirt and hurriedly tugged it over her head.

“Okay, I’m seeing things.” Mellie yanked at her hair, pulling it out of the sweatshirt. She stared at the sinister rocks. “Hel-lo?” Her voice cracked as she spoke louder. “Is someone the-ere? Hello?” No answer. The shadowy rocks seemed to quiver with excitement, beckoning her closer.

Hmm…probably just a seagull.

Even if it was a bird, she did not want to see it.

There’s no way I’m going over there.

The wind picked up and blew her hair into her eyes. The sand spun with the wind.

Yes, definitely time to move. I need to find a road.

She turned back toward the sweet smelling, oddly placed trees.

Mellie arrived at the base of the first, colossal eucalyptus tree. Without warning, one of the branches fell in front of her, then seemed to get up from the ground and pose its bottom stems in a military-like stance.

Mellie screamed and jumped back. “Branches don’t stand.”

“They do if they are walking sticks.” The eucalyptus branch chuckled, stretching to its full height, considerably taller than Mellie’s meager five feet.
She gasped, grabbed the branch, and threw it like a javelin, as hard as she could.

As she took off running, she heard a bark and halted. Turning, she saw a golden retriever bounding toward her with the stick in his mouth. The dog dropped it at her feet. She watched the dog run into the grove of trees and disappear before she fearfully turned back to the possessed stick.

It had already gained its footing again and stood over her. Mellie was too frightened to move this time.

A face emerged from the skinny twig and took on the characteristics of a male human, but none like Mellie had ever seen. He had hair made up in rolls as if it were a powdered, green-silver wig, the same color as the leaves that grew all around his skinny body. His face was long and his forehead high. The twiggy man smiled and said in a distinctly British, albeit breezy, accent, “Do not worry, you are safe.”

Mellie couldn’t answer.

“Ahh…I love new recruits. They are so easily addled.”

Feeling more confused than threatened, Mellie found her voice. “What? What do you mean, new recruits?” She rubbed her eyes, shaking her head. “Okay, I’m talking to a stick now. Yes, I have lost it. I have gone totally mental.”

“Oh, I say, am I to understand that I am the first to be revealed to you?” With round, leathery leaves, the branch resembled a toddler toy with rings stacked on one another.

She dropped open her mouth and nodded.

“Well, let me do this properly, then. Ahem. Mortal, made of clay, you have been Chosen to join the Fantastical, Aerial, International, Reasonably Inconspicuous, Emancipation Squads.”

“What? What are you? You look like a stick…but you can talk.”

“Yes, child,” the stick replied with a sigh. “But, I think we are quite past that by now. Have you not heard me? You have been Chosen.”

Mellie opened her mouth wider, closed it, frowned, and opened it once more. “Chosen? For what?”

“You did wish to be different? To change who you were? ’Twas an especially strong desire, yes?” The branch crossed its arms and tapped its twiggy foot.

“Umm…”

“Dear me, this is highly unusual. You made a choice to run away from a miserable life and asked to be set free? Correct?”

“Well, I, ah…yeah. I guess so. What did you say about recruit for some squad?”

“Humph. I see that I was not understood. Yes? Let me elucidate. The Fantastical, Aerial, International, Reasonably Inconspicuous, Emancipation Squads , or shall I say F.A.I.R.I.E.S.? have accepted you into their organization. You asked. You were answered.” The branch attempted a smile, but looked impatient instead.

“Fairies? I don’t believe in fairies.” Mellie winced, half expecting him to fall down and writhe in pain until she clapped her hands.

“Quite right. You are not supposed to. If humans truly believed we existed, we would never get anything accomplished.”

Mellie laughed and looked around for a hidden camera, thinking this must be a joke. “Right. Ah…heh…okay, bud, brilliant costume,” she said, imitating the branch’s accent. “Where’s the zipper?” She reached toward him and touched a soft leaf.

The branch slapped her hand away and stamped its foot with a loud cracking noise. “I beg your pardon. I have not been a bud for over 800 springs!” He paced, his leaves crumpling, mumbling to himself about humans and why, in the One’s name, did he listen to that confounded gnome who told him that he needed to stand gate duty. With his rank!

“I’m sorry I upset you. Please, I’m very confused. I’m lost, and I just want to go home.” Mellie bit her lip.

The branch stopped mid-pace. “Home? Earlier, did you not wish for a new life? And riches? I know you wished for treasure, hmm?”

“How do you know that?” Mellie furrowed her brow. “Have you been reading my mind?”

The twig man didn’t answer her questions, asking his own instead. “Ahh, so, you admit this, yes?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Yes, but…well, this really isn’t what I had in mind.”

The branch threw up its twiggy fingers. “Oh, well, of course you did not have this in mind. After all, we are reasonably inconspicuous, especially to humans. How could you have this in mind? However, is it not superior of the One to think that this is what you would have chosen had you known about us? Anyway, ’tis irrevocable now. So, if you would just follow me, we shall get you signed in and enrolled for training.”

The branch marched off between the trunks of two large eucalyptus trees.

Mellie slid uncontrollably after the walking stick. She planted her feet firmly, refusing to budge, but she slid after him anyway. Grasping at branches of nearby trees, she panted heavily as she struggled to resist following the branch. Some kind of invisible tie connected her to him. He seemed to pull her along with his every step.

Mellie thought about her sisters and how mad they were at her. I’m dead meat if they find me. Mellie quickly gave up her battle and ran after the eucalyptus branch, barely keeping up with his stride.

