Horror Lovers, Sink Your Fangs Into This Scary Little Flash Fic

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“I’m falling…”

Dear fellow writers and readers, might I ask a favor? My story, “Hell’s Laughter” is currently in the Running Scared horror writing contest on Inkitt.com. It’s a really short read, so it takes no time at all to check it out. If you like it, please vote it up so I can stay in the top 10 and make it to final judging. Click the link below and then click the heart to vote. Also, if you review it, you get entered in a raffle to win amazon.com gift cards. Incentive! Thanks, everyone.  🙂 LLAP

http://www.inkitt.com/stories/10483

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For The Promise of a Wish: Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle Series

I read a lot cover_ravenboys_300of books–one to two per week. Some are boring, some are entertaining, and there’s some I love. Yet it is still rare to discover one so captivating, so engrossing, that I’m immediately pulled into the world and can’t make myself stop reading, even at two in the morning when I have work at six. That shelf is usually reserved for the likes of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, two series from a small group of my favorites. It’s a very exclusive shelf, and for having read hundreds of books, it contains only a select few: The re-readables. While there can be many books on my “I loved it” shelf, I’m very particular on what makes the “Favorites.”

Maggie Stiefvater presents a new contender in her Raven Cycle series, the first three, entitled The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. The books are about friendship, bravery, adventure, and the overwhelming need to uncover something more in life. Blue, a hard-working public school girl who possesses some psychic ability, finds unlikely friends in four rich, prep school Raven Boys who team up in search of a dead Welsh King whom they believe will grant them one wish.

However, this story is more about the chase than Dream-Thieves-Coverthe capture of the prize, favoring the journey over the destination. The characters investigate clue after clue, growing in their own development as well as in their relationships with one another. One particularly interesting character connection, among many, exists between Blue, and one of the Raven Boys, Gansey. Book one begins with a vision Blue has of Gansey’s ghost, learning that the only reason for this vision means Gansey is either her true love or that she killed him. Turns out it’s both. Gansey will die if Blue kisses him. The reader worries for him constantly throughout the course of the series, fretting over his supposedly imminent death, his fatal bee allergy, and the constant precarious predicaments the characters place themselves in. While Blue tries to develop feelings for and date another character, Adam, it’s obvious that she and Gansey are meant to be, which only heightens the drama of the series. Should she tell him about the vision? Should she let their relationship progress? It also dramatizes the romantic tension in the story because the more Blue and Gansey interact, the more we want them to kiss, and of course they can’t.

But the romance subplo17378508t is just that, albeit an interesting one. There are three other main characters to consider (one of whom has the power to extract physical objects from dreams) as well as many compelling secondary ones. The heart of this story is in the friends’ quest to find The Raven King–the title of book four to be released 9-29-15 . Like I said, it’s more about the puzzle than the prize, and I fear that if the team actually does earn a wish, by the time this perilous journey ends, they’ll need to use it to save one of their lives.

There have been romantic moments in this book where I’ve anguished that Blue and Gansey can’t be together. There have been times where I’ve marveled at the creative and fantastical world building. There have been times where Stiefvater has evoked terror in me, a chilling scene creeping toward a scary moment I know is coming. Don’t all the best stories elicit an emotional reaction? I will gladly trudge, and suffer, and dream, and explore with the characters all for the promise of a wish. It’s that age-old yen for wanting, something, anything, more.

This series mixes suspense, mythology, fantasy, horror, and romance in a way that is unputdownable. I eagerly await Stiefvater’s fourth and final edition to this addictive series, and encourage book-lovers everywhere to catch up on the first three installments before then.

True Love Requires Sacrifice: A Review of Ensnared by A.G. Howard

EnsnaredThis is going to be a long one people; I’m pretty emotionally invested at this point. Let me preface by asserting that I am a fan of A.G. Howard and this series. Despite any negative or positive aspects of the books you read here, I recommend you go out and buy all three of them. After all, it must be good to elicit this emotional reaction. I love Howard’s writing. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll blindly accept any story-related decision she makes. The first two books in this trilogy, Splintered, and Unhinged get five stars from me. Ensnared had five too, right up until the very end. I give most of the book five stars for keeping me enthralled, but the last few chapters get two stars for taking the easy, most convenient way out, and if I’m not sugarcoating anything just because I like the author, a cowardly way out.

