Red Warnings

A dire warning. A cursed cloak. A wolf that steals one’s soul. What’s more fitting for Halloween? If you like Little Red and Werewolves, you’ll enjoy this! I’d give it a PG 13 rating for some darker themes and a little blood.

All my life I have been warned. Mother had a list. Don’t play in the river, you’ll catch a cold. Don’t pet stray dogs, they carry disease. Don’t scowl so much, your face will stick. The boys will break you. The woods will kill you. And the wolves will steal your soul. But there is one warning that stands out from the rest.

“Listen well, Little Rose,” Granny said on my birthday, handing me a package. Inside was a fur cloak dyed a deep red. I brushed my hand across the soft pelt and gasped at an odd tingling in my fingers. Granny pulled my hand back and held my gaze. “This cloak holds a great power, one that can protect but may just as often destroy. You will learn to use it properly in time. Till then you must never put it on if I am not there.” This is the only warning she has ever given, and the only promise she has ever asked of me.

*****

I trudge, grumbling, through the whirlwind of snow. Where has that girl gotten to? She was right beside me not five minutes ago. Honestly, how many times must I remind her to stay within shouting distance? I stop again to peer about me. With hair that dark, my wayward sister should be a beacon in this pale storm. But I can’t see far through the thick, soft white. I will have to rely on my ears.

“Lilly!” As soon as the cry leaves my throat, I know she will never hear it. The howling wind yanks fiercely at my braid and claws through my threadbare skirt. I hug the basket to me in an effort to keep both the fresh bread and myself warm. I have the cloak with me, of course. I carry it always, hoping Granny will give me another lesson. But no matter how the cold bites, I will not put it on alone. I made a promise.

I stumble on. Every moment the storm grows more frantic and I with it. How could I have lost her again? If mother were here … but no, don’t even think that far. Mother is gone and never coming back. This bundle of raven haired, bright eyed curiosity is all I’ve got left, and if I don’t find her soon…. But not to worry! Not to worry, we are well overdue at Granny’s by now. Surely, she will have sent someone to fetch us. Perhaps Lilly’s there now. That’s when I hear the scream.

Running blind, I head in the direction of the marrow-freezing sound. “Lilly! Lilly!” Another scream, much closer now. Then silence. A few more feet and I stumble over something in my path. Sprawled upon the snow, I take little notice of my scattered belongings. What draws my attention instead is the nightmarish form I fell over. My sister, bloodless pale, lies contorted under me. A dark shadow lurks behind.      

Watching her dark blood pool against the blinding snow, something snaps within me. Warnings and promises alike dissolve in the heat of my fury and fear. Snatching up my death-red cloak, I throw it on, staggering at the power coursing through me. I’ve had very little training yet; instinct will have to do. The shadow leaps forward and a viselike grip encompasses my chest. My nails elongate just in time, sharpening as I shove back hard. A loud crack. Moans fill the air. I’m now snarling above a cowering huntsman.

“Please,” he begs, “I didn’t realize! It’s so hard to see.” But there is no feeling left in me. I lunge.

It’s over quickly and I stand panting in the cold; even this pelt is not enough to block the chill residing within me. I have never before felt this emptiness from the cloak. I want to take it off, shove it away, but find that I can’t. No matter how hard I try to stand, how viciously I tug at the red fur, it will not be moved. And that is when I finally understand. My howl cuts straight through the sharpest wind and echoes across the woods.

I should have heeded the warnings. I should have kept my promise. For the Wolf has stolen my soul.

Oath of the Outcast Review

This one’s not actually YA, but it’s so good I had to write a review!

When I saw this cover, I was intrigued. I mean, how awesome is that font? And ‘Dragon Keep’? I’m all there! Then I saw some of Claire’s posts and realized it’s a Scottish fantasy about brothers. At that moment, I knew I would love it.

Synopsis: Years ago, Rhys MacDuffy was brutally cut off from his clan, stripped of his name and inheritance, and banished to the remote Dragon Keep. Perched high above the Shang Pass in the land of Alsaya, he assumed the mantle of the Mountain Baron, serving out his sentence as the overseer of the worst outlaws and outcasts.

But one day he receives a desperate message from the clan who disowned him: MacDuffy’s Seer—his beloved brother—has been taken by their enemies.