†


The sand changed to coarse dirt, with pebbles and sticks. More and more trees filled Mellie’s vision. Bushes scraped against her bare legs and slapped her face as she moved deeper inside a forest of eucalyptus and redwood trees. She winced in pain as a razor-sharp rock sliced her foot. Stopping to nurse it, she wished once again for her forgotten shoes.

“Excuse me, sir?” Mellie looked around. She could not see the branch anywhere.

“Do not call me ‘sir’, I work for a living.” The branch peeked out from around one of the gigantic trees. “And please, try to keep up. We need to reach the gateway.”

Mellie limped up to him. “Sorry, sir…I mean…umm, what should I call you then?”

“Oh, well, we did skip that. Did we not? Yes, all right, an introduction then.” The branch man seemed to enjoy formal etiquette for he gave an elaborate wave and bowed. “My name is Regnans, family of Myrtaceae, born member of the F.A.I.R.I.E.S., Britannia Wing, rank of Master Nymph Dryad.”

“Nice to meet you, Reg…Reg?” Mellie chewed on the inside of her mouth. Never good at remembering names, she knew she would offend him with her lack of manners.

Sure enough, the dryad raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “Regnans.” He gave a hurt sniff, then drolly sneered. “If you find that a difficult name, you should meet the rest of my family, all seven-hundred thirty-four of them.”

“Sorry, I just…well, it is a lot to remember. It’s a nice name, though. My name is Maryellen Goodwin of Bret Harte Middle School, San Jose, California. But everyone calls me Mellie.” She stuck out her hand, intending to shake. Regnans stared at her.

“That is a strange curtsy. However, I guess ’twill do. We must get moving now. The shadows abound, you know.” Regnans made an about face and marched off faster than before.

Another hour passed, and still they strode along the forest floor. Mellie’s feet were now cut, blistered, and bleeding. She kept up as best she could with Regnans’s long stride. Whenever she tried to stop, he would pull her on with that invisible force of his.

Stupid, pompous, magical Star Wars freak.

She whimpered as she limped. Darkness and mist now covered the woods. As she was about to plead for a break, Regnans stopped. Except for her heavy gulps of air, all seemed quiet.

Regnans stiffened even more than usual. Nothing on him moved, apart from his eyes, which darted around quickly.

“All is safe, we may proceed.” He held up a twiggy finger to his woody mouth. “Please do not speak, and try not to breathe so abominably loud.”

Mellie nodded with a disgusted frown. Sweat dripped from her bangs. She tried to calm her breathing, even though her vision blurred, and her legs wobbled. Her blisters had popped by now and oozed wetness.

Regnans moved again, yet this time he took slow, deliberate steps, all the while scanning his surroundings. He walked up to a massive redwood tree and stroked its bark.

A breeze stirred up, rattling the leaves, sounding almost like spoken words. Mellie thought herself crazy again. However, the longer she stood there, the more she sensed that it really was the tree’s language, as if she had never listened to trees properly before. It said, “If you love, you will say the one true love that leads the way.”

Regnans whispered in a leaf rustling voice, “Ah-gaw-pay.”

A loud grumbling sound, as if someone awakened after a long sleep, shook the grove. The redwood tree opened two eyes, each the size of Mellie’s head, and blinked. A great fissure erupted below the eyes in the shape of a crescent, and redish-brown wooden teeth emerged. A long, knobby branch pushed its way out above the mouth and inhaled deeply.

The tree chuckled. Instead of the whispering leaves, a low, rumbling utterance of human speech came from the redwood tree. “Regnans? What brings you to my neck of the woods?” He blinked again. “And who is this? A new recruit? A human? A Chosen?”

Mellie knew she looked silly, standing there with her mouth in an ‘O’ shape, but she couldn’t move. This was simply impossible. There is no such thing as fairies!

“Yes, yes. Please open the gate, we must not dawdle here…they may be watching.” Regnans looked agitated.

A deep laugh resounded from the redwood. “Oh, Regnans. There are none who watch here.”

Regnans mumbled something about hamadryads and their pride, then proclaimed in a slightly louder voice to the tree, “We must be sober, be vigilant, because the shadow walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom it may devour.”

The hamadryad looked chagrined. “You speak true, dryad. Forgive me for acting like an arrogant seedling.” He glanced at Mellie, and with a lowered voice asked, “And what is your name, little human?”

Mellie managed to squeak out, “Mellie Goodwin.”

“Ah, ’tis always nice to have a Good Wind.” The hamadryad laughed heartily.

“Sorry to interrupt this lovely tete-a-tete,” Regnans said, “but would you please open the gate? I left Westside completely unguarded.”

An annoyed creak came from the base of the redwood, followed by a sigh. “Yes, Regnans. Agape you said, and agape it is. Go with the light, my friends.” The large, joyous eyes closed, and the hamadryad whispered in his leaf rustling voice, “Until we meet again, Good Wind.” His face disappeared, and his roots lifted and pulled apart, exposing a tunnel within his trunk.

Regnans grabbed Mellie’s hand with his rough, wooden one, and pulled her inside the opening. The tree closed itself abruptly and left them in total darkness.

Regnans cleared his throat and said, “Let there be light.”

A burst of dazzling brightness sparkled from the tunnel’s wall. Mellie glanced around and noticed a long, winding stairwell leading down into the ground.

“Shall we, then?” Not waiting for a reply, Regnans started down the steps.

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