The ending is weak. Love requires sacrifice. When true love is involved with more than two parties, someone is bound to get hurt, and they should. That’s how it works.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you try, it’ll often leave a bad taste in your mouth, and that’s the case here. Instead of being elated that Alyssa gets the best of both worlds, I’m frustrated that things worked out so perfectly for her. I don’t believe it. It’s not Wonderland magic I have trouble suspending my disbelief for, it’s the completely unrealistic reactions of the characters—all three of them. Jeb was on point when he asked Alyssa “What am I supposed to do with that?” Referring to the difficult truth that after he is dead and gone, Alyssa will continue to live a happy life with Morpheus. Morpheus was dead on when he said “I’m tired of waiting. I won’t be a gentleman.” Both guys are in the right. The very least you deserve in a romantic relationship is monogamy—to have the person you love reciprocate that love only for you in return. The boys miraculously changing their minds and emotions and magically being okay with Alyssa loving both of them doesn’t sit right with me. Who would be okay with that? Alyssa shouldn’t be okay with it either. She should feel like she’s doing a constant injustice to both guys because she is. She’s giving only half her heart to people who are giving her all of theirs.

So Alyssa can marry Jeb, lose her virginity to him, have children with him, grow old with him, watch Jeb die, and then live happily ever after with Morpheus? And everyone is okay with this? When I first read this possibility in Unhinged I thought: the author won’t use that. She’d never bring it up so early in the series and then use it at the end of the trilogy—it’s too predictable now. But that’s exactly what she did. I have to imagine the Jeb fans are just as disappointed as I am on the Morpheus side, because neither side really gets what we want. What we want is for Alyssa to choose and make a commitment to our guy. But she remains disappointingly wishy-washy through the final pages. I just don’t buy it. I’m afraid in true love it’s all or nothing. I know it’s supposed to be magical and perfect—happiness all around. But that’s not how it translates for me. How can Alyssa truly say she loves either of them, when she isn’t truly devoted to either? I’ll admit her heart being split down the middle plot line was interesting—but that was because I was so anticipating her choice and the consequences of it—whatever it might have been. I was hoping for masterful writing illustrating the emotions in the aftermath of this choice, even if it wasn’t the one I wanted Alyssa to make, even if it hurt me. Because the nature of the love triangle, the choice, should hurt. You shouldn’t be able to escape from such a thing not only unfazed, but utterly blissful, not even in fiction, not even in fantasy.

In this outcome, Alyssa’s attention is never fully focused on either guy while she lives out her life. It’s like constantly texting your boyfriend while you’re out with your girlfriends—your attention isn’t fully devoted to either party so what’s the point of even being out?

By the way, can we take a side trip for a moment to expand on Alyssa losing her virginity to Jeb? Didn’t we find out way back in chapter one of Splintered that Jeb already lost his virginity to a 19-year-old waitress because he’s so cool and popular? But then he lectures Alyssa on not giving her’s away because she’s too special. Double standard much? Morpheus was so sexy throughout the whole series I sort of wanted something to happen between Alyssa and him. Then she and Jeb are at least even. File this away; it will be relevant later, I promise.

Here’s where it gets really ridiculous. Not only are both guys totally cool with sharing the girl they love because it’s “best for her” and at the end of the book they both turn selfless beyond reason, beyond what human nature allows for, but they are actually bros now—BFFs! How wonderful. Just like Edward and Jacob became friends in Breaking Dawn, just like Bella always wanted them to be, no matter how unrealistic that is.

And I get it. It’s hard. The author has so much invested in these characters at this point that she wants a happy ending for all three. Not only that, but whatever guy Alyssa chooses will disappoint HALF her audience: either team Jeb or team Morpheus. That’s scary. But it’s the risk you run with love triangles.

I’m not saying don’t do love triangles. People can have feelings for more than one person—that’s an awesome thing to explore in writing. But just for once, I want an author who creates a love triangle to have to deal with it and resolve it in a real way. That means one of the choices doesn’t conveniently die, eliminating them as a prospect (Nightshade trilogy) and that everything isn’t wrapped up in a too neat, too convenient package (Breaking Dawn). Remember that ending? Jacob has been hurting because he loves Bella and her heart will always belong to Edward. At least Bella is making a huge, difficult decision. She will lose Jacob, her family, and her chance to have children. All this she will sacrifice for her love for Edward. That is fantastic conflict. But wait, she magically gets pregnant even though Meyer already established vampire bodies are frozen and can’t change or produce fluids like blood, waste, or yeah, semen. So Bella gets to have children after all. Then, Jacob magically imprints on Bella’s baby. He no longer has to feel pain, because all of a sudden, all that love he felt for Bella is gone. Better yet, he will forever be part of her happy family, especially since the danger with the Volturi never comes to a head. We’re still going. Bella as a vampire, has a magical, unheard of restraint over her blood-lust so she won’t have to stay away from her parents after all. Everything works out. I actually would have gained more satisfaction from the story before all those magical happily ever afters. It’s harder to write and it’s sometimes harder to take, but if it leaves some characters unhappy and imperfect, it’s usually the more interesting and more realistic ending. Yes, I do want realistic in my vampire novels. I love fantasy, but if the characters don’t have feelings and emotional reactions like real people do, then there’s nothing grounding it, and there’s nothing to relate to.