With his band of Mountain Brigands and an unwelcome sidekick, Rhys leaves his mountain stronghold to find and rescue his brother. The tide of war is rising amongst the Clans of Alsaya, fueled by the magic-wielding sect of Druids who seek to unleash a dark force the world has long forgotten.

Can the bond of blood run deeper than banishment?

Things I Loved:

  1. Rhys/Mountain Baron: The brooding hero with a dark past and heart of gold. I love that for all his gruff exterior, he really cares about people. He’s basically spent the past seven years running around the mountains adopting the unfortunates and doing away with the truly evil.
  2. Family Bonds: I love a good sibling story, and this is one of the best I’ve read in quite a while. Rhys may be bitter and hold nothing but hatred for his former clan, but NO ONE touches his little brother. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t escape the fact that he still loves his family, and they haven’t given up on him either.
  3. The Side Characters: So, there are a lot of them, and most don’t get much page time. But the main ones are all complex, multi-layered characters with distinct personalities and their own solid backstories.
  4. No Romance: While I read a lot of wonderful YA books that have great relationships and deal with serious, deep issues, it was so refreshing to take a step out of the norm and try something with a bit less boyfriend drama and a little more lives-on-the-line drama.

A Note of Caution:

As I mentioned before, this one is not YA and deals with some darker content than most of what I review here. I didn’t think it got too graphic, and I’m a wimp when it comes to bloody stuff, but if you are sensitive to subjects like torture read with caution.

My Rating: 5/5

An action packed story of the fierce loyalty between brothers. Full of dynamic characters, snark, and man drama. Seriously can’t wait for the sequel!

Breathless Slippers

Like most girls, I was a bit obsessed with dance as a kid. I would have birthday parties at the theater and took ballet till I was twelve. I wasn’t very good. I still can’t do a split or even touch my toes. But I loved getting to perform with my friends! I very rarely get to see a ballet now, but when I do I always come away wishing I hadn’t given it up. It’s this wish that inspired today’s story.

It can happen faster than thought: this loss of breath. Not twenty-four hours before, the slippers had been breathing deep under the spotlight. The dancer leaped skillfully across the stage. Now, the battered apparel lay in a small box, staring breathlessly up into the young woman’s tearstained face. Slowly, the lid closes.

The darkness is immediate, pressing surprisingly heavy against the delicate satin. A musky smell, like old fur coats and mothballs, wafts through cracks in the box. They hear the creaking of the wheeled chair moving in the distance. Abandoned to this silent, stifling, dark, they wait for the time they might breath. Breath again in the spotlight. 

It’s not till a year later that the dark lifts. The suffocating slippers gasp in a desperate breath. The face above them is no longer tearstained. Instead, the dancer stares hollowly at the ragged mementos for several minutes, then sighs and closes the lid once more. Another year passes before the light shines in. The slippers find their breath hard to draw and the dark quick to return.

This ritual is repeated another year, and another, and again, until the slippers can no longer find the strength to breathe. They try to wait patiently. But after so long hiding in the dark, they begin to forget what life in the spotlight was like.

After nearly a decade, resignation settles so deep within the shriveled hearts of satin that they no longer try to breath. It takes a beat too long to notice the light’s return. Two beats too long, staring morosely up at watery brown eyes, to see the slight glimmer of hope within. But they notice immediately when long fingers gently lift them out of their dark prison. For the first time in a long time, their gasp is not born of desperation.

Resting comfortably on the soft cotton of their dancer’s dress, the astonished slippers look eagerly forward as she carefully wheels her way to a new room. There, a strange man lifts them up to hang high on a pink wall, just above a crib. Staring down at the sleeping baby, the slippers begin, very slowly, to find the strength to breathe.

The years pass. With each one, they breathe more freely as they watch the young girl grow. They watch and remember what the spotlight was like. Yet they are content to live out their days here, watching over this beautiful charge now grown into a strong young lady. They no longer wait in vain, longing for the bright lights and hard stage.

And so, they are startled by a sudden gust of wind as they are pulled down. The woman looks lovingly at them lying in her daughter’s hands and nods. The slippers hold their breath as smooth young feet slip into them once again. As the cool floor slips away under their quick movements, they finally breathe deeply. They breathe and live again in the spotlight.

It’s not “Happily Ever After,” but they live until new slippers can be bought to take their place. For them, it is enough. And the woman smiles.