Unfortunately, a too neat ending is exactly what we have in Ensnared. The conflict Alyssa faced between her two halves, Wonderland and the real world, was the driving force of the trilogy. It would have been the most important decision of the story and she never had to make it. Not only do I refuse to believe either guy is okay with this, more, nay, MOST importantly, Alyssa does not have to choose. Why introduce a difficult choice if you don’t have the courage to eventually make said choice? Yes, you will disappoint half the fans but at least you won’t insult their intelligence. Alyssa gets to have both guys, and all three of them are happy about it? I’m sorry, but no way.

I know I should be thrilled that everyone gets everything they want, and no one gets hurt, and nothing bad happens. Instead, I feel that in trying to appease everyone, Howard pleased no one. Part of the problem is, I don’t feel everyone did get what they want, not truly. I’m surprised more people don’t feel like I do about the ending.

Why can’t just for once, a character make a real choice? Think. Decide. Who do you really love more? And then bravely make that choice knowing full well you will hurt someone. Because that’s how it really works. This is what really bothers me. Because it’s so much more unbelievable than Wonderland and AnyElsewhere and any kind of magic. It goes against human nature. Selfishness, jealousy, the justifiable desire to have the woman you love, love ONLY you in return–that’s real human nature. And this is why I can only give the end of this book in a series I loved two stars—a rating befitting the courage it took to write this ending.

From a woman’s standpoint, two guys might be fun at first. But I know I couldn’t truly love and accept my life with someone knowing I’m spending eternity with someone else after he dies. I would just be waiting, dying to get to that part of my life. Which it seems, a bit, like Alyssa does at the end. So why even live a life with Jeb? Because she owes him one mortal life? Because she feels sorry for him? Because it’s her responsibility to keep him from depression? Because she selfishly wants to have her cake and eat it too? These are all terrible reasons, especially since the taste of that cake must be so unsatisfying with only half the flavor.

Men reading this: from your standpoint, could you really be okay with getting the woman you love only after decades of her living a happy life with someone else while you patiently and chastely wait? That’s what I thought.

So make a choice. The ending won’t be perfect. It shouldn’t be. People aren’t perfect and life isn’t perfect. It shouldn’t be. Not even in books. Sacrifice. Hurt. If you’re going to have fantastic realms full of happy, delicious fluff that only Wonderland could provide (and which, granted, we love) you must sacrifice something else. Because it’s all just too perfect. It can’t all be rainbows and kittens.

Again, I love Howard. I love her books and I follow her on Facebook. Howard is an artist, able to paint her world and characters vividly and tell engrossing stories. But I read her explanation of why she chose the ending she did, and it reinforced what I already assumed. I also read that she cut 10,000 words out of the final draft to meet publishing requirements and I’m perplexed as to why a chunk of those 10,000 came out of the all-important ending, and not, say, the beginning where we’re learning all about the dad’s family and were thinking: can we get to AnyElsewhere already? Another problem with the ending is that is was rushed.

At first I didn’t mind because I have absolutely no interest in hearing about Alyssa’s life with Jeb, how mundane it was, their skateboard-themed wedding, how many skater kids they had, or if Jeb ever snapped and ended up hitting Alyssa or the kids. (Sorry, but real people from those kinds of physically and psychologically abusive households don’t end up as sweet, gentle guys) Jeb was violent throughout the series, always threatening to beat someone down, holding Alyssa’s wrists, knocking her down, even if that action was aided by magic, abuse is not okay. Period. I didn’t like Morpheus better because he was sexy, or wore eyeliner, or could fly; I liked him better because he wasn’t violent or controlling and Alyssa never had to walk on eggshells around him. Morpheus gives Alyssa the freedom to make her own choices and to fly or fall on her own. Ask any girl who’s actually been in an abusive or controlling relationship and I bet they’d agree with me in seeing something scary in Jeb. It’s like the poem “My Papas Waltz” by Theodore Roethke: People from happy homes see a cute dance; people from abusive homes see the father hurting the child. But I digress. The point is, team Jeb should have been furious because Alyssa’s entire human life with him was glossed over and summed up in a few paragraphs. Morpheus fans should be unsatisfied because we didn’t get to see any of those dreams with him “teasing and taunting” her, and we get barely a glimpse of Alyssa as queen.

Speaking of which, would you be okay with your husband or wife kissing you good night and then going to spend time in their dreams with another person they loved? I don’t think so. Girls, picture it this way: would you be okay with your boyfriend splitting his love between you and another girl? Of course not. So why are we okay when Alyssa does it? It’s unsettling to me.

If it were up to me, I’d have done one of three things: 1. Alyssa chooses Jeb. She decides (the key word being “decides”) that she can’t let go of her human life, and she sacrifices Wonderland, or finds some creative way to take care of it without her being queen, without the dream child. 2. Alyssa chooses Morpheus. By book three it felt more like she owed Jeb (at least one lifetime) than loved him anyway. Let’s be honest, who is choosing the real world of working 9-5 over being queen of Wonderland? 3. This might be my favorite. Alyssa chooses neither guy, deciding she doesn’t want to hurt either of them by choosing the other, and rules on her own. We see too few female characters stand on their own in YA lit. If Morpheus is still single in 1000 years and they still want to have the dream child, have at it. What’s the rush into marriage Alyssa? You’re immortal. By the way, marriage to more than one person, that’s polygamy. I mean I guess she technically waited for Jeb to die, but still. She was in a relationship with both of them her entire life.

Decisions, decisions…I’m reading this book as a huge Morpheus fan and even I’m thinking Just pick Jeb already. I hate him, but I’d rather Alyssa be resolute. Or choose Morpheus and make Jeb have to grow okay with himself, be strong in life and as his own person without being dependent on Alyssa to remind him he’s a good person. Or pick Jeb, and let Morpheus find someone else. I was excited when this was briefly discussed in the book, but Morpheus only wanted to wait for Alyssa while she got her fill of another man and then finally came to him a lifetime later. Sure. Who wouldn’t be thrilled about that? In the end I didn’t care what Alyssa chose, I just wanted her to make a choice. As a writer, as a creative professional, when you create a love triangle you have to be willing to put on your thick skin and follow through. I hate to say it, because this option is a cop-out as well, but Howard would have been better off writing two endings, one where Alyssa picks Jeb and an alternate ending where she chooses Morpheus. Fans could decide which one they wanted to read and believe as true. At least then fans would have some sense of satisfaction in the relationships they’ve poured their hearts into.

Remember when I said my little rant about Jeb losing his virginity would be relevant later? Here it is: I have a big problem with the fact that Jeb can lose his virginity to another girl yet simultaneously be so controlling of Alyssa. He was going to have sex with Alyssa too on prom night because I guess he can do whatever and whomever he wants and remain infallible in Alyssa’s eyes for whatever reason. Aside from the fact that Jeb is a total jerk, controlling, and despite what the author keeps saying, will probably turn out abusive like his father—aside from all of that, it upsets me on a smaller scale that Alyssa loses her virginity to Jeb in the mortal realm and Jeb silently pleads her not to sleep with Morpheus on their one, last night together—Morpheus doesn’t even try, making him far the superior gentleman. Since Jeb already lost his virginity, Alyssa should have gotten to sleep with Morpheus. I mean the author wanted to make things even, right? Heart split right down the middle and all that? So why is Jeb her first, but not the other way around? No fair. Meanwhile Morpheus has to wait, unable to touch her, while she has children and a full life with Jeb. How is any guy anywhere okay with that? Jeb too, has to live knowing full well that when he’s gone Alyssa will have an eternity with another man she loves. He says that it’s the same as a wife remarrying after her husband dies. I disagree. This is a whole new ballgame.

Furthermore, I have a problem with this disturbing trend of jealous, possessive, psychotic, broken, abused, depressed, scary guys somehow being portrayed as sexy and romantic in YA lit. It’s not okay.

Morpheus while flawed, at least gives Alyssa the freedom to make her own choices and she never has to watch what she says around him. He’s safe. I feel safe when I read scenes between Alyssa and him. During scenes with Jeb, I always feel like he’s balanced on the needlepoint of rage, waiting for something to inevitably tip him over. There’s no possibility Morpheus ever loses control and physically harms Alyssa. Can we say the same about Jeb?

But what about Alyssa’s fleeting plan to choose neither guy and rule on her own? She would have been such a strong, independent female character that way. Instead she allows two men to share her while not being fair to either of them. So when I finished reading ensnared it didn’t feel like happily ever after. I didn’t feel the magic or the love. My feelings fluctuated on a scale from unsatisfied to angry to sad.

I’ve read the ending three times now and I want so much to love it. I’ve tried to accept it and embrace it like most of the fans have. But at the end of the day, for me, true love is between two people, not three. Half a person isn’t, and shouldn’t, be enough for anyone. Morpheus and Jeb are giving all of their love and only receiving half Alyssa’s in return. They share her, which doesn’t work in true love. True love is not that simple. It demands sacrifice and complete devotion.

Do you agree or disagree? Sound off